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Improving participation at the ABA Law Students Division

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 16, 2011 in Student Government

Now that I’ve recovered from driving 10 hours in 2 days, I’m not entirely sure what to think about the ABA-LSD “Super Circuit” meeting for the 4th / 5th / 6th Circuits that happened down at Charleston Law this weekend. The meeting was more informative than I anticipated; the turnout, on the other hand, seemed downright spartan for such a large geographic area.

It was hard to tell when attendance hit its peak. When the day started there were a bunch of CSoL students present which inflated the numbers, but as they started trickling out just after lunch other law schools (like FAMU Law) had started trickling in. I’d estimate there were around 40 or so people present over the course of the day.

By the time the clock hit around 2pm, though, there was barely anyone left :beatup:

The abrupt disappearance of so many attendees was reflected in the agenda: rather than have the planned sessions for roundtable-like discussions with other delegates (the main reason I went), the meeting was adjourned nearly 2 hours ahead of schedule :surprised:

Sure it left time for a more-scenic drive back to North Carolina, but it makes me wonder if sending people to these meetings is a project on which I want the NCCU Law SBA investing our students’ money…

When the people in charge asked what could be done to fix the horrible turnout, naturally people targeted the symptoms rather than the cause — requests for the dissolution of combined circuit meetings outright and other various solutions-that-don’t-solve-things-but-make-you-sound-intelligent were plentiful. In case anyone from the ABA-LSD happens to read this small piece of internet real estate, here are my 3 suggestions:

  1. Embrace the 36 Hour Rule: I’ve literally been to dozens of weekend meetings in my life, and I’ve never seen a well-attended one that lasted less than 36 hours. As a group starts cutting back the amount of time designated to business to lure more attendees, the relative opportunity cost for attending actually goes up — people who might drive 10 hours round-trip for a full-weekend event simply aren’t going to commit that same travel time for a mere 6-or-less hours of business. When you spend more time traveling to a meeting than you do actually meeting, attendance drops. This was the exact same situation UNCASG faced before the Pickle Princess and I ran for office, and one shared by many other groups.1 You fix it by offering more for the attendees instead of less: some business and a social event on Friday night to encourage on-time arrival, substantive business all day on Saturday, a party of some kind on Saturday night as a reward, and some closing minor business over breakfast Sunday morning to discourage early departures. Attendance will always be lighter on Friday and Sunday, but having those days as the ones dedicated to travel gives you a greater volume of people present on Saturday; those same people then interact with the others, building friendships, and creating a reinforced incentive for people to participate and show up to future meetings.
  2. Lead from the front: Back during the Spring’s ABA-LSD 4th Circuit meeting when I served as a proxy for our SBA President, I “ran” for Circuit Governor in protest since no one had filed for the position; two other candidates were nominated from the floor and talked about how much they wanted the job, and my commentary was along the lines of “If you cared so much you’d have filled out the paperwork on time. Wtf is wrong with this Circuit?” I think the eventual winner (Mallory Duley-Willink of Charlotte Law) has been leery of me ever since, but at least as far as this Charleston meeting goes she was the only one to actually do her job throughout. By the time we hit that 2:00pm-ish mark — with 3 hours of material left to go on the agenda — both the 5th Circuit and 6th Circuit Governors had bailed to head home :crack: That sets a horribly bad example for the other delegates, who will rise or fall to the standards set by the leadership. If the people reaping the networking and financial benefits of these jobs aren’t sticking around, the “little people” will follow suit. The group leader should be the first to arrive, the last to leave, and should be putting more effort into the group than anyone else.
  3. Live the mission: I don’t actually know if the ABA-LSD has a mission separate and distinct from the greater ABA, but whatever it is or would be the leadership should reflect some passion in trying to carry it out! All the communications I’d gotten for the meeting were the slick automated emails sent through whatever program the ABA folks use, with no real information in them beyond the same form email listing the date/time/location. When we got there, the officer reports were lukewarm. The new Representative to the ABA Board of Governors had no idea what I was talking about when I asked a question about an initiative discussed by his predecessor;2 then he offered a lengthy politician’s explanation instead of simply saying “I don’t know anything about it but I’ll find out.” Then just before the remaining leadership announced the meeting would be cut 2 hours short, they asked for suggestions on how to improve the meetings… with not a single recommendation being written down by anyone :roll: An organization’s leadership serves as its biggest cheerleaders; their principal role is being physical embodiments of the group’s ideals. If you can’t live the mission, you should probably go lead something else.

