In 2003, when Tyler Mott was a student at the University of Arizona, he came to believe something was missing from classrooms: the American flag. He remembered the flag being prominent in every classroom in elementary and high school and wondered why it wasn't at his college.
He recalled discussions in his government class in high school. "We had some rather heated debates and I always liked to remember that the flag was there and it was what gave us the right to agree or disagree with our teachers or the government. It represents everything that is good about America," said Mott, who graduated from Arizona in 2004 and works in a Tucson bank.
Mott wrote to legislators about his concerns and the result will be reaching the Arizona governor's office: legislation to require every public college or university to display an American flag in every classroom -- and copies of the Bill of Rights and Constitution, too. There's no word on whether the governor will sign the bill but -- in the words of one college official -- "it's hard to veto a flag bill."
The legislation started out with just the flag requirement and it applies to all levels of public education in the state, although most elementary and secondary schools already have flags in every classroom, so minimal impact is expected there. The flags would have to be at least 2 feet by 3 feet and be properly displayed. As the bill moved through the Legislature, it was amended to also require that legible copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights must also be on display in every classroom.
Mott noted that he and others are upset that many U.S. flags are produced in other countries, so the bill specifically states that the flags and other materials must be produced in the United States. No money would be provided under the legislation and colleges are instructed to raise private funds to pay for the flags. (There are various, unconfirmed figures about the cost of the measure. An analysis by the Maricopa Community College District found that it would need to buy 1,220 flags to comply with the law.)
Arizona colleges and universities didn't take official positions on the bill, but officials at most institutions said that they didn't have flags in most classrooms and some said that they worried about vandalism of flags and Constitution posters, since many classrooms are left open much of the day.
Michael Hunter, assistant executive director for government affairs for the Arizona Board of Regents, said that faculty members "don't take ownership of a classroom" like elementary school teachers do, so that there would be a range of issues in terms of who would be responsible for maintaining the flags and displays.
The bill, if signed into law, would be an "unfunded mandate," forcing the colleges to focus on flags at a time of other pressing issues, Hunter said. At the same time, he said that most college leaders understood the idealism behind the legislation. "No one wants to be opposed to the flag," he said.
Reyes Medrano, professor of business at Paradise Valley Community College and president-elect of the faculty association for the Maricopa Community College District, said that the bill would divert resources. "We have other needs," he said. "This has been a non-issue."
Medrano also said that while he doesn't object to anyone flying a flag, he doesn't see why it should be forced on college classrooms, especially when its meaning isn't entirely positive to everyone. "I'm not anti-U.S. or anti-any country," he said, but flags equate with nationalism, which "creates separatism and unnecessary conflict."
Focusing on the flag, he said, can encourage people to "place our values in an institution rather than in humanity."