Wednesday, April 30, 2008

McKeldin, My McKeldin

It's almost like they knew this was going to happen... DBK is absolutely right in their staff editorial. We know funds are tight - they're tight for everything. But we need to fund our libraries, and part of that is infrastructure (a topic not addressed in the staff ed). While the article points out that this was a result of actually doing work on the building, the point remains, as FM had to stop work due to lacking parts.

This lack of funding does not only result in fewer hard copy and electronic collections, but the loss of our current collections due to faulty ceilings. Residence halls aren't the only buildings on campus that need renovations. Just ask a BSOS major.

Matt Graves offers some reactions to the staff ed. I, too, must confess ignorance at the way our libraries are funded in their totality. If it's anything like other non-self-support departments on campus (some self-supports include DRL, DDS, DRF), then funding comes from a multitude of places - auxiliary student fees, tuition, redirected cost containment funds, private funders, budgeted and dedicated state funding, etcetera. I have to disagree with Graves on a key point, though.

His idea that department/college-specific journals should be paid for only by those colleges is another great ideology versus practice problem. It sounds good, right, to let (force) only the people who use the service to purchase it? It is good, I will concede, in an absolute world. But in a University setting, we subsidize one another for the good of the whole. It's a bummer, but it's a reality: it costs way more to produce a wind tunnel than a long-winded history professor, and I'm getting no discounts spending my time in Key instead.

(Cost containment is, of course, a different issue.)

Ultimately, both the DBK and Graves are right, if you make the connection: we need more money. Frankly, students are paying more than they can currently afford for college, and nationally I worry we're rapidly approaching a point that will make the "opportunity cost/it'll be worth it after you graduate" argument not quite as persuasive, especially to lower-income students.

My recommendation would be to spend a lot of time and effort lobbying in Annapolis for more money, cliche as it sounds. Add this library incident to the list of things about which you'll testify.

Update: See Tim Hackman's addendum to the DBK's editorial

Posted by: Sumner Handy, President

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is the Friendly Ticket Program really Student Friendly?

A few weeks ago, the Diamondback published an article regarding the DOTS Friendly Ticket program. Apparently, the initiative can no longer be sustained by other DOTS fees, and they are now looking to increase student transportation fees to cover this new service.

Most of the people receiving these "friendly tickets" are visitors, not Maryland students. It doesn't seem to make sense that a program which really does not benefit students would be funded BY student fees.

A comment on the Diamondback website suggests more visitor parking, an issue that has continually come up over the years. They also suggest visitor day passes. As long as there was a way of regulating who was able to use them and where, this could be another great solution.

Luckily the ticket appeals process is fairly simple, I don't think any alumni or other visitors would feel especially inconvenienced in having to spend 10 minutes writing a letter and putting it in the mail.

While in theory, it is a nice idea to allow visitors one "freebie," since it is no news to any of us that it is difficult to find parking on this campus, DOTS should look to other options to fund this program if they plan on continuing it.

Student fees should pay for student services, not for a program that does NOT directly benefit them.

Alex Beuchler

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Good news out of Student Affairs. Students are recycling at UMD more than ever.


More renovations in the works. I also hear that Shoemaker is looking for renovations in 2009-2010. And the residence halls?

Friday, April 11, 2008

System, Please Hear Us

Oh, sweet farce. Gina Sagar says what many are thinking.

President Mote and University administration have clearly done a remarkable job at improving the quality of education here in the last decade and change, or so (no. 54 in 2008, according to US News). They should be applauded.

And the Fridge has taken our boys to a bunch of bowls this century and has been rewarded with a few few-million-dollar renovations to Byrd. The Athletics Department is quick to point out that the renovation will pay for itself, however. That does provide some comfort.

But while System was approving the loan for non-essential athletics improvements, Denton's pipes were a ticking time bomb. And maybe President Mote didn't know, but with the fantastic academic improvements he was attracting the nation's most promising students to a place that would likely not satisfy their desire for a high quality of life.