I doubt any of the ABA’s decision-makers will read this (much less take it seriously) but that’s my $.02 on how to improve ABA-LSD participation, at least in this part of the country. People respond to expectations, regardless of where they’re set — so set them higher ;)

Have a good night y’all! :D

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From the law:/dev/null 2011 ABA-LSD “Super Circuit” Meeting-related archives:

  1. See page 4 of our UNCASG platform “The Clock is Ticking…”, where we called for (and later implemented) full-weekend meetings. That decision led to three different records setting the highest attendance in the Association’s 38-year history. []
  2. Trying to get the cost of bar review incorporated into the Cost of Attendance figure used by law schools to calculate financial aid packages. []

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Here we go…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 17, 2011 in Student Government

Officially turned in my candidacy form a couple hours ago.

In two weeks I will either be NCCU Law‘s next SBA President, or one of the best-dressed losers the school has ever had :beatup:

Cross your fingers for me… :)

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Shirts are in! :D

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 15, 2011 in Student Government

I know I promised law school-related content in my anti-texting rant yesterday, but there was a slight change of plans — because earlier today I got an email that my t-shirts were done!1 :D

Last month I decided I was going to run for President of the SBA here at NCCU Law, considering the millions of dollars in budget cuts expected to come down from our state legislature. Our law school needs strong student advocates now more than ever (something I’ve got a little bit of experience doing).

Decided to go for a more-professional campaign look ;)

The catch of course is that I have to actually get elected first… and few things terrify more than campaigning :oops:

I know, it’s a weird fear for an aspiring litigator. After all, isn’t a trial nothing more than an attorney campaigning for his client and trying to convince jurors to “vote” for him or her by returning a favorable verdict?

But for some reason campaigning has just never sat well with me. First there’s the feeling that I’m intruding into people’s lives by asking for their support when they’ve got better things to do. Then there’s the hubris factor: running for office is tantamount to declaring “I’m the best person for this job”, but how much of that is accurate versus my ego just convincing me of it?

And then there’s my own 50-50 electoral record at the law school, winning the SBA Treasurer slot but getting beat for SBA rep back during 1L year :beatup:

We’ll see how it all shakes out. I think I’ve got a solid platform, and have about 50 people who’ve agreed to help with the campaign (about 10% of the school) so things are starting to roll along. Just have to get out there and be the advocate I’m being trained to be…

I’ll keep y’all posted on how it turns out. Have a great night! :)

  1. Hopefully this still counts as being law school-related :P []

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“Always record-breaking” :)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 5, 2010 in Student Government

I’ve been a big fan of my colleagues in the NCCU Law Student Bar Association since we took office in April, and (surprisingly) we all still get along exceptionally well. Aside from one minor pseudo-controversy in May I can’t recall a single time where we’ve butted heads or couldn’t reach a consensus on something.

It’s definitely a fun experience.

But as much as I enjoy the warm fuzzy feelings, I’m a bigger fan of cold hard data — and earlier tonight we got confirmation this year’s SBA is pretty awesome, raising over $4,400+ for the first quarter of our fiscal year :D

That’s not only a 53.6% spike over the year-ago quarter, but a spike that came despite a shrinking student body due to funding cuts by the North Carolina General Assembly.

And based on the records I’ve been given, I’m pretty sure it’s an all-time record for us1 :spin:

We’ve still got three quarters to go of course, but things are turning out pretty well so far — and that’s $4K more we’re now able to give out in student organization appropriations that don’t have to come from student fees ;)

Hope all of you had a great day too, and have a good night! :)

  1. The title of this post is from a November 2009 UNCASG meeting in response to the 38-year attendance record we set then, after setting all-time records for several other metrics since I had taken office in July 2008. Then-SBP Jasmin Jones of UNC Chapel Hill exclaimed “We’re always record-breaking at something!”… and it has since turned into a dismissive gag response any time I talk about setting a record at anything. :beatup: []

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“So sue me”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 24, 2010 in Student Government

Folks, I know y’all get sick of me complaining about a certain campus newspaper, but the effort it expends to manufacture controversy about the UNC Association of Student Governments really perplexes me at times — and unfortunately it’s one of the few publications regularly read by folks at UNC General Administration.

Yet another example comes to us in today’s paper (original story available here at dailytarheel.com):

ASG actions may be illegal
Lobbying may violate state law
By ISABELLA COCHRANE | The Daily Tar Heel

The body that voices the students’ views to administrators and elected officials could be carrying out its top priority — lobbying legislators — illegally.

The UNC Association of Student Governments, which includes delegates from 17 UNC system institutions, has been meeting with legislators and presenting them with petitions to keep tuition low for students.

