On UNCASG, $1, and the UNCCH Daily Tar Heel

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 30, 2010 in Student Government | Subscribe

Good evening folks! :D

I’ve actually got a pair of “real” posts drafted that I was going to put up tonight and tomorrow. But…

…this is gonna be another SG-related entry :beatup:

See when I logged in I saw a comment that got left this morning at Sunday’s entry, asking if I had a rebuttal to some patently false reporting in the UNCCH Daily Tar Heel regarding the Association I happen to run and how its budget was allocated this weekend.

I was actually writing the rebuttal on Facebook at the very moment that comment was submitted, but if one reader here at law:/dev/null is interested, my guess (hope? :oops: ) is that others might be too :)

If you’re on Facebook, feel free to check out the original entry here — there’s actually been a lot of commentary on the note that included some good historical information as well.1)  Plus the formatting is prettier! :beatup:

You should be able to access it even if we’re not Facebook friends… and if in the process you want to friend me, you’re more than welcome to do so ;)

The note appears below in its entirety:

[Note: by default I’m tagging all of my ASG Vice Presidents, committee chairmen 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]

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Past Editions of T Greg’s Tomes:

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T Greg’s Tomes: Things that surprise no one (Musings re the UNCCH DTH)

The sun rose this morning.

Somewhere, a dog barked.

And the Daily Tar Heel Editorial Board wrote another ill-conceived editorial that misinforms UNCCH students.

You’ve probably got your own list, but for me these are the things that let me know the world is still functioning normally ;)

The downside of course is that it means dozens of student leaders enjoy the privilege of having their hard work dismissed out-of-hand simply because folks at the DTH have injured pride, and an entire campus’s worth of students get fed bad information in the process.

So despite the risk of repeating myself for the n-th time, in recognition of those students I’m writing a note (again) to dispel some of the foolishness flowing on the pages of the DTH.

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I. SOME CONTEXT
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The editorial that prompted this note can be found online here — I also made a PDF copy for future reference that I can provide if you need it.

Now the Daily Tar Heel is no stranger to playing fast and loose with the facts when it comes to the Association, particularly over the past year. For just a few of examples where I’ve responded here on Facebook, you can read my letters in March ’09 (on UNCCH involvement in ASG), August ’09 (on ASG advocacy), September ’09 on two occasions (on the ASG budget and UNCCH withdrawing), and even earlier this month (on textbooks).

And those are just the times I had the patience to sit at a computer and actually consider their arguments.

There’s a consistent theme among all of the DTH’s editorials for that period: they’re all riddled with factual errors, despite accurate info being reported by their News Department or provided directly by me (often in lengthy phone interviews that would apparently be better invested watching paint dry).

Don’t just take my word for it — I’d encourage you to pull up every one of those notes, and the corresponding DTH editorials that prompted them, and judge for yourself.

Rather than make an effort to improve their editorials, the Daily Tar Heel instead seems to prefer the Las Vegas approach to journalism — double down with more editorials, more vitriol… and more errors.

No one likes getting called out over and over (and over) again, so I guess I can’t really blame them for responding that way. But after ragging on Technician for years over its shoddy editorials I’d be remiss if I didn’t do the same to their more polished cousin up the road ;)

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II. THE ERRORS AND MISREPRESENTATIONS
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One spot where the DTH has “improved” is swapping genuine quantitative errors for good ol’ weasel words, a technique I can only assume they picked up from the Pope Center.

The first example:

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Snippet #1:
ASG is no stranger to charges of misappropriation of funds.

Student Body President Jasmin Jones opposed ASG’s current budget priorities during discussion of the 2010-11 budget at this month’s meeting — and with good reason.
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We’ll sidestep the intentional implication that having a difference in priorities is tantamount to “misappropriation.” Misappropriation, for those not near a dictionary or otherwise unfamiliar with its meaning, is dishonestly taking something for one’s own use — in other words, the exact opposite of a totally open and transparent deliberation over a budget, allocated to further students’ interests, taking place over two separate months.

The curious part is citing President Jones as having “opposed ASG’s current budget priorities.” To be sure, President Jones and several other SBPs had very strong and well-reasoned opinions on where the Association’s money was going. The debate was lengthy and thorough.

But you can access a PDF copy of ASG’s amended budget for FY2010-11 online here — the total dollar amount at issue ($5,500) comprises a whopping 2.7% of the Association’s recurring budget.

So President Jones and the other SBPs supported 97.3% of the Association’s “current budget priorities”… but are cited as justification that those priorities are misplaced.

Moving on…

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Snippet #2:
Of the nearly $207,000 it receives from 2009-10 student fees, 97 percent of it goes toward expenses relating to officer compensation, meeting expenses, operational costs and miscellaneous expenses next school year.

