The Arizona Daily Star Political Notebook reports:
Fresh off of his failed attempt at similar legislation last year, Finchem crafted a strike-everything amendment to create three separate governing boards to make policy, funding and tuition decisions for Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.
Those boards would be appointed by the Governor — with four members coming from the business community and three from the academic community.
University and ABOR officials lamented that the bill would set up the possibility that the universities would openly compete with each other for resources.
Finchem’s amendment was adopted on an unrelated bill heard in the Senate Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee this week, allowing it to skip public hearings in the House. The bill still must be approved by the full Senate, then return to the House for a final vote, before landing on Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.
The Arizona Republic adds more details, Bill would dismantle Board of Regents, change Arizona’s university system:
A bill to fundamentally restructure how Arizona’s three state universities are managed passed an Arizona Senate committee Monday as a fast-tracked proposal that won’t receive much public input.
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, wants to effectively dismantle the Arizona Board of Regents and vastly expand the governor and Legislature’s control of state universities.
Instead of a 10-member board appointed by the governor, Finchem wants a board of elected officials to serve as “trustees” and separate, local boards for each of the three universities.
The bill would put the governor and legislative leaders in charge of setting policies for the universities on issues such as tuition rates, reducing student debt or increasing job placements for students.
* * *
The measure skipped the ordinary legislative process, which involves hearings before committees and full votes of each chamber, because it came as a 278-page strike-everything amendment to an unrelated bill.
The bill, House Bill 2203, started as a proposal about wildlands and watersheds. Because of that, it was heard by the Senate Natural Resources, Water and Energy Committee, a committee that doesn’t typically hear education bills.
The committee approved the bill on a 5-3 party-line vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.
What the bill would do
The bill would wipe out the regents’ budget and staff. The replacement board of trustees would include the governor and legislative leaders from both parties.
In addition, the governor would appoint four people from the business sector and three academic representatives to each of the three local boards at Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
The local boards would see a limited budget of no more than $170,000 per year for reimbursements for all members. The bill also says the local boards can hire “adequate staff” to carry out their work, but doesn’t set a cost limit.
The regent’s annual budget of $5.6 million would be wiped out, and the “board of trustees” would be prohibited from hiring staffers. The board currently has 34 full-time workers.
Finchem attempted to overhaul and dismantle the board last legislative session, though his previous effort didn’t get this far. His initial bill on the topic this session didn’t get a hearing.
He believes the regents have overstepped their authority and moved into the policy arena, edging into the Legislature’s role, he said.
“That’s not their job. Their job is to execute, not create policy,” Finchem said.
Have regents overstepped their authority?
Some of the regents’ decisions in recent years have put the board at odds with the conservative Legislature on issues such as leasing and taxation by universities, athletic contract payouts to coaches and tuition rates for students covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA allows young immigrants without serious criminal records who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children to apply for temporary protection from deportation and renewable two-year work permits.
“A lot of people in many halls have voiced significant frustration with a lot of aspects of the university system,” Finchem said.
Klein said it’s true that the regents set policy — she said it’s part of their job duties. The board’s duties are determined by the Legislature in state statutes, and the regents set policy based on those laws, she said.
Arizona law says the board “may adopt, and authorize each university to adopt, such regulations, policies, rules or measures as are deemed necessary” and can delegate those directives to the universities.
“It would be unfair to expect the board not to be involved in policy, they are a policy-making body,” Klein said.
Universities would compete, not collaborate
Klein said the bill would pit the universities against each other to compete for students and research dollars instead of allowing them to work together to help the state as a whole.
That’s part of Finchem’s goal with the legislation.
He said he wants the universities to compete against each other because “competition is always good for the soul.”
Klein said policy issues such as changing the board’s structure deserve to be discussed, noting that the board’s size and structure haven’t changed much in decades, despite massive growth at the universities.
But because the bill would set up two-year terms for local board members, Klein said it may have an unintended negative consequence of less accountability because members would be moving in and out in short order. Regents are now appointed for eight years.
She said a bill of this scope, which could have massive consequences for the universities, shouldn’t be rushed through the Legislature. Instead it should have full hearings and all stakeholders should have an opportunity to weigh in, she said.
“A complete restructuring of the university system should not be done through a strike-everything amendment,” Klein said.
Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, a Democrat from Cameron, voted against the bill and questioned why the natural-resources committee was weighing a massive higher-education overhaul.
“If this proposal has been years in the making, why is it on a strike-everything bill?” Peshlakai asked the committee on Monday.
Finchem requested an opinion last year from the state attorney general to assess how the Legislature could alter the board. The attorney general concluded the Legislature had broad authority to set up the powers and duties of the regents.
* * *
For the typical student or university employee, the bill presents a “tremendous change” in operations, according to Eileen Klein, president of the Arizona Board of Regents. A series of appointees at the local boards would mean a lot of churn in decision making on important issues such as tuition and campus safety, she said.
Universities’ missions also could change over time as they compete against each other for resources, she said.
Now, the single oversight body forces university presidents to work together for higher educational attainment, higher graduation rates and a better state workforce, Klein said.
“The state risks being a tremendous loser in that scenario,” she said.
Kill this bill! Then vote this loser out of office.