5

Why I blog

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 4, 2010 in Background

Good evening y’all! :D

Despite my chronic disappearances over the past couple months, we’ve been blessed here at law:/dev/null to still have a steady cadre of regular readers along with a (surprising) stream of newcomers.1  And since the recent blawgpocalypse I’ve been asked by folks in both groups what prompted me to stake out this particular piece of internet real estate — and I realized I’ve never actually posted an answer to the “Why do you blog?” question beyond a brief one-line reference on our “About” page :beatup:

So I figured now’s as good a time as any ;)

Without further ado, my four reasons for entering the blawgosphere way back in August 2009:

  1. Therapy: I wasn’t kidding when I wrote in the very first post that “law:/dev/null is really just my own brand of therapy to get me through law school. Some people exercise, some prefer gardening, some drink (a lot). I write.” My classmates have learned firsthand that I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to saying exactly what’s on my mind, so penning my commentary here lets me get it out of my system without subjecting them to something they don’t want to hear in the first place :)
  2. Curiosity: Even though the bachelor’s degree on my wall is for computer science and I created a niche web development company back when I was a college dropout, I was so tired of doing computer-related stuff academically that I never really got into the whole CMS / RSS / CSS / [pick-an-acronym-and-put-it-here] thing in my personal life :beatup: When I wanted to blog, I’d write a note and post it to Facebook because it required minimal tech work; there are 95 of those to date, and it’s where things like T. Greg’s Tomes got started. But with the acute shift from undergrad to the remarkably-less-tech-savvy atmosphere of law, I figured it’d be fun to experiment with a WordPress deployment and all the attendant web work that goes with it.
  3. Scarcity: I first got introduced to the world of law student blogs the night before 1L Orientation, where I stumbled upon Dennis Jansen’s blog and a few others… that I proceeded to read until 2am.2 One of the things I noticed while reading was that the overwhelming majority of law school bloggers I found were at T14 law schools, and none of them were in the southeast quadrant of the country like me (although Mariel is close). So even though I was greatly appreciative for the insights, I wanted to present a different perspective as a law student at a distinguished-but-unranked law school in the South. And judging from the hundreds of search queries on NCCU Law over the past year, I’m apparently not the only one looking for that type of info before starting law school ;)
  4. Keeping in touch: I couldn’t come up with a cute one-word-ending-in-y description for this one :beatup:  Despite an absurd level of shyness that I have to mentally force myself to ignore, I’m generally a pretty sociable guy. But I’m also a Type A workaholic who took my first bona fide vacation in years just this past Independence Day, and it’s really easy for me to lose touch with people in the process.3 The biggest appeal to starting law:/dev/null was creating a way to let folks know what I was up to and that I was still thinking about them, even if I didn’t have an opportunity to get lunch or talk at length on the phone. I’m not sure how well it’s worked so far but hopefully the folks who are important to me know that ::fingers crossed::

So there you have it folks, a quick glance into the mind of TDot4 and the motivations behind law:/dev/null :)

I hope all of you have a fantastic night, and a great soon-to-be weekend! :D

  1. *THANK YOU* to all of you :heart: []
  2. Hours after I was supposed to go to bed, and the catalyst for the ensuing hilarity/embarrassment during that first day of Orientation :beatup: []
  3. It’s also one of the central reasons why I use thousands of text messages every month, peaking at 10,821 not too long ago — or 1 text message every 4 minutes for an entire month :surprised: []
  4. No “TMI” comments on this post :P []

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2

So *this* is what Rodney Dangerfield meant…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But that’s a great idea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

LMAO :spin:

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

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

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UNCASG Wins Student Tax Repeal!

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

Hey everybody! :D

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

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

The note appears below in its entirety:

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

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Past Editions of T Greg’s Tomes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNCASG wins $8.6M+ in savings

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

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

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

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

Savings over 2 years: $25.7M+

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

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

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

Have a great night y’all! :)

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“You like me, you really like me!”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 2, 2010 in Site Stats

Or, if you don’t like me, y’all were at least kind enough to stop by regularly and make April the busiest month yet for law:/dev/null! :spin:

law:/dev/null Pageviews and Unique IPs over time

Here’s an updated graph of our pageviews-per-day and unique IP addresses. We had a 5.4% increase in unique visitors for the month1 along with 1 additional daily pageview.

