Budget woes leading to drop in quality

Shelton says ""we're not broke"" when the UA vault has nothing but cobwebs in it (like Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone's vault.)


Last week, President Robert Shelton took an Obama-esque approach in confronting the harsh realities of state budget cuts. Interviewed by Daily Wildcat news editor Tim McDonnell, Shelton used a lot of words, rhetorically moonwalked by questions and pitched his own message. In all fairness, his role as president demands politicking, but the talking points were spoon-fed as if UA students were children.

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By Shelton's own estimate, the UA will be in the red by ""close to $100 million"" by fiscal year 2012. In order to achieve a modicum of stability, about $60 million will need to be replaced, and ""of course that has to come from tuition."" With roughly 30,000 undergraduates and an additional 8,000 graduate students, those still around in the next few years can look forward to an extra $1,000-$2,000 in tuition.


There's nothing wrong with paying more, as long as you're getting more in return.


Shelton's new favorite word, ""efficiency,"" has been used quite creatively. Referring to the new College of Letters, Arts and Science, Shelton inferred that merging four colleges into one may reduce the need for four sets of administrative lineups. Of course there will be some redundancies, but the term ""efficient"" may mean four times the workload for advisers, or one-fourth the likelihood of securing an advising appointment. As tuition keeps rising, available resources keep falling.


The problem with Shelton's perspective is that he's looking at paper and numbers. In passing fashion, he commented that ""maybe class size has to grow a bit."" With 200-300 more freshmen and a higher retention rate, class size will grow a lot. Judging by statistics in the UA Factbook for 2008, the new College of Letters, Arts and Science would house 40 percent of the undergraduate population.


Within this new mega college, political science is a major that may lose the most value.


The proliferation of cross-listed courses allows poli sci students to choose any number of academic pursuits. The increasing class sizes and difficulty in registering for specific courses will greatly affect all poli sci students hoping for more than a convenient schedule and a degree.


Political science offers students the ability to study sociology, history, economics and other disciplines through a societal-based lens. Students uncertain about their professional aspirations can take political science to uncover their worldly interests. After a year of taking whatever is available, which students will have to do, many underclassmen discover an intellectual interest they hadn't previously known.


Amanda Miller, a political science junior, must adjust to the dire straits in class size and selection. Most interested in international relations, Amanda had to register for whatever courses she could find to satisfy her major. When asked how this type of schedule affects her academic experience, she said she finds it difficult to become engaged in the material. When taking classes she is interested in, ""it's a lot easier to read and focus on the material,"" she said. Students shouldn't have to choose between a grade and a valuable learning experience.


Beyond the motivation to learn and broaden one's horizons, the ability to acquire a specialty within political science can be invaluable for success in graduate programs. Many of the skills needed are learned in writing-intensive courses. Staggering declines in teaching assistants have resulted in fewer writing-intensive courses, since there are not enough people to grade essays.


Professor Suzanne Dovi of the departments of government and public policy and philosophy lamented the academic sacrifices that accompany our current budget crisis.


Fewer writing-intensive courses will lower students' ""ability to convey written ideas — effectively, an essential life skill,"" Dovi said. With overflowing classes, professors are unable to get to know their students and provide the personal attention necessary to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Professors are less likely to be able to write ""the kind of letter that is necessary to get students into top graduate and professional programs,"" Dovi said.


Shelton had half the point right when he said that the quality of education ""depends on the individual."" Students must make the effort to learn the material, engage with their peers and retain knowledge, but they can't do it alone. They must have the ability to coordinate their learning to fulfill their academic goals and graduate on time. The budget crisis threatens the quality of our education in numerous ways, especially our 6-point drop from 96th to 102nd in U.S News and World Report college rankings. Shelton himself does not believe ""there is any realistic expectation of this situation improving any time soon."" Let's hope he can treat the students like adults, even if it means telling the unembellished truth.



— Dan Sotelo is a political science senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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