Resident students are tired of hearing about the housing crisis and about all the as-yet unfulfilled promises. When will System feel the urgency with which we feel this crisis? There is not enough housing here and lots of the housing we've got is leaking and hot and cold and crowded.

We, the students, do not only urge approval of the projects to come before System in the coming months and years... but we ask, with hope and with humility, to have our voice heard and our needs met, to have our university improved with new beds and renovation of the buildings around those already in existence.

System approves new housing projects based on a principle of taking turns, yielding priority in building new housing in places like Towson (click on West Village Housing Construction - Updates), while the demand in College Park outstrips that of almost anywhere. This is the wrong way to operate. In practice, goods should be delivered where the demand is highest. We need housing here in College Park!

Update: I sent a link to this post specifically and one to the blog in general to System today at 12:26PM.

Posted by: Sumner Handy, President

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Campus v. Preinkert

Purple Line will cost $3 million more on the Preinkert alignment than on the Campus Drive alignment. This is not a significant amount of money with respect to this project. It's time that cost ceases to be a primary topic in this Campus/Preinkert debate and for the public discourse to shift to other de/merits of each alignment.

Keep an eye on the papers for a note on a joint letter regarding the Purple Line from GSG President Laura Moore, SGA President Andrew Friedson, and RHA President Sumner Handy to President Mote and University administration.

As noted in the article, MTA will present next to the University Senate on May 8.

Posted by: Sumner Handy, President

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Shuttle-UM to Open to CP Residents

See the DBK story here. Article's pretty good, but mischaracterizes RHA's involvement a little bit.
The bill had generated controversy among student groups for years. The Residence Halls Association in particular had spoken out strongly against making Shuttle-UM public, saying it would hurt campus safety. But months after a compromise with student groups and university administrators, RHA President Sumner Handy says the RHA has changed its position.
Accurate version: in 2005-2006, RHA President Kareem Branch led the dialogue between RHA members and university administrators, including DOTS Director David Allen. By the end of 2006, RHA had reached a consensus approval of the measure, noting that safety was not a sound concern and recommending that costs to students should be defrayed if at all possible. The RHA has not changed its position since then. Everything else is correct, though:
"We came to the practical conclusion that safety was not being compromised by opening it to the public," said Handy. "The fact of the matter is that they can already get on campus by walking on foot and taking the shuttle bus on weekends [when drivers don't check IDs.]"

Handy said the bill is good for students "as long as money comes into DOTS to defray student costs."
But it appears that costs won't be defrayed all that much. As all 35,000 students (grads and undergrads) pay a transportation fee, and the money coming into DOTS is projected to be about $5000 (as that's the minimum and city resident ridership is expected to stay low), we're looking at a one-seventh of one dollar decrease in student fees, or about 14 cents. I suppose it's better than nothing, but you can't even buy a carrot in the Co-Op for that much.

Posted by: Sumner Handy, President

RHA Elections Coverage

Diamondback covers RHA speeches and platforms today. Quick take: similar candidates with different experiences and variable leadership styles, and both qualified. Overall, pretty accurate. It was nice to see a DBK reporter stay for the whole meeting and then 30 minutes afterward to thoroughly interview the candidates and make sure he's got it all right. Kudos to staff writer Derby Cox.

Posted by: Sumner Handy, President

A 2008 Theme: Senators Vie for Presidency

SGA Presidential Candidate Danny Leydorf, a current RHA Senator and Transportation Advisory Committee Chair, gets a profile in the DBK.

Posted by: Sumner Handy, President

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Better Solution

This is an interesting take from an experienced and decorated RA, Ben Johnson. Johnson asserts that freshmen should get "back on north campus" for their own safety.

