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House bill aims to restructure ABOR

HB 2359 would split the state's higher education governing body into three separate boards for each state university


People walk in front of the Arizona Capital building on Nov. 12, 2016. A bill drafted at the Capitol aims to dismantle the state’s higher education governing board.

The Arizona Board of Regents faces an uncertain future after a bill introduced in the Arizona State Legislature could potentially dismantle it.

House Bill 2359 introduced by Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) breaks the singular governing board that oversees the three major state universities into three separate governing boards.

Mark Finchem did not respond to requests for comment.

One of the cosponsors for the bill, Rep. Jill Norgaard (R-Chandler) said one of the problems with the current organization of ABOR is the limitations it puts on the interaction between the business community and universities.

“One of the main problems is that companies want to work with the universities directly, but are discouraged from doing that because of ABOR,” Norgaard said. “ABOR acts as a middleman, preventing them from working directly together.”

Norgaard also said that excessive spending was a problem that needed to be addressed.

“Another problem is the salaries of ABOR staff,” Norgaard said. “They are just way too high.”

Norgaard said that she doubted any of the university presidents would support the bill, perhaps for fear of retribution.

“ABOR’s legal entity has the ability to hire and fire the presidents of each university," she said. 

Another cosponsor, Rep. David Cook (R-Globe), echoed Norgaard’s sentiments, but said he wanted to learn more about the bill.

“The salaries and the way the people are hired and how the operation is going on is exorbitant,” Cook said. “By signing on and cosponsoring the bill, I am able to be engaged and in the meetings, so I can learn as it’s talked about and debated.”

Cook said that there is a possibility that he might pull his name from the bill after he meets with ABOR.

“Sure it’s a possibility,” Cook said. “It’s just now that I’m getting all the information.”

ABOR voted unanimously to oppose the bill at a special meeting held on Jan. 30. ABOR President Eileen Klein said that the bill could reverse progress made over the last several years.

“The bill at its heart upends the enterprise-approach governance model that Arizona’s public universities currently have,” Klein said. “We’re concerned about what the bill might do to the reforms and the advances that we’ve made under the model we currently have.”

Klein said that the current system is cheaper than other proposed systems, as well as those in other states.

“As a cost, our office is among the lowest and most cost-efficient in the country because of the model we chose,” Klein said. “For instance, in California and Illinois they have hundreds of staff dedicated to staffing the university system, while we only have 25.”

Klein said that she does not expect the bill to pass but she does expect the discussion surrounding the bill to continue.

“I think this conversation about governance and oversight will continue,” Klein said. “Our universities are becoming more complex, and there’s definitely an outcry for more work to be done to help keep down cost.”

Klein also said that each university would be releasing statements on the matter in the next several days.

NAU and UA did not respond to requests for comment, and ASU referred requests to ABOR.

HB 2359 will be discussed in the Committee on Federalism, Property Rights and Public Policy without a vote on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

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