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Über-huge mini-update on life

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 7, 2011 in The 2L Life

Evening y’all! :D

I’ve been gone from the blawgosphere for what seems like an eternity — I looked at the little calendar thing on the right for January, and for the first time since I started law:/dev/null there were more days without entries posted than with them :beatup:

As you can probably guess, I had totally overcommitted myself this semester. But I’ve started paring back and hope to get back into the swing of things here starting now ::fingers crossed::

Here’s a quick update on my life, which encompasses most of the dozen-ish entries I had queued up but never got around to posting:

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I. ACADEMICS
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The academic vibe this semester is totally different from last semester. Thus far I’ve got no real interest in any of my classes… plus I’m behind in pretty much all of them :(

Trial Practice is boring because all the stuff we’re going over — openings / closings / directs / crosses / objections — has already been beaten into my brain from trial team practice (see Part II below). Business Associations would probably be a fun class, if not for the fact I’m about 4 lectures behind in the reading.

Same deal with Scientific Evidence; I’ve got high hopes for enjoying it as the semester progresses, but between falling behind in the reading and class being at 8:30am, I’ve been very “blah” every day. As for Criminal Procedure, I finally managed to get caught up last week just to fall behind again by the next class.

I’ve basically been keeping my head down in all of my classes praying I don’t get called on :beatup: God willing I’ll be able to get everything caught up tomorrow and Tuesday…

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II. EXTRACURRICULAR STUFF I’M IN
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Trial team has essentially consumed my life. Back in early January during our first practice I was worried I’d be blown out by my teammates in our draft closing arguments, so I did a lot of prep on mine… and ended up giving the best one :surprised:

That netted me the team captain spot for the 2Ls with the designation as “swing” counsel. Since TYLA teams are either 2 or 3 people, in our case we’ve got 1 person solely doing prosecution, 1 solely doing defense, and the “swing” (me) doing both :crack:

So there have been multi-hour practices 4-5 days a week for a month now. On the off days I’m tweaking things and updating my trial binder and thinking about possible curveballs that could be tossed at us by the competition. Add in the fact I’d never actually questioned a witness before — abjectly failing on the first couple attempts as a result — and you get what’s been an awful loooong month.

For several days I’d get to the law school at 8am and not leave until 10pm, a scenario I assiduously avoided during 1L year and now can’t escape :beatup:

On the SBA end, Treasury work has been a mess too. All NCCU Law school students pay a fee to the main campus student union, which goes into a programming fund to which different organizations can submit requests for event funding. At some point years and years ago, the administrators on main campus decided it would be more efficient to just give the SBA that $$$ paid by law school students and letting us distribute it (since our folks almost never use main campus facilities) instead of having the law school groups submit a boatload of requests to main campus.

Turns out this was all a totally unofficial arrangement. With catastrophic budget cuts looming, the folks on NCCU’s main campus decided a few weeks ago they’re not going to give the SBA that money — months after the fiscal year started and we had adopted a budget including it. So I got to spend a good chunk of late January working with the SBA Exec Board and law school administrators to fill a ~$90K budget hole with only a few months left in our terms.

Fortunately we wrote a very austere budget back in September so we were able to pull it off, but at the cost of having to cancel our Spring appropriations process and trim back a bunch of other expenditures.

My campaign logo+slogan for SBA President

The whole situation’s roots in budget cuts has also persuaded me to run for SBA President in March. The impending cuts being handed down by the state legislature are truly mind-boggling in their enormity. Consider, for example, that for every $1 in state funding that’s eliminated from North Carolina’s university system, tuition has to be raised by $3 to make up the difference. The NCGA is currently talking about cutting $400,000,000.00+ from the UNC system. That means we’re facing $1.2B+ (yes, “billion” with a “b”) in tuition increases just to stay where we are — increases of roughly $5,600 per student.

Those kind of increases lead to mass dropouts like we had back in the early part of this millennium — including your humble author — and it makes for horrible public policy. Our SBA this year had to focus on rebuilding its internal credibility with the Student Body and faculty, and now it’s time for us to focus our sights elsewhere. I think (hope?) my experiences can make me a solid advocate for this university and law school in the year ahead.

I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes :)

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III. EXTRACURRICULAR STUFF I’M NOT IN
====================

Speaking of student advocates, UNCASG has been in the news quite a bit lately — and it seems for all the wrong reasons.

