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Perhaps a Little too Much Caffeine…

Posted by on | June 2, 2017 | Comments Off

In 2012, Governor Brewer appointed me to an eight-year term on the Board of Regents; for the last year I’ve been Chairman. 

I understand when policy makers question the efficiency of higher education or the value of an advanced degree.  After all, I made some of those arguments in Espresso Pundit and I’ve read the national stories that have appeared since then.  In my five years on the Regents I have studied the topic extensively and while I still believe that there are quite a few problems with higher education nationally,  I believe that Arizona Universities are efficient and that the degrees we confer have tremendous value.  I’m happy to make that case in writing or in person.  That’s why I was happy to meet with Reps. Mark Finchem and Vince Leach in Tucson last November in order to continue making that case.  I thought the meeting went quite well.

However, much to my surprise, on January 25th, I received this press release.

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Representatives Mark Finchem (R-11) and Jill Norgaard (R-18) have introduced HB 2359, which would improve local control of public universities by creating a governing board for each institution.

Unsatisfied by the lack of fiscal restraint shown by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), the legislation would create local governing boards for each university, comprised of five members serving four-year terms.

The press release generated this A-1 above the fold Daily Star article.

I was surprised by the press release and subsequent articles for two reasons: 

First.  Arizona Universities are among the most innovative and efficient in the nation.  Our cost per degree is low and the value of that degree is high.  Moreover, we have maintained this efficiency in the face of some extremely difficult financial conditions.  The University Appropriation is still about $300 million lower than it was in 2008–and we are, of course, serving substantially more students than we did then.

Second. When the Founders wrote the Arizona Constitution, they created the Board of Regents and gave it the power to set tuition and run the schools.  Rep. Finchem et al pride themselves following “original intent.”  OK.  The original intent in the AZ Constitution is really clear.  By sponsoring a bill that uses a “living document” approach to eliminate the Regents, the sponsors are doing exactly what they accuse “activist judges” of doing.  How can Mr. Finchem continue to opine on the original meaning of, say, the Equal Footing Doctrine after sponsoring a bill that uses legal slight of hand to try to bypass the clear language of the Constitution?

So when the Regents’ office set up a meeting with Rep. Norgaard to discuss the bill, naturally asked if I could attend.  I also suggested that it might be a good idea to invite Mr. Finchem.  Then I went to my office and made a big pot of coffee….

Those who remember my legislative days know that I left no boat unrocked, no bomb unthrown and no ox ungored. I frankly can’t remember how many times I was called into what were known then as “come to Jesus” meetings.  Rep. Sue Gerard hosted the first one.  Then Rep. John Wetaw, followed by Lisa Graham Keegan.  Mark Killian was perhaps the most effective in the early years.  I’ll never forget his nearly constant refrain of “Mr. Patterson, we need to have a little chat.”   Jane Hull brought me in several times when she was Speaker and then she had a great idea–Stan Barnes.  Jane eventually stopped meeting with me directly but every few months pulled Stan aside and said….Mr. Barnes, can you do something about Greg?

So I get it.

By the time we met with Finchem and Norgaard I knew exactly what I was going to say–however, I didn’t tell anyone from the Regents what I had in mind.   I waited while the folks from the Regents explained the various efficiencies of the University system and when it was my turn, I told Mr. Finchem that the Republican Caucus is only as credible as it’s least credible member and that if he keeps sponsoring bills like this and issuing press releases like this…well you get the picture.

In my caffeine-induced rage I managed to conclude by announcing that the cowboy costume didn’t work and that he needed to trim the mustache, lose the tie and buy a real suit. 

Well.  As you might imagine, that didn’t go over very well.  I thought it was going to all be fine but word got around the Capitol.

From what I hear, the story is continuing to escalate.  So it was time for me to check the tape*.

If I had a written transcript of what I said, I would still stand by it.  However, having reviewed it, I believe that the tone of my final few sentences was unacceptable.  I was angry and unprofessional.  Worse than that, my final few sentences unwound everything that had been said in the meeting.  Rather than remember any of our points, the only thing that Mr. Finchem could focus on was that I had yelled at him about his tie. 

So, Mr. Finchem, I apologize for the harshness and unprofessionalism of my tone.  It’s a real apology.  I’m not “sorry that you were offended”. Yada yada.  I’m sorry for the offensive tone that I used.  I stand by what I said, but my tone was harsh, angry and unprofessional.  And for that, I apologize.

I hope this puts the issue to rest and that one of these days I can buy you a cup of coffee–and if we are going to discuss education, I’ll switch to decaf.

*Tape?:  Yes.  If I am making a presentation in a public venue I often record myself.  The Tempe Prep Commencement speech a few posts back is an obvious example.  Recording myself allows me to prove what I did or did not say, assess my tone and eliminate any habitual verbal tics.  Obviously I only record myself at official meetings or presentations and never at private events or discussions.  I also always record any interviews that I give to reporters, knowing that they are recording it as well.

 

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