But association President Atul Bhula was unaware of a N.C. law requiring organizations that fulfill certain criteria to register with the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office before lobbying.

Bhula received a notice from the office Wednesday reminding him of the law. The department has not yet determined whether the association fits the definition of a lobbyist group.

If the organization fits the definition of a lobbyist group and does not register, it could be banned from lobbying for up to two years as well as face a $5,000 fine, spokeswoman for the office Liz Proctor said.

State statutes define a lobbyist as someone who is paid to engage in lobbying for a governmental purpose.According to the statutes, a lobbyist must spend more than 5 percent of his or her time per month actively trying to influence legislative or executive decisions.

If lobbying is the association’s top priority, they could fall under that category.

Bhula’s stipend as ASG president is $7,000 per year, which is paid for by student fees — a $1 fee from every student in the UNC system. Other officers in the organization are paid $1,000 to $5,500.

Christy Tillery, a paralegal with the N.C. Ethics Commission, said true unregistered lobbyists violate state law.

“If you’re a true lobbyist in regards to the definition you should be registered,” Tillery said. The state law requiring organizations to register went into effect in 2007.

Continued lobbying without being registered in North Carolina is a misdemeanor offense.

“I never registered, and I’d be skeptical of anyone saying they have to do so,” said former ASG President Greg Doucette.

Doucette said he doubts that ASG members fit the definition of a lobbyist because they don’t spend that much time persuading legislators.

“Right now the legislation isn’t even in session until January,” Doucette said. “Basically we’ll only have a couple of months to lobby.”

Doucette said an argument could be made that because ASG officers receive compensation, they need to be registered.

“Everyone who does not receive a stipend doesn’t even meet the definition of a lobbyist because no money is changing hands,” Doucette said.

Bhula said he had not looked into registering with the state earlier because he was unaware that the organization fit the criteria of a lobbyist.

“Regardless, we’re going to lobby this year. We’re going to get that taken care of as soon as possible,” Bhula said.

The organization plans to have someone lobbying in Washington, D.C., but focus for this year will be state legislators, he said.

“At the federal level we’d be looking at Pell Grants to ensure we have more money,” Bhula said. “The federal stimulus money is going to run out so it’s a hard battle to fight there.”

Bhula said he plans to discuss the registration process at the organization’s next meeting Saturday so ASG can lobby legislators in the future.

“We hope to more effectively use our dollar for internal investments,” Bhula said.

“Lobbying in North Carolina is our main concern.”

Proctor said that despite the group’s past lobbying actions, the state department was unaware of the association’s actions with legislators.

“This is the first time that we have heard anything about it,” she said.

Contact the State & National Editor at stntdesk@unc.edu.

Published September 23, 2010 in Association of Student Governments, News, State

Now I know the news reporters don’t usually write their own headlines so I can’t be too upset about that part, but weasel words are generally bad form for something purporting to be news. Just about anything “may” be illegal.

Then there’s the mischaracterization of what the law actually says (something I’ve suspected may be common with most media outlets). You can read the current lobbying laws in North Carolina for yourself, but the synopsis is that they just don’t apply to the UNC Association of Student Governments.

The main reason is that we’re a unit of government under the UNC umbrella. We don’t get to manage our own budget; a $1/student fee is paid to UNCGA who handles all the accounting and places numerous (onerous) restrictions on what UNCASG can do as a result. The group’s President is an ex-officio member of the University system’s policy-making Board of Governors. The group’s office manager, employed by UNCASG, is a state employee.1 I could happily list other criteria explaining why we’re a government entity — and thus exempt from the lobbyist registration law — but you get the idea.

Let’s assume though, for the sake of argument, UNCASG isn’t a government agency and is in fact a private non-profit: the lobbying law still wouldn’t apply because none of the UNCASG personnel meet the criteria of a “lobbyist.”

Under the relevant subsection that would apply to UNCASG, the statute’s two elements required to be a “lobbyist” include being an employee who “a significant part of [his/her] duties include lobbying” and “in no 30‑day period less than five percent (5%) of that employee’s actual duties include engaging in lobbying”. None of the UNCASG personnel meet both elements.

First, contrary to the article’s claim, lobbying the N.C. General Assembly isn’t UNCASG’s “top priority” and lobbying simply doesn’t constitute a “significant part” of anyone’s duties — something the DTH already knew.

How did they know? Because their substandard Editorial Board attacked me in one of their hit pieces last year2 for my “piggybacking” strategy with the Legislature, where UNCASG relied on the professional (and registered) lobbyists of UNCGA to do the bulk of the lobbying work, then have student leaders dropping in when it would be politically effective for us to do so.