And less than 3 percent goes back to special projects, programming and advocacy.
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You can tell from the awkward wording of the first sentence that weasel words had to be brought out to make the point DTH wanted.

But it also highlights the patent disingenuousness of the Editorial Board.

First, the DTH confines its analysis to the $206,750 in new student fee money the Association is expected to collect next fiscal year. But this isn’t the Association’s entire budget — every year it always has at least $17K in one-time, non-recurring surplus to distribute (we’ll get to that in Snippet #3 below).

So this is a pretty obvious attempt at cherry-picking data to prove a point, something they tried when they last covered the ASG budget back in August.

More disturbing is the Editorial Board’s intentional misreading of the Association’s budget categories.

The section of the budget the DTH cites as only 3% of expenditures is entitled “Advocacy, Programming, Service Projects and Other Discretionary Funds.” As you can probably guess from the context of the title, these are discretionary events that come and go depending on who is running the organization. Just in case there was any confusion, the subportion on advocacy events is even titled “Advocacy & Service Project Allocations” and lists the specific advocacy events.

In other words, these expenditures are different from the mandatory “core” operations of the Association that happen on a regular basis.

And yes, advocacy happens to be one of those core operations.

When an Association official, delegate, Student Body President or anyone else affiliated with the organization goes to a Board of Governors meeting to advocate for students (as they’ve done almost every month for 2 years), or heads to the General Assembly to lobby (as they’ve done almost every month for 2 years), or participates in any of the activities we have going on every month (as they’ve done almost every month for 2 years), how do they get there? Did engineers at NCSU invent transporter technology that only UNCASG gets to use?

Of course not. They typically travel, and if it’s a multi-day event (like BOG meetings) they typically need a hotel.

So in the interests of transparency in the budget, when I took office I reclassified those sections to fall under a “Meetings, Lodging, Travel and Outreach” section. Sure I could follow past budget practice and throw the word “Advocacy” in front of everything, but in doing so we’d just be mucking up the document for the sake of political appearances.

The Daily Tar Heel knew all of this, considering ASG has been following the same practice for 2 years now and they were provided a copy of our final end-of-year budget from the fiscal year that ended 06/30/09 — containing every single expense, down to the penny, and where in the budget it went.

Moving on…

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Snippet #3:
Proponents of ASG often laud the success of the association’s annual emergency fund.

Leftover money not used by July of each academic year becomes a source of funding for projects on campuses — usually about $17,000.

But for our University, the only tangible benefit of belonging to the ASG this year has been a $1,000 grant for installing NextBus on the P2P.
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First, no one “laud[s] the success” of a group’s emergency fund unless there’s an emergency.

No one in the Association has “laud[ed] its success,” I haven’t “laud[ed] its success,” and no rational person “laud[s] its success.” It’s just a generally required practice of budget management. You set aside either 1 month’s or 3 months’ worth of revenue for emergencies, depending on the structure of your organization or business.

Now it’s true that the emergency reserve works like a savings account. Since it’s a recurring expense that gets “paid” every year (e.g. deposited into the fictional savings account), the old “savings” can get used elsewhere when the new budget year starts. In ASG’s case that’s a minimum of $17K every year if there’s no emergency.

But that just means the DTH Editorial Board is admitting a couple sentences later that it was cherry-picking its revenue data a couple sentences earlier.

I’ll address what UNCCH gets out of this reserve, as well as the Association in general, in Section III.

Moving on…

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Snippet #4:
To note, ASG does have potential. For instance, Jones worked with ASG to lobby members of the N.C. General Assembly to return the $200 tuition increase. And Medlin is looking forward to helping ASG function in a more campus-oriented way.

But we won’t know the fruits of their labor until next year.
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True, the DTH “won’t know the fruits” of SBP-elect Medlin’s labor until next year.

But the fruits of President Jones’s labor has already been seen… and already criticized by the Daily Tar Heel despite saving students millions of dollars.

Go back to that August 2009 letter for more info.

A letter that, coincidentally, went to the DTH Editorial Board.

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III. WHAT UNCCH “GETS OUT OF” THE ASSOCIATION
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Behind the factual errors and weasel words, the Daily Tar Heel Editorial Board tries to resurrect its argument that UNC Chapel Hill students just don’t get a return on their $1/yr investment.

I hoped I had adequately dissected the DTH’s arguments back in September when they misrepresented the Association’s budget back then. But I realized I didn’t address it from a UNCCH-centric viewpoint, so I’ll attempt to do so here.

The benefits to UNCCH students generally fall into three categories:

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1) UNCCH gets the same things as everyone else.
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The Association represents all 17 institutions in the University of North Carolina, so the things that benefit everyone also benefit UNC Chapel Hill.

Consider, for example, the state budget adopted by the Legislature last August and that letter I already mentioned.

