The Senate Education Committee voted Monday to recommend that an outspoken and often controversial blogger be named to the state Board of Regents.
Republican Greg Patterson uses his Espresso Pundit blog to give his opinion on politics, public officials and just about anything that crosses his mind. But Senate Minority Leader David Schapira said what concerns him are Patterson's long record of comments on higher education and the presidents of the three schools.
"I read things like your criticism of the degrees of psychology, history, religious studies, political science, English literature, journalism," said Schapira. "You refer to them as degrees that have little or no economic value. Is that part of what you would do to rein in the university presidents?"
Patterson said he was not saying that these programs are academically worthless. But he said a prime reason people go to college is to gain an ability to earn a living. And that requires an honest assessment of whether a degree is economically worthless. He said it was one thing back when a college education was perhaps just several thousand dollars.
"If that degree costs $80,000, then the economic value of that degree is zero," said Patterson. "Because you probably will not get a job that is more in salary than you would have gotten if you had chosen to work those four years instead of spend that money."
Schapira took specific issue with a recent Patterson blog where he imagined himself delivering a welcome address to freshmen in the Honors College at Arizona State University who are supposed to be future leaders. Patterson wrote that by "future leaders" he meant "middle management." Patterson said he is not disparaging middle management.
"But you can't take a group of 18-hundred kids and tell them all they're going to be the future CEOs and presidents of America," he told Senators. "They're not all going to be that. Some of them will be. And some of them will have a very difficult time. And they need to know that going in."
Patterson said all anyone needs to do is look at the Occupy Wall Street protestors for proof that students are not being told their education won't necessarily get them a job.
"They're not homeless kids who decided that they're just going to go live in a park," said Patterson. "They have degrees. And they owe a lot of money and they have degrees from fine institutions. And many of them are finding themselves to be unemployable. And because of that, they are lashing out at a system they think sold them a bill of goods."
If Patterson is confirmed by the full Senate, he would become one of 10 regents -- 12 if you count the governor and state school superintendent -- who would be involved in not only setting policy for the three universities but also in hiring the presidents of the three schools. That led Schapira to point out that Patterson wrote in 2007 that no university president should be paid more than $120,000 a year. That is far less than the $620,000 in salary and benefits just offered to new University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart, and the $720,000 paid to Michael Crow at Arizona State. Patterson said that kind of salary attracts those whose "vision'' is toward creating a school heavy on reputation and research -- and less toward campuses like ASU West where the focus is on undergraduate education.
"So the vision that says we need to have a No. 1 research institution is great," said Patterson. "But let's not forget about the 100,000 undergraduates who are in that institution. And it's possible that, if you had a president that didn't make a million dollars a year or three-quarters of a million dollars a year, that you'd have more of a focus like an ASU West focus, which is a focus that I think is sometimes lost."
For the record, Patterson is a product of the state university system, having gotten an accounting degree at the University of Arizona and his law degree at ASU.