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State budget: 2 steps forward, 1 @#$%ing *HUGE* step back

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 18, 2010 in Student Government

Good evening folks! :)

First, a quick explanation for the sudden spamming of your Google Reader and other RSS clients yesterday. I usually prep an entry daily but don’t actually post it until I’ve had a chance to go through and tweak it — make sure all the spelling is correct, all the links go to the right places, the paragraphs aren’t too long, etc etc etc. It’s a tedious process, and one I’ve occasionally forgotten about or put on the backburner while handling other priorities.

That happened most of last week, hence why you got a blizzard of 5 days of updates all at once :beatup: Shouldn’t happen again any time soon (hopefully) since class tends to keep my mind focused on routine. Please accept my apologies :oops:

Now to the day’s events: the North Carolina Senate unveiled their version of the state’s budget.

The good news is that they adopted UNCASG‘s position against the 8% student tax adopted last year, joining Governor Perdue in agreeing to the request of 22,000+ students — a request recently highlighted on Forbes.com.

The potential bad news? Buried in the text of the budget bill is language authorizing the University President — in the name of offsetting budget cuts made by the Legislature — to unilaterally approve extra tuition increases of up to $750/student! :surprised:

You can read the language yourself in the latest version of the bill (Edition 3 at the time this entry was posted):

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, for the 2010-2011 fiscal year only, the constituent institutions may, with the approval of the President of The University of North Carolina, increase tuition by up to seven hundred fifty dollars ($750.00) per academic year. This increase shall be in addition to other increases authorized for the fiscal year. These funds shall be used only to offset the institutions’ management flexibility reductions.

My gut instinct tells me this was a concession to folks from the Boards of Trustees at UNC Chapel Hill and UNC School of the Arts, who have both been particularly vocal critics of the UNC Board of Governors‘s policy of capping combined tuition/fee increases at 6.5% per year.  This tuition predictability policy has worked wonders for containing the rising cost of education in North Carolina, enabling students and their families to plan ahead for their college degree and — more importantly IMO — ensuring financial aid availability can keep up with the rising cost of attendance.

But some of our more-elite institutions have argued the policy is eroding their ability to stay competitive with peer institutions in other states, and they want to raise tuition substantially higher.

They’d get their wish with this particular provision of the budget, which would basically nuke everything the BOG’s 6.5% plan put into place. Take UNCCH as an example: tuition for in-state undergraduates for 2009-10 was $3,865.00.  Add in the $200 increase the campus requested (which would take effect instead of the 8% student tax). Then this $750 goes on top of it. Tuition for 2010-11 would now be $4,815.00 — essentially a 25% increase in a single year :eek:

The language also practically guarantees that the increases will go into effect. By incorporating the “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law” verbiage, it essentially circumvents all of the checks and balances built into the UNC system in approving the increase.  A campus’s Board of Trustees doesn’t have to request the increase; the statewide Board of Governors doesn’t have to approve it. Based on this current language, the only person that matters in determining whether the extra increases happens or not is UNC President Erskine Bowles… who already announced back in February that he’s retiring at the end of this year.

It basically enables legislators to avoid hostile parents in an election year by saying the UNC system ultimately made the decision on whether or not to increase tuition. It enables the UNC system to also avoid those same hostile parents by saying it was the Legislature that cut university funding that led to the tuition increases.

I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Erskine Bowles and what he has accomplished during his tenure as President of the UNC system, and I take him at his word when he says he’s “a ‘low tuition’ guy.” But I’d still prefer seeing this particular language stripped out of the budget when the House adopts their version, or at the very least have it watered down in the joint House-Senate conference committee so that a campus’s Board of Trustees has to request the increase and both the UNC President and Board of Governors have to approve it before it goes into effect.

At the very least hopefully then everyone will have time to realize how profoundly damaging a ~$950 permanent tuition increase — a 25% boost even at the most expensive public university in the state — will be to the accessibility and affordability of a quality college education in North Carolina.

My fingers are crossed on behalf of the 215,000+ students in the University that their legislators are listening…

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UNCASG Tuition Petition makes Forbes!

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

This apparently came out a few days ago, but I didn’t notice until I was catching up on Facebook wall posts earlier today.

Forbes notes the 22,000+ signatures gathered by UNCASG opposing the Legislature's 8% student tax!

UNCASG‘s work on tuition and fees has gone national — earning a mention on Forbes.com!

It’s only a tiny blurb, in an entry listing 10 public universities increasing tuition in the face of state budget cuts.1

But Forbes goes on to note “a petition signed by over 22,000 people objecting to the move”…

…which just so happens to be UNCASG’s tuition petition stack :D

Talk about vindication! ;)

  1. The University of North Carolina is included, courtesy of the 8% student tax the N.C. General Assembly enacted last August. []

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A chance coincidence of coincidences…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 13, 2010 in Student Government

…or, perhaps, divine intervention. That was the theme of my first speech to the UNC Board of Governors, after taking my oath of office as the Board’s student member.

With my term as UNCASG President ending in the middle of final exams, I never really paused to realize how accurate a characterization that is of my life — and particularly my involvement in Student Government.

It’s a point that got reiterated a couple times over the past few days.

Comments from one of the forefathers of ASG

Earlier today I was getting ready to drive down to Fayetteville State University to run a parliamentary procedure workshop for their Student Government Association, when I logged into Facebook and saw this comment from a past President of UNCASG. This guy is one of maybe 2-3 people who were pivotal in making the organization into what it is today, so I consider it high praise :)

It’s praise I never could have gotten had I not been elected President. And that election was the end result of meeting the Pickle Princess three years ago this past Sunday. I was attending a reception for legislators hosted by the University system, my first event as Student Senate President at NC State. Even though I had been working for a lobbying firm for months I still felt profoundly out of place. So rather than continue trying (poorly) to blend in and mingle, I sat down at a table next to her and introduced myself. We ended up becoming friends, then competitors, then colleagues. Most of what I did in the Association when I was Senate President was to impress her, and she returned the favor by getting us elected a year later when folks loved her but loathed me.

And that UNCASG election itself never would have happened had I not first been elected Student Senate President, a freak election that hinged on my opponent’s taste for apparel touting our university’s athletic arch-rivals. This was after I served the preceding year as a Student Senator, appointed to a vacancy after first losing a 4-person Student Senate election to 3 seats… coming in 4th, to at least 1 guy who didn’t even campaign :beatup:

That appointment was actually my 3rd separate stint in the Senate. I was a Student Senator my freshman year, decided to run for Student Senate President that Spring (as a freshman), and — predictably — got totally obliterated. Yet the guy who beat me “agreed” to appoint me to a Senate vacancy, scheduled my appointment for confirmation, even had me show up to the Senate meeting where I’d be approved. Then, as I was walking to the front of the chamber… he withdrew my nomination, prompted by a pre-planned objection made by the Student Body Treasurer at the time.