But TDot,” you may be wondering, “+1 pageview-per-day is a mere 0.098% increase in traffic. Can you really consider that an increase in traffic beyond any but the most literalist of interpretations?

I certainly can, dear reader — though whether you agree with my rationale is another matter entirely :beatup:

You see March’s numbers were a big 51% jump over February, skewed upwards over just three days of traffic when local folks heard about a mere college student taking on one of the largest think tanks in North Carolina.2

Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with a comparable controversy this month… but the traffic rate held constant. That either means (i) the old political folks who stumbled across this little piece of internet real estate over those 3 days decided to keep reading all month (plausible but not likely), or (ii) new people somehow found law:/dev/null and became regular readers (plausible and less not likely).

Regardless, I’m not one to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth: I truly appreciate y’all being here, regardless of your reason, and I hope you’ll continue to stop by in the future (and spread the word!) :D

In referrer-related news, Google also continues to be our top referring site, sending about 1.5% of the folks who stop by here on a given day. Here are a selection of the 80+ searches that brought folks here in April:

  • decade: We had 4 separate people use this query. I’m guessing you got directed to my thoughts on the 2000s, but my question is this: people actually do searches on single, generic words?? :surprised:
  • nccu law study room reservations: Are done on the NCCU Law intranet. Can’t help you on this one. Sorry.
  • how to get into nccu law: Through the doors ;)
  • nccu law blogs: There are at least 3 of us I know of: myself, Madame Prosecutor, and a brother I’ve started calling the Prophet. If you find any more, let me know and I’ll add ’em to the blogroll.
  • hard work never killed anyone but: why take the chance?
  • student election poster: Take a look at my SBA poster or my SSP poster. You can take a guess at which one worked :beatup:
  • campbell law can 1ls work?: According to Campbell 1Ls at NCSU’s pre-law forum, nope.
  • how long does it take to get a decision from nccu school of law?: As long as it takes ;)
  • t greg tomes: T Greg’s Tomes are my political missives posted on Facebook. Haven’t put many of them on law:/dev/null, but I’ve posted this one and this one.
  • rick ingram unc: You’re probably looking for his SBP endorsement by the UNCCH Daily Tar Heel in that 1st Tome I just listed.
  • nccu law admission by email or mail?: Mail! Email admission notices are tacky :P
  • 5 u.s 137 shepardize: Yes, it’s true — I Shepardize old cases for fun :beatup: (5 U.S. 137 is Marbury v. Madison)
  • c grade law student screwed?: God I hope not, otherwise Contracts has ruined my life
  • best parking spots at nccu school of law?: The ones that are available. Word of advice for the incoming Class of 2013: show up early ;)
  • what classes do you need to become a lawyer at nccu: The same classes you need at every other ABA-accredited school. But you can check out NCCU Law‘s specific course catalog here.
  • law student disclaimer: You can read mine right here.
  • capsule wardrobe for a law student: How did someone looking for fashion tips end up here?? :crack: Check out TRPLS instead :)
  • computer scientist or lawyer: Lawyer
  • 1l memo useless: #truestory
  • attending nccu law: Congratulations! :D

I continue to be amazed at the searches that bring people here… :)

And finally, our Top 5 most-viewed posts for the month of April 2010, including two repeaters at #1 and #5:

  1. On my first ever closing argument: Alice in Wonderland (03/24/10)
  2. On sound principles making sound politics: More vindication! : ) (04/20/10)
  3. On political hacks-in-training writing commentary: On UNCASG, $1, and the UNCCH Daily Tar Heel (03/30/10)
  4. On the never-ending end of the semester: Like a mirage in the desert (04/10/10)
  5. On political hacks writing commentary: Crazy, or just lazy? You be the judge (or, “Erroneous trash masquerading as punditry”) (03/15/10)

*THANK YOU* to everyone for your continued support of the blog — it means a lot :)

I’m heading to bed, gotta be rested for my last final exam as a 1L! Have a great night everybody! :D

  1. Approximately; the logs only measure unique IP addresses, so if multiple people have logged in from the same IP (e.g. using corporate wifi with only 1 publicly-exposed IP) those folks get missed. I think the folks missed are balanced out by the spambots though :beatup: []
  2. Residual traffic to that entry has kept it at #5 in our Top 5 list for April :crack: []

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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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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 ;)

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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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