Lawmaker seeks to curb Arizona Board of Regents’ power

The Arizona Board of Regents’ duties are being questioned by State Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley). Finchem wants those duties under the watchful eye of state legislators. (File photo of Cronkite News)

The Arizona Board of Regents’ duties are being questioned by State Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley). Finchem wants those duties under the watchful eye of state legislators. (File photo of Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – An Oro Valley Republican lawmaker wants to know whether he and fellow legislators can legally clamp down on the Arizona Board of Regents.

Rep. Mark Finchem said it’s clear the board is established by the Arizona Constitution. But Finchem said it appears the duties of the board – and perhaps even the makeup – are within the purview of lawmakers.

Finchem isn’t just speculating. He wants an informal legal opinion from Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

Finchem told Capitol Media Services his request follows a series of disputes between board members and lawmakers, even including threats of litigation by the regents against lawmakers over issues like the level of state funding.

“Quite frankly, a lot of us have had it,’’ Finchem said. He said if Brnovich agrees it paves the way for him to push for major changes in not only the regents but the university system as a whole.

This would not be Finchem’s first attempt to curb the board’s power.

Last year he proposed giving each university its own governing board. Finchem agreed to drop the proposal after he said board members showed some interest in working through issues – including the cost of instruction.

That clearly has not happened, at least not to Finchem’s satisfaction. So now he’s back to the point where he believes the legislators, as elected policymakers, need to step in.

The move comes as Brnovich is himself involved in his own lawsuit with the regents over their powers.

In legal papers he filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in September, he contends the tuition the board has allowed the state’s three universities to charge Arizona residents violates a constitutional provision that instruction be “as nearly free as possible.’’

Board members have yet to respond to the lawsuit.

Many of Finchem’s complaints about the regents, like the Brnovich lawsuit, revolve around that question of tuition. Finchem said the board has not been a good steward of public dollars.

Finchem said Arizonans got proof of that just this past weekend when Arizona State University fired football coach Todd Graham. Finchem was particularly miffed at reports that ASU is going to pay Graham close to $12 million to buy him out of his contract.

And Brnovich on Monday used the firing – and the payout – to underscore his contention that Arizona residents are being charged far too much.

“You’re telling me they can afford to make the football coach the highest paid employee, give him a $12 million buyout, but they can’t reduce or eliminate the athletic fee for students?’’ Brnovich said.

“Why are students being forced to pay athletic fees?’’ he continued. And Brnovich said it doesn’t stop there with other special fees added for things like technology.

“Think about that: That $12 million payment is more than the combined $75 athletic fee that all the students are paying,’’ he said. “Where are the university’s priorities?’’