The Treasurer happened to be… the same guy who wrote those remarks on Facebook I mentioned at the start of this post :surprised:

To this day that experience easily ranks among the most embarrassing moments of my life, but it taught me some valuable lessons. Most importantly: it motivated me to work harder to excel at what I did so I wouldn’t go through a similar experience again. That motivation led to my return to the Student Senate the next year (albeit briefly), kept me focused on returning to school after finances forced me to drop out, and reminded me to seek perfection in everything I do since.

Except, it seems, law school grades :beatup:

Anyhow, I’d go on with more examples but this particular post is already pretty long. Was it all a chance coincidence of coincidences? Divine intervention? A bit of both? Not sure, but I know it’s been an eventful journey… with an even longer road ahead :)

Have a great night everybody! :D

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DTH Editorial Board explains anti-ASG bias

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 28, 2010 in Student Government

Good evening folks! :)

I’m still feeling a bit under the weather, so rather than get a fresh entry y’all are instead getting a copy/paste of a SG-related note I published on Facebook earlier today.

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 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: DTH Edit Board explains anti-ASG bias, endorses SBP candidate 10 months early

The UNCCH Daily Tar Heel’s Editorial Board has penned ever-more-delusional attacks on the UNC Association of Student Governments this past academic year, for reasons unknown to me. At first I thought it was because I was willing to regularly call out their incompetence (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B and Exhibit C and Exhibit D and Exhibit E and Exhibit F).

But now that my term as President is over, in their second-to-last paper of the semester, they finally explain: they’re upset over their relative lack of influence compared to UNCASG. So after delivering the electoral Kiss of Death for the last 2 years in a row, the DTH is endorsing an SBP candidate 10 months early in an effort to get back into the influence game.

You can read the editorial here.

As a quick prefatory note, it’s common knowledge among nearly everyone in or around the Graham Student Union at UNC Chapel Hill that Rick Ingram is running for Student Body President in February 2011 and Deanna Santoro is managing his campaign. It’s a point so frequently mentioned in conversation after conversation that someone like me — who’s not even a UNCCH student — has known about it for months now.

Their respective political aspirations are why they “leaked” to the Daily Tar Heel that there were alleged issues regarding Dakota Williams’s eligibility for Senior Vice President, when they (mistakenly) thought Williams was ineligible. It’s also why they encouraged the paper to conduct an exposé on my love life when they (mistakenly) thought it would be detrimental to one of Mr. Ingram’s potential opponents.

The fact they’ve been feeding stories to the paper is evident even in this most recent opinion piece. The DTH column claims, for example, that “[o]nly Ingram and Deanna Santoro… voted for the amendment.”

Yet the vote on the amendment, like votes on most amendments in most assemblies, was done by voice vote. In other words, there’s no record of who verbally said “aye” and who said “nay”. This wasn’t a roll call vote, where someone’s name would be tied with their opinion explicitly. This wasn’t even a standing counted vote, where those in the room could at least see who stood and who didn’t.

How then can UNCCH’s purported “newspaper of record” so definitively declare who voted for the amendment? Because they were fed the information by people with an agenda to push, and the DTH ate it up like a buffet.

That agenda was evident in an email Mr. Ingram sent me back on March 4th, where he outlined his plan to try and cut officer stipends and put the money into Campus Innovation Grants to “get some really good press” (you can read his email here). I told him in response that I disagreed with his plan for various reasons, but that he’d have the opportunity to raise his concerns in March when the budget came up for its initial vote. (You can read my response here).

So when the budget came up last month, after it was extensively and thoroughly debated by the Council of Student Body Presidents (see the DTH news coverage), did Mr. Ingram offer his amendment? No. Did he even say anything in debate? No.

In fact, unlike the DTH Editorial Board’s nonexistent “evidence” that Mr. Ingram and Miss Santoro were the only two people to support his shameless political stunt this past weekend, there actually is roll call evidence of Mr. Ingram’s position on the stipends… supporting them.

See the FB36 roll call vote here.

That kind of spineless, vacillating, Kerry-esque “I actually did vote for the $3,000 before I voted against it” style of “leadership” is the exact opposite of what UNC students need in a Student Body President. It’s even more disappointing that two political aspirants would go out of their way to elicit negative media coverage of a group they belong to just to promote their own political careers.

But I guess that’s what separates student politicians from student leaders.

The bigger issue is how totally divorced from reality the Daily Tar Heel’s Editorial Board has become over the past year.

The Editorial Board’s piece begins, for example, with the farcical assertion that “[t]he Association of Student Governments has yet again failed to demonstrate that it is dedicated to reform that would produce tangible benefits for students.” The Board has apparently missed the reforms that have already taken place — ASG’s reorganization, accountability measures, the transparent budget, among others — along with the “tangible benefits” that have come with it, including among others the $50+ per student in reduced tuition/fee rates compared to their $1 investment as a result of UNCASG’s work on the state budget, a near-complete revamp of the student health insurance program beginning this Fall, and the creation of the very Campus Innovation Grant program this same DTH editorial lauds.

A cursory review of the adjournment resolutions from the past 2 years (see last year’s resolution and this year’s resolution) shows a fairly extensive list of what’s been achieved with the “vision of reform” that my running mates and I brought to UNCASG when we took office.

But you don’t even have to look at the Association’s documents to know what it has achieved — you can just stick to reading the Daily Tar Heel’s own news coverage. The Editorial Board’s laughably ridiculous Tuesday editorial was bookended by a Friday news piece highlighting the record participation during my tenure, while a news piece on Wednesday noted the aggressive student lobbying of the General Assembly to repeal its 8% student tax.

So if the state’s key decisionmakers in higher education (the Board of Governors and the General Assembly) know UNCASG has completely turned around, other Student Governments in the University system know UNCASG has completely turned around, and the Daily Tar Heel’s own news staff know UNCASG has completely turned around, how on Earth could the Editorial Board be so willfully clueless?

The answer is: they’re not. They just have an agenda to promote, factual accuracy be damned.

Here’s hoping their choice to discard journalistic integrity in the name of attaining some level of influence on the UNCCH campus doesn’t prove to be a pyrrhic bargain.

[Edit @ 04/29/10 12:35am: I spoke with Miss Santoro at length by phone following publication of this note. While I told her I would not edit any of the original note contents, I did agree to put this disclaimer at the bottom. She assured me during our phone call that she was not involved in any way with Mr. Ingram’s SBP campaign, and also assured me that she had no personal involvement feeding information to the DTH. I have no reason to doubt her credibility and I take her at her word. -TGD]

Contracts exam in the morning, I’ll let y’all know how it goes. Have a great night everybody! :)

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A brief note of thanks

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 25, 2010 in Student Government

My apologies in advance to the regular readers here at law:/dev/null — most of you were never given the context behind tonight’s entry, and those of you who were in all likelihood won’t care :beatup: This particular post is dedicated to a (relatively) small group of people, the overwhelming majority of whom don’t even know this blog exists.