UNCASG’s top priority is keeping in touch with the 215,000+ students it represents. It’s second priority is representing those voices on the UNC Board of Governors. Lobbying state legislators is quite a bit further down the totem pole, if it’s even on there at all.

Assuming arguendo that lobbying was a “significant part” of anyone’s duties in UNCASG, they still wouldn’t meet the second element required to be “lobbyists.”

Even at the height of my lobbying activity during my two terms in office — when we were successfully saving students over $25+ million dollars — I doubt I spent more than a few hours in an entire month at the N.C. General Assembly. That’s just how the political game gets played. You don’t talk to everyone in the Legislature; you talk to the key leaders who can pull votes, and since everyone else is doing the same thing you’re usually only going to get 10-15 minutes of their time.

If you assume the UNCASG Presidency is a 40-hour-a-week job,3 the President has up to 8 hours a month to lobby without becoming a “lobbyist” under this statute.

And if any President is spending more time than that on lobbying, they’re doing it wrong.

One final point before I wrap up:  I was working for a lobbyist when the lobbying laws were drafted. I know who they were intended to affect, and I know who they did affect. Student-run student advocacy groups weren’t in either of those categories.

So if the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office or the Ethics Commission or anyone else is seriously concerned about UNCASG’s past lobbying efforts, I encourage them to file a claim against me. They’re going to be exceptionally hard-pressed to find anything even vaguely resembling the slightest scintilla of evidence that I or anyone on my staff was ever a “lobbyist” within the letter, the meaning, or the spirit of this statute.

And given the DTH Editorial Board’s lingering bitterness over my “aggressive character attacks” and their almost-comical efforts to rebuke me after-the-fact for them, I give them a week or so at most before they write an op/ed saying I was wrong and UNCASG should waste spend $100/person of student fee money to register their people as lobbyists…

  1. I’m unaware of any non-government entity whose full-time staff are considered state employees protected under the State Personnel Act. []
  2. Conspicuously absent from their online archives… []
  3. A number that is far too low if the job is being done properly. []

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So *this* is what Rodney Dangerfield meant…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 16, 2010 in Student Government

I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that you’ve successfully gotten under someone’s skin when they insist on talking about you half a year after you’re gone ;)

That’s apparently the case with those wacky aspiring-pundits-in-training over at the UNCCH Daily Tar Heel’s Editorial Board, who randomly decided to give me some free publicity earlier today. You can read the whole editorial here, but I’ve copied/pasted below1 to emphasize a part that just really hurt my soul all the way down to the core:

The Interview: New ASG president Atul Bhula is still lacking some substance to his proposals. But he’s got the right idea.
By EDITORIAL BOARD | The Daily Tar Heel
Updated: 12:45 AM

The Interview is a new opinion page feature. We’ll have extended interviews with people who affect our community, written by members of the editorial board. Today, Mark Laichena writes about Atul Bhula.

Listening to Atul Bhula, 2010-2011 president for the University of North Carolina’s Association of Student Governments, one gets the feeling that the association is on solid ground.

It certainly needs it. ASG has underperformed through much of its recent existence.

Never really working out how to make the most of the $1 it has collected annually since 2002 from each of the more than 200,000 students in the UNC system, ASG suffered humiliation as its president was charged with assault in 2007. Ignominy continued as some UNC campuses sidelined ASG and others withdrew their delegations.

Greg Doucette, the next and most recent former president, brought stability by serving enthusiastically from 2008-2010, though the results were hardly worthy of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the organization cost students.

So Bhula hasn’t exactly taken on the most popular job in town.

No matter: For the next seven months, he represents the entire UNC-system student body — even if not all students support his role.

Bhula launches into a discussion on tuition when asked about his top priorities, echoing practically all his predecessors by talking about keeping it “as low as possible.”

Reaching what he thinks ASG can actually do takes a little more prodding. He refuses to be tied to any targets quite yet: The organization “is still waiting for output from ASG’s research division” on the potential effect of tuition raises on UNC students, and a tuition subcommittee has just been formed.

It seems that Bhula, an MBA student at Appalachian State University, has embraced bureaucratic organization as the way to carry ASG forward. He says that he could have an action plan by October — so we’ll have to reserve judgement for now.

The ASG president’s main role is representing students to the UNC-system Board of Governors, but “hitting the legislature is a main priority.”

Bhula highlights contingency planning as a challenge ahead. The $750 tuition raise that came from the legislature over the summer blindsided the ASG, which had led a successful but comparatively insignificant tuition petition in the spring.

