Tag Archives: Science versus Social Sciences

It’s time, Mr. President: End this “world class” charade

By Shain Bergan

When UA News released this video last week of University of Arizona President Robert Shelton “on the issues”, it was met with little to no fanfare, or even rather no recognition. It’s not hard to see why; there is certainly a lion’s share of routine talking points and the usual stock quotes to which we’ve all become way too accustomed since the initial memo announcing the beginning of the UA Transformation Process hit the presses in September 2008.

You know them—they string together phrases like “world-class institution” and “quality education” as if anyone is really buying that the mass reorganization, consolidation and cutting of UA programs nearly across the board are making us into a better university full of better students who will become better people to create a better world following their UA edification.

The video is almost a perfect summation of the what the UA faculty and students have been damn angry about for almost two years now—the inability of the university leaders to just admit that we’re all screwed.

I get it. Times are tough. It’s difficult to run a university when the state slashes $100 million out from under you. But please, Mr. President and Ms. Provost, call it what it is. It’s not “maintaining a quality education”; it’s trying to make sure that at least some quality is left following cuts and tuition hikes unprecedented in Arizona’s educational history. Students aren’t children anymore; neither are the faculty members. It’s time to fess up and admit what everyone already knows—that the actual “quality” of that piece of paper you get following graduation isn’t what it used to be…and it’s only going to get worse in Arizona.

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So, how far are you willing to go? Now with working links!!

Much has been made both on this blog and within faculty meetings both public and private on the internal struggle between the University of Arizona sciences versus social sciences. It seems, from this piece in the Arizona Daily Star, that the fight has spilled out into the streets—the public, that is.

Is the concern done with its isolation policy within the UA community? Is the public really taking notice? Only time will tell, but if so, that can mean much more public support for the programs, departments and colleges that are being gutted at each and every stage of the UA Transformation.

Professors, department heads and deans have been looking for a way to get their stories out. This is definitely a step in the right direction for them. After all, the public can only be spoon-fed so much rhetoric by President Robert Shelton and Provost Meredith Hay in budget meetings, university-wide memos and coded political-speak that dominates Arizona Board of Regents meetings before they decide it’s time to take a closer look.

Also within the Daily Star opinions section (and linked to by the Campus Correspondent) is this guest piece written by UA Eller College of Management professor Shyam Jha.

In the column, Jha presents a novel idea: Instead of opening up the flood gates for just any ol’ high school student aspiring to achieve a mediocre post-high school education (think Shelton’s plan presented at the most recent ABOR meeting), the UA should instead raise admissions standards. Actually becoming a “world-class institution” instead of just strangling the hollow term with unbridled masturbatory obsession and inflating statistics to reflect a made-up reality? It’s so crazy it just may work.

Of course, part of the professor’s plan is to raise tuition by at least a drastic 33 percent. He argues that this would both reduce the number of students coming into the university and create more UA revenue. This is probably true. It’s also probably true that such an act could eliminate certain prospective students’ chances of getting into the university, even if increased financial aid is part of the deal within the equation.

If you’re willinig to pony up the extra money, though, or you are willing to take on thousands of dollars in student loans, this plan may actually work toward bringing academic excellence to the UA campus. That’s not sarcasm; that’s the truth. I know I certainly am willing. The truest thing Jha said is that admitting so many students is severely hurting the university’s ability to make its degrees actually worth anything.

So, the question becomes, how far are you willing to go for a quality education? How much do you want to rock the university boat?

Winter Break irregular posting

As the UA students head off on their winter break, so will we. Well, kind of. Call it a semi-hiatus, or rather irregular posting—you know, finals, flying to see family, the Holidays. All of these things will prevent us here at the WatchCat from supplying you with semi-daily new material.

We’re not going to be fully gone, though. Here’s what you can expect from the WatchCat between now and the beginning of the spring semester in January:

-Posts that link to the writings of other blogs and news outlets

-Analysis from those links

-Further in-depth research on the UA Transformation, specifically focused on UA personnel moving around and what money is involved, as each of those has been severely misconstrued since the early life of the UA Transformation Plan

-A new tab at the top of the front page devoted to a rundown of the timeline of the Tranformation Process, as well as being a general hub for Transformation research that will be done by the WatchCat over Winter Break.

So you see, we’re still going to be here, and we’re still going to be posting fairly often over the break, although expect about one or two posts a week until the beginning of next semester hits the university—Then it will be the usual all-out blitz.

UA faculty leaders: We have no idea what is going on, either

UA Provost Meredith Hay shrugs her shoulders in resignation...just kidding---this is just some random chick.

And in other breaking news, the sky is blue.

