Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Fred DuVal Monday to the Arizona Board of Regents four years after getting himself elected by blasting his Democrat foe for sharp increases he approved in university tuition.
In a press release, the governor praised DuVal as “a remarkable leader who brings with him immeasurable higher education experience and knowledge through his long-standing involvement with the University of Arizona.”
“Fred knows first-hand how to work in a collaborative spirit to increase high-quality affordable postsecondary opportunities and prepared students for our state’s 21st century workforce,” Ducey said in his prepared statement.
Yet Ducey, with the help of the Republican Governors Association, propelled himself into election over DuVal in 2014 by attacking DuVal repeatedly for the fact that tuition at state universities doubled during the six years he served as a regent from 2006 to 2012.
During a debate in Chandler, DuVal defended the increases. He said while the board cut expenses it had to deal with sharp decreases in state aid even as enrollment was decreasing.
Ducey, however, said it was wrong to impose such a sharp increase in tuition. He said the regents, including DuVal, should instead have found ways to cut spending.
“You have to tighten your budget,” Ducey said.
When pressed for how he would do that, however, Ducey responded, “I’m not here to do Fred’s job as a regent.”
So what changed?
“You’re talking about a campaign from years ago,” Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato told Capitol Media Services on Monday.
But is the governor sorry for all those things he said at the time?
“We’re looking at what happens next,” Scarpinato said.
“We’re looking at the future,” he continued. “And we’re talking about somebody who is a leader, who does have experience, who the governor sees eye-to-eye on when it comes to the vision for higher education in our state and who he can work with in a positive way.”
What else has changed during the past four years is that Ducey, after he got elected, suddenly found himself having to deal with the realities of the state budget. And now, with that perspective, the governor no longer finds the tuition being charged — including the increases while DuVal was on the board — out of line.
“His goal is to make sure that we have high-quality universities in our state that are affordable, that are accessible,” Scarpinato said of his boss.
“And he thinks we do,” he continued. “We do have universities right now where students can get a high-quality education and where there’s resources available to make sure that students who wouldn’t otherwise have access do.”
DuVal, for his part, told Capitol Media Services he was willing to let bygones be bygones.
“That was a long time ago,” he said.
“I don’t sing ‘Yesterday,’ ” DuVal continued. “I’m singing ‘Kumbaya’ and ‘Tomorrow.’ ”
He also said it’s the right thing to do given the current political climate.
“The country and the state is worn out by the partisan paralysis and bickering,” DuVal said.
“He saw an opportunity to appoint somebody who’s got obviously a lot of history in this state and credibility that would speak to that hunger,” DuVal continued. “I will meet him in that spirit.”
This isn’t the first time that Ducey has acknowledged that DuVal was on the right side of an issue during the 2014 campaign.
Nearly two years ago the governor introduced the concept of a “teaching academy” where a limited number of students who go into teaching will have their college fees paid for by the state.
In proclaiming the benefits of the concept at a news conference, Ducey acknowledged the idea actually came from DuVal who suggested it during a gubernatorial debate they had in Tucson. DuVal was at the press conference unveiling the plan at Ducey’s invitation.
DuVal and Ducey also have found common ground on other issues, including support for Proposition 123, the 2016 ballot measure to provide an additional $3.5 billion for public schools over a 10-year period without a tax increase by taking cash from the education trust fund.
The appointment of DuVal to an eight-year term on the regents comes as Attorney General Mark Brnovich is suing the board over what he says is illegally high tuition. In his lawsuit filed last year, Brnovich said what the board allows the schools to be charged violates a constitutional requirement to keep instruction “as nearly free as possible.”
Despite his statements during the 2014 campaign, Ducey has come to the regents’ defense.
“Our universities are accessible and affordable,” the governor said when asked about the lawsuit after it was filed last year.
Ducey said he and lawmakers had to make some difficult decision in prior years, making sharp cuts in funding for higher education and other priorities. It is only recently, he said at the time, that the state has started to restore some of those cuts.
More to the point, the governor said he believes the regents in setting tuition – and even imposing sharp increases including during the time that DuVal was on the board – are keeping the cost of instruction within what the constitution requires.
Brnovich lost the first round of his lawsuit against the regents when a trial judge ruled that he can sue only when he has specific statutory authority or permission of the governor. The judge said he had neither.
The case now awaits review by the state Court of Appeals.