Scottsdale Community College Walks Back Actions Violating Academic Freedoms

It is no secret that most universities and colleges across the country are teeming with professors and adjuncts unafraid to insert their liberal biases into their courses and teachings.  A survey of 40 leading universities in the country found that Democrat professors outnumber their Republican colleagues at a ratio of nearly 12 to 1.  Conservatives are a genuine minority on higher education campuses and intellectual diversity has become nonexistent.

The result is an ideological double standard that is destroying our colleges and universities. If you are liberal college professor lecturing your students on the evils of capitalism or how America is a cesspit of bigotry, your academic freedom is sacrosanct. Students that don’t agree with this sentiment are wise to keep quiet and not rock the boat.

What happens when conservative students and speakers don’t fall in line and decide to stand up for their beliefs? They are discriminated against by their professors, or are “shouted down” and attacked for expressing the minority position on campus.

Conservative professors that refuse to embrace the liberal Marxist worldview of their peers don’t fare much better. Case in point: Professor Nick Damask at Scottsdale Community College.

Professor Demask teaches World Politics at SCC and is considered an expert in the area of international terrorism.  This spring he had his students take a quiz that included several questions about Islamic terrorism.  One student in the class claimed that he was offended by the quiz and wrote the professor about his complaints. Professor Damask provided a clarification of his questions and offered to discuss the issue further with the student, but before further discussion could occur, the student posted the quiz on social media. 

The professor and the college were excoriated by liberal pundits and the media for suggesting that there are terrorists that self-identify with Islam. At that point SCC had a choice—treat Professor Demask like how they would have treated every other liberal professor and protected his academic freedom, or throw him under the ideological bus. To no ones’ surprise, they chose the latter option.

SCC immediately voided the test results, issued an apology from the college to the student and sent the professor a pre-written apology letter for him to sign. To his credit Professor Damask, who has taught at SCC for 23 years, did not apologize but instead pursued legal representation for violations of his academic freedom.

After Professor Damask decided to fight back the Maricopa County Community College Board opened up an investigation to determine if SCC handled the situation properly. Nearly a month later the interim Chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges published his findings and determined that administrators acted inappropriately, and that the school violated the professor’s academic freedom. 

Though Professor Damask was vindicated, in many respects it is a hollow victory.  His reputation has been permanently damaged, which shows that college leadership can’t be trusted to provide due process or protect individuals with different beliefs than their own.

This freezing of any divergent speech on campus is a double-edged sword.  If serious steps are not taken to address this issue it won’t take long before conservatives start playing thought police on campus and engage in their own guerilla tactics to point out every liberally slanted lesson they deem offensive. 

Arizona Covid19 Update: State Budget and Executive Orders

Amid the chaos of the Covid19 pandemic, Arizona lawmakers have proceeded with conducting the state’s business.  Monday March 23rd, the legislature officially passed an $11.8 Billion budget as well as a targeted Coronavirus relief package.  They then adjourned until April 13th or until the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House call them back to reconvene.

The “skinny budget” that passed was a simple baseline budget with a small amount of growth baked into the formulas in order to keep agencies operational.  There were no ornaments on this Christmas tree.

In fact, though it seems like everyday a new bit of disheartening news breaks, the state’s unusually trim budget is definitely a silver lining.  This is likely the most conservative budget passed by the legislature in a decade.  Considering all the big government bills, special interest tax credit programs, and local pork projects that were moving through the system and were likely to be packed into the budget – passing a skinny budget was a win for taxpayers.

In addition to finalizing the budget, lawmakers also passed two bills to address specific issues with the Coronavirus – closure of schools and unemployment benefits.  The bill related to public school closures included provisions to not require schools to make up for normally required days, extending state-wide assessment deadlines and requiring districts to continue to pay their employees through the crisis.  The bill for unemployment benefits was an emergency measure that allowed the state to establish alternative unemployment insurance benefits for people specifically impacted by COVID19.

The budget and these bills now sit on the Governor’s desk and await his signature.

