PHOENIX — The Arizona Board of Regents will remain intact, and with all its powers, after a legislator agreed not to try to break it up this year.
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said Tuesday he will not force a vote on his legislation to create separate governing boards to make policy, funding and tuition decisions for each of the three state universities. HB 2359 would have reduced the regents’ authority to a strictly advisory role.
Finchem said his decision came after “some folks from the Board of Regents” agreed to create a “working group to try and sort through some of the questions of accountability and some of the accusations of largess.”
He contends the board is so far removed from the needs and financial realities faced by students that it fails to control its spending.
Finchem also called for discussion of whether the university system should be involved in ventures outside of its basic role of educating students.
But Regents Chairman Greg Patterson said the agreement Finchem said he has does not exist.
“His bill has no support and he pulled it,” Patterson said. Asked specifically if there was any promise to have talks with Finchem about changes in university oversight, Patterson responded, “Of course not.”
Finchem said he recognizes there is a danger in not pushing ahead with his legislation now based on the promises he got, or believes he got, from the regents. “Are we being strung along?” he asked. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
Even if there are no talks and compromises, Finchem said the delay provides time for him to craft legislation that really resolves the problems he sees.
Finchem said he’s under no illusion that regents, appointed by the governor, are about to negotiate away any of their control over the university system.
“That’s part of the problem, isn’t it?” he said.
At least part of the issue for Finchem and other lawmakers is the sharp increase in tuition Arizona residents have to pay to attend the universities.
Regents President Eileen Klein has said at least part of that blame can be laid at the feet of legislators, who have cut the state’s share of funding what it costs to educate a student from 72 percent a decade ago to about 33 percent now. Even with some new dollars promised by Gov. Doug Ducey, that ratio will barely change.
Finchem, however, said he believes the universities could charge a lot less if they would stick to their basic mission. He contends that having separate governing boards, each interested in attracting students, would go a long way to cutting costs.
“When you have consolidation of power, when you have consolidation of authority, I’m not convinced you have better government,” he said.
The death of Finchem’s legislation is the second setback this session for lawmakers who say they want to find ways to rein in the high cost of university education for students.
Earlier this month, Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, agreed to scrap her proposal to limit year-over-year tuition hikes to 2 percent. That measure, too, faced opposition from the regents, who said higher charges are the net effect of less state aid.