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A Whole New World


By Ryan Gabrielson
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
July 26, 2000
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

The University of Arizona's changing face presents

There are runners circling the UA Mall when the sun is just breaking over the gates concealing the hole where the future Integrated Learning Center is being built. The green grass on the half of the Mall that hasn't been torn into is the most that anyone will probably be able to find in Tucson and the temperature sits at a comfortable 75 degrees.

The original building that spawned roots that stretch across the country, Old Main, stands among modern construction and still matches.

In a month, there will be an infusion of life as the first fall semester of a new millennium packs lecture halls and sleeps in small pockets of shade while others tan outside their dorms.

Men in three-piece suits are willing to give you a Bible and try to bend your ear for a minute, or an hour.

The University of Arizona is a place where August monsoons will keep students stuck in their dorm rooms watching quarter-sized drops fall from a layer of fat clouds and protesters will shout to the seventh floor of the Administration building - where UA President Peter Likins' office is located - trying to reshape policy.

The UA is in a state of flux in the fall of 2000 and incoming freshmen will find their road to graduation substantially different than it is for those just a few years older.

Entering OZ

It's about four hours until anything will happen in Tucson, nearly everything is locked down and dark. Even the bars are empty.

About 30 people, some students and some police officers pound coffee and talk, study for summer classes or just stare at one of the brightly painted walls that look like they belong on the exterior of a mission deep in Sonora.

This early in the morning - 3 a.m. - is a pretty vacant hour during the summertime when most people in the world would be in bed relishing the fact that they still have a few hours of sleep remaining.

But in a few months, 3 a.m. will be much more lively for Coffee Etc. and the rest of the area surrounding the University of Arizona.

"From what we're doing in the summer, by Thanksgiving it doubles," said Bob Nordeen, Coffee Etc. manager.

Late night vigils over textbooks and long-winded discussions on the cultural roots studied at the UA can be part of what makes up a student's experience at the UA, and Veda Hunn says it is a critical part of retention.

As newcomers to the UA, "you have to navigate yourself through this system," said Hunn, assistant dean of students. It's most important to "figure out your surroundings, knowing about your community."

"You have to be open to those things."

It's also a very large system with more than 35,000 students and faculty making up the UA community, with so many things going off and huge 500 student classes coming in, getting lost is easy, said Jerrold Hogle, faculty chair and English professor.

"It helps us if students come see us," Hogle said. "Usually that indicates that students are awake and interested."

Some could view large classes as an opportunity to meet hundreds of new people stuffed in an auditorium, but it may not be ideal for instruction.

"Because of the demand we have to teach them in large numbers," Hogle said. "None of (the professors) want it to be this way."

Homesickness is something that many incoming students experience when first moving to campus and haven't quite found they're footing yet.

"Look people in the eye and say hello," said Sharon Kha, UA spokeswoman. "That's one of the best ways on campus to not get (socially) lost."

Finding the learner

In his office, UA Provost George Davis explains his concept of learner centered education. The university already touts itself as a research-based, student-centered education, but as Davis pulls out old documents of students' work from decades ago, he explains that it has always been student-centered.

The documents contain articles written by former students pertaining to geological studies they participated in and learned from their own actions, and Davis said any learning that is lead by the learner fits under the definition.

If that's true, then all of the work the Arizona Board of Regents is putting into changing the mission statement and demonstrations being put on at their monthly meetings are to promote something that has been happening for years.

It's just a different angle to look at it from. Rather than being a passive learner - being told the information - taking an active stance and discovering, Davis advises.

More and more, the idea of replacing the lecture with the experiment and the lecturer with a mentor has become preferable. Soon learning could be a joint venture between a professor and a student.

Massive tuition increases and other bumps in the red brick road

When it came time for ABOR to determine how large a tuition increase would be passed for this year at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, the students came in full force.

The three student body presidents of ASU, NAU and the UA faced the regents and explained their stance - don't raise tuition past a reasonable amount.

During his argument for a decrease in the proposed tuition increase - the three state university presidents determined a $100 increase would best serve the university system and the students - Paul Peterson, former NAU student body president accused the regents of deciding on the higher increase prior to hearing the students.

Peterson, who is now the director of Arizona Students Association, said "I feel this is more of a formality."

The regents tried to assure him that this was not the case and did when they passed an $84 increase instead. It was described as a lose-lose situation by former ASUA President Cisco Aguilar, since the universities lost much needed funds and the students still saw their tuition go up.

In-state tuition at the UA is among the lowest in the nation, keeping with the Arizona constitution which states that tuition is to be "free or free as possible."

Free tuition is not in the cards for Arizona, said Likins in an interview last March. Now the sentiment is that the $84 increase of this year is going to be a fraction of the kind of hikes that are coming in the near future.

"I would say that if I was a betting man we're going to see bigger increases than in the past few years," said Regent Hank Amos, just coming off his term as president of the regents. "There's a lot of catch up."

Arizona Students Association has proposed getting political and throwing their interests at the legislature in a major lobbying effort to increase funding for the university system.

More state money could potentially keep rising tuition from growing exponentially and could help with teacher retention.

Then there is the Arizona 2000 plan that would raise the state sales tax 0.6 percent - bringing the state's to 5.6 percent - and would be one of the largest tax increases in the history of the state.

If passed by the voters in November, $440 million could be flushed into Arizona's education system that consistently ranks at the bottom of the nation.

Eighty-five percent of the funds received from the tax increase would go to K-12.

The rest of the tax revenue would be given to higher education, with 10 percent, about $60 million to be distributed among the three state universities.

Though this could be a boost for the institutions, considering the UA only receives $30 million a year from tuition. However, Amos said that if the voters pass the Arizona 2000 proposal, it could give the legislature an excuse to not increase or maintain their current level of funding.

"I'm fearful that even if Arizona 2000 passes the legislature will say 'hey, you got yours and we don't have to give you anymore,'" Amos said.

But what effect the students may have on the process hasn't been determined yet, he added.

"The students haven't met their potential of what they can do, (the Legislature's) where the battle is fought."

Though the quality of instruction at an institution is determined by the quality of the faculty, in a time when other institutions can offer prized faculty double what they're making at the UA - money is what it comes down to.

"We're at such a critical junction, it just comes down to numbers," Amos said.

A simple word of advice

"The best thing is have a well-rounded life," said law professor Andrew Silverman. "There are a lot of good experiences one can have in college."

There are likely going to be parties, fake IDs, naps on the mall, three consecutive all-nighters for the third week in a row and the possibility to do one or two really memorable things.

As the four years - or five, six - pass on the way towards the completion of one, or several, degrees it is clear that this is a journey of development, Hunn said.

"There's a whole lot of exploring," she added.

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