Arizona Senate passes bill appointing 2 rural reps to State Board of Regents
Lawmakers expected to look at House version of the bill in next few weeks
PHOENIX -- Saying the needs of rural Arizonans have been ignored for years, the Senate passed a bill that will require two permanent seats on the Arizona Board of Regents for rural Arizonans.
The bill, written by Sen. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, would require the two regents whose terms end in 2008 to be replaced with new gubernatorial appointees from rural counties.
The current language of the SB 1058 dictates one of the new members should be from Apache, Coconino, Gila, Mohave, Navajo or Yavapai county and the other member should be from either Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pinal, Santa Cruz or Yuma county.
The bill, which was passed by the Senate recently, would make the two rural seats permanent.
Flake said the bill was written after a constituent requested the rural representation among the regents. Currently, all 10 regents are from either Maricopa or Pima counties.
A co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park, said the current representation on the board did not equally represent all Arizonans.
He gave the example of Flagstaff, home of NAU, as an example of a community that should be represented on the Arizona Board of Regents.
Blendu said the legislation was "long overdue" and with two non-urban regents on the board, rural issues could be represented more in future regents meetings.
Administrators from all three public universities point to a long history of bringing classes to rural Arizonans as evidence that they have been addressing the needs of rural Arizonans.
Fred Hurst, vice president for Extended Programs and dean of Distance Learning Northern Arizona University, said legislators hold universities to an unfair standard in meeting higher education needs in rural areas.
"Some legislators believe if it is not a face-to-face classroom, it doesn't count (as a college course)," Hurst said.
He said NAU has been working to offer classes to students across the state for more than two decades. At one point before the advent of delivering classes over the internet, NAU was using planes to fly instructors to their classes, Hurst said.
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Hurst said NAU offers 45 programs to students, and he estimated that half of the 6,100 NAU students who do not take classes from the main campus live in rural Arizona.
Though legislators complain that rural areas are excluded from some degrees offered on the main campus, Hurst said, NAU cannot afford to offer some classes in rural areas when there is little interest, which is similar to the practice of dropping a class on campus that has low enrollment.
At ASU, officials said the rural communities are particularly important to a goal to add 15,000 distance-learning students to the School of Extended Education in the next year.
Patricia Feldman, executive director of ASU's Academic and Professional Programs, said while the university dropped correspondence programs, it has increased the amount of internet-based courses.
"We offer hundreds of internet courses every semester," said Feldman.
Jerry Hogle, vice provost for instruction at the UA, said academic programs located off the UA's main campus at satellite locations serve several hundred rural students a year. He said the UA offers degree-track programs in Sierra Vista and Douglas.
Also, he said, hundreds of courses are offered online through he Arizona Universities Network a partnership between NAU, ASU and the UA.
The UA's Arizona Telemedicine program, which allows rural hospitals to teleconference with doctors in Tucson to consult on treatment for their patients is another example of the UA reaching out to rural communities, Hogle said.
A spokesperson for ABOR, Anne Barton, said the board has neutral stance on the legislation but she questioned whether the terms should staggered. She said having both members start and end their terms at the exact same time would be a disservice to rural Arizonans.
Gov. Janet Napolitano, who has appointed three regents in the last three months, had no comment on the legislation. The governor's spokesperson, Jeanine L'Ecuyer, said the governor does not comment on specific bills until they have been passed by both the House and the Senate.
A House version of bill is expected to be introduced in the next few weeks.
(Joe Ferguson is the Don Bolles Fellow in the University of Arizona Journalism Department. He is spending the spring semester of his senior year covering rural and suburban issues at the state Legislature full time for the Journalism Department's Community News Service, serving 80 newspapers around the state.)
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