“So it really shows the power of the state government, and the importance of engaging them.”

There’s a frankness to Bhula’s outlook that is refreshing — particularly compared with his immediate predecessor, who engaged in aggressive character attacks through regular blog posts, called “T. Greg’s Tomes”.

Bhula sees a core part of his job as “selling the university.”

It’s a reminder of how big the job is: The UNC system comprises 16 universities and the N.C. School of Science and Math; more than 170,000 full-time students and almost 50,000 part-time students.

“The legislators aren’t hearing enough from students,” he says. “They love talking to students, especially those from the constituencies they represent.”

“ASG can get students there, and make sure they are informed.”

The ASG president is keeping his cards to his chest on the big ideas for connecting students to the state government, but it’s not hard to imagine the options on the table. For Student Day at the Capitol last May, around 30 students went to the legislature: A significantly larger presence during the General Assembly’s long session in the spring might send a strong message.

Bhula indicates he is looking to past projects for ideas. He mentions the Personal Stories project, a book that aimed to put faces on UNC-system students, which was produced during president Amanda Devore’s term in 2004-05.
“You still see it in legislators’ offices,” he said.

Thinking about projects leads us to the $260,000 question: How ASG spends its budget. Many have been critical of officers’ stipends, which range from the $7,000 for Bhula down to $1,000 for the secretary.
Bhula thinks the figures are fair.

“Students working for ASG could be working or interning, so if we don’t compensate them, ASG will only be open to elites who don’t have to work.

“And if officers don’t do their jobs, I’ll fire them,” he adds.

He’s quick to suggest other ways to save money, such as returning to one- or two-day meetings to cut hotel expenses.

And what to do with the saved money? “It’s all about returning value to students by funding for projects that benefit UNC-system students. That’s where the Personal Stories book might come in, and I’m not going to give up on working for campus innovation grants.”

Bhula has answers for the standard criticisms of the ASG, but he doesn’t have an answer for everything.

The ASG president admits that he doesn’t know what similar student associations in other states are doing.

“But that’s a great idea.”

I ignored the logical incoherence of citing UNCASG’s “successful… tuition petition in the spring” — saving students millions of dollars two years in a row — while still insisting “the results were hardly worthy of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the organization cost students.” UNCCH is a liberal arts University, and the bitter troglodytes running their student newspaper’s op/ed page can be forgiven if they never learned basic math (e.g. that “million” is a larger unit of measurement than “thousand” or even “hundreds of thousands”).

And I  even ignored the characterization that pointing out an organization’s ineptitude is tantamount to “aggressive character attacks.” This is the same Editorial Board, after all, whose conservative editor decided to contact me via Facebook half a year ago to express his outrage (outrage!) that I had dared to exercise the same First Amendment rights to highlight the Board’s incompetence that the Board used to pen the incompetence in the first place. Feel free to read through the transcript if you need a chuckle.2

No, folks, neither of those issues gave me even the slightest pause; I’d grown accustomed to this level of mediocrity from these folks.3 You know what did get me? You know what kept me awake at night, and even moved me to the verge of tears?4

Characterizing T. Greg’s Tomes as mere “regular blog posts” :beatup:

Never mind that over a third of the Tomes were written before law:/dev/null was even created — only 3 of the 19 have ever been posted on this blog in the first place!5 It’s almost like the Editorial Board members intentionally ignored the fact my 8 separate entries providing blow-by-blow dissections of their inadequacies were composed and promulgated via Facebook to ensure a higher readership than the traffic we were getting here at the time.

Or, in the words of Mr. Dangerfield, “I get no respect. No respect at all.” :cry:

LMAO :spin:

Have a great night y’all! I promise I’ll have some law-related content tomorrow in celebration of Constitution Day!! :D

  1. In line with the Fair Use Doctrine of course, should any of the DTHers feel the urge to claim copyright infringement :* []
  2. It’s worth a laugh, and begs the question: could “Don’t patronize me [bro]” ever take off as an internet meme alongside its “Don’t Tase Me Bro!” cousin? []
  3. Like willfully ignoring their (endorsed) supposedly-not-a-candidate Rick Ingram’s unauthorized use of multiple university listservs to not-really-campaign for the office-he’s-not-really-seeking. Feel free to re-read the transcript if you don’t understand my amusement. ;) []
  4. Just in case your built-in melodrama detector isn’t working, I’m not being serious here :D  I don’t think I’ve ever lost sleep over a DTH editorial… []
  5. In March, in April, and in June. Feel free to read through those entries and decide for yourself if they’re “aggressive character attacks” — they also contain links to the entries on Facebook if you want to read those too :) []

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Karaoke can cure cancer

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 11, 2010 in Student Government

OK not really. But coupled with a few drinks it makes a good remedy for a rough week :beatup:

Sorry for not having a post up yesterday y’all, I was at our local sports bar with NCCU Law‘s SBA President and Secretary enjoying some spirits and listening to comedically bad karaoke sang by random people I’ll probably never see again.

