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Editorial: State bill bulldozes over the question of quality instruction

Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 10, 1999
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Arizona educators are already precipitously close to the caricature of state employees, being disgruntled and underpaid. Now a bill being entertained by the state legislature would complete the picture by giving them reason to tick the time toward retirement rather than giving them economic incentive to offer quality instruction.

On its face, SB 2014 proposes to allow members of the Arizona State Retirement System, including all faculty and staff at the University of Arizona, to retire early and receive a higher pension. The bill, which received approval last night from the House Banking Committee, would raise the multiplier used to calculate monthly pensions by 2 to 2.5 percent. The bill additionally would lower the number of points - the sum of an employee's age and years of service - an employee must garner to qualify for retirement from 80 to 77.

This proposal comes amidst a flurry of concerns raised in the past two years over the time instructors are spending in classrooms and the subpar salaries they receive. This is of especially deep concern at the University of Arizona.

Last December, the Arizona Daily Wildcat reported Provost Paul Sypherd's findings that the university has lost 91 faculty members or sought-after recruits in the last five years to higher-paying institutions. Of 163 lost potential employees during that period, 104 gave salary as a reason for not working at the UA. The UA is below the 50th percentile nationally in terms of average faculty salary.

"What those numbers show is that we have been losing too damn many," President Peter Likins told the Wildcat.

Even earlier in 1997, the Board of Regents exhorted professors to spend more time in classrooms.

"People don't believe their kids are getting everything they should be getting out of their higher education institutions," Regent Art Chapa said last May.

Both instances point to the start of a slow sagging in quality instruction and a crying need to bring incentives for faculty teaching now.

Instead, the bill bulldozes over this critical issue in education today, with its proponents arguing that decreasing the age required for retirement and raising the economic incentive would allow the universities to hire younger professors willing to work for less. This argument in essence overlooks the quality of instruction and instructors' lives by implicitly advocating that the state's professors and teachers continue toiling for miserly wages, facing early fallout or burn-out. Certainly this is no incentive for the best and brightest of instructors to come to Arizona, nor economic incentive for instructors to extend themselves in teaching. At best they can look to an early retirement and become the caricature of a government employee, mechanically watching the clock, punching the card and counting the days toward retirement. Is this our vision for the state's educators and educational institutions to come?