University of Arizona Faculty Senate meeting. Snoozefest, right? Well, not today, because when you approve the minutes of the previous meeting 52 minutes into the current meeting, that’s when you know you’ve stumbled into something good.

  • Puzzling dialogue does the impossible, makes UA Transformation even murkier

Breaking off from the traditional UA Faculty Senate meeting format, UA Faculty Chair Wanda Howell asked Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee Chair Lynn Nadel (who is a man) to clear up for the faculty exactly what SPBAC is. (In short, they are the committee who makes advisements to the UA upper administration on what to cut and how to save money throughout the UA Transformation Process, although it’s still unclear how active or effective the group really is.)

Nadel described SPBAC as the “nexis of communication” between the UA central administration and the UA community, including the faculty and colleges, after which he said that SPBAC “is beginning to play its role.”

Finally, Phew. I was starting to get worried. It’s only been a year-and-a-half since the inception of the UA Transformation Process and the creation of SPBAC. Good to know that over a dozen months after its creation, the group is finally “beginning to play its role.”

But what takes the cake is this gem of a dialogue between Howell, Nadel and Secretary of the Faculty J.C. Mutchler:

Howell: “Are we going to tell them what to cut? I think that’s what everyone’s wanting to know.”

Nadel: “No.”

Dammit, we almost had something.

Nadel: “The decision rests with the administrators. Anything else is chaos, as far as I’m concerned.”

What. Just. Happened.?

Howell: “So, if they wouldn’t take our suggestions, they would have to tell us why, right?”

Mutchler: “Well, we’d ask them why, but they wouldn’t have to tell us anything.”

Howell: “Oh, they most definitely would have to tell us why.”

Oops, good to see that these people aren’t the only ones who “have no idea what the hell is going on.”

UA President Robert Shelton: “The wisdom of this group is absolutely at the core” of the UA Transformation.

Jesus, you said it, Mr. President.

Whether or not Shelton was tossing out a hilariously-timed, subtle dig at the faculty leadership, the dialogue speaks volumes about the mass confusion and general lack of insight by anyone into the inner-workings of the UA Transformation Process. Right now, the only thing anyone knows is that no one else knows a damn thing either.

  • Faculty friendships getting in the way of effective leadership?

UA Provost Meredith Hay’s speech to the Faculty Senate started out simple enough, with the provost taking a page out of Shelton’s Day 2-of-the-Regents-meeting book by first commending the presentation given at the Arizona Board of Regents meeting concerning the status of arts and humanities at the UA. (Is anyone buying this “We care about social sciences too” charade anymore?)

She then immediately segwayed into the sadness she surely feels from Nadel leaving soon as the SPBAC chair. Hay made sure to note with importance the immense friendship she and Nadel had discovered with each other.

Now, whether this is typical nice-speak that accompanies the departure of a colleague or Hay actually meant it, this has been a major flaw with the faculty’s involvement in the UA Transformation.

A main concern among the faculty has been the existence of too much of a buddy-buddy relationship going on between faculty leadership and the UA administration. Off-the-record interviews I have had with faculty since the beginning stages of the UA Transformation have shown time and time-again that faculty are concerned that faculty leadership don’t really have their concerns in mind. Wanda Howell has commented on this in past faculty forums, saying that faculty leadership is in a tough position, so the leaders must toe the line between the administrators and the faculty in order to meet both sides, compromisingly.

The faculty seem to want someone in there who will fight tooth-and-nail to scratch their way into the minds and attention of Shelton and Hay. If that’ true, sorry, profs—Howell and Nadel aren’t your guys, although I think you know that already.

  • Shelton downplays any UA wrongdoing in “Climategate” scandal

In one of most under-reported stories that is least talked about in university circles, Shelton defended the UA amidst an email scandal involving whether or not UA and world climatology personnel tried to cover up data pointing against widely-held thoughts on global warming.

If you aren’t familiar with the bizarre story, read this, this and this to catch up. Do it. It’s international. It’s interesting. It’s sexy.

Shelton maintained during a speech to the Faculty Senate that there is “no substance” to the emails, saying that the UA faculty submit themselves to the highest integrity of data. He went on to say that independent research groups have backed up the UA professors’ research data.

The president, naturally, blamed the media for the firestorm, and said that the facts are being distorted by those who do not understand how science research works.

“There may be those who do not fully understand,” Shelton said.

Maybe Shelton has a leg to stand on here, as he is a science man. That being said, it sounds too much like the convincing Shelton has continually tried on the UA community concerning the UA Transformation Process—“You don’t need to understand, because we understand.” (Not an actual quote, but you get the idea.)

Of course, whether it’s a global warming scandal or the dismantling of his university, instead of having open discussions about it, Shelton just wants to sweep it under the rug, just like some of the inner-workings of the Transformation Process.