I’m not really the bar-hopping type, but after yesterday I just needed a drink. The SBA spent 8.5 hours slogging through our annual appropriations process, interviewing 30 different groups and then deciding group-by-group how much funding to allocate to their events… and when we finally got kicked out of the school by the security staff so they could lock up at midnight, we were still $26K apart between what we wanted to allocate and our available resources :beatup:

The whole process just really hasn’t gone as smoothly as I expected it would. It was a huge pain in the @$$ trying to condense all the various rules and regulations into an easy-to-read information packet. And I already told y’all about how I blanked out during the workshop. Then a non-trivial number of the requests we received were missing key information, either because folks didn’t read the packet or didn’t listen during the workshop. :mad:

And just to put some icing on the cake, we discovered as we delved through the SBA’s financial records that our predecessors went dramatically over-budget and left us with $26,945.07 less to distribute this year — fully a quarter of our annual appropriations budget :crack:

I’m not feeling self-pity so much as self-disappointment at how I’ve handled things. For example, back when I was running for this office folks complained they didn’t have enough time to present their requests last year, so this time around I pushed our Executive Board to go with 10-minute interviews (5 minutes to present, 3 for Q&A, and a 2-minute buffer). Had I opted for 8-minute interviews instead, that would have shaved an hour off the interview time that could have been devoted to deliberating… meaning we might have potentially finished instead of having to reconvene on Sunday to wrap up. :beatup:

But after a few whiskey sours and a lot of laughs, I’m back on top of the world :) Trying to get caught up on a schoolwork, then heading back in tomorrow for this last appropriations meeting — and making sure to take lots of notes to hand off to my successor ;)

That’s it from me for tonight y’all — I hope all of you have an amazing weekend! :D

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Greetings from Wilmington! (Again)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 27, 2010 in Student Government

Hey everybody! :D

It was about this time last year that I was down here at UNCW for the first meeting of the UNC Association of Student Governments. Luckily there was no rain this time :)

My role tonight was to help with the leadership development stuff on the agenda, something I was trained in during the years I was a college dropout. Even though I’ve noticed almost no one knows that. So y’all are among the first to know. Just because I love all of you :*

Everything seemed to turn out well, so I’m happy. And even if it didn’t, it’s a volunteer gig so I’ll gladly issue refunds if people are dissatisfied :P

I’m off to grab my Grey Goose-laced Diet Mountain Dew and hit the pool for a bit. I’ll try to cobble an entry together tomorrow, but if I don’t get the chance I hope all of you have an amazing weekend!! :D

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UNCASG Wins Student Tax Repeal!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 29, 2010 in Student Government

Hey everybody! :D

Earlier today the North Carolina General Assembly gave preliminary approval to the state budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year — and included among the provisions is a repeal of the 8% student tax that I’ve mentioned in several entries here at law:/dev/null.

With the repeal soon to be final (a 2nd vote happens tomorrow), I wrote up a Facebook note with a chart in it. If you’re on Facebook, feel free to check out the original entry here. You should be able to access it even if we’re not Facebook friends… and if in the process you get the sudden urge to become an FB friend, you’re more than welcome to do so ;)

The note appears below in its entirety:

[Note: by default I’m tagging the ASG President and senior leadership, the NCSU SBOs, and a few extra people on the side. If you don’t want to be tagged in future editions of T Greg’s Tomes, just shoot me a Facebook message :) -TGD]

====================
Past Editions of T Greg’s Tomes:

====================

T Greg’s Tomes: UNCASG saves students $8.6M+ (a 4,019% return on investment!)

Folks who regularly read T Greg’s Tomes know I don’t exactly get along with student media, particularly the perpetual (and perpetually sophomoric) foolishness-disguised-as-punditry that emanates from the conservative-leaning Editorial Board at the UNCCH Daily Tar Heel (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B and Exhibit C and Exhibit D and Exhibit E and Exhibit F and Exhibit G).

I’m eagerly awaiting whatever backwards spin will get applied to this story now that UNCASG has saved students millions of dollars for the 2nd year in a row…

Earlier today the NC General Assembly gave preliminary approval to the 2010-11 state budget, which includes a repeal of the 8% student tax that was adopted in August 2009 (see line 32 on page 47 of the budget bill) — a repeal the delegates and officers of UNCASG spent most of our last session successfully getting enacted through in-person lobbying, phone calls, emails, and a Tuition Petition signed by over 22,000+ students.