But I am still skeptical of the assertion that freshmen in traditional residence halls drink less (or urinate themselves less, or are less belligerent, etcetera) than those in apartments or suites. I'd like to see the incident report figures and get some anecdotal surveys. It seems to me a non-sequitur, that residents' alcohol-related behaviors are based on where they live. I don't believe that ghettoizing freshmen will reduce their alcohol consumption or increase their level of responsibility.

I'm inclined to believe that a good place to start on our university's alcohol problem (as many administrators insist we have) is efforts to create stronger feelings of community, connectedness, and dedication to the university - a culture that encourages students to get out of their rooms and to a place other than the party or the bar. I'd like to see our great events better-advertised, and Art Attack to remain free and truly connected to students. This is perhaps more challenging than it sounds, and will take more than a Midnight Breakfast or an Open Mic Night. A diverse student-administrator joint task force charged with better understanding UMD's diverse student body and what turns it on could go a long way.

Update: Last Friday night/Saturday morning (April 4/5), suspects (students?) pushed a full-size refrigerator out of an Easton Hall lounge window, landing immediately in front of the doors to the building. Suspects have not yet been identified, but face up to three years in prison for attempted manslaughter and vandalism, among other crimes, according to RHA Senator Andrew Steinberg. This was in a high rise, not Leonardtown.

Posted By: Sumner Handy, President

"Lemme Upgrade Ya" - Beyonce, on Denton Hall Toilets

One has to wonder, would this be happening if the University didn't have to continually delay residence hall renovations?
"I blacked out and woke up in f---in' Finding Nemo," said one resident who did not provide his name.

Posted By: Sumner Handy, President

Friday, April 4, 2008

Housing @ UMD Lacks System-Level Priority Status

This is a real bummer. System has nixed university efforts to get another PPP (in addition to the 370-some bed building already approved) on South Campus, near Commons.

Pat Mielke, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, is referenced as having been told by "officials" - presumably people at System and members of the Board of Regents (who are a segment of System, but have a unique role in the budget process - final approval) - that they want to see progress in the private sector before they approve any more debt for PPPs or state buildings. Really? Since when is it the University's job to go to Otis Warren and other local developers and say, "Listen, we really need you to build that add-on to University View so that we can get more housing on campus"?

Vice President for Administrative Affairs Doug Duncan is quoted as saying
"In the meantime, this will help some. I think we reached a conclusion that's going to get housing built on campus fairly quickly."
That sounds good, but what? The "this" he's talking about in the first sentence appears to be the 370-bed PPP. Yes, that will help some. But if that building were available today for students to live in next year, it still wouldn't cover the amount of juniors DRL and the University has had to turn away this year due to the housing crunch (crisis, debacle, and whatever other uber-negatively-connotated word for "problem" you can imagine). "Help" is pretty relative.

And what about this "fairly quickly"? In all the conversations I've had with administrators, not one person has expressed this kind of optimism to me. Everyone shrugs their shoulders, seemingly saying something like, "Your guess is as good as mine." Does Duncan know something we don't, or is he thinking wishfully?

Staff writer Carrie Wells writes further:
In the meantime, the university decided it will take $35 million from East Campus developer Foulger-Pratt Argo, originally earmarked for the North Campus dorm, and use it to fund more housing projects elsewhere on the campus. Administrators said they had not decided where the money would go, but acknowledged the possibility of using it to pay for the South Campus dorm. With the North Campus dorm expected to cost around $80 million, that money would not be enough to fully fund the project.
This sounds off to me, taking money earmarked for an $80 million project that could potentially house the entire current population of Leonardtown and putting it toward other projects. It feels like we're taking the sandbags from the broken levy to stop up the flooding of a single building or one part of town. It sounds good, I guess, if that building is really important, but what about the levy and all the problems the rest of the flooding will cause? The other buildings? There have to be more details here. Aren't there legal questions here, too, with respect to Foulger-Pratt Argo and what the money is to be used for?

