Editorial - Students, regents take high ground over legislator
Arizona university students jarred ABOR into easing this year's tuition hike with bold testimony and pleas for compromise.
But in reaction to the $84 increase for in-state students at Thursday's Flagstaff regent's meeting, a notorious legislator took a different approach to keeping tuition low.
Rep. Jean McGrath, R-Glendale, first demanded that the Arizona Board of Regents not raise tuition, then threatened lawsuit against the board for violating the constitution. McGrath told the Arizona Daily Wildcat that she planned to contact the state's attorney general and file lawsuit, claiming that ABOR failed to keep tuition as free as possible - as required in the state constitution.
While McGrath's threat drew venom from ABOR President Hank Amos, student outcry gained a reluctant concession from the university presidents and the board - dropping the tuition increase from its original $100.
The misalignment of negotiation tactics between the three affected groups - students, regents and legislators - is another key example of the disjunct between the state and the universities.
While suing the regents for violating the constitution is certainly an attractive tactic in certain circumstances, McGrath's move is one that appears to be a hollow lashing out that will ultimately accomplish nothing.
Considering the university presidents' insistence that they are struggling to remain financially competitive, and their collaborative openness to cutting the proposed hike, it is clear that nobody has violated the constitution.
Had circumstances been different and the administrations railroaded an outrageous boost to the respective tuitions, the thought of legal action against them would seem a bit too perfect to resist - suing a government body for breaking its own rules would set a great precedent.
But a simple glance at the responses the tactics drew makes it evident that such unwarranted litigation will only antagonize the relationship between the state and the institutions.
"I find it insulting," Amos said at the meeting, referring to McGrath's demands.
The simple act of discusion and compromise led to an incremental increase that presidents accepted, despite insistence that more money is desperately needed.
An honest plea, in this case, proved more effective than empty threats. The source of the threat must also be taken into account. McGrath has said in the past that the universities waste their money and shouldn't receive any increase in money for operation.
This is simply not true. ABOR's concern that quality is dropping is fully justifiable, and last year's state budget scare only heightened any fear that higher education is being weened off of goverment aid.
Last week's regents meeting proved that students and their universities are working together to compensate for a belt that has been tightened by the state. A frivolous lawsuit against ABOR isn't going to bring anymore top faculty to Arizona than its already lousy salaries will.