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Make UofA comprehensive plan transparent, inclusive and fair

The “Wildcat Family” statue outfitted with masks on the University of Arizona. PHOTO BY CHRIS RICHARDS/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

The “Wildcat Family” statue outfitted with masks on the University of Arizona. PHOTO BY CHRIS RICHARDS/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

Context can change everything.

Fred DuVal recently spoke for the Arizona Board of Regents — Gov. Doug Ducey’s appointed overseers of Arizona universities — to pledge the board’s “unwavering support” to University of Arizona President Robert Robbins and his comprehensive plan for the coming school year. DuVal even went as far as to caution against any delay in implementing Robbins’ plan.

Without context, it sounds like the University of Arizona is on the right track.

But what DuVal did not mention is that Robbins and his team made that comprehensive plan behind closed doors. DuVal also didn’t mention that it was those Robbins had shut out who requested a brief delay of implementation, giving Robbins a second chance to honor the university’s official policy of inclusive, transparent planning.

Naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is just what the plan will be for the University of Arizona. But the question that comes first is – who will have a seat at the planning table?

Arizona law is clear. In Arizona universities, those who serve the core mission — teaching and research — “shall actively participate in the development of university policy.” The delay of a few weeks is about just that: time for active participation in the development of policy.

No one imagines that with time things will just work out. No one is trying to shift the burden to students, either. I think most University of Arizona employees are like me: committed to students, and ready to shoulder their share of the burden. What people need now is information and time to understand what their share really is. What they need is what Arizona law promises: inclusive and transparent decision-making, not comprehensive plans made behind closed doors.

That’s the context.

Now enter Fred DuVal. When DuVal pledged the board’s unwavering support, he did more than give Team Robbins a thumbs-up. For everyone else, DuVal fired a shot across the bow.

So now, who in Arizona government will pledge their unwavering support to the University of Arizona, to its mission? Who will pledge support to Arizona law, to inclusion and transparency?

Will it be Ducey? Not likely. Ducey oversees Arizona universities by appointing a Board of Regents to do it for him, so we may as well say Ducey has already spoken.

Will it be the Arizona Legislature? Again, not likely. Their dealings with the University of Arizona were already undermining transparency long before the pandemic — a debacle surrounding the Arizona Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. For years  both Ducey and the Arizona Legislature have pledged their own unwavering support to the director of the Freedom Center, David Schmidtz, by giving the director his own line (his own line!) in their budgets, for several million taxpayer dollars each year. Then last year the Freedom Center moved house so that Schmidtz would report directly to Team Robbins. You can see the problem. Team Robbins needs to stay on the good side of Ducey and the Arizona Legislature, and yet it’s up to Team Robbins to say whether Schmidtz has to follow university rules or not — as many at the University of Arizona have already found out the hard way. And who does Robbins answer to? The Arizona Board of Regents, who just pledged him their unwavering support.

So much for the “shared facts and campus-wide buy-in” that DuVal praises as virtues of a public university. It’s a tight club, and it’s closed.

When the University of Arizona emerges from the current crisis, its future will be decided either through transparent participation or behind closed doors. As a longtime Wildcat, first a student and now a teacher, I ask Fred DuVal, I ask the Board of Regents, and I ask Robert Robbins: please give your unwavering support to the University of Arizona, by making our school inclusive, transparent, and fair.

Daniel Russell is a professor at the University of Arizona.

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