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Planning school fights for existence

By Shelley Shelton
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday September 26, 2003

TEMPE - A sea of red confronted those who attended the Arizona Board of Regents meeting in Tempe yesterday, as about 35 supporters from the UA School of Planning sported red T-shirts reading, "Save the School of Planning."

State Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson) joined community leaders to voice opposition to the school's proposed elimination under Focused Excellence.

"I am here today, not as a state senator, but as a person who is truly passionate about planning," said Giffords, who holds a master's degree in planning.

"Because I am a legislator with a background in planning, I am aware of the importance of your decision about this department," she said.

Giffords cited a list of the school's accomplishments, including the fact that enrollment has tripled in just a few years and the school has a record of 100 percent job placement for its graduates.

"Planning is essentially an invisible profession," she said, adding that people are unaware of planning until something goes wrong.

Planners are responsible for things like sewage and water systems and designing roads for optimum traffic flow, she said.

She asked the regents to think about all the communities they love to visit and the things that make those places great.

"All those things didn't happen by coincidence," she said. "I urge you to protect this department because they, in turn, are going to protect us."

Arizona Planning Association President Kelli Sertich made a similar statement to the board and reminded them of the university's status as a land-grant institution.

As such, the university has a responsibility to protect and promote quality of life in local communities, she said.

At least six firms in the Tucson area are owned and operated by UA planning graduates, she said.

"The state needs educated planners more than ever now, as our state sees rapid growth," she said.

Of the 22 planners in Pima County Development Services, 11 are UA planning graduates, said Jim Mazzocco, a county planner.

"We need access to highly qualified professionals, and the university gives us access to those professionals," he said.

For UA to eliminate the planning school would be like trying to cut corners to be faster, better, and cheaper, which will not necessarily work out that way, he said.

He raised the specter of NASA's 1990s "Faster, Better, Cheaper" program that was intended to design and land space probes on Mars at the lowest cost possible. The probes ultimately crashed before beginning their exploration, and a later investigation determined that if NASA had invested more money in the mission, it would not have failed.

"Whatever you save in funds may undermine an ongoing success story," he concluded.

After the public statements ended, Barbara Becker, director of the School of Planning, said she thought some good points were made but that she still anticipates the school will close.

Before the regents act on the proposal, the UA Faculty Senate must first vote to cut the school, she said.

If the Faculty Senate passes such a measure at their next meeting, the issue could go before the board of regents as early as November, she said.

Becker said she has a feeling that the body will, indeed, vote to eliminate the school.

"I think a lot of faculty members are saying, ÎIt's not my program. Better them than me.' One has to suspect people will act in their own best interests," she said, adding that some faculty members might think that planning school money could be reallocated to their departments.

UA President Peter Likins said he was "very moved" by Giffords' "eloquence and passion."

When asked how he felt about the planning school's display of unity for the second consecutive regent meeting, he said, "They're doing a good job of making their case."

But he said he was concerned that people might be making statements based on wrong information.

For instance, he said there is nothing on the November regent's agenda concerning a vote on the school's fate, as some of the morning's speakers indicated.

Likins and Provost George Davis have yet to determine when such a vote would be put on the regent's agenda, Likins said.

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