How ASG Lied to You

CRDaily

So, you remember how about two months ago, during the referendum on ASG, everyone on the pro-side was arguing something to the effect of, “Just give us some time and, we’ll fix everything.” Turns out that wasn’t really true. Since that referendum, the organization has failed to achieve quorum for two of its meetings and just this past weekend decided to increase the stipends for all of its officers by 10%. Now, it’s completely understandable why such a massive increase is necessary. After the organization’s abysmal job representing student interests to the Board of Governors this year and the subsequent double-digit tuition hikes, it’s completely understandable why the officers feel they need a raise. They’re going to need that extra cash to help offset the costs of higher tuition next year. ASG President Atul Bhula claimed that such a ridiculous increase was necessary because he’s lost money “doing ASG.” While we’re all still trying to figure what exactly he was doing last year besides attempting to bully constituent organizations into compliance, it’s worth noting that we’ve all lost money doing ASG, four dollars to be exact. Given its failure to have any effect on this year’s tuition hikes, given its failure to connect with and understand students’ needs, and given its failure to achieve anything meaningful over the last several years, why does ASG think it deserves a raise? This, more than anything else, demonstrates the level of corruption that pervades the organization.

ASG President, Atul Bhula

And the organization appears to have lost any interest in perusing its series of “reforms.” As one of his parting acts of office,  Bhula urged the assembled delegates to kill both of the bills currently pending before the organization that would make (very modest) reforms to how ASG operates. Any hope that the organization might be able to reform itself so that it actually serves students rather than its officers is now effectively dead. We ought to end our relationship with this organization rather than continuing to put up with its abuses.

I think UNC SBP Will Leimenstoll said it best, “I don’t know how I can go back in good conscience to Chapel Hill and tell people who barely voted to stay in this organization that we’re going to increase stipends and decrease student advocacy.”

What is ASG Doing in China?

CRDaily

This could be the Summer Palace (formerly the summer vacation home of the imperial court... kind of appropriate). But I can't make out the characters on the gate, so I can't be sure.

Atul Bhula, ASG President, Is Second From the Right

When it comes to ASG, there are some questions that I have gotten used to asking. Why do they spend so much money on travel? Why do they feel the need to give themselves such lavish stipends? Why don’t they do anything? But one question I thought I’d never ask is “What are you doing in China?”

If you look in the above picture, you’ll notice that Atul Bhula, President of ASG, and various members of the UNC Board of Governors (with their wives) are situated right in front of Chairman Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square. Aside from the the rather palpable irony of this picture, just what are they doing there? While I’m glad that Atul was able to find time to run to China after doing absolutely nothing about historic tuition increases next year, why is he in China? And who paid for him to be there? Did ASG foot the bill for this little venture abroad, or did someone else? It’s also curious that Atul made no mention of this little vacation while he was running around lauding all the great work that ASG does. After all, it would have taken a fair amount of time to put this trip together. With visa regulations in the PRC being what they are, it’s not like one can just hop on a plane to China on a whim.

So, the next time ASG talks about how great it is, keep this little episode in mind. They somehow can’t find the time to fix the organization so that it actually has some influence in tuition proposals, but their president manages to find the time to run off to China to pal around with members of the Board of Governors.

Does Student Government Matter?

CRDaily

This Thursday, the Tea Talks conversation series will be hosting a conversation on the topic, “What Can Student Government Do?” As an inside-the-beltway, student government insider, I feel uniquely qualified to pontificate on this topic, so I will. I’m also intrigued by the topic, because it sounds so much like something out of a Parks and Rec episode.

What can student government do and does student government matter? These are serious questions, especially for the self-anointed elites (myself included) who run student government and who, unlike normal people, care about what student government does.

