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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA should seek independence from state funding

    The budget cuts proposed in the recent report of the chairmen of Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee are too drastic and will severely cripple the UA. Students and faculty are right in requesting that the legislature not adopt the chairmen’s recommendations.

    As the UA receives roughly 40 percent of its funding from the State government and the proposed cutbacks are 40 percent of State spending on higher education, Chairmen Pearce and Kavnagh are proposing what amounts approximately to a 16 percent cut in funding. My position is that the Legislature should not be able to cut 16 percent of the UA’s funding, regardless of the larger economic circumstances.

    Before you start thinking you agree, let me clarify: I do not propose amending Arizona’s Constitution or passing a ballot initiative to limit the amount by which the legislature may cut the universities’ revenue. Rather, I would have it so that cutting 16 percent of the University’s revenue is a mathematical impossibility. The legislature should not provide 16 percent of the UA’s annual revenue, let alone 40 percent! 10 percent or 5 percent would be better, and the target figure ought to be zero.

    The Arizona Constitution declares that higher education should be “”nearly as free as possible.”” The courts have ruled that “”aspirational”” and I judge it “”ridiculous.”” What does “”as possible”” mean and what must be cut first? Grade schools, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, and basic governance are more important than providing deep-discount self-edification to thousands of 18-to-22-year-olds. When revenues fall short, we cannot replace them with an aspiration. It wouldn’t be right, either, to impose higher taxes in a time of hardship. While the Pearce-Kavnagh cuts are too drastic, cuts must happen.

    University President Robert Shelton is correct: the operations of the UA bring economic benefit to the people of the state. That is not an argument for maintaining high subsidy. Even committed leftists don’t argue that taxpayers ought to subsidize every activity with positive externality, and nobody suggests that Massachusetts subsidize Harvard.

    I cannot say what the higher-education subsidy optimal for the state’s individual taxpayers is, let alone claim it to be zero. But Arizona State University President Michael Crow cannot with any intellectual honesty say that the Pearce-Kavnagh cuts will leave the State with a “”Third World”” educational infrastructure, either.

    What should be clear to all of us, leftist, right-wing, or classical-liberal, is that heavy reliance on state funding is bad for the university. Coupling so much funding of higher education to funding of governance leaves the UA too vulnerable to external economic shocks. I have no advice concerning how the UA should weather the current crisis, aside from pointing out that there are a dozen “”studies”” departments, but I do have a recommendation for the long term: emulate the successful.

    The UA is not the first state university to face this situation. Several others have experienced shortfalls of this magnitude and sometimes of longer duration, adapted and improved their quality in the process. Most notable among these is the University of Michigan, whose transition was neatly summarized in a Goldwater Institute whitepaper: “”The Privately Funded Public University: A Case Study of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.””

    In 1965, the University of Michigan received 70 percent of its annual funding from the State. By 2003, the State provided less than 10 percent. In between, Michigan faced a series of shortfalls due to the decline of the state’s auto industry, and the university faced cuts as a result. When it became clear that the high levels of state subsidy were never to return, the University of Michigan underwent an orderly and planned transition away from dependence on the State and toward dependence on the community and its endowment.

    Difficult decisions had to be made: underperforming programs were cut, tuition fees were raised. But the alternative would have been a painful and protracted decline. Quite the opposite happened: these days, the University of Michigan is considered among the best public universities in the country, not just for research but also for its relatively selective and prestigious undergraduate program.

    The UA faces unique circumstances, but would not do badly in following the lead of Michigan and other privately funded public universities. We are a mega-university with hundreds of thousands of alumni, and the only university within 100 miles. Why haven’t we made the transition already?

    – Ben Kalafut is a physics doctoral student. He can be reached at

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