But this is one of those occasions where something needed to be said…

I don’t believe I’ve ever written a post on this blog while intoxicated. And I probably shouldn’t even admit that I drink on this site since I have -0- doubt that prospective employers have checked out this section of internet real estate on more than one occasion. But the glories of in-browser spellcheck (thank you Apple and its Safari development team!) have enabled me to exercise questionable judgment free of any technical obstacles ;)

It’s about 4am on Sunday morning, and for the past 5 hours I have had the incredible privilege and honor of being in the presence of (and yes, drinking with) about 30 of my closest friends — including quasi-adopted family — as we all celebrated my last meeting as President of the UNC Association of Student Governments, followed by our annual end-of-year awards banquet that was executed at the highest level of perfection.

And the success and smoothness of the meeting coupled with the banquet coupled with having these folks over tonight has truly meant an incredible amount to me :spin:

For better or worse, I’m actually a fairly stoic guy.1 It’s partly a bi-product of my upbringing, but it’s mostly the result of my chosen extracurricular vocation — being in charge means having to make tough decisions, having to make tough decisions usually means hurting people’s feelings, and hurting people’s feelings usually requires maintaining one’s composure in order to make a decision that’s in the best interests of everybody even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

So as a result of that well-cultivated stoicism, I rarely convey to the people around me how deeply appreciative and moved I am by their presence in my life. And when I do, frankly no one believes me :beatup: But I tell you folks — and this is one of those #truestory moments — I can’t fully articulate in words how grateful I am for all of you.

I’ve served on behalf of students in some capacity or another every year that I’ve been in college. I began my freshman year as a Student Senator, and I was absolutely abominable at it — I was arrogant, disrespectful, thought I had all the answers, the list goes on.  I actually ran for Student Senate President and got obliterated, coming in 3rd place out of 3 candidates.  I spent the next year in the campus equivalent of political exile, fought my way back into the Senate a year later… just to drop out of college entirely.

As utterly ridiculous as I’m sure it sounds, it ate away at me during the 5 years I was a college dropout to know I had ended on such a low note. I had been rejected by 26,000+ students because of my own arrogance, thought I had recognized the error of my ways and worked to improve, only to then get put out of school entirely.  So I fought my way back into N.C. State in August 2005, and I’d be lying to you if I said the thought of getting back into SG didn’t cross my mind all the way back then.

To make a very, very, very long story short, I thought God had other plans for me. I resumed writing an editorial column for the student newspaper, the Technician. I supported a friend of mine for the Student Senate Presidency. I ran for 1 of 3 Student Senate seats for seniors in the College of Engineering, and came in 4th out of 4 candidates — losing to a guy who didn’t even campaign.2 And I had resigned myself to the fact that at best I would be, as the Technician once quoted me, “the old guy in the back of the room who knew all the rules” and spent his time helping the other folks do their jobs.

Fast forward 3 years. I was elected by the campus of N.C. State to serve as Student Senate President — winning the position I had sought almost 10 years earlier — largely by virtue of the fact my opponent had questionable fashion sense. I was elected to a 2nd term as Senate President the following Spring, then a few weeks later elected President of UNCASG by a 1-vote tie-breaker cast by the presiding officer following a marathon 3+ hour political debate.

And as much as I’d like to pretend I had something to do with that latter victory, the truth of the matter is the Pickle Princess (my running mate) was a far more capable+likeable leader than I, and managed to pull votes from the campuses who didn’t like me at all :beatup:

I was privileged to serve a 2nd term — a rarity among Presidents — and over these 2 years have been blessed to take part in major efforts to refocus the organization, proactively address the costs of higher education, and serve the students of the University by tackling the issues that impact them most.

That all came to a close tonight when my successor and his own vice president were sworn in, both of whom have a lot of work ahead — but who I truly believe are the most capable people for their positions. Despite my official role as ASG President wrapping up, it’s still truly humbling to have been an out-of-state native, political washout, former college dropout, slightly-older-guy-with-slightly-thinnning-hair, and still be asked to work as a student leader with many of the finest such leaders the State of North Carolina has ever produced.

Anyhow, I know this entry is hitting the rambling side (word count in WordPress says I’m pushing 1,000 words), but I just wanted to say *THANK YOU* to each and every one of you with whom I’ve had the honor of serving in the N.C. State University Student Senate3 or in the UNC Association of Student Governments. I know I don’t say it enough, and I know when I say it you probably don’t believe me, but it has been the highest honor of my life to consider you my colleagues and friends. Your work has made an incredible and tangible difference to higher education and the students of the University of North Carolina, and I thank God every day for having the amazing opportunity to be a part of that and to serve alongside you.

Thank you for an incredible journey these past 4 years :) Your support and presence tonight has been incredibly humbling and deeply appreciated. I truly do love you all and look forward to serving with you (albeit in other capacities) for many more years to come.

Thank you all so much,
-T Greg Doucette

  1. Though you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t tell amid all the emoticons I throw into these entries ;) []
  2. Even though he later became one of the few people in my life who I would call if I were ever faced with imminent death and needed help :beatup: []
  3. The single most distinguished student deliberative assembly ever conceived in the State of North Carolina :) []

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If Nan approves, it must be good

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 23, 2010 in Student Government

Good evening everybody! :D

Unfortunately I don’t have time to put together a real entry tonight — CrimLaw exam is at 9am tomorrow morning, followed by a UNCASG meeting that will last the rest of the day, before a brief break to change into a tuxedo then head to our end-of-year banquet. Basically I’m in a mix of studying law and panicking to make sure everything goes off perfectly smooth tomorrow afternoon+night and basically looking like :crack:  until it’s over.

Nan's $.02 on the media :)

So given my lack of original content, I figured I’d leave y’all with some light reading.  The UNCCH Daily Tar Heel ran a surprisingly complimentary story on my upcoming retirement as President.  How surprising was it, you may ask?

It was so surprising that my grandmother even offered some commentary on my Facebook profile.