We’ll start with Student Congress, where I have the privilege of running the Oversight Committee. Student Congress mostly acts like one great big sugar-daddy. Every student pays a $39.00 Student Organizations Fee. About half of that fee is automatically distributed to the Student Union, STV, WXYC, and the Honor Court. The distribution of the rest of the fee is left up to Congress’ discretion. So, every week, student groups come crawling to Congress begging for funding for publications, speakers, programs, trips, etc. Congress then sets about cutting the requests down, checking the excesses, and ensuring that the money is spent responsibly. There are occasional hiccups, but the system works pretty well.

However, Congress’ work does not stop there. We currently operate under a lengthy and cumbersome Student Code. Weighing in at about nearly 100 pages (it used to be much longer), the Code governs the more arcane aspects of student government (legislative, executive, and judicial), things like committee appointments, elections, operating procedures, etc. Most people probably don’t care about these sorts of things and are largely unaffected by them (until they become involved in student government). From my experience, most of student government exists for itself, e.g. there is no ostensible reason why the Executive Branch needs an Arts Advocacy Committee, except that somewhere along the line, some student government bureaucrat thought that this was important, so he created the committee. Likewise, entities like the Student Supreme Court, if you look at past cases, adjudicate legal disputes arising between different student government entities. Occasionally, there’s a case involving a dispute over a fee or something similar, but most of the disputes are procedural and have very narrow application.

"Why Does Student Government Matter? It doesn't."

Not to beat a dead horse, but I think ASG is an example of this in extremis. You have an organization that ostensibly exists to represent student interests to the real decision makers in the UNC System. But what do they do? Precious little. Especially lately, the organization has become so obsessed with its internal procedures and operations, it doesn’t have time for anything else. Its efforts at advocacy are half-hearted. Somehow they managed to endorse the BOG’s plan to increase tuition 13.5% next year, but they also managed to do that without actually asking anyone outside of their organization what they think about the tuition hikes. They had lots of really important meetings to determine the organization’s stance on the issue, but in the end, they accomplished nothing.

So, back to the original question, “What can student government do and does it matter?” I think the answer is that student government can do a lot… about its own internal procedures, but not much else. Student government can do a lot of things that don’t matter, but very few things that do.

Tuition, the BOG, and ASG

CRDaily

One of the advantages of graduating in May is that I will no longer have to deal with the annual tuition hike circus. Consider the goings-on at the most recent UNC Board of Governors meeting. You have a bunch of adults sitting around a table considering increasing next year’s tuition by 13.5%. And why? Because UNC took a “massive” $80 million hit to its $2.4 billion budget (that’s a 3.3% cut in the budget). How such a relatively small cut to the budget requires such a large increase in tuition is beyond me. And it’s not as if the University has done much to mitigate the cuts either. Sure, the administration is perfectly willing to cut class offerings and increase class sizes. But are they willing to cut any actual fat from the budget? Of course not. To take an example, the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs currently employs over 19 people. Such an office does little to advance the educational mission of the University. Closing down this office and other dead-weight “centers” across the University would do a lot to alleviate the impact of the budget cuts without affecting the educational mission of the school and without creating undue financial burdens on students. Such centers and offices are luxuries. They may be nice to have around while the state is flush with cash and the economy is booming, but the current situation necessitates that the University focus on only what is most important to its academic mission. The failure of the UNC administration to implement any real budget cuts is a dereliction of duty and is causing undue hardship on UNC students.

But there’s also a story to be told on the student side of the debate. While the conduct of the administration has been shameful, storming into the BOG meeting like a bunch of whiny kids (and getting arrested) is no better. Of course, one can appreciate the feeling of desperation that motivates students to behave this way. After all, organizations like the Association of Student Governments (ASG) that supposedly exist to serve as the student voice to the BOG and the administration have been conspicuously silent throughout the debate. In any given news article, one can read of any number of student groups that have popped up to oppose the tuition increases, yet there is rarely any mention of ASG, the single organization that students actually pay to represent them. Why? Because, quite simply, the organization hasn’t done anything. Their top priority at the moment is a field trip to Washington, DC later this month. So, one can appreciate why students feel like they need to be so forthright in their dealings with the BOG. Having expected ASG to ensure that such ridiculous increases would not happen, these students have been forced to scramble at the last minute to have their voices heard. ASG’s silence is absolutely deafening.

