Editorial: Lawmakers should leave constitution, ABOR alone
Every year, the Arizona Legislature and Board of Regents clash over dozens of proposals affecting the state universities. This session, more than 30 proposals currently affect the universities.
Fortunately, the constitution prevents the majority of this legislation from going anywhere.
Recently, lawmakers have discovered the way to get around this roadblock - go straight for the constitution. Senate Concurrent Resolution 1008 would rewrite the constitution, making most of the regents elected officials from congressional districts, serving four-year terms.
The student regent still would be appointed by the governor and university presidents would rotate membership every year.
Essentially, the Arizona Board of Regents would join an unholy matrimony with state politics, spawning an incestuous, insane younger brother of the Legislature.
The move to make ABOR a body of elected officials will only pervert the intentions of the constitution to keep politics away from educational institutions.
The Arizona constitution currently states that all boards governing education will be appointed by the governor. This allows the regents to be somewhat peripheral to the state government by having an appointed board wield the power over higher education. The idea is similar to the format of the Supreme Court - no elections, no constituents, no spin doctoring.
No threat of upcoming election can taint the ultimate goal of the board. This unites - theoretically - the regents, if only through opposition of the state government.
This is a healthy check for the government, and one that is inherent in the theory of a board of regents. The provision mirrors tenure for professors, ensuring safety for matters of education. But the Legislature has consistently opposed this sovereignty of the universities, flooding itself with attempts to undermine ABOR's power.
But this is far more severe than bickering over proposals. This is a blatant attempt to change the constitution and jeopardize the regents' control over themselves and the universities.
The amendment itself looks like someone doodled on the constitution, inserting "except for the Arizona Board of Regents" into the article about educational governing boards. Why is there such a desire to make the universities an exceptional case? The answer is higher stakes, in the form of millions of tuition and government dollars.
The Legislature is tired of sitting back and watching a separate entity handle such a large aspect of the state, and is going straight to the root of academic freedom to stop it.
Presumably, the proposal is an attempt to raise the accountability of ABOR. The same resolution would also cut the regents' terms in half to four years.
But accountability to separate congressional districts would only make the board schizophrenic and political. It would endanger the students by giving external power over policy and increase the risk of unqualified members.
Attempting to make the Arizona Board of Regents a carbon copy of the Legislature is a classic example of government manhandling educational institutions.
Going after the constitution to do so is a horrible move for lawmakers.