It must be good if even Nan approves — especially because she hates the fact I spend so much of my time in Student Government stuff when I could be focusing on my grades and making $$ :beatup:

But it means she read this article, and since she knows about some of the other ones she must have read those too, which makes me happy that she cares what I’m doing even if she doesn’t approve of it :)

Speaking of the article, here’s a quick chart I put together of everywhere I’ve been over the last 2 years.  115+ trips, comes out to around 5ish campus a month, every month, for 24 months straight :surprised:

Taking Dr. Seuss's "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" literally :D

Have a good night y’all! And if you’ve got any spare prayers to offer up, send some of them my way for this CrimLaw exam! :)

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More vindication! :)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 20, 2010 in Student Government

Those of you who are long-time readers here at law:/dev/null may recall this mid-February entry on tuition, where I highlighted the tremendous response the UNC Association of Student Governments had gotten with its statewide tuition petition campaign to repeal a 8% tuition increase mandated by the North Carolina General Assembly…

…and gently pointed out that at least two parties (a certain administrator at UNC General Administration and the student newspaper at my alma mater) ended up eating their respective words of opposition, uttered back when UNCASG’s efforts with the petition first began ;)

More vindication came today while I was sitting in CivPro trying to pay attention.

Quick prefatory note:  the tuition petition campaign was just one piece of a multi-faceted plan of attack for the Association.1 Starting literally the day after the General Assembly adopted the budget — you can read an email from me to campus Presidents in UNCASG’s archives — we began preparing for the 2010 legislative session that starts next month.  Since August there have been numerous meetings between our folks and policymakers in Raleigh. Numerous meetings with policymakers in their home districts. Numerous phone calls. Numerous emails.

Oh and did I mentioned there were signatures from 22,000+ students? :angel:

The entire effort has occurred largely out of the public spotlight (which is just as well since the Daily Tar Heel’s Editorial Board would probably just complain anyway), but needless to say it’s been a tightly-focused, methodical, and consistent effort on the part of student leaders to get this student tax repealed.

And then this morning the Governor of North Carolina decided to say thanks by including UNCASG’s request in her budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year! :eek:

This marks the first public endorsement of our proposal by a high-ranking elected official since we started pushing the idea back in August 2009! :D

Now it’s true both chambers of the state legislature have already started work on the budget, so this is just one link in the chain. But it means (i) we’ve been promoting the right ideas all along and (ii) we’re successfully persuading the people who count.

Equally important: it also means the Governor’s lobbyists, the University system’s lobbyists, and the students’ lobbyists (me+UNCASG) will all be pushing for the exact same thing when legislators come back to town in May.2)

Now if only I could be right this often in Contracts:beatup:

  1. I used to work as a lobbyist back in the day. One of the cardinal rules of lobbying is to never fire all of your ammo at once. []
  2. Another rule of lobbying: build coalitions. You can’t beat somebody with nobody ; []

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Show me the [fee] money

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 15, 2010 in Student Government

It’s officially official: today marked my first day working as Treasurer of NCCU Law‘s Student Bar Association :)

Everyone on the group’s Executive Board seems like cool people who will get along well in the year ahead. Granted that might just be my irrepressible optimism talking, but I’d say it’s a reasonable belief so far.

More importantly than getting along: the other officers are big on getting things done.

Take the SBA website as an example. I think it’s fair to characterize our current web offerings as unacceptable, as we instead put most of our information through the clunky and poorly coded TWEN system.

So during our transition meeting on Tuesday, as the outgoing officers were giving their reports, the Secretary and I were sitting next to each other  getting things in place for a new website. By the end of the meeting the URL was registered, hosting provided, WordPress installed, new theme installed, and listserv up in the background for communication.1

There’s still a ton of graphic and content work that needs to be done over the summer, but it was a pretty solid improvement for 30 minutes’ worth of work ;)

Everyone’s got a ton of ideas: power strips in our Fishbowl,2 some kind of snack option during exams for students who stay here ’til the wee hours of the night, linking up with the undergraduate SG to build a coalition on issues like food services, my personal goal to make our appropriations process more rigorous, the list goes on and on and on.

The Secretary summed it up well earlier today when she remarked “This is gonna be one of those revolutionary type of e-boards, I can tell.”

Things do occasionally get awkward for me at times since I was the only 1L to get elected out of the 3 who ran. So the other 4 executive officers have known each other longer, had common experiences, etc, and every now and then I feel an obligation to “mind my place” in the law school heirarchy.

But the upside to a group sharing a common vision is that the interpersonal divide should melt away in favor of getting that vision implemented. Time will tell.

And until then, there’s work to be done… and haters to be proven wrong ;) Have a great night everybody! :D

  1. Truly never knew my degree would prove to be so useful in law school :spin: []
  2. This would be a huge help to those of us who prefer the student lounge to the law library. []

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

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

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 ;)

====================
II. THE ERRORS AND MISREPRESENTATIONS
====================

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:

**********
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.
**********
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…

**********
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.
**********
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…

**********
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.
**********
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…

**********
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.
**********
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.

====================
III. WHAT UNCCH “GETS OUT OF” THE ASSOCIATION
====================

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:

**********
1) UNCCH gets the same things as everyone else.
**********
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.

**********
2) UNCCH gets what UNCCH puts into the Association.
**********
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.

**********
3) UNCCH gets what UNCCH chooses to get.
**********
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.

====================
IV. CONCLUSION
====================

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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1

Crazy, or just lazy? You be the judge (or, “Erroneous trash masquerading as punditry”)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 15, 2010 in Student Government

My apologies in advance to the new readers here at law:/dev/null. This is a long post and has nothing to do with my 1L tenure at NCCU Law. Regular law school postings will resume tomorrow :D

—===—

==============================
I. INTRO
==============================

When I got elected President of the UNC Association of Student Governments back in April 2008, winning by a 1-vote margin after a 3.5 hour debate, it turned out I was the first conservative Republican elected to the presidency in at least a decade.1

I wasn’t surprised by the discovery, but it did make me a bit skittish considering the Association had been known for bitter political divisions in the years immediately preceding my election. For a group representing 215,000+ students from 17 institutions — including 5 historically black universities,2 1 historically native american,3 1 historically female,4 a fine arts conservatory,5 a residential high school,6 and a number of other universities across the state ranging geographically from the mountains7 to the coast8 in both urban9 and not-so-urban10 areas — trying to forge consensus is a tall order even in the best of circumstances.

And back then wasn’t “the best of circumstances.”

So when the other ~80 student leaders in the Association worked with me to put together one of the most successful years in the group’s 38-year history, I took it as a point of personal pride.

We had folks from all 17 institutions regularly attending for the first time in history. We set records for attendance. We restructured the group to focus on areas where it could have a tangible impact, and actually did have a tangible impact in the areas we focused on.

There was occasional drama throughout the year of course, but it was often over easily-addressed issues of transparency (the more the better) and accountability (perform or get fired). The political divisiveness was largely absent — folks were mature enough to accept that they have different political opinions, and that those different opinions have approximately -0- relevance to whether people can work together on higher education issues.