Meanwhile, the executive branch has been coordinating with the Department of Health on policies to curb the impacts of COVID-19.   Here are some of the steps their administration has taken sequentially:

  • March 11thGovernor issued Executive order declaring a State of Emergency.  The order allowed ADHS to waive licensing requirements for healthcare officials, allowed the state to access emergency funds and gave the state emergency procurement authority.  It also required insurance providers to cover out of network providers for tests and treatment of COVID-19.
  • March 15th In conjunction with Kathy Hoffman the Superintendent of Public Instruction, ordered the closure of all schools.
  • March 17th Issued new guidelines for restaurants, child care providers and nursing homes for social distancing and recommended gatherings of more than 10 people be cancelled or delayed.
  • March 19th Activated the National Guard to assist grocery stores and food banks.
  • March 19th Issued three Executive Orders: 1. Delaying requirements to renew drivers licenses and permits by 6 months (September 1, 2020); 2. Required the closure of bars, movie theaters and gyms.  The Order limited the operations of restaurants as well as gave them the ability to deliver alcohol off premises; 3. Required the delay of elective surgeries to conserve personal protective medical equipment.
  • March 20th Executive Order expanding access to unemployment benefits to individuals impacted by COVID-19.  The Governor’s office also extended the filing deadline for state income taxes to July 15th, mirroring the extension at the federal level.
  • March 20th Extended the closure of all schools by another 2 weeks; through April 10th.
  • March 23rd Executive Order issued to preempt cities and towns ability to supersede the Governor’s emergency protocols including closures of businesses.  He also defined which entities and businesses and government services would be considered “essential.”
  • March 24th Exempted Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) from federal regulations requiring them to be supervised by a physician.  This has been an issue debated at the legislature for the past several years.
  • March 24thExecutive Order delaying evictions for renters specifically impacted by COVID-19.
  • March 25thExpanded telemedicine services and prohibited regulatory boards from requiring in-person examinations prior to the issuance of prescriptions.

Many of the executive orders issued represent vast deregulatory strides.  Issues that have been highly contested for years such as expansion of telemedicine, allowing prescriptions to be issued without an in-person examination, and the waiving of licensure for medical professionals outside of the state are being swiftly implemented out of necessity.  Despite the unfortunate circumstances that have precipitated these changes, they are a benefit to the state and to Arizonans.  These regulatory roll backs and a lean state budget are a few silver linings for which we can all be grateful.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema Pushes for Liberal Wish List in Coronavirus Relief Package

Over the weekend Republicans and Democrats in Washington were working toward an agreement on a Coronavirus relief package to assist businesses and employees being hammered by the economic shutdown. A bipartisan deal was close until at the last second Democrats moved to block the legislation, followed by an announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she would be drafting her own package.

The reason for the opposition? Democrats are trying to use the bill to pass their wish list of radical reforms! Some of the demands from democrats include:

  • Mandated Climate Change Studies
  • Increased fuel emission standards for airlines
  • Diversity reporting for corporate boards
  • Expanded collective bargaining power for unions
  • Same day voter registration
  • All mail-in elections
  • Elimination of all debt at the post office
  • Retirement plans for community newspaper employees
  • Study on all climate change mitigation efforts by all businesses benefiting from the legislation

Looking at this absurd list of demands from Pelosi and Schumer brings clarity to what House Majority Whip Rep. James Clybern meant when he said that the Coronavirus crisis, “is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

They don’t care that none of these items help patients, hospitals or the regular person currently sitting at home waiting for this to end. They see an opportunity to exploit the process and will try to bully Trump and Republicans into accepting their demands.

Make no mistake, every democrat sees this as a political opportunity to implement the Bernie Sanders plan, including Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Earlier this week she joined the democrats in blocking the Coronavirus relief package and then tried to spin it to be about providing enough help to small business and the health care community.  How exactly does eliminating the debt at the Post Office and mandated diversity on corporate boards keep small businesses open?  How does implementing the Green New Deal help hospitals fight Coronavirus?

It was a shameful display and exposed every Democrat in Washington. They may talk about the need to fight the current crisis, but when it came time to act it turns out that expanding union power clout is more important to them. Even Sen. Sinema was seduced by this power grab and went along.

Republicans have rightfully excoriated Democrats over their antics, and so far have not given in to their demands. They must hold firm—the public will understand why they are rejecting the liberal wish list and will hold them accountable. Not even the compliant media will be able to save them—although they will try.

Tale of Two Districts: Parents Fleeing Phoenix Union Turns K-12 Funding Narrative on its Head

Tale of Two Districts: Parents Fleeing Phoenix Union Turns K-12 Funding Narrative on its Head

Since 1994, when Arizona passed legislation to allow students to “open enroll” in a district school outside their boundary, families have been taking advantage of the power of school choice.

Open enrollment’s popularity is evident when you consider approximately half of Arizona kids do not attend their designated district school.  Of these migrating students almost half of them are choosing one district school over another. 

Recently, the Arizona Republic wrote a story about hundreds of parents waiting in line for up to 36 hours outside Sunnyslope High School with the hope of capturing a slot for their child. The Glendale Union District operates on a ‘first come, first register’ basis, and parents were not going to risk missing out on the opportunity to get their kid into this high-ranking school.    

