By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Student leaders debate plans to change Ariz. higher education
Diversity, prestige, economic viability and affordability were the top concerns of UA students regarding the Arizona University System Redesign Project.
Student leaders from Arizona State University, ASU West, Northern Arizona University and UA met yesterday to discuss the implications of the redesign proposals, which would restructure higher education across the state.
The Arizona University System Redesign Project was initiated in May to help Arizona universities meet the demand of increasing student enrollment.
The original proposal would strengthen ASU and UA as research universities while changing the focus of NAU to undergraduate education. Additionally, ASU West would become a free-standing institution named Central Arizona University, and UA South would combine with NAU's Yuma campus to create Southern Arizona University.
Since May, 15 additional proposals have also been introduced by Arizona students and faculty who were unhappy with the current proposal.
An 18-member panel, the Arizona Board of Regents Feasibility and Planning Study Work Group, was created in order to assess all the potential university redesign plans.
Eight stakeholder groups were also established to provide feedback to the core workgroup. The stakeholders, including alumni, businesses, faculty members and students, will suggest issues that should be considered in the feasibility study.
Alistair Chapman, student body president, said at the UA, a significant issue to consider is maintaining the university's goal of becoming a Hispanic-serving institution while attempting to establish the UA as a top-ranking research university.
"At our university in particular, we really value diversity," Chapman said.
Ben Graff, a student regent who is the only student in the workgroup, said the workgroup wants to foster diversity in all of the university campuses. If the smaller universities attract mostly minority students while ASU and UA becomes predominantly Caucasian, Graff said this would be a failure of the redesign.
"My biggest concern has been that we (may) create these 'minority magnets,'" Graff said.
Student leaders said another important implication of the university redesign would be the perceived status of the universities.
The university redesign plan has been especially controversial at the smaller campuses, such as ASU West and NAU, that fear the change could diminish the status of these universities.
"One thing I've heard students (at NAU) say is we have the most to lose," said Wes MacCaully, NAU. "Perception is nine-tenths of the battle."
Saif Al-Alawi, president of the Associated Students at Arizona State University West, said their situation is comparable to Safeway Select brand soda as opposed to Pepsi: although both taste the same, the Safeway brand does not appear as esteemed as Pepsi.
Al-Alawi said if ASU West becomes independent of ASU, although the quality of education could be good, building their reputation could take time.
"I get a wonderful education (at ASU West), but it takes a while to establish a university," Al-Alawi said.
But at the UA, Chapman said the redesign would enhance the status of the university.
In terms of the quality of education, UA student leaders said the redesign could promote Focused Excellence by keeping strong programs while eliminating weaker ones.
In addition, the redesign could result in more tenured faculty teaching undergraduates.
However, one concern of students was the economic viability of the plan, as paying for the endeavor would require more assistance from the state legislature.
"Funding with the state has never been an easy matter," said Ryan Patterson, an Arizona Students' Association director.
Chapman worried about the accessibility of higher education for students who were financially restricted if the university redesign resulted in higher tuition costs.
Chapman also said the workgroup should consider Arizona students who may not be interested in research, but financially, would not have the option of going to a school such as NAU because of its distance from Phoenix and Tucson.
The student stakeholders meetings are open to the public, and Chapman said any student is welcome to join.
The students will present their concerns to the Feasibility and Planning Study Work Group during its meeting Dec. 7.
The redesign will be further discussed at the Arizona Board of Regents meeting today. The regents meeting, open to the public, will be today and Friday in the ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center.