Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's Just How Arizona Does Business

Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ)—of finger-wagging-in-the-face-of-the-President fame—filled a vacancy on the AZ Board of Regents in a not unexpected way recently. The Board of Regents oversees the three state universities (U of A, ASU and Northern AZ Univ) and though not directly responsible for K-12 education, they often make decisions that redound to the operations of the K-12 system as well as the state’s huge community college system.

Brewer appointed one Jay Heiler to the vacancy. As a student at Arizona State University in the mid-1980s, Heiler led a conservative take-over of the campus newspaper, the State Press. Under the editorship of Heiler and his friends, the State Press refused to print announcements of meetings of the student gay and lesbian society. Not only were liberal professors and gays the target of a young Heiler’s pen, but immigrants came in for some rough treatment in the pages of the State Press as well: “The immigrants come here to start a new life, then try to cling to their own language and customs. This tendency leads to all sorts of societal problems, ranging from interracial unrest to unexplained disappearances of dogs. The former difficulty crops up wherever aliens are to be found; the latter arose in California when the Vietnamese arrived.”

Heiler went on to fame and fortune after graduation to become Chief-of-Staff to Governor Fife Symington, who was convicted of a half dozen felonies and bounced from office before the end of his term. Heiler’s career path after Symington led to the Board of the Goldwater Institute and lobbying for casino interests. The Arizona Legislature quickly approved Brewer’s appointment of Heiler to the Board of Regents.

But here is the possible tie-in to K-12 education in Arizona. Heiler is President of the Board of Directors on the Great Hearts Academies, a system of 14 charter schools—some being former Catholic private schools. His role at Great Hearts is described as “Political and public affairs consultant.” He is also Chairman of the Arizona Charter Schools Association. The Great Heart Academies cater to religious leaning families seeking a quasi-private environment. Veritas Academy is highly ranked in the Global Report Card issued by the George W. Bush Institute. In the Academies mission statement, one reads: "...we believe that true education (as the formation of the soul) is a matter of development over time and within a stable community." The Arizona Board of Regents deals with policy that directly affects K-12 education, including admissions policy. Now Heiler is strategically positioned to look out for some of his principal financial interest.

This is simply the standard way of doing things in Arizona. Conflicts of interest are accepted as an ordinary way of doing business; and in Arizona, seemingly everything is about business. As Henry Giroux recently wrote, “Buried beneath Arizona's new mode of education, pedagogy and politics is a return to a frightening antidemocratic ideology and a set of reactionary policies.”

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

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