This should be recognized for what it is: evidence that school choice works.  No longer are children trapped in underperforming schools by virtue of their zip code, parents are free to exercise their right to vote for their preferred school with their feet, and schools are getting market feedback on the quality of their product.

Yet, the AZ Republic gets the narrative all wrong:

“Educational inequality continues in Arizona despite a 2018 teacher strike that pushed Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature to give educators a three-step, 20% raise that will conclude this year. Even with tens of millions more in tax dollars going to Arizona public schools, the state remains among the bottom five for educational funding.”

The implication being made is that parents are camping outside of Sunny Side high school to flee the Phoenix Union District because of lack of funding and “educational inequality”. This story proves exactly the opposite!

According to the state Auditor General, Phoenix Union High School District (PUSD) received $13,853 per student. If Phoenix Union was its own state it would be #15 in the country in per pupil funding. By any metric they do not qualify as an “underfunded” district.

By contrast, Glendale Union receives $10,385 per student. Think about that: every parent lining at SunnySlope is willing to take $3,500 less to educate their child. 

It’s easy see why parents are willing to forfeit the extra funding after comparing the performance of the two districts. According to the Arizona Department of Education, only 4 Schools in Phoenix Union (28%) are rated an A or a B.  Six others are a C and four a D. State assessment scores corroborate these ratings with only about 20 percent of PUSD students passing math, English and science.  Glendale scores double and even triple these statistics when it comes to science testing. 

You can’t blame demographics either. Poverty rates are similar in both districts, and Phoenix has much smaller class sizes (17.7) than Glendale (21.6). The bottom line is the district that should have a distinct advantage is failing to compete.   GUSD is simply producing better academic results with less money.  Families in the area are savvy enough to understand this.

As for educational inequality, the only unfairness that exists in this situation is an entrenched school financing model that allows under-performing districts to receive the more funding (and be rewarded for this failure) than successful ones. Perhaps these parents should be able to take a portion of the $3,500 they lose when they relocate. That would help address funding inequality in a hurry. It could also go toward helping expand capacity in Glendale so that parents don’t have to camp out for days in the hopes of providing their child with a better education.

But don’t expect the education establishment or their media enablers to support any real reform. Even when all of the facts point toward the need to reward success and tying reforms to funding, they will never abandon their ‘throw money at the problem’ narrative.

Education Groups Demand More K-12 Funding While School Districts go on Administration Spending Spree

Here is an under-reported education fact: K-12 schools in Arizona have received over $1 Billion in new funding from the state over the last two years. This infusion of cash is the largest education spending increase in state history, boosting per pupil funding by 20 percent. Even adjusting for inflation, we are now back to the pre-recession funding levels for education last reached in 2008, which was the previous high water mark for K-12 spending by the state.

One would hope that our policymakers are keeping close tabs on this massive expansion of funding and scrutinizing how our tax dollars are being spent. Instead, it appears that state lawmakers are preparing to skip this step and commit more dollars to K-12, no questions asked.  

Hopefully this attitude will change with news that the largest school district in the state decided to use their K-12 funding boost to go on an administration spending spree:

“Even as teachers were canvassing neighborhoods, fighting to pass a budget override in the state’s largest school district, new documents reveal Mesa Public Schools Governing Board members were handing out hefty bonuses and spending record amounts on administration in the district’s front office.

Budget documents and memoranda obtained by ABC15 show the district’s administrative spending soared more than 42 percent from 2018 to 2019, exceeding its own budget by more than three-quarters of a million dollars.

The new revelations about administrative spending come just a day after the governing board voted to put Superintendent Ember Conley on administrative leave, signaling it is parting ways with the district’s leader, who has only been on the job since March of 2018. The board is expected to buy out the remainder of her contract – a cost which is expected to exceed $500,000.”

A large chunk of the payouts went toward bonuses to employees close to embattled Superintendent Ember Conley. Twelve members of her executive team received $22,500 bonuses, while several others had large amounts put into tax sheltered annuities.

Adding insult to injury is all of this largesse occurred behind the scenes while the district actively pushed for more funding through a budget override. Voters in the East Valley are outraged and one ex-school board member has filed a criminal complaint with the Attorney General’s office to investigate the matter.

Taxpayers deserve answers, but it’s unclear if they will ever get any.  At last week’s district meeting, the Mesa school board refused to discuss why Superintend Conley was placed on leave, and provided no explanation as to why the district spending spree was hidden from the public. They did, however, attempt to defend the payouts and declared that exceeding the approved administration budget wasn’t really an issue.