My successor and his administration pushed me out of the group and ran as far away from my way of doing things as quickly as his legs could carry him. I can’t really complain because that’s how politics goes and I certainly did the same thing when I took over.  The difference between then and now, though, is that I discarded things that didn’t work and found ways that did.

On the other hand, the new kids on the block have basically taken a timewarp back to 2006-07 :crack:

First there was a controversy over the President threatening Executive Officers who support local SG candidates who “disagree with the ‘ASG vision'”. This kind of institutional arrogance is precisely what alienated campuses from UNCASG in the past and led to the withdrawals in the year before I was elected. How anyone thought it was a good idea is beyond my limited mental faculties to comprehend; in my world, if you’re going to have to fire someone… you just don’t hire them in the first place.

The UNCCH Carolina Review decided to make hay from the issue with a piece of their own of course. You might recall the folks at the Carolina Review are the self-proclaimed conservatives cited by the Pope Center in the Center’s hit piece on my tuition views last March.1

I can’t blame the Carolina Review for trying to boost their readership with a timely article on a manufactured controversy, but pegging it as a conservative issue struck me as amusing — once upon a time conservatives opposed non-local people getting involved in local affairs. Instead the Review encourages it, as long as the involvement coincides with their own political views.

The whole situation is a mess, and one that should have been avoided. When I originally wrote UNCASG’s Ethics Act 2.5 years ago, I included this provision:

§1-2.5. Electioneering Prohibited.
(a) No Executive Officer receiving compensation funded by student fees shall knowingly engage in election-related advocacy or other campaign activities on behalf of any candidate for elective office at a constituent member of the Association.
(b) No Executive Officer shall allow his or her name and/or official title to be used to further the candidacy of any candidate for elective office at a constituent member of the Association.
(c) This section shall not be construed to prevent an Executive Officer from filing for elective office at a constituent member of the Association and from campaigning on his or her own behalf.

The section was removed in committee, at the urging of students from… UNCCH.2

The folks at the Carolina Review have also been circulating a petition to have a referendum on UNCCH’s participation in ASG put on their Student Government ballot in an effort to have the University remove itself. As the guy who created N.C. State’s student fee referenda from scratch back when I was Student Senate President, I’m actually in total support of having this particular referendum… but (unsurprisingly) they haven’t yet collected enough signatures to get it on the ballot. If they did, it would deprive them of an issue to carp about :roll:

“But TDot,” you say, “all of the stuff you’re talking about is small potatoes. None of this matters when a group is doing meaningful work and making a difference.” And you’d be right — but that’s not what’s actually going on.

Instead of focusing on the impending tuition battle I mentioned in Part I above, the leadership of UNCASG has focused instead on getting the President a vote on the university system’s Board of Governors — an utterly useless power on a Board where almost all votes are unanimous, and doubly useless when reaching out to the 215,000+ students the ASG President represents can carry more power than any vote. The last ASG meeting produced a total lack of consensus on a legislative agenda, leading to a factually-inaccurate DTH editorial touting a student vote as a good thing to try and fix the total dysfunction currently gripping the group.

The DTH (unsurprisingly) is wrong. Unfortunately the ASG leadership is wrong too.

Then there are the upcoming campus elections which will produce the next salvo of anti-ASG fireworks when new SBPs take office in a few months. Among the amusing candidacies is Rick Ingram, the odds-on favorite to become Student Body President at UNCCH. You might remember Ingram as the Kerry-esque flip-flopper who voted in favor of the UNCASG budget before he decided it would be more beneficial politically to oppose it. He’s been aggressively courting students for their votes — apparently so much so that the campus’s Board of Elections has already fined him for violating campaign rules and is now debating having him disqualified.3

Ingram also proclaimed on his website that “The simple truth is this — the days of fighting against tuition increases are over.”… an odd proclamation from a student and aspiring student leader in light of $1.2B+ in upcoming tuition hikes, and one which (1) the media (unsurprisingly) never covered and (2) promptly disappeared from his website when it became a political liability. Ingram’s victory would speak volumes about the UNCCH electorate, but more ominously it would ensure UNCASG wastes all of next year fighting pointless internal battles instead of serving students.