Now even if we just count in-state undergraduates (since anything more complex wouldn’t fit into the graphic below), our work saved University students over $8,642,722.64. Compared to the $1/student fee that funds UNCASG’s budget, that’s a 4,019% return on students’ investment — meaning UNCASG could do absolutely nothing at all for the next 40 years, and students would still be better off financially than they would have been without the group’s work.

Or, put another way, the $1 fee could have been implemented on the very day UNCASG was created on September 22, 1972 and students would still be saving money.

I took the liberty of putting together the table below for everyone’s information and usage, compiling the tuition increase rates from the General Assembly, the Board of Governors alternative rates, and the FTE UG resident enrollment at each institution.

UNCASG wins $8.6M+ in savings

And remember the savings are actually more than this, because 100% of the tuition being paid will now go back to the universities where it belongs instead of going to the state’s General Fund.

For folks who question why I’ve dedicated the past 4 years to UNCASG and the NCSU Student Senate, this is why: in just the past 2 years alone — last year we helped repeal a similar student tax slated for 2009-10 — Student Government leaders have saved UNC system students over $25,730,590.64.

Overall, not a bad deal for the $2 apiece we each paid in. Remember that next time someone complains about your student leaders — and seriously think about becoming one of those leaders yourself ;)

And since I’m a big fan of data and tables, I also made another table showing those added-up savings over the past 2 years as a result of UNCASG’s work. Here are the results:

Savings over 2 years: $25.7M+

Now this isn’t a total victory of course. The authorization for an additional $750/student tuition increase I mentioned to y’all was included in the final budget bill, and odds are roughly 100% that every University in the system will jump on the chance to hike tuition under that authorization. So I don’t expect any UNCCH students, for example, to be grateful for paying $950 instead of $990.

But there are precious few total victories in life, and if that $40 (or $259.60 @ ECU) enables someone to stay in school who otherwise might have to drop out, I’ll consider it a success.

Especially when a budget of $215K saved students over $25.7M ;)

Have a great night y’all! :)

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State budget: House pillages universities

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 9, 2010 in Student Government

The psychological trauma of losing a fifth of your classmates is still sinking in for a lot of us, so tonight’s entry is going to focus on the state budget for North Carolina since I can write about it from memory with minimal effort ;)

Unfortunately the trauma with the budget is a bit more serious…

About a month ago I mentioned to y’all the Senate’s version of the state budget and its implications for students. I was pretty happy that Senators adopted UNCASG‘s request to repeal the 8% student tax enacted last year1 — a request highlighted on Forbes.com and endorsed by Governor Perdue after petitions were signed by 22,000+ students at our 17 constituent institutions.

The catch? The Senate also authorized the University system to unilaterally approve additional tuition increases of $750-per-student to offset budget cuts :surprised:

Unlike the student tax, the universities would keep the money raised from the tuition increases instead of it going to the state’s General Fund. But with no cap at all and no approval required by a campus’s Board of Trustees or the system’s Board of Governors, it essentially guaranteed tuition rates would go up nearly $1K apiece at many campuses… a ~25% increase in a single year for UNC Chapel Hill, which is already the most-expensive University in the UNC system (the % is even higher for other universities, including my alma mater).

Needless to say that’s a huge amount for a tuition increase in a single year. Those kind of jumps force students to drop out of school.

Well the House of Representatives had their turn last week, and the Representatives seemed to be perfectly fine with that :mad:

Historically the House has been unkind to the University, using draconian budget cuts to the university system as a bargaining chip with the Senate when the budget goes to a joint House-Senate conference committee for its final edition. But even knowing that as the backdrop, I was still totally floored at how aggressively the politicians pillage the people’s universities.

You can see the House version beginning on Page 25 of the House budget report on S897. The first entry alone blows my mind: ~$150,000,000 in permanent budget reductions starting this year, on top of the ~$100,000,000 in permanent reductions that began last year. That means the Legislature is chopping a quarter of a billion dollars (with a B) in less than 2 years’ time.

Representatives apparently weren’t content there, so they decided to follow up by providing only a fraction of the system’s request for need-based financial aid — the $$ universities will have to use to help kids avoid dropping out when the Legislature’s budget cuts inevitably lead to substantial tuition increases. Then the House decided to go a step further and cap enrollment growth to 1% a year, which will exclude thousands of academically qualified North Carolina students from the very universities their parents’ taxes are financing :crack:

I’ve seen the same House-Senate budget dance play out for 11 years now, but this really has to be the single most outrageous proposal I’ve seen. It will utterly decimate each of our universities for years to come.

