Arizona's three universities - and opportunities for higher education - are a big concern for rural residents as the state's metro areas continue to grow.
Gov. Janet Napolitano could either level the playing field or give metro counties an even bigger voice when she appoints representatives to fill two Arizona Board of Regents positions that will open in January.
The Board of Regents, which oversees the state's three major universities - Arizona State University in Tempe, University of Arizona in Tucson, and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff - has had one or more representatives from non-metro counties for more than 50 years. But since Flagstaff board member Kay McKay's term expired in 2004, ABOR has had no seasoned rural voice on its membership. The board did have one voting student member, Wes McCalley, from NAU, but his term expired this month, and currently, the board's two student members are from ASU and U of A.
Members from Maricopa and Pima counties currently dominate ABOR, and one former regent thinks that leaves a significant portion of the state's population lacking representation in higher education.
"It seems apparent that 20 percent of Arizona citizens are not being represented by ABOR. Rural Arizona is a huge land area, an area mandated by ABOR policy to be served by NAU and its partners," said former ABOR president and Flagstaff lawyer Doug Wall. "The rural county or community (from which the member serves) is not important, but having someone familiar with the needs, interests and expectations of rural Arizona is."
Dr. Gene Hughes, who served as NAU's president from 1979 to 1993, also emphasized the need for one or more ABOR members who are in tune with rural Arizona.
"ABOR needs somebody who lives in a rural area, who really understands the needs of rural Arizona, who can help provide guidance in policy making as it relates to academic programming and research services of the universities," he said.
ABOR has 11 voting members and one non-voting member. With the exception of ex-officio members Governor Napolitano and Arizona Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Horne, and two student members, each regent serves an eight year term. Two of the regents finish their eight-year term every two years. The Governor then appoints two new members, which the State Senate confirms. The two student members, one voting and one non-voting, serve on a rotating, two-year basis.
ABOR currently seats seven members from Phoenix, and three from Tucson. In January 2006, the terms of Phoenix lawyer Chris Herstam and Tucson executive Jack Jewett will expire, leaving two vacancies that could make way for rural appointees. This is not only important for educational opportunities for rural Arizonans, said former NAU faculty member Ray Newton, but also for economic health, because the universities are big players in economic development.
"(The universities) are a tremendous asset for economic development throughout the state," Newton said. "Without the support they get, economic development would be a pipedream."
State Senate President Ken Bennett said he agrees that rural Arizona should have more representation on ABOR.
"I would hope that with the earliest available appointment that (representation) could be restored," he said. "Certainly there should at least be one or two rural representatives reflecting the diversity of Arizona."
In 2004, after McKay's term on ABOR expired, 25 applicants sought to fill her seat, said Dora Vasquez, director of boards and commissions with the Governor's Office. Two of those applicants were from rural Cayenta and Flagstaff, she said. Governor Napolitano appointed Phoenix businessman Ernie Calderon to fill the position. Calderon did attend NAU, said Ray Newton, but his home, business and political interests are currently in metro Arizona.
Hughes said he appreciates the work Calderon has done on ABOR to support rural Arizona interests, but added that he thinks Calderon could use some help on the board.
"He really does know the issues of rural Arizona, but he needs help on that board. The issues he can identify with are issues that others really need to understand better, and if there is more than one voice, it's going to be heard," Hughes said. "He is like a lone wolf crying in the night."
Hughes added that having an ABOR member who lived in rural Arizona made it easier for him to express the university's needs and programs on a local level.
"The president of a university needs to have a regent who is nearby, so that on a daily basis he can interact. We had local regents in Doug Wall and Kay McKay from Flagstaff, and at one time, Peg Christy, who was from Sedona. When I became president of NAU, I could interact (with local regents), and others did the same thing, on a variety of topics. We had someone we felt like we could talk to. It's just different when they are not really here," Hughes said. "Having someone you know understands the issues as they relate to rural Arizona is very important."
Wall said the ideal candidate for the board will possess a combination of fight and diplomacy.
"It will be someone who can make alliances, who can listen and can separate the wheat from the chaff," he said. "He or she should be somewhat politically savvy, not afraid to stand up and be counted. It must be someone who has the respect of the community, and be very concerned about rural Arizona, how it progresses, and what financial opportunities it gets."
Newton said the new ABOR members must also have a big picture about education in rural Arizona.
"They have got to have a big vision about higher education - serving everyone, not just the exclusive few," he said.
Hughes said with Governor Napolitano's June selection to chair the Western Governor's Association, she has an excellent platform to work for rural Arizona.
"What better opportunity than to appoint someone to an eight-year term on the Board of Regents who will be able to assist in identifying the needs of rural areas?" he said.
He added that NAU has made an effort over the years to interact with and increase enrollment of rural Arizona's large population of Native American students, and he would like to see a Native American appointed to serve on ABOR at some point.
It's especially important, Hughes said, to keep strong representation for rural Arizona as metro counties continue to grow.
"With the growth of Maricopa and Pima, it seems like they are draining all the resources and attention for higher education," he said.
Dora Vasquez said the state will post the two ABOR positions on its website by October. Then, community members may apply on online.
"We will post those by October because (Board of Regents members) require Senate confirmation," she said. "As soon as we have those applications, we send them over."
For more information or to apply for a seat on ABOR, see the Governor's Boards and Commissions homepage at www.governor.state.az.us/bc/