With all of this drama going on, for some unknown reason I made the mistake of heading to the NC General Assembly to catch up with some old colleagues and ask a few legislators of their thoughts on the situation. To say UNCASG has lost nearly all the credibility we built for it over two years would be putting it mildly :mad:  If I had any doubt that things were really as bad as they seemed, I actually got calls from several campuses asking me to come back and run for the organization’s Senior Vice President position.4 It’s disheartening that I’m actually considering it…

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IV. PERSONAL LIFE
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The saying “when it rains, it pours” was a pretty good epitaph for January 2011.

I was sick for the first week. My sister was committed to a mental institution the second week. QT’s dad unexpectedly died of a heart attack the week after. That very same day in trial team practice I found out a friend of mine was killed in a car accident.

At some point around that portion of the month I discovered both of my parents are either currently having or recently had affairs (I was sufficiently disappointed in both of them that I didn’t bother to inquire further) and the situation with my sister has them contemplating divorce. My dad was laid off from his job. My sister got released from the mental hospital and within the week was off her meds and smoking weed like she had nothing better to do with her time. At which point my parents discovered she had been stealing my mom’s jewelry to sell in an effort to finance her drug habit. Etc etc etc ad nauseum.

I’m pretty sure there was other crazy sh*t going on last month too but I did my best to forget as much of it as possible :beatup:  I’m trying to be a supportive friend to QT and her brother as best I can, trying to avoid the quagmire that is my family and their attendant refusal to make the tough decisions necessary to actually improve their lives, and otherwise trying to avoid having my generally sunshine-y disposition rained out on a near-daily basis like it did last month.

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V. PROFESSIONAL STUFF
====================

Things are at least marginally better on the professional side. I’ve started my tutoring sessions with the 1Ls in Criminal Law, and so far I’ve got the highest-attended tutorial and office hours out of the 15 different 1L classes (3 each in CrimLaw, CivPro, Torts, Property, and Ks). It’s too early to tell if that trend’s going to continue, but the feedback has been very positive and it really boosts my spirits :spin:

My internship with I-Cubed was also going really well. The people are great, the company culture is cool, the issues are interesting, and I was turning in sterling work product (even earning the praise of an attorney at another tech company). I was also getting addicted to the four-figure paychecks…

…but I walked away :surprised:

Between trial team consuming my time, my personal life being a crucible, and trying to keep up with academics, I just wasn’t able to give the company the 20 hours a week they needed. So I met with the CEO last week (my boss) and basically quit for now. I’m still part of the company and available for non-time-sensitive ad hoc projects as needed, but I’ve otherwise wound down to -0- hours a week until summer when the company will re-assess if I’m still useful to them.

It was the first time I’ve left a job since 2002, when I quit the State Bar to go take a leadership spot in the Wake County Clerk’s Office. There’s a part of me that’s terrified I made the wrong choice, especially with all the doom and gloom about the economy and law school employment stats and etc. But honestly I’d rather put everything out on the table and take my chances down the road than either (1) being miserable every day as I’m stretched too far in too many directions, or (2) start failing at things, turning in below-par work, and ending up getting fired anyway ;)

It was an awesome opportunity and I’m thankful for it, and I’ve got faith everything will work out exactly how it’s supposed to work out :)

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VI. BLAWG LIFE
====================

Spam combat on the backend of this blog has been continuing apace. My edition of the (badly-delayed) Law School Roundup will be coming up this week so I can punt the ball back over to Katie Luper :)

And oddly enough we had a real explosion in Google searches last month, so even though I had almost no entries in January we still had fairly decent traffic :crack:

I’ve also got a piece on tap for Beyond Hearsay that should be going live some time over the next couple weeks, and one for The True Verdict that I’m working on in my spare time — hopefully you’ll like them both ;)

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That’s it for this entry y’all! I’m sorry for being gone as long as I was, but I’m gonna make a serious effort to get back in the game.

Until next time, have a great week! :D

  1. Views they fabricated from whole cloth despite five years’ worth of publicly-available commentary to the contrary. []
  2. Conservative UNCCH students at that, who saw an opportunity to back one of their own SBP candidates with ASG EOs. []
  3. Ingram’s response to the potentially-disqualifying allegations is quite entertaining. Anyone who’s taken the “Detection of Deception” CLE should be able to spot several items where he’s being dishonest with the Board; see if you can find them :) []
  4. I wrote term limits into the ASG Constitution so I’m ineligible to serve as President ever again. []

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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

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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…

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II. BACKGROUND MATERIAL: DOCUMENTS
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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]

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III. SECTION-BY-SECTION ANALYSIS
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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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