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Friday, April 25, 2014 | Last updated: 1:22am

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ASA and Board of Regents should work together in improving public education



The state of Arizona is like a cannibal, systematically devouring the hopes and dreams of any person who might need assistance while striving to realize his or her American dream.

From immigration to gun control and ethnic studies to funding public education, a lack of strong leadership combined with an absence of empathy for anyone with different political views has created a collective attitude: Every person for themselves.

The Arizona Board of Regents recently made it clear that it supports this individualistic ethos. The board voted two weeks ago that the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University students must explicitly agree to pay the $2 per semester fee that funds the Arizona Students’ Association, a non-profit organization whose mission for the last 39 years has been to make higher education affordable and accessible.

The Arizona Daily Wildcat reported last week that ASA’s response was to file a federal lawsuit against the board, alleging that its unanimous decision violated students’ First Amendment rights because it was done in retaliation of ASA’s open support of Proposition 204.

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By Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat Regent Dennis DeConcini speaks at the Board of Regents' November meeting, where the board suspended a fee for the Arizona Students' Association. ASA has filed a lawsuit in response. Board of Regents

The organization decided to sue because the board’s vote sets a precedent allowing it to retaliate against anybody, said Dan Sullivan, an ASA spokesman.

The board sees the situation differently. In an official response to the lawsuit, Rick Myers, chair of the board, said the regents voted to change ASA funding policy because “the board considered options that would allow students to express support for ASA if they choose, but that also reflect that ASA is a separate and independent entity over which the regents have no governance authority.”

It is easy to interpret Myers’ statement. Since the board can’t control ASA policy, it’ll affect ASA’s ability to support or oppose policy by changing how it is funded, thus jeopardizing ASA’s future.

Further, this interpretation is supported by the fact that prior to the board’s vote, students already had the option whether to finance ASA. As the Daily Wildcat reported, students not interested in supporting ASA already had the option to request a refund of the fee.

But the biggest irony of the situation is that ASA is partially paying for the lawsuit with student fees. Some would suggest this is a waste of money, as it is probable that not all fee-paying students support ASA’s lawsuit.

On the other hand, it is evidence of the value ASA places on protecting students’ freedom of speech.

Legally speaking, ASA argues that it was exercising its First Amendment right by supporting Proposition 204, which was defeated in the November 2012 election. The proposition’s passage would have made permanent a 1 percent sales tax to fund education. A portion of those revenues would have gone to establish a state-based financial aid system at the UA, ASU and NAU.

Zachary Brooks, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council and an ASA director, wrote in an email that ASA supported Proposition 204 because “ASA’s mission is also to advocate to elected officials and running issue campaigns.”

According to the complaint filed by ASA in federal court, “Several members of the Board of Regents acknowledged that the Board’s [December] suspension of the two-dollar, refundable, ASA student fee was ‘political’ in nature and resulted from ASA’s advocacy in support of Proposition 204.”

Considering the board is the governing body charged with strengthening the quality of higher education in Arizona, it should be advancing the agenda to improve public education funding, not whacking funding to student organizations already working toward that goal.

— Matthew Casey is a journalism senior. He can be reached at
letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @matthewcasey3.


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