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Regent Îlone voice' of students

EVAN CARAVELLI/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona Regent Ernest Calder—n speaks to reporters March 10 after the Arizona Board of Regents meeting.
By Mitra Taj
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, May 4, 2004
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Newly appointed regent Calder—n wants his voice heard ÷ for the students

On the way back to a meeting where seven individuals will vote on whether undergraduates at Arizona universities will have to pay more special fees next semester, Ernest Calder—n laughs on the phone with U.S. Marshal David Gonzales.

The laughter seems to follow the recently appointed Arizona regent like a shadow. He might start a conversation with a joke or curtsy instead of shaking hands. When the humor fades, the conversation turns a little more serious.

"Yeah, they're gonna raise fees at the meeting," says Calder—n, his subtle Chicano inflection drawing the words out. "I think I'll probably be the only no vote again."

Calder—n said Gonzales is one of his "dear friends" who supports his efforts to keep the cost of higher education down.

"Somebody has to say something about it," he said. "How can we raise tuition one month and the next raise fees?"

Somebody did say something. And again, the only person who said something was Calder—n.

A lone voice among the regents

Calder—n might be well-known as the only regent who voted against the tuition hikes last month and the undergraduate fee increases last week.

He may also be the only regent who chews gum during the Arizona Board of Regents meetings, the only regent who's been personally thanked by students for sticking up for them and the only regent who, as a boy, was banned from watching "Lassie" because he got too emotionally involved in the TV show.

But Calder—n seems unlikely to mind standing out as he focuses on changing higher education for the better.

"My voice is all I have," he said.

Calder—n's face lights up when he describes what he hopes to accomplish during his eight-year term. At the top of the list is finding Arizona universities a separate source of funding.

"That way, we're not begging for money from the Legislature or from private donors," said Calder—n, a graduate from UA's law school.

He said other states have been relying on lottery money or tobacco money to pay for the universities' needs and that Arizona might be able to find a similar revenue source that would go straight to the universities instead of through the Legislature.

Calder—n said he also wants to establish an independent financial aid source for students, get more affordable housing for faculty and staff and make Northern Arizona University a stronger university.

When asked if those plans might be a little ambitious, Calder—n looks confused.

"Why not?" he asks.

Many say Calder—n is good at beating the odds. Raised in the small town of Morenci by his mother, a short order cook, and his father, a copper miner, Calder—n dreamt of either becoming a priest or a politician.

Calder—n said he dropped the priest dream when puberty hit, but his interest in politics and law grew throughout the years. He eventually graduated from the UA law school and now works as a business attorney for a Phoenix law firm.

Elaine McDaniel, Calder—n's elder sister by 10 years, said her brother has always been an "avid learner."

McDaniel said she used to bring Calder—n when he was a baby to her rural elementary school. By the time he was 2, he not only knew the Pledge of Allegiance, she said, but led the class in it every morning.

"He just craved for learning about everything," McDaniel said. "Books, mechanical things, why people were the way they were. And he always had a lot of questions at church."

Everyone has a voice

On a trip to the ASU bookstore between regents sessions last week, Calder—n, a father of four, talks about the Changing Directions Initiative, which he fears will keep Arizona universities from being diverse.

"They're talking about just admitting the top 25 percent of high school classes, but unfortunately, diverse students aren't part of the top 25 percent," he says.

Calder—n drops the conversation to whip his head around and look at a student passing by, wearing a blue and gold jersey and shorts.

"I like that guy's outfit," he says, head nodding. "Rocca Wear."

Forty-six-year old Calder—n is, with the exception of student regent Danelle Kelling, the youngest regent to serve on the board.

"He's a new regent who's just starting to find out what's going on," said President Peter Likins. "He's got his hands full. He's a young guy and he's going to put in a great eight years," Likins said.

At the March regents meeting, Calder—n made a splash as the only regent to enthusiastically protest the 14 percent tuition hike, supporting instead a smaller increase student representatives had proposed.

Though the other regents didn't support his recommendation, students took note.

"It's nice for students to know he's on our side," said Jake Thacker, an advertising junior and Northern Arizona University delegate to the Arizona Students' Association. Thacker was one of the students who approached Calder—n after the March board meeting to shake his hand and thank him for opposing the tuition increases.

Thacker said he and other student representatives felt "stabbed in the back" by others who had promised support.

"Kelling didn't stand up for us," Thacker said. "He (Calder—n) made us feel like someone actually cares. He wants to see education work and wants to see progress while keeping things affordable."

Thacker said Calder—n has met with student representatives, and on Thursday morning, the regent stuck his head in an ASA meeting to say hello to the students.

"He's not just one of the old ABOR guys that sits up there and makes decisions," said Thacker.

Others said without help, his dissenting votes don't do much.

"No one person changes anything," Regent Fred Boice said. "If the vote is 10 to one, I hope you feel better about yourself because you didn't accomplish much."

But Boice said he applauds Calder—n's dedication regardless of the final outcome.

"He's the poor minority kid from Morenci who became a lawyer ÷ and a successful one at that," Boice said.

Calder—n said his working-class background helps him identify with students and their families.

"I don't think the presidents know the plight of the working person," Calder—n said in March.

McDaniel, Calder—n's elder sister, said when Calder—n was in the first or second grade, a teacher sent a note home to their parents warning them to start saving money because their son was college-bound.

"And they heeded that," McDaniel said.

Calder—n said scholarships, along with the "burden of love" his parents withstood to help him with tuition, allowed him to major in political science as an undergraduate at NAU.

As student body president his senior year, Calder—n said he took issues up with regents and saw the potential regents had to change students lives.

"I knew there were two to three people that cared about students. They even took us out to lunch," Calder—n said. "There are many supportive regents now, but I'm the only one that voted no."

McDaniel said that when Calder—n was younger, he was far from outspoken and rebellious, but he was always worried about others. "If there were a stronger word for sensitive, that would be Ernie."

The family had to prohibit him from watching "Lassie" because, McDaniel said, "he would take it to heart."

"He would worry about the rabbit in the hole and the hobo that walked through the park ÷ ÎWhat's he going to eat, where's he going to sleep?'"

McDaniel said that their parents were very strict, but Calder—n never went against their wishes.

"But he's his own person now. He can say no when he wants to."

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