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Twisting and shouting

By Ryan Gabrielson
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
May 10, 2000
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ABOR faces funding, legislative challenges

The Arizona Board of Regents had to deal with tuition increases, legislative micromanagement, McGrath's comments and bills as well as a severe lack of funding for the Arizona university system.

Yet, everything got done leaving the regents and University of Arizona President Peter Likins with a positive feeling about the academic year.

"It was a very, very good year," University of Arizona President Peter Likins said.

At September's Arizona Board of Regents meeting, state Rep. Jean McGrath, R-Glendale, argued against coed dormitories and "lesbian content" in Women's Studies courses taught at Arizona's public universities.

"It certainly always is positive when a legislator states their mind to the regents," Regent Jack Jewett said.

McGrath's comments sparked a massive reaction from the students at the three state institutions, many of whom e-mailed her personally and sent letters to the editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

"I'm not sure that her beliefs are shared broadly; I don't believe they're shared by the regents," Jewett said.

Some of the ideas that McGrath presented at that meeting later materialized in bills she sponsored during the legislative session.

These included a bill that would have prohibited male students from living next to female students in the dorms and another that would have put Internet filters on all state-owned computer terminals, including all computers at the UA.

All the McGrath bills failed to pass, though the dorm bill made it out of its initial committee.

So-called micromanagement bills also plagued ABOR this year, one going as far as attempting to make the board an elected body.

"One of the characteristics of this year's legislature is they didn't have a budget to fix," Likins said. "Because they don't have a budget to focus on, they focus on everything else."

The regents have switched to a biennium budget - set only every other year.

ABOR opposed the bills during the January meeting, and - like the McGrath bills - the micromanagement bills failed.

Even with the biennium budget continuing to be implemented for the state universities, Jewett said that he is not concerned that these bills may eventually make it into law.

"Some legislation may come back, the legislative process is a wonderful filter," Jewett said.

Likins said that he is glad that the micromanagement bills failed, describing them as "poor bills, ill-considered bills."

Tuition increases were also a major issue for the regents at the last meeting, resulting in an $84 increase for in-state students. The increase had many critics, including McGrath who wrote a letter to Regent Hank Amos, ABOR president.

No matter what the board's critics have said, Gignac said that the board has done what it is supposed to do.

"I truly believe that the board has kept the covenant with students that tuition will be nearly free as possible," she said. "The Legislature has not been able to keep its part of the covenant."

A $100 increase was originally proposed by the university presidents, but during the discussion it was negotiated down. The Arizona Students Association was asking for an increase of Consumer Price Index plus 1 percent, a $75 increase.

At the meeting, some regents said that they were concerned that small tuition increases will only end up forcing a much larger increase in the near future.

"Next year, at this time I will not vote for $84 (tuition increase)," said Regent Judy Gignac at the April ABOR. She said the universities cannot continue to maintain their current quality level - let alone thrive - without more funding.

Amos suggested at the April meeting that students, faculty and the board work together to lobby for more funding from the legislature so that the board can try to halt the trend of rising tuition.

"They've gotten deeply involved with the faculty and with the students," Likins said.

The shift of higher education from being instructor-centered to being learner-centered was discussed and a change to the mission statement for Arizona's institutions of higher education is to be proposed at this month's board meeting.

"It's a major step forward," Gignac said. "It will be reflected in the mission statement."

"Its just the absolutely right thing to do," she added.

Jewett said that he is pleased with the role that the regents have taken on this issue and the progress made.

"The regents are taking a much higher profile and active position on this," he said.

The mission statement change would add the word learning, which has never been in the statement before.

"We've done this right, from the start," Gignac said.

Through all of the arguments between the legislature and ABOR, as well as the smaller squabbles with students over tuition and public service requirements, Jewett said he is pleased with all the board accomplished.

"It's been a pretty productive year," he said.

Ryan Gabrielson can be reached at Ryan.Gabrielson@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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