That success was reflected in my reelection: instead of 3.5 hours and a 1-vote margin, the vote was unanimous after about 20 minutes :)

You can probably imagine my amusement then, when — after successfully unifying seven-dozen college students from across the political spectrum — I found my reputation trashed by so-called “adults” for being either too conservative or too liberal depending on the issue.  It’s even more mystifying when those attacks are apparently manufactured out of whole cloth, completely and totally refuted by the very sources of information cited to create them.

One of those hit pieces came out last week during Spring Break, from the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. In their Commentaries piece “Other People’s Money,” Pope Center authors Jay Schalin and Jenna Ashley Robinson go out of their way to condemn the Association of Student Governments and do their best to run my own reputation through the mud for good measure.

When I first read the full piece yesterday, I had no intention of responding in writing to the Pope Center itself — and I still don’t. The column has multiple factual errors that could have easily been corrected with a 2-minute phone call to me, several of the quotes cited/paraphrased are deliberately stripped of context, and the qualitative conclusions it makes demonstrate the yoga-like rhetorical skills of the authors by condemning in the opening paragraphs what it embraces in the closing.

Writers have to make a deliberate effort to twist facts that much, and that typically translates into having no interest at all whatsoever in any honest dialogue.

But for better or worse we live in the age of Google, and I’ve already had politically-minded folks asking for explanations. So rather than repeat the same “This is wrong. This is wrong. That is wrong. That part right there? Wrong. Here? Wrong too.” over and over again, I figured I’d offer a line-by-line dissection with links to supporting documentation.

So are Jay Schalin and Jenna Ashley Robinson crazy? Or are they just lazy? You be the judge…

—===—

==============================
II. BACKGROUND MATERIAL: DOCUMENTS
==============================

I’m a big fan of the Fox News “We Report. You Decide.” model of debate, so in dissecting any editorial it’s necessary to have all of the objective facts first. Reasonable people can disagree on the conclusions drawn from those facts, but if those same people are arguing from two different sets of facts then they end up talking past each other.

Fortunately, my undergraduate degree was in Computer Science — meaning over the past 2 years UNCASG has generated a boatload of documentation on its operations ;)

Here are some items you may want to either review online, print out, or just have ready at your fingertips:

1) Pope Center commentary “Other People’s Money” (03/07/2010): [HTML] | [PDF]

2) Pieces cited by the Pope Center —

  1. UNCASG’s Tuition Petition event listing on Facebook:  [HTML]
  2. Durham Herald-Sun article “UNC panel OKs tuition increases systemwide” (02/11/2010):  [HTML]
  3. Carolina Review article “Waste, Bureaucracy, …and the ASG” (September 2009, pages 8-9):  [HTML]
  4. Daily Tar Heel article on tuition (October 2008):  [This DTH piece is conspicuously absent from their online archives, but I recall the story — if I can get my hands on a PDF copy I’ll upload it, but for now you’ll have to check the physical archives in Chapel Hill]
  5. Facebook correspondence between myself and Jenna Ashley Robinson (02/08/2010):   [PDF]

3) Pieces cited by me —

  1. UNC Board of Governors policy on the Association of Student Governments (10/11/2002): [HTML]
  2. 2010-2011 Proposed Tuition Rates presented to the Board of Governors (02/01/2010): [PDF]
  3. Pope Center commentary “The High Cost of Low Tuition” (12/10/2007): [HTML]
  4. UNCASG Resolution 29 on tuition and fees (01/30/2010): [PDF]
  5. UNCASG Finance Bill 14, amending the budget for FY2009-2010 (09/26/2009): [PDF]
  6. Pope Center piece “Myths of the Ivory Tower” (03/10/2010): [HTML]
  7. Facebook note by me re “pornstar healthcare” (03/09/2009): [HTML] | [PDF]
  8. Facebook note by me re “pornstar healthcare” update (07/08/2009): [HTML] | [PDF]
  9. N.C. State Technician column “Could Higher Tuition Actually Be a Better Deal? (Part I)” (09/12/2005): [HTML]
  10. N.C. State Technician column “Higher Tuition a Better Deal? (Part II)” (10/03/2005): [HTML]
  11. Raleigh News & Observer letter “Look elsewhere, UNC” (07/28/2006): [HTML]
  12. N.C. State Student Senate Resolution 26, “Tuition Certainty Act” (03/14/2007): [HTML]
  13. “The Clock is Ticking…” campaign platform (04/19/2008): [PDF]
  14. UNCASG Resolution 18 on tuition and fee increases (10/25/2008): [PDF]
  15. UNCASG Resolution 23 on tuition and fee increases (01/24/2009): [PDF]
  16. Federal estimate of median income for a 4-member family (03/13/2009): [HTML]
  17. “Four families” charts from UNC General Administration (01/26/2010): [PDF]
  18. Facebook note on the Daily Tar Heel and UNCASG (09/04/2009): [HTML] | [PDF]
  19. Facebook note on tuition stand-in media coverage (02/09/2008): [HTML] | [PDF]

—===—

==============================
III. SECTION-BY-SECTION ANALYSIS
==============================

Enough background, let’s get on with the analysis.

People who have worked with me at NC State, NCCU Law, UNCASG and out in the “real world” will tell you I’m usually a pretty good sport when it comes to folks disagreeing with me about a political issue. I appreciate being challenged because it forces me to reexamine my arguments and make them stronger.

I’m not as forgiving for people who intentionally make arguments in bad faith, particularly when they cite factually wrong data for support.

But again, I’ll let you be the judge. Below are blockquotes from the Pope Center piece (directly copy/pasted with no editing by me) with my notes underneath.

***

Snippet #1:

Understandably, the UNC Association for Student Governments (ASG) is also battling the legislature’s tuition plan. The student organization, which purports to represent UNC students in general, has circulated a petition with over 20,000 signatures that decries the legislature’s plan as a “backdoor tax increase on students and their families to balance the state’s budget.”

There’s no “purports” to it — the Association is the student organization “designated to represent the interests of students in the deliberations of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.” See the very first section of the Board’s policy on the Association (Item 3(a) above).

How effectively UNCASG fills that role is certainly a topic for debate. I’m confident I’ve executed my minor role in the group well over the past two years, though I’ve also readily accepted criticisms that I haven’t.

But let’s not pretend like the Association’s claim to represent students’ interests is a false one. It’s a bit like claiming the U.S. Congress “purports to represent taxpayers” — it does represent taxpayers, regardless of whether you personally like Congress or any of its actions.

The quote cited is a copy/paste from UNCASG’s Facebook event listing for the Tuition Petition (Item 2(a) above).

***

Snippet #2:

However, the ASG is oddly in favor of the universities’ proposal to raise tuitions nearly as much-—even though it also hurts “students and their families.”