The more important question here is, what happens next? Just forget about that $80 million project? The already-approved 370-bed PPP will cost about $36 million, so that $35 million we're redirecting would presumably add a comparable amount of beds. Every little bit counts, but isn't there efficiency in economies of scale? University administrators fought extremely hard to get that $36 million; just imagine the fight it will take to get System/BOR to replenish all $80 million, if that's the road they have to take.

It's really too bad when the AVPSA feels something that makes her say "I'll take what [housing] I can get." The RHA Senate voted last week to get involved with a campus-wide and inter-organization pro-housing campaign that would include writing emails to the BOR. I'm optimistic that they'll hear us, but I'll measure how seriously they're taking us by the results I see.

Bureaucracy works slow, and so also does construction. Even if we get something approved this year, who knows when it will get built? The Washington Quad was supposed to be done in time for residents to enjoy it throughout Spring 2008. We're now looking at an early-mid summer completion date. We need housing to become a system-wide priority. So far, only students and university-level administrators are feeling the urgency.

I encourage all of you to take part in the forthcoming advocacy efforts. Details to come.

Posted by: Sumner Handy, President

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The RHA Exemption: Ideology vs. Practical Solution

This letter to the editor in today's Diamondback is an excellent response to the exemption policy adopted by the Department of Resident Life and the RHA. Julia Burke makes two important points about this policy. One, that RHA members that receive an exemption are not facing the same major problem (that is, the housing crisis) that the students whom they represent are facing, and are, by virtue of this fact, significantly disconnected from their constituencies. And two, that juniors and seniors serving in the RHA do not actually represent resident students because the vast majority of resident students are freshmen and sophomores. Burke states that she's "disenchanted" with the RHA's apparent disavowing of "the democratic principles that elected them in the first place."

The concern with the democratic principles and the accuracy of representation are the absolute best ideological arguments that could be made, in my estimation. (Indeed, they're exactly the ones I would make, if I were to argue against the policy.) But the problem is ideology versus practice. The thing about theory is that in theory, it always works in practice. But this whole situation is (as most real-world ones are) imperfect and not ideal. So, we are forced to make concessions.

The best leaders are ones that have experience (among other qualities). The main thrust behind this policy is to have better leadership and to more effectively advocate on behalf of students. Older students, the ones not catered to under the current housing commitment groups policy, are both left off campus and the most qualified for student leadership positions. The exemption is actually created to improve (or maintain the quality of) advocacy for students, not worsen.

And hey, aren't we just one resident student population? On-campus resident seniors that represent freshmen and sophomores are no less able to adequately represent the latter group simply because they're not the same year. Resident student leaders that live on campus represent students that live on campus, not others of their class standing.

Further, Burke asserts that RHA members, students that have this great voice in the making of policy, according to many decision makers, are making decisions without adequately considering the viewpoints of students, and indeed are making the wrong decisions because they don't have to worry about these things personally. In theory, this is possible. But in practice, it's not happening. Most of the students with whom I work in the RHA Senate and around the policy sphere do their jobs well: they talk to students and consider the issues from all angles. The vast majority do not consider only themselves when making arguments and considering solutions. (There are always a few bad apples, in every organization.) Moreover, the students who voted on the housing policy questions last semester included RHA Senators and RHA Executive Board members. Only 8 students (the EB) of a 48-voting member body would be eligible for an exemption - hardly a figure large enough to force founded worries of corruption.

The issue we're talking about here is one of theory/ideology versus practice. Some things that sound really good on paper just don't work in practice. For instance, "small government and low taxes" - personally, I love these ideas, as something of a libertarian, but you can't make government based solely on these principles. Sometimes, the government needs to step in to make a change. Most of the time, this requires resources. And sometimes, that means more taxes. The question we should be dealing with is not, "Does this decision [whatever we're talking about, from Medicare* to a housing exemption] fall in line with our ideological guidelines?", but instead "Does this decision fall in line with our practical goals [of providing adequate health care to Americans* or providing the highest quality student leadership to resident students]?"

With that, I would that we see this