So back on Monday I woke up, checked my email, checked Facebook, read the news… and decided I was sufficiently pissed off that I needed to vent publicly. I prefer doing work behind the scenes when it comes to politics and lobbying, but my blood was sufficiently heated that I fired off a letter to the Raleigh News & Observer. They were kind enough to post it on their Education blog, which got spread around via email among some chambers of the Legislature.

Here’s their entry:

A student voice on UNC budget cuts
Submitted by eferreri on 06/07/2010 – 10:45
Tags: Campus Notes | Erskine Bowles | Greg Doucette | N.C. Central University | N.C. State University | T. Greg Doucette | UNC system

Greg Doucette knows better than most just how tough it can be to pay your way through college.

Doucette, an N.C. State grad and current N.C. Central University law student, recently stepped down as the president of the Association of Student Governments, the group of student leaders from across the UNC system.

In that role, Doucette served on the UNC system’s Board of Governors, where he routinely put a face to the budget-cut issue by telling his own story about struggling with tuition payments while at NCSU. He dropped out for a while, putting his college career on hold for several years.

Now, he writes of budget cuts to the UNC system proposed by both the state House and Senate. The Senate spending plan, while generally easier on the university system, still proposes a $50 million cut and would increase tuition $750.

And the House budget calls for a far larger cut. UNC President Erskine Bowles says it would result in the elimination of 1,700 jobs across the public university system.

In a letter submitted to the News & Observer, Doucette lays out his concerns.

Here it is:

It was during North Carolina’s previous recession, roughly a decade ago, when the General Assembly last considered such deep cuts to our state’s public universities comparable to those now proposed by the House. Unsurprisingly, those cuts led to dramatic increases in tuition rates (similar to the $750+ per student increase now proposed by the Senate) to make up for the losses in revenue.

Also unsurprisingly, those huge spikes in cost forced students like me to drop out of college entirely. It took me 5 years working low-wage jobs in the “real world” until I saved enough to return to NC State, where I graduated with my degree in Computer Science last year — and where resident undergraduate tuition had surged 120% from the year I started until the year I came back.

How much more tax revenue would I have contributed to the state treasury had I graduated in 2004 instead of 2009? How much more tax revenue would the many students in my situation have contributed over that same time span?

I understand legislators’ impulse to protect K-12 education and the other areas spared by their current budget proposals; this is an election year, after all. But legislators should understand the cuts they’ve proposed to the University of North Carolina will condemn many students to years of reduced earnings (especially those who live outside of the Triangle or Triad), mortgaging North Carolina’s future economic health for the sake of re-election.

Students and their parents deserve better.

With warm regards,
T. Greg Doucette

The writer is a student at the N.C. Central University School of Law, and President Emeritus of the UNC Association of Student Governments.

God bless them for using my old profile photo from when I was President of the NCSU Student Senate — and still had hair ;)

In all seriousness, I can’t be the first person to point out the effects of these types of cuts and their attendant tuition increases. I spent 5 years working as a college dropout earning a salary of someone with a mere high school diploma, when I could have already wrapped up my J.D. and been earning a lawyer’s salary; or, in the alternative, skipped getting the law degree and been working as a computer scientist.

Either way, I would have paid far more in taxes to the state in just 1-2 years than I paid over those 5. And I know of at least a dozen students who dropped out of NCSU the same semester (indeed the same week) that I did, and there were undoubtedly dozens upon dozens upon dozens more — sufficient numbers that we undoubtedly would have covered the state’s marginal cost increase for teaching us.

We’re in a recession; I realize and accept that. Budget cuts needs to be made, which I realize and accept too.

But the University system already took a disproportionate share of the budget cuts last year, and the decisions at this point are going to reduce the long-term economic health of the state — and crush the dreams of hundreds of University students who, like me years ago, will find themselves forced to interrupt their college education and search for a low-paying job just to make ends meet.

Here’s the list of legislators who are on the House-Senate conference committee. If you happen to be a North Carolina student, or you’re a taxpayer who realizes this short-term budget cure is going to cause far more long-term budget harm, please get in touch with these conferees and tell them: students and their parents deserve better.

Your support is greatly appreciated :)

That’s it from me y’all. Have a great night! :D

  1. Essentially each campus’s tuition would go up by 8%, capped at $200… but the money would go to the state’s General Fund instead of the campus where the tuition money was paid :crack: []

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