Special ABOR meeting held to determine fate of ASA
By Gary Collins
The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) held a special meeting to discuss and gather information regarding the $2 charged to students each semester to fund the Association of Arizona Students (ASA) on Oct. 24.
On the previous evening, the ASU Tempe Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senate passed a resolution by a vote of 21 to two recommending the ASU Tempe USG be removed from ASA, according to the resolution, “forthwith financially, and otherwise.”
The day after the ABOR meeting, the ASNAU Senate, meeting in regular session passed by a vote of 10 for and one against, a resolution expressing ongoing support for ASA.
Senator Anthony Lake, a senior music education major, expressed his thoughts on the value of continuing involvement with ASA before the vote was take
n.“The things that hasn’t shaken me about anything brought to light is the fact that I believe that for the good of the students of Arizona and specifically the students of NAU, there needs to be a unified voice throughout the three universities and if that is shut down I’m afraid we’ll see numerous tuition hikes like in Colorado,” Lake said. ” They abolished theirs and immediately their tuition went up very high.”
The Associated Students of the University of Arizona Senate, at this time, have not taken a stance concerning ASA, because they are still in the process of gathering information.
Tyler Bowyer, an ASU graduate, who is the voting student member of ABOR and assistant treasurer, stated the meeting was held “due to a number of different inquiries, observations and concerns expressed by different students across the entire state of Arizona, not just at ASU and their various campuses.”
The special meeting, according to Sarah Harper, ABOR director of public affairs, was informational and dealt with the $2 student fee.
“The Board is looking at whether or not it is appropriate for such a fee collection to continue given the lack of governance from the Board and is researching potential policy changes related to the fee,” Harper said. “The meeting was called after the Board was contacted by students at multiple institutions regarding the fee. The Arizona Board of Regents will meet with student government leaders to gather more information while evaluating the current fee policy and explore potential changes to the fee structure. The Board also will improve communications with students during the next tuition cycle [December] to better inform students about the fee.”
As noted by Bowyer, the special meeting of ABOR came about after months of discontent over policies and decisions of the directors of ASA. This discontent resulted in the resignation of Jeffery Hebert, president of the ASU Polytechnic campus, from the Board of Directors of ASA on Sept. 13, along with his vice president of policy Shauniece High. On Sept. 26 Mark Naufel, student government president of the ASU Tempe campus, stepped down. Joseph Grossman, president of the ASU Downtown Campus student sovernment, joined by vice president of policy David Bakardjiev, also stepped down.
The Tempe USG then created a task force to look into, according to the USG Senate Bill 37, “concerns about ASA’s structure, behavior, culture and other organizational elements and have resigned from or declined their ASA board positions as a result of these concerns.”
Tempe USG Senate did recommend ASA be withdrawn from the Tempe campus. ASU students are still represented by, and there is still a presence on campus of, ASA. ASA still has representation from ASU vice president of policy Brendan Pantilione and director Megan Riley, as well as graduate and professional students’ association representative Rhian Stotts and vice president of policy German Cadenas.
While the Task Force Report is largely critical of ASA and the Tempe USG, it did acknowledge some of the strengths of ASA. SB 37 states ASA had “successfully lobbied for a Student Regent on ABOR and then continuing to lobby for full voting powers as well as a second Student Regent.” The Report also acknowledges, “that the purpose of this organization is purely for the public good.”
Further, there has been some speculation of ASA’s support of Prop 204, which, if passed, would continue the one cent sales task with the revenue used to benefit education in Arizona. This may have been a divisive point in the current conflict: it was passed by the Board of Directors unanimously in June, including all the Board members who have resigned. Still, there are lingering concerns that this marks a departure for the Board into partisan concerns.
This concern was addressed by the task force, which concluded, in the words of the report, “Though there have been rampant allegations that the organization is very slanted to the political left, the task force is unable to substantiate claims that ASA acts as a partisan organization in its formal practices.”
The task force also stated it has found “ASA’s justifications for funding in many areas, very questionable and presented without clarity. In a line-by-line breakdown of the budget, there is a great lack of detail . . .. Transparency is largely absent on exactly how ASA spends its money as an organization.”
Each year, ASA submits its documentation to an independent external audit.
In the Oct. 10 edition of The Lumberjack, we stated, “According to an ASA fact sheet, ASA has, in the past, lobbied to ensure that Pell Grant funding was maintained at maximum levels. It was slated to be reduced and ASA efforts saved 581 NAU students from losing their Grants and many students from losing $800 per year. ASA further defeated a bill (HB 2675 Minimum Tuition Bill) that would have required all students to pay $2,000 per year, out of pocket without the use of scholarships or grants.”
The task force addressed the minimum tuition bill victory with a quote from ASU downtown USG President Joseph Grossman, who has now resigned from ASA’s Board of Directors.
“There were many people down at the Capitol lobbying against the minimum tuition bill,” Grossman said. “It was a collective effort. I won’t say that ASA didn’t help, but they were not the most influential presence in play . . . The wins ASA claim have little proof to back how it’s their win,.”
According to ASA director Wes Enns, the task force did not contact any ASA director or any legislator to back Grossman’s statement.
The task force offered this: ”With regards to the full-time lobbyist, campus funds should not be used to hire a lobbyist as staff member. However, if another organization proves to merit funding and support from all campuses by advocating for Arizona students in an effective manner, that advocacy organization may be able to fulfill the full-time lobbyist role.”
“ASA is able to fund a full-time, professional lobbyist that can be on the Capitol every single day advocating for students when they cannot,” Enns said.
While there are certainly disagreements with the findings of the task force by ASNAU and NAU’s ASA directors, the Tempe USG Senate and executive branches have concerns about the efficacy and necessity of ASA. Concerns have been made known to the students they represent on their campus and to ABOR and is now within their jurisdiction.