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Wednesday November 22, 2000

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Prop 301 funds - don't spend it all in one place

By The Wildcat Opinions Board

UA President Peter Likins wants to do homework.

However, he won't be holed away in a musty alcove in the Main Library. Likins, along with the presidents of Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University and the Arizona Board of Regents, wants to research the best ways to spend millions in tax money soon to come the university's way, and have a special meeting - a retreat - to decide how to spend that money, the result of the passage of Proposition 301.

Two weeks after Arizona voters approved Prop 301, a state sales tax increase that directs millions of dollars to education, the reality of the fundraising plan is hitting the people responsible for deciding how the money will be spent at the university level.

"This is probably one of the most important times we're going to have in the lives of the universities," said Regent Don Ulrich, ABOR president. "I want to make sure the planning process is impeccable."

Regent Judy Gignac agreed, saying, "It is probably the single most important change in how we fund higher education."

The regents know they need to be very careful with the revenues, and the responsibility they are showing is admirable. To ensure they make the most responsible decisions about how to spend millions of dollars in taxpayer money, the research and retreat are a necessary bit of extra work.

The $45 to $50 million projected to be raised - which would be divvied up among improving access to public university education and to research, development and technology transfer in areas such as biotechnology, and environmental science and optics - is not a wrinkly $10 bill tucked in a birthday card from Aunt Jane, and officials know it.

For the university presidents and the regents to set aside time to research where they think the cash should go, and then reconvene for a half-day brain-bashing session, shows that they are committed to spending the money in ways most beneficial to the universities and students.

Which is vital, given that Ulrich admitted that the regents don't even currently know what areas need the money most.

"We're starting to put parameters and we don't even know what we're dealing with," Ulrich said. "We'll give universities a chance to come back and see what their priorities are. What is the quality plan? What are the priorities?"

The University of Arizona, long a research-oriented school, has had scientific designs on the tax money. Still, the stated plan to set aside money for science and research areas sounded a bit vague to begin with, and now that regents are admitting straight out that they don't know how the money should be spent, here are a few suggestions.

Aside from general scientific and research-oriented areas like optics, student services could be improved with the millions.

Take advising. Advising is also a perennial problem. Too many students and not enough advisors does not add up to a satisfactory advising experience for many students, because their advisors are either rushed from trying to help the hundreds of undergraduates under their stead. Worse, students may not be able to secure an advising appointment at all. Why not make sure some of those millions go toward hiring more advisors?

Ensuring there are funds to build a child care program at the UA would also be a welcome benefit by student parents. The UA provides child care subsidies for only about 50 families, and is the only Pac-10 school without an official program to care for students' children.

Areas like these and others could be brought to the table when the presidents and regents meet before the next official Board meeting in January.

But before that meeting, university money-spenders need to know where to direct the funds. The retreat is the best way to make sure everybody is on the same page.