Editorial: Legislature continues to invade university's boundaries
The weather is great, the birds are singing, and the regents are shouting at the lawmakers.
Spring is on the way.
While last year's debate between the Arizona State Legislature and the Arizona Board of Regents centered around a lack of attention paid to the universities' budgets, this session seems to be far too devoted to governing academia.
Rep. Jean McGrath's latest package of unconstitutional nonsense would ban sex in dorms and on computers. In the future, the tale of McGrath will likely be used to frighten freshmen into going to bed early.
Students and regents have raised their voices at the proposed legislation, and rightly so. If there is any good in the world, Pristine Jean's reign of terror will not go too far beyond her own committee. But the greater problem will outlive each year's brawl.
Judging from recent proposals and last year's budget cuts, many legislators view the university system as a waste of their money - just another state agency it can bully around, underfund and force to walk the line.
Arizona lawmakers need to realize that smart educational policy does not treat a university as a money pit or a misbehaving child, rather as an institution that shapes the future and can take care of itself.
Last year around this time, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee reinforced its position that education funding is expendable when it proposed a $15 million cut to the three state universities' budgets, a plan that would have cost the University of Arizona about 90 faculty members.
As if this university didn't have a hard enough time keeping its educators, the state expected it to be able to recruit top faculty with a slogan like, "Work a little harder, make a little less!"
The JLBC was working with a sense of immediacy and failed to realize that university funding is not an expenditure or lost money. It is a necessity to an intelligent, functioning society.
The other threat to academic success keeps resurfacing in the form of forced orthodoxy.
In other words, the Legislature often reasons, "I give you money, you spend it the way I want."
The evidence of this is clear with the proposal that would kill the UA's successful Science and Technology Park because it is a silly waste of money.
Other such infringements include attempts to regulate course description catalogs, revise employee whistleblower policy, inappropriately limit the use of UA computers, and control university severance pay.
And, of course, there is the latest bill that would ban opposite-sex visitors from dorm rooms past midnight, which recently passed committee. This attempts to make straight sex at UA dorms illegal.
The Legislature, as recently emphasized by McGrath, continues to miss the point of academic freedom and the system that protects it.
Regent Don Ulrich recently said, "It's time we let them know who they really work for."
And that's the key here. Lawmakers work for the people. It is not the university's job to prove it's worthy of funds. It is not the university's job to please the government.
The UA is here to educate and build a new world of open-minded intelligence. The regents are built into the system to protect the university from such bullying.
The Legislature should let ABOR do its given task and appreciate the importance of higher education.