And, as the faculty have said, don’t be fooled by the “conversations” the provost and president have had with faculty and student leaders. As has been mentioned in comments from faculty in the faculty poll, these conversations are not so much of a two-way communication as they are the provost telling faculty what’s going to be done and how.

Indeed here, Shelton is telling the faculty what to think about the “Climategate” scandal, rather than offer satisfactory explanation, even though the president was the vice provost for research at the University of California system (a decade before his tenure at the UA started), nowhere near the UA professors, when the emails were supposedly circulating among the climatologists in question.

  • Tuition to rise once again

As if you could expect anything else in a year when the state budget is in turmoil, the UA’s budget is cut by about $100 million and the upper administration is working on reshuffling the entire university structure, Shelton announced that tuition will once again rise up to absurd proportions.

“There is no doubt in my mind that tuition will have to go up and go up significantly for next fall and the following year,” he said.

Even after the great tuition increase of 2010 becomes official at March 11 and 12’s ABOR meeting on the UA campus, the university will still be in big trouble financially, Shelton told the Faculty Senate.

However, the president said he has no plans to recoup the $100 million lost via tuition dollars only, as current plans for tuition will only cover “about half of that.”

Shelton added that he doesn’t see the possibility of the UA’s in-state tuition to skyrocket, like the UC school system, in the near future, but does think it would be a good idea to adjust to the median of the UA’s 15 peer institutions, which would put tuition high but manageable, he said.

Surprisingly, Shelton said he meets on a regular basis with students leaders and Student Body President Chris Nagata in particular. What are these meetings, though? When are they going on? We always hear about these meetings, but we never see them, and we never see what I guess are supposed to be the results of them.

  • Other tidbits from the Faculty Senate meeting

-Graduate Student Government Leader David Talenfeld did not bring the UA graduate students’ “Statement of Rights,” downgraded from “Bill of Rights,” to the Faculty Senate for approval, and mentioned that the statement will probably not be ready for the January Faculty Senate meeting, either.

-The spring 2010 Faculty Elections petition process will begin in January, with the elections taking place in March. Those not wanting to run for re-election were encouraged to find a suitable replacement to run instead.

-UA Law Professor Andrew Silverman commended the UA for officially severing ties with Russell Athletics amid a scandal involving international sweatshop labor and union controversies. Apparently, after the UA terminated its contract with Russell, the athletic apparel giant started entering in negotiations for union labor, rehired some workers and provided compensation for others. If all goes well, Silverman said the UA may enter back into a contract with Russell Athletics, information he said he obtained because of his position as the UA chair for the Committee Monitoring Human Rights Issues.

Day 2 sees Regents string random big words together, skip over the interesting parts

Convinced that touching up on thoughts interesting and relevant to students would be too far a stretch from the Arizona Board of Regents’ traditional approach to fixing Arizona’s higher education system, the Board instead chose to skip over the interesting parts of the scheduled agenda (graduation trends, enrollment statistics and plans for enrollment increases, financial aid reports).

The university communities probably would have preferred at least some kind of commentary from the Regents on these issues, but here are some numbers that tell their own story. If you want a rundown of some of those numbers (as well as see what curiously was not talked about on Day 2 of the Regents meeting on the University of Arizona campus, despite being on the agenda), check this out.

  • More evidence that science rules, arts and social sciences drool: UA President Robert Shelton spoke at great length at the beginning of the ABOR meeting about how “collective creativity will show us who we really are”. In a rallying-the-troops-like speech, the president waxed poetic about studying how second languages are acquired, the Phoenix Mars Lander, making advanced strides in medicine.

In fact, the only non-science/research point-of-pride that was expressed by Shelton was that the UA “has a great arts tradition.”

And just in case anyone was still under the illusion that the UA was going to try to excel in instructing its students, rather than pulling in obscene amounts of money from science research, Shelton then turned the floor over to Leslie Tolbert, vice president for research. This, of course, is no surprise, considering the UA Transformation Process has been accused quite heavily of throwing instruction out the window in favor of more financially-advantageous endeavors, like science and research.

It’s just more confirmation that, for better or for worse, the UA is becoming less about instruction and the social sciences, and more about science, research and the funds they create. I guess the UA is slowly seeing “who we really are.”

Do you think it’s just coincidence that the UA’s plan to connect the main campus to downtown with a modern streetcar has the car running from downtown to the UA Health Sciences Center at University Medical Center?

During the presentation on the streetcar plan, it was noted that the UA has, of course, been in constant contact with city leadership to make sure the idea works. I wonder if the Tucson City Council will mention any of this at their meeting on Dec. 7. Let’s check the agenda—nope.