I once saw an interesting physics experiment. A teacher tied a long bungee cord to a brick that was lying on table. He grabbed the other end of the cord and slowly walked away from the table. The cord got tighter and tighter, but the brick didn't move--then the brick slid about a foot and stopped. Then the teacher said..."that's all we know about earthquakes."
If I ever teach a political science class, I'm going to conduct the same experiment and end with the phrase "that's all we know about revolutions."
And two years from today when people ask me why the Board of Regents is gone...I'm going to say "have I told you the story about the brick and the bungee cord"?
The brick experiment is brilliant. Inertia keeps the brick in place. Then an outside force gradually puts presure on the brick, but the brick doesn't move. The pressure gradually gets more and more intense and eventually overcomes the inertia. Then the brick suddenly moves and it moves a lot. No one can predict when it's going to move and no one can predict how far. All we know is that if the brick doesn't respond to the force, the movement is eventually going to be sudden and catastrophic.
Which brings me to the Board of Regents. Senator Andy Biggs has sponsored SB 1115 that would completely restructure the state's higher education system. The bill is so revolutionary, that I doubt it will go anywhere. There's just too much force against it. But SB 1115 is an indication of how tight the bungee cord is getting.
One of the provisions of SB 1115 is to ask voters to eliminate the Board of Regents. The Regents are the regulatory body that runs the State's University system, but they also serve to insulate the Universities from political movement. Since the University Presidents don't have to respond to the Legislature, they can build fancy buildings, waste money on bloated administration and offer degrees that have no economic value.
Meanwhile University Presidents like Robert Shelton can mock legislators and refer to them as evil. That's why ASU President Michael Crow can write ballot arguments to defeat the Legislature's effort to reign in First Things First. It's why Crow can use state money provided by the legislature to create a scholarship program--and name it after Barack Obama. It's why Shelton can ignore the fact that two of his professors--Malcolm Hughes and Richard Overpeck--were implicated in the Climategate scandal. Shelton and Crow don't bother to hide their disdain for the Legislature, but why should they, they report to the Regents--don't forget that both Shelton and Crow have salary packages that approach a million dollars a year.
The Regents are supposed to keep the University Presidents in line. They have obviously fallen short on that task. The Regents are also charged with keeping tuition reasonable. In fact, the state Constitution says that tuition has to be as nearly free as possible. Yet Presidents Crow and Shelton have pressured the Regents to approve double digit tuition increases year after year. A former Legislator sued the Regents and claimed that the huge tuition increases violate the Constitution but the Supreme Court said that the issue was a political question and should be handled through the political process. Well, you are about to see the political process in action.
All of those factors work together to hold the brick in place--the Legislature can't change tuition; the Legislature can't adjust University Policy, the University Presidents act with impunity and openly mock Legislators; the Universities publicly claim that their funds have been cut when actually their total funding has increased.
Meanwhile, we have the bungee cord: Legislators becoming increasingly unhappy with University Presidents, the public paying higher and higher tuition, the economic collapse showing that many degrees are uneconomic.
Combine these forces with the changes we have seen in the Legislature itself. Two Regents--Mark Killian and Bob McClendon--served with me in the Legislature. But the current Legislature is unrecognizable to former Legislators. Republicans have a 2/3 majority in both houses--and nearly all of them are Conservatives.
The brick--The University Presidents and the Regents that are supposed to regulate them--hasn't moved at all. Meanwhile the increased pressure from the bungee cord--the transformation of the legislature, economic collapse and obvious disdain exhibited by the university Presidents--is reaching a breaking point.
The brick is going to slide--and it's going to slide a long way. Republicans are likely to put a repeal of the Board of Regents on the Ballot. And the voters, fatigued by ever increasing tuition, are going to approve it.
That's all I know about, earthquakes and revolutions.