The “nearly as much” weasel words should be a giveaway that this particular statement makes no logical sense, but just for the sake of argument I’ll pose a question to you:

Let’s say you’re a student at a random UNC institution like, for example, UNC Charlotte. The state legislature has already decreed that you’re going to pay $200 more (~8%) in tuition starting Fall 2010. Would you be in favor of an alternative proposal to only pay $103 (~4%)?

See Item 3(b) for rates at other universities.

Now yes, it’s true that 4% is “nearly as much” as 8%. And if you’re above a certain income threshold I’m sure it’s also true that $100 is “nearly as much” as $200.

But I’m having a hard time seeing how favoring a plan to pay half as much as the N.C. General Assembly has already decreed is “odd.”

The argument seems particularly disingenuous coming from an organization that has opposed low tuition rates (see Item 3(c) for an example), but I digress…

***

Snippet #3:

In a recent Durham Herald-Sun article, ASG president Greg Doucette declared that “all the students are on board” with the tuition hike—-obviously overstated rhetoric. In November of 2009, students at UNC-Chapel Hill protested when the trustees voted to raise tuition by 5.2 percent.

The weasel words in this snippet? “In a recent Durham Herald-Sun article.” Go take a minute to read that particular article; it’s Item 2(b) above.

Notice anything unusual?

That’s right, it’s an article on what was said at the UNC Board of Governors meeting. The very meeting that Jay Schalin attended right before he asked me questions about the petition afterwards (we’ll get to that in Snippet #10).

So why quote the newspaper article instead of his first-hand experience?

You see when I made the statement “all the students” were on board with the increase, I was referring to the members of the Association — the same people who unanimously adopted a resolution on the tuition/fee increase proposals (see Item 3(d)), two dozen of whom were present at the BOG meeting and were asked to stand and be recognized.11

That should have been obvious considering my presence at the podium was by virtue of the committee chairman recognizing me to give UNCASG’s position on tuition/fees.

Folks who were present at the meeting (like Jay Schalin) know that’s who I was referencing, but it’s not clear in the writing of the Herald-Sun news article. So rather than quote from his personal experience and then get exposed as a fraud, Schalin instead chooses to reiterate a context-free quote in another publication so he can claim he’s still accurate.

Now no one’s ever accused me of being a genius, but if I know there’s going to be differences of opinion among the 80ish students in UNCASG (see the 2nd paragraph of this post) I’m pretty sure I know there’s going to be differences of opinion among the 215,000+ students UNCASG represents ;)

Hopefully you’re willing to believe me on that :)

***

Snippet #4:

And some students are not happy about paying for others’ educations. N.C. State student Quinten Farmer emailed the Pope Center to say he was adamantly against “the plan to use 50% of the tuition increase only to benefit students on need-based grants.” He said “this policy hurts thousands of students who don’t qualify for financial aid, but are still struggling to pay for college themselves.”

This is the same rhetorical device as the Herald-Sun snippet #3 above.

I have no doubt Mr. Farmer said the policy “hurts thousands of students who don’t qualify for aid” — but is there any actual empirical evidence that it actually does so?

On that, the Pope Center piece is conspicuously silent.

Mr. Farmer’s presumably self-initiated correspondence also begs the same question I posed to you in Snippet #2. Is he aware that he’s already slated to pay $200 in the General Assembly’s budget enacted last August, of which $0 will go to his University? Which “hurts thousands of students” more — paying 8% with $0 going to the University, or paying 6.5% where the University keeps the funds raised?

***

Snippet #5:

Indeed, there are indications that the ASG does not serve as an independent advocate for students, but instead is functioning like an arm of the administration (perhaps due to administrative pressure). In this case, the ASG appears to be “astroturfing,” in which the petition provides fake grass-roots support for the administration’s plan.

The weasel words here are “indications” and “appears.”

Go take a look at my responses to Jenna Ashley Robinson’s questions for this piece, where she specifically asks about whether I’ve talked with UNC General Administration (it’s Item 2(e) in Section II).

Not only do I point out to her that the campaign was “entirely student-conceived, student-created, and student-run” — I also point out that “there hasn’t been any collaboration or detailed discussion with” University administrators, and even provide a detailed history on the entire project’s genesis! :beatup:

When I notified UNC General Administration of our plans in mid-December, I got 2 responses. The first was “We recommend that you hold off”; the second was “With all due respect, your plan is not going to be helpful in getting what is most important to NC resident students, i.e., an alternative plan in place.”

With responses like those, does it “appear” to you like UNCASG is “functioning like an arm of the administration”?

I don’t know where those administrators’ opinions stood two months and 20,000 signatures later given the total lack of coordination between ASG and UNC General Administration, but deploying a project opposed by them doesn’t seem all that collusive to me…

***

Snippet #6:

The petition does not reveal what the administration’s plans are, only that “the money raised through higher tuition rates should go back to the students through higher University funding.” The omission of the administration’s intent certainly suggests the appearance of a deliberate attempt to mislead.

By this point in the post you can hopefully figure out who’s doing the “deliberate attempt to mislead” — but I digress…

This particular snippet prompts me to ask 2 questions:

1) Where would it go?

The quote was pulled from the Facebook event listing for the Tuition Petition, but go to the downloads page for the campaign and download the petition for any campus.

Where exactly would you put the language regarding the Administration’s plans? Bear in mind the proposal voted on by the Board of Governors was 13 pages long (Item 3(b)).

Had we put something in the petitions to that effect, no doubt the Pope Center would condemn us for unduly summarizing the plans.

2) Would it even matter?

I’ll again reiterate the same question from Snippet #2. Which would you choose?

==> Pay $200, with 0.00% going to your University

==> Instead pay $X < $200, with 100.00% of $X going to your University

This is a binary decision; the $200 increase is already in place, enacted in the August 2009 budget bill. Barring an effort from UNCASG, the Board of Governors and UNC General Administration to convince the Legislature to change it, students will be paying those rates in August 2010.

I might be wrong here, but I suspect the University could propose spending the money on hookers & blow and students would still prefer the cheaper University plan to the more-expensive General Assembly plan ;)

***

Snippet #7:

Also, ASG members receive considerable stipends—-some as high as $4,000-—from the administration for their service. This almost automatically creates a conflict of interest for the members.

Weasel words here: “from the administration” and “almost.”

It’s true, I receive a $7,000 stipend for my service as UNCASG President. The organization’s budget is a public record that’s been available online throughout the session (see Item 3(e) in Section II above, line item 2101).

I’m not sure how “considerable” I’d consider it, considering I had to give up a $19,000 internship working for the N.C. General Assembly to take the position.12 But I digress…

The broader point is that the stipend comes from studentsnot the administration. UNCASG’s budget is in the form of a $1/student fee, a fee that I’ve had to pay myself along with thousands of others in the University.

