Arizona State University and Payson Thursday issued a joint release to say their negotiations are continuing about building a four-year campus here, despite a month-long delay in signing a promised memorandum of understanding.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said the two sides just have to finish work on the final, technical language of an agreement to move onto the next phase of the long process of building a 1,500- to 6,000-student campus in town.
The joint statement, signed by ASU Vice President Richard Stanley and by Evans, said that “discussions continue to move forward.”
The statement said that current economic conditions have introduced “high levels of uncertainty” but that the need for low-cost, rural campuses remains “at least as crucial.”
The statement said, “The parties have mutually agreed to continued exploring the possibilities” of a new approach to building a campus of “unprecedented breadth and depth.”
The statement concluded, “progress continues to be made on a truly historic public private partnership.”
Evans said lawyers from each side are reviewing the language of the memorandum of understanding, which would commit both sides to an in-depth study of the proposed partnership.
“I’m a farmer depending on lawyers,” said Evans, “but when I look at the document, I don’t seen anything other than wordsmithing” to work out the remaining differences.
However, the months of negotiations have been overshadowed by spreading budget disasters for ASU.
The Legislature has pulled back state support for the universities faster than ASU can raise tuition. Last year the university imposed a $1,000 tuition surcharge that in a stroke vaulted it from the bottom third for tuition nationally to the top third. Tuition rose from about $6,000 annually to about $8,000 annually in two years. In addition, the university responded to $200 million in legislative cuts by eliminating nearly 1,000 staff positions and 250 faculty associate positions, in the face of continued increases in enrollment — from 43,000 in 2000 to 68,000 today. Virtually all university workers have had to take two-week, unpaid furloughs.
Additional legislative cuts have forced a renewed round of reductions, not yet implemented. State per-student funding has now fallen to levels last seen in 1998.
ASU will make dramatic reductions in its once fast-growing satellite campuses — ASU West in Glendale and ASU Polytechnic in Mesa. Both campuses will lose graduate programs and most of their degree programs.
Even more staggering, ASU will limit freshman enrollment in the fall for the first time in state history. Previously, ASU had guaranteed admission to any graduate of a state high school with a qualifying grade point average.
The sweeping reductions have complicated ASU’s move to open up new, rural campuses that would charge students about 50 percent less tuition than the Tempe campus. The move would represent the start of what amounts to a state college system housed on ASU branch campuses.
Despite those cuts, ASU this week signaled its intention to continue working toward establishing a branch campus in Payson.
In large measure, that reflects the lure of some $70 million in financial pledges Evans has lined up from private backers.
Even on that front, however, the plan has faced fresh uncertainty. Several weeks ago, developer Nazy Hirani died in the crash of his vintage World War II fighter plane. Hirani had pledged some $22 million toward construction of the campus on Forest Service land off Highway 260 that Congress has already designated for eventual trade or sale.
Evans said he’s been working for several weeks on shoring up those financial commitments. Payson hopes to establish a community facilities district to buy the 300 acres, build the campus and dorms, which the district would lease to ASU. The district could also lease land to developments connected to the campus, including perhaps a convention hotel, research office park and commercial developments.