The lack of candor isn’t surprising given the current political environment surrounding K-12 funding. There is tremendous hubris among the education establishment, based on the belief that policymakers are afraid to hold them accountable.

That is how you end up with several education groups openly bickering on what tax hikes (sales, property, income, all of the above?) to send to the ballot in 2020. It appears they have concluded it is politically unnecessary to explain how the additional $20,000 per classroom provided by the state has been spent or justify why a tax increase is required given the news that Arizona has amassed a $500 Million (and growing) budget surplus for next year.  

The only way this cycle ends is if Governor Ducey and the State Legislature send a clear signal that future K-12 appropriations will be tied to results, accountability and reform. If they don’t, then taxpayers should expect more demands for additional education spending and higher taxes with no explanations or expectations that it is being used wisely.

Donor Harassment Initiative Looking to Qualify for 2020 Ballot

After failing last year to qualify a measure forcing disclosure of contributions to non-profit organizations and eliminating donor privacy, Terry Goddard is back peddling a revised iteration of “Outlaw Dirty Money.”  This time dubbed “The Voters Right to Know Amendment,” the proposal would change the Arizona Constitution to require the disclosure of the “original source” of all major contributions used to “influence Arizona elections.”

Major contributions are defined as $5,000 or more in a single campaign, $20,000 for statewide campaigns or $10,000 for all other campaigns in an election cycle.

The issue is easy to speak to on a superficial level – convincing voters they have “a right” to know who is spending in elections sounds appealing to people on the left and the right of the political spectrum.  However, lying just below the surface are insidious motivations and consequences.

Coerced disclosure Encourages Government Corruption

Predating the drumbeat for private non-profits to publicly out the individuals who support them, there has existed extensive campaign finance laws aimed to disclose the financial support candidates receive who are running for public office.  Money candidates directly receive is treated differently than organizations because elected officials who are a part of the government have a duty to reveal potential financial conflicts of interest.  More importantly, laws already exist against corruption such as quid pro quos, bribes, and financial fraud.  These are the appropriate laws that keep politicians honest.  These are the laws that effectively weeded out 7 Arizona lawmakers in the infamous 1991 AZSCAM scandal.

In contrast, individuals freely and privately associating with organizations that share their common beliefs and want to share their views with voters is not corruption. It is free speech.

And protecting this right is important given the track record of harassment and intimidation directed toward individuals attempting to exercise their 1st amendment rights.  This isn’t a theoretical argument; there are several documented cases of private citizens being targeted for supporting a cause or organization.  One such example occurred 61 years ago under National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) vs the State of Alabama.  In this case the state was arguing they had “a right” to the membership list of the NAACP to determine if the organization was doing business in the state.  In the tumultuous throws of segregation, the true purpose was for the government to create an “enemies list” of financial contributors by which they could exert their coercive power and intimidate members into abandoning the cause.

More recently, in 2015 the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting every citizens’ First Amendment right by determining a three year investigation by the state into conservative groups was illegal.  In the commonly dubbed “John Doe” investigation, government regulators gnashing for names of their political enemies actually ambushed non-profit leaders in the early dawn hours at their homes, crashing into rooms where children slept in an effort to find donor lists.

This is why transparency is only a virtue when applied to government and privacy is a virtue when applied to citizens.  That’s why public record laws only apply to government and not private citizens.  Though the proponents of Goddard’s proposal strive to confuse voters with seedy sounding language like “dark money,” they cannot point to a single instance where knowing which individuals support what political speech led to the uncovering of a violation of law or “corruption”. HOWEVER, there are masses of real-life examples of similar disclosure laws being used to attack, intimidate, and compel private citizens. 

Goddard’s Initiative Doesn’t Know What Laundering Means

Lastly, the “Voters Right to Know Amendment” falsely equivocates laundering with the innocent and lawful act of individuals giving money to non-profits and organizations with which they align.  As an attorney, Goddard should know money laundering (which rightfully so is already a crime), involves concealing money obtained illegally by transferring it through legitimate businesses. This is an attempt by Goddard to implicate honest individuals with a constitutional right to spend their money however they like without the scrutiny of government.  Imagining every private citizen donor as a potential criminal with nefarious intentions is just wrong.  Not to mention criminalizing anonymous speech is a perversion of justice – there are no victims in non-disclosure– only victims when the right to privacy is violated.

At the end of the day, initiative’s like Goddard’s are a dangerous threat to every citizen’s right to privacy, free speech and association.  It concentrates more power into the hands of the government and erodes some of our most basic democratic principles.  Proponents have flimsy intellectual arguments and catchy rhetoric – but behind them is government target list and a loaded gun.  Hopefully, their third attempt to fool voters is equally unsuccessful.