I can’t speak for anyone else in the Association, but the fact I’m paid by other students’ money makes me more cognizant of my obligation to do a good job, not less. It’s the entire reason why I’ve gone out of my way to solicit student feedback, promote absolute transparency in UNCASG, and be a good steward of the students’ trust.

In other words, there’s no conflict of interest at all — hence why it’s only “almost” a conflict.

On an unrelated side note, the University administration is actually forbidden by policy from “assert[ing] control” over the Association (see §4 of Item 3(a) listed in Section II above). Surely someone like Jay Schalin, who notes in another Pope Center piece that he’s been a “paid observer of academia” for three years (see Item 3(f)), should know that by now.

***

Snippet #8:

Plus, there is the possibility that general administration officials have pressured Doucette for support. Doucette himself told the Carolina Review, a student publication, that “Bowles cussed me out” when there was a difference of opinions about student health care policies (referring to university system president Erskine Bowles).

Weasel words here? “Possibility.”

Schalin and Robinson here are quoting the September 2009 edition of the UNC Chapel Hill’s Carolina Review, a conservative/Republican publication known as much for its factual errors and limited readership as any incisive analysis.

See Item 2(c) in Section II above to read the piece yourself.

I stand by my comments in that particular column, which related to the UNC system’s decision to implement mandatory hard-waiver health insurance for all students system-wide. University President Erskine Bowles did have some choice words to share with me relating to ASG’s position on the proposal…

…but that was exactly my intent :crack:

Students didn’t like the health insurance plans, and I felt like the student opinion wasn’t being listened to adequately. So I labeled the proposal “pornstar healthcare” and wrote a widely-circulated note blasting the plan. See Item 3(g) in Section II above.

My Facebook note was sufficiently flamboyant that it got the attention of several folks, even someone at Fox News who wanted to pitch the issue for a segment on Hannity (I declined). It also resulted in more questions being asked than UNCGA could answer at the time, delaying implementation of the program by an entire year.

Frankly I’d have been surprised if I didn’t get chewed out given the note’s contents. But the bigger point is that I didn’t care — I’d gladly take a verbal beating in exchange for getting what my organization wanted on behalf of its constituents, which was a year-long delay and several tweaks to the program.

That’s exactly what we got, as you can read in Item 3(h) of Section II above.

Knowing the context of this particular situation, coupled with the administration’s comments regarding the tuition petition noted in Snippet #5, should sufficiently expose as shamelessly false the idea that I care one iota about “pressure” from “general administration officials.”

You regular readers here at law:/dev/null know I’m a formerly homeless college dropout who not only fought his way through a bachelor’s degree but is now excelling at law school. I’ve worked for a former prison warden when I was an Assistant Clerk of Superior Court in Wake County. I’m training to become a United States Marine. I work for 215,000+ of the finest scholars in the country.

Someone using salty language towards me because they dislike a policy choice I made falls pretty low on the totem pole of things I care about in life…

***

Snippet #9:

When Doucette took over the ASG presidency in the fall of 2008, he initially opposed tuition raises. The main newspaper on the Chapel Hill campus, The Daily Tar Heel, quoted him in October of 2008 as saying, “I hate seeing tuition increases anytime,” and “I think it [increasing tuition] runs a great risk of pushing people out of the university.” At that time, Bowles reproached the ASG for coming out against tuition increases before the chancellors made their own recommendations. “I don’t think that’s the way business should be done,” he chided the student group, according to the Daily Tar Heel.

There are no weasel words here — the “analysis” is just plain wrong :roll:

The particular DTH news story is missing from their online archives, but I have no doubt I made that particular comment and I continue to stand by it. Raising tuition impedes access and I hate seeing increases. In my perfect world, those increases wouldn’t happen.

But I also know rising costs are an inevitability of life, and because of that I didn’t “oppose tuition raises” when I took over the ASG presidency. The Pope Center is basically playing make-believe to suit their interests.

Don’t take my word for it though, I’ve got plenty of documentation to reiterate the point:

  • Two separate editorials I wrote in the N.C. State Technician back in September and October 2005, the first (see Item 3(i)) noting that higher tuition wasn’t inherently bad, and the second (see Item 3(j)) suggesting the Student Government advocate for “fee caps” and “aggregate increase limits” — the very policy the UNC Board of Governors adopted two years later in 2007 (that I purportedly opposed).
  • A letter I wrote to the editor of the Raleigh News & Observer in July 2006, advocating a policy that “[gives] universities more political cover to raise their tuition rates, but… also protects students and their families” (see Item 3(k))
  • A resolution I wrote in November 2006, adopted by the N.C. State Student Senate, calling on the University to adopt that very same type of policy (see Item 3(l))

All 4 of those items were written long before I ever became Student Senate President at N.C. State, and even longer before I ever considered running for ASG President in March 2008.

But just to clarify the point for anyone who thinks I might have changed my mind at some point between then and the ASG Presidency, I’ll offer the following:

  • Media coverage from a “stand-in” I led at the February 2008 UNC Board of Governors meeting supporting limited tuition increases. A meeting attended by… Jay Schalin (see Item 3(s))
  • My April 2008 campaign platform for ASG President, where I advocated for the same thing (see Item 3(m) page 11)
  • Two separate UNCASG resolutions on tuition and fee increases, the first in October 2008 and the second in January 2009 (see Item 3(n) and Item 3(o)). You might notice Item 3(o) bears a striking resemblance to Item 3(d) — that’s because the resolution text is largely the same, since the political opinions of most rational people don’t suddenly change in a year’s time.

If there’s one trait I’ve had on tuition and fees over the last 5 years, it’s consistency. Both Jay Schalin and Jenna Ashley Robinson should have easily seen any of these within even 10 seconds of actual research — Robinson in particular, since most of these items are linked off my Facebook profile that she used to contact me about the piece.

But just in case, I even made the effort to note my philosophy on tuition and fees in my ensuing correspondence with Robinson via that Facebook profile. Go back to Item 2(e) and read the last section of my response.

And yet they somehow got it completely, totally, and irrefutably… wrong :crack:

***

Snippet #10:

And this year, Doucette has a completely different attitude. After the recent BOG meeting, he dismissed students who do not qualify for aid as “rich” and said they “can get loans” if they can’t afford the tuition.

The commentary from this snippet presumably came from an impromptu interview with Jay Schalin at the February meeting of the Board of Governors, when he approached me after the Budget & Finance Committee adjourned.

We just covered in Snippet #9 that the Pope Center completely fabricated my “different” attitude from whole cloth, despite half a decade of digital evidence to the contrary. So I think I can safely skip dissecting the first sentence.

