Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 3, 2005
Cut classes, departments and programs. A veritable army of cheaply funded teaching assistants. Trash cans overflowing. Cost of employee benefits ever growing.
Add to that the loss of hundreds of faculty and staff and you’ve got a nearly $50 million budget shortfall that has proven music to state legislators’ ears.
As it stands now, the UA is one of the three largest casualties of gross negligence by a conservative
Legislature that created a runaway train of malfeasance under the guise of a budget crisis. The other two casualties are, of course, Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University.
To be sure, there was a budget crisis — five years ago. Now the state sits in a comfortable position with a projected surplus of nearly $350 million. The troubled waters have passed.
During the foreboding crisis of the recent past, lawmakers faced tough decisions. They preached fiscal conservation as the solution, and there was an understanding that every aspect of the state had to trim its spending for the better of the whole. Legislators demanded cuts in university budgets and campus presidents acquiesced.
Regardless of whether there was ever a frank conversation between legislators and university presidents, there was at least a tacit understanding that the cuts were an exception, a result of the state’s dire straits.
Yet once lawmakers saw how easy it was to cut millions from universities, they found no reason to stop. And so the exception became the rule.
Legislators’ annual expectations that the UA, NAU and ASU can simply hemorrhage state funds indefinitely to balance Arizona’s checkbook represents a betrayal of trust. Beyond that, it’s grossly ignorant to not see the future of the state lies in its academic and research institutions.
If, a decade from now, the state of Arizona is more prosperous and can brag of a robust economy, it will be able to do so in large part thanks to the research and innovation conducted on this campus.
Saving graces for the UA — such as the more than $1 billion raised by Campaign Arizona — cannot be seen by lawmakers as a treasure chest that can substitute for the state funds required to maintain the tradition of excellence at this university. The money donated by loyal alumni has a purpose, which is most certainly not to patch the holes legislators plan to poke in the UA’s budget.
When the state finalizes its financial ledger this year, the surplus must be used to pay back the three state universities’ debts owed by the Legislature.
The amount could bring back the 500 university employees who lost their jobs or weren’t hired back. It would allow Facilities Management to do its job adequately. It would most certainly decrease class sizes and help more students graduate on time.
But more than repairing old wounds, the payback affords the Legislature the opportunity to admit it was wrong and put its money where its mouth is regarding its commitment to higher education and the future of this state. Ultimately, repaying the debt will speak volumes about lawmakers’ character and allow them to begin regaining the trust they shattered years ago.
Opinions are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Lori Foley, Ryan Johnson, Damion LeeNatali, Aaron Mackey, Mike Morefield, Katie Paulson and Tim Runestad.