All University students were slated to pay an 8% tuition increase that we dubbed a “student tax,” where 100% of the extra tuition money raised went to the state’s coffers to balance its budget. UNCASG mobilized throughout the year to have that increase replaced with tuition rates set by the UNC Board of Governors — where the money raised stayed on each individual campus — and in the budget that was adopted we were successful.

A back-of-the-napkin estimate is that success saved ~$11,119,848 for undergraduates (multiplying the Board’s rates and the General Assembly’s rates by the number of full-time students at each individual university, and summing up the difference between the two). The actual savings are even larger if someone wants to do more detailed math, but for the purpose of this note I figured this would be a sufficient figure.

If UNCASG was only 2% responsible for that legislative success — a number that I think downplays the significance of student input considering UNCGA was justifiably focused more on enrollment growth funding and financial aid — that means we saved university students ~$222K.

In other words, students got $1.68 in savings for the $1 they paid into the Association.

And that ignores every single other thing ASG did for the entire year.

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2) UNCCH gets what UNCCH puts into the Association.
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It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that 7 of the past 10 elections for ASG President have been won by a student from N.C. State, and the other 3 were won by students at UNC Wilmington, N.C. Central, and East Carolina respectively.

A UNCCH student has won 0.

Similarly, the ASG’s Senior Vice President has been from FSU 3x, ECU 2x, and NCCU / NCSU / UNCG / WCU 1x apeice. A UNCCH student won 1 time by default in 2000, when she lost the presidency to an NCSU student in a special election where the runner-up became VP.

The reason for the huge disparity in electoral success? The student leaders at the victorious institutions worked aggressively to develop the Association and improve how it represented students. Meanwhile the delegations from UNCCH typically spent their time complaining about the Association, refusing to participate in its work, or “participated” by gumming everything up with anal-retentive interpretations of the Association’s governing documents unsupported by any fair reading of Robert’s Rules of Order.

Contrast that with the past 2 years. The delegates from UNCCH brought their criticisms, but also brought ideas. UNCCH students who weren’t affiliated with the delegation applied for positions in ASG’s Executive Branch. And all of them brought a work ethic to go with it.

The net results? UNCCH had more Executive Officers than any institution, one of its delegates became a committee chairman, a second became a committee vice chairman, a third was just nominated for Delegate of the Year, and the fourth was just nominated to become the Association’s Senior Vice President for next year.

UNCCH might gain $28K by withdrawing from the Association, but at the cost of permanently losing the ability to influence where the Association goes and what it does. And that ability to influence will only come from its leaders’ continued willingness to engage other delegates of the Association reliably and in good faith.

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3) UNCCH gets what UNCCH chooses to get.
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NC State started its fee referenda process 3 years ago based on information exchanged at ASG meetings. East Carolina created a publicly-elected Student Senate the same year. The UNC School of the Arts has largely rebuilt its Student Government from scratch. Western Carolina has more candidates running for office now than ever before. And many of the HBCU’s are refining their own SG structures to make them more accountable to students.

All of that was a direct result of bringing together the top student leaders from each of our 17 diverse institutions, putting them in the same room, and letting them talk about themselves.

Information on SG structure, policy battles, tuition and fees, and a host of other issues are discussed at length every single month among UNCASG delegates. They’re often discussed even further on Facebook and via email / telephone / text message conversations in between the meetings.

And the net result is improvements to campus representation, all of which charge students far more than the $1 that goes to the Association.

Now sure, UNCCH’s student leaders could take the position that their structure is perfect, their knowledge of the issues omniscient, and their use for other folks’ opinions is nonexistent.

But how many people, even at UNCCH, actually believe that?

The Association of Student Governments provides a forum uniquely suited for collaboration and the exchange of information. We’ve also refined it over the last 2 years in a way to ensure its continued success.

With that forum likely existing for years ahead, UNCCH will get out of the Association what it chooses to get out of the Association.

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IV. CONCLUSION
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There’s not really much to say here that hasn’t already been said.

The Daily Tar Heel Editorial Board stands on a legacy built through the hard work and rational analysis of its forebears, and seems focused like a laser on shredding that legacy as quickly as possible.

In contrast, the Association is going to keep moving forward and doing what it does best — advocating for the interests of the students in the consolidated University of North Carolina.

And that should surprise no one.

  1. For example, the Association’s initial budget approved by the UNC Board of Governors in May 2002 allocated 67% of the budget to compensation ($110,146.85 out of a base budget of $165,000.00). We’ve reduced that amount to 41% over the 8 years since the fee was created ($84,930.50 out of a base budget of $206,500.00), shifting resources to more advocacy-oriented efforts that bring better returns to the students we serve. Keep that in mind as you read numerous editorials and other polemics on the Association not using its budget for its intended purposes… ; []

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