RE: But We Need to Be in the ASG!

CRDaily

This story gets a whole lot more interesting when you consider that Atul Bhula, the current president of ASG, is a student at Appalachian State. I was kind of surprised that the DTH article didn’t really comment on this glaring conflict of interest. That Mr. Bhula would even consider lifting the cap on size of the campus grants to benefit his own school indicates that there’s some real ethical issues at play here.

Of course there’s also the whole issue of why we pay thousands of dollars into the organization, and then have to beg and plead to have some of it returned to campus via these Campus Innovation Grants. But that’s an issue for another time and another place.

I also found some of the quotes in the article entertaining:

“It’s a huge competition,” said Lauren Estes, ASU’s student body president. “It’s the equivalent of winning a national football championship.”

Well… no it’s not. People actually know what football is. The Super Bowl is one of the largest (if not the largest) television events of the year. Does anyone even know what a Solar Decathlon is?

Then there’s this one:

“This is not just an Appalachian thing,” said Bhula, who is an MBA student at ASU. “This is our state.”

I’m pretty sure this is just an Appalachian thing. I fail to see how this even remotely benefits me (or anyone outside the team for that matter).

Also, if you read to the very end of the article, you notice that the team has already shipped their house up to DC for this competition. So, they don’t even need the money to compete. They just need the money to bring it back. They can win all kinds of lauds and honors for the glory of North Carolina without ASG spending a single dime. So, once again I ask, “How does this benefit me?” And if for some reason they can’t round up enough money to ship it back here, I’ve got a really simple solution: For $5, you go out, buy a gallon of gasoline, a box of matches, and burn the thing to the ground.

Quo Vadis Quorum?

CRDaily

This past weekend, ASG had a meeting, sort-of. According to the Daily Tar Heel, over half of ASG’s own members failed to show enough interest in the organization to attend its monthly meeting. This, in turn, prevented the group from obtaining quorum, which means that they were unable to vote on any legislation or accomplish much of anything. Just when I thought the group couldn’t be anymore useless, they have proven that even I overestimated them. Not even the lure of salaries and big expense accounts could persuade the delegates to attend the meeting. If nothing else, lack of interest by ASG’s own membership underscores the general uselessness of the organization. If I’m paying you to attend these meetings, and you can’t even bother to show up, in the words of Anthony Dent, “that’s really lame.”

Now generally, an effective chairman will ensure that he will have quorum before calling a meeting. According to the DTH article, it seems that Mr. Bhula, who heads the organization, had a pretty good idea that most of his people wouldn’t be showing up. So, this raises the question: Why did he hold the meeting if he knew that no one would show up? Let’s be honest here. It’s not like ASG didn’t incur any expenses in the course of this little fiasco. There’s the nice hotel rooms, the car rentals, and whatever else these people like to blow money on. So, in holding the meeting, Mr. Bhula incurred a series of unnecessary expenses, and this at a time when everyone from the Governor on down is looking to hold down unnecessary costs. This speaks to the general unaccountability that so characterizes ASG and its minions. Because Mr. Bhula isn’t elected by the students of this system and because the students of the UNC system have no say in the operations of ASG, what does he care if ASG wastes a couple thousand dollars on a meeting that accomplishes nothing? He’s not paying for it.

On a more positive note, it’s nice to see that some people inside ASG have finally gotten a clue and given what’s effectively a vote of no confidence to the organization. Despite Mr. Bhula’s protestations that “We’re doing work,” ASG has accomplished nothing of benefit to the students it purports to represent. Its latest project is to gain a vote for Mr. Bhula on the UNC Board of Governors. Given Hogan Medlin’s indication that such “power” on the UNC-CH Board of Trustees is generally useless, it’s small wonder ASG can’t even muster a quorum anymore. They’re just not doing anything important.