Two points on the sentence following it:

1) The median income for a family of 4 in North Carolina is ~$64,591 according to statistics published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services annually in the Federal Register (see Item 3(p)). Financial aid breakdowns provided by UNC General Administration show that even families making $90,000 receive significant grant aid (see Item 3(q)).

Folks, that means if you’re at the point where you don’t qualify for any financial aid then you or your parents are pulling in six figures or more — and are substantially above the median income for a typical 4-person family.

To me that qualifies as “rich,” particularly for folks attending college who come from college-educated families. And my (admittedly unscientific) suspicion is that the overwhelming majority of the taxpaying public would agree.

2) Regardless of the above point, all students — rich, poor and in between — should be willing to get loans if they want an education and can’t pay tuition. My education was funded largely through loans because earning a degree was important to me. An education is an investment in yourself, and it makes sense that you personally should bear a significant chunk of the cost in the form of a loan you’ll need to repay.

I made the same point in my correspondence to Jenna Ashley Robinson (see the end section of Item 2(e)).

Now I may not be widely supported in that belief, but it seems comically asinine for a purportedly conservative organization like the Pope Center to chastise me for believing in personal responsibility…

***

Snippet #11:

Criticism of the ASG’s allegiance is neither new nor limited to one side of the political spectrum. Both of UNC-Chapel Hill’s major student publications, the liberal Daily Tar Heel and the conservative Carolina Review, have called for an end to the mandatory funding of the ASG for its failure to represent student interests.

Two points here:

1) Calling the low-circulating, error-filled, poorly-edited, monthly-published Carolina Review a “major student publication” is laughably ridiculous on its own. That goes double when the sentence indicates it’s 1 of only 2 such “major” entities on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, with the other being the widely-circulated, sufficiently-accurate-for-use-by-most-of-Orange-County, professionally-edited, daily student newspaper.

2) Jay Schalin and Jenna Ashley Robinson also conveniently fail to put a time horizon on the Daily Tar Heel’s criticisms or note any of its changes in opinion over time. Fortunately I did that work for them months ago so you don’t have to — take a look at Item 3(r) in Section II.

***

Snippet #12:

Several former UNC-Chapel Hill student body presidents have refused to attend ASG meetings and have called it “inefficient” and “unscrupulous.”

Another convenient absence of a time horizon. Let’s review:

===> The current 2009-10 Student Body President, Jasmin Jones, has not only regularly attended UNCASG meetings but also came up with the entire Tuition Petition idea (see the first section of Item 2(e))

===> The 2008-09 SBP, J.J. Raynor, attended as well (see Item 3(r) again)

===> The 2007-08 SBP, Eve Carson, attended as well (since that’s how I met her)

So at least since April 2007 when I became a part of the Association in my role as N.C. State’s Student Senate President, every Student Body President of UNC Chapel Hill has attended ASG meetings. I know because I’ve seen and talked to them in person — as have a number of other delegates.

Now I can’t speak for any Student Body Presidents going back more than 3-4 years, but really if you have to reach back that far to criticize an organization it should be a clue that your criticism is probably unfounded ;)

One last point of interest: the UNCCH 2010-11 SBP-elect, Hogan Medlin, has already asked for info so he can plan to attend UNCASG meetings. By contrast one of his 5 opponents, Nash Keune — the editor of the Carolina Review who included a “withdraw from ASG” plank in his platform — came in a distant 4th place in the campus’s election last month with a whopping 12% of the vote.

***

Snippet #13:

The legislature and UNC system also need to go back to the drawing board. There are countless alternatives better than either existing proposal. For instance, tuition increases could be limited to the amount needed to maintain academic quality, helping out the tuition-paying students. Or the legislature could take it easy on the people who really foot the bill, the taxpayers who provide some of the nation’s most generous higher education subsidies. In this scenario, UNC schools could raise tuitions and keep the money, but only if their state funding was cut by the amount of revenue produced.

This is where the yoga-like flexibility of the authors’ rhetorical skills go on full display, and those of us with even a vague semblance of logical thought processes get left in the lurch.

Read those last 2 sentences. Then re-read them again. Now go read the opening section of the Pope Center piece (Item 1). Then come back and re-re-read those last 2 sentences.

Notice anything?

Yes folks: the very Pope Center piece that spent the past 1,400ish words (i) condemning what UNCASG dubbed a “backdoor tax increase”, then (ii) condemning UNCASG itself, wraps up with… (iii) an endorsement of the very same backdoor tax increase it condemned 1,400ish words earlier.

You see, a scenario where universities “raise tuitions and keep the money, but only if their state funding was cut by the amount of revenue produced” is EXACTLY WHAT IT IS NOW IN THE STATE BUDGET.

Existing state appropriations are reduced by the exact same amount that tuition rates go up. In other words, the state is raising tuition and keeping the money.

I don’t really have any analysis I can offer here. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried… :crack:

—===—

==============================
IV. CONCLUSION
==============================

I used to be a big fan of the Pope Center, and their sister think tank the John Locke Foundation. QuietStorm worked at JLF for quite awhile, as have a number of other friends and an Economics professor I had at N.C. State.

But now having experienced first-hand how aggressively some of its personnel will either (1) twist or (2) invent “facts” to support an argument — even if it means writing a piece that is self-contradictory in the process — I can’t really take any of their commentary with anything less than a warehouse-sized volume of salt.

Fortunately for the Pope Center, I’m not a contributor so they lose nothing from my distaste. They even get to keep the moral high ground since I’m a net debtor to society given my ample student loans and relatively inexpensive law school tuition. They’ll probably even get some more hits on their website from the folks who happen to swing by law:/dev/null, and may even garner a contributor or two out of the bunch.

Even so, I expect better from folks who complain of the very same tactics purportedly employed by academicians in the ivory tower.

The sanctimony is amusing, to be sure. But whether it’s the result of laziness or mental instability I’ll leave up to you.

—===—

Sorry again for the rant. Have a great night folks! :)

  1. And it may very well be longer than that — the Association’s records are limited before 1998-99. []
  2. ECSU, FSU, NCAT, NCCU and WSSU []
  3. UNCP []
  4. UNCG []
  5. UNCSA []
  6. NCSSM []
  7. ASU, UNCA and WCU []
  8. ECSU and UNCW []
  9. NCSU and UNCC []
  10. UNCCH, UNCP and WCU []
  11. Including, among many other attendees, the Student Body Presidents from East Carolina, Fayetteville State, NC State, UNC Asheville, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Wilmington, and Western Carolina — the top student leaders on their respective campuses, representing a combined 55% of the 215,000+ students in the University. []
  12. North Carolina’s state constitution forbids serving in both the legislative branch and the executive branch of government at the same time, so when I became an ex officio member of the executive UNC Board of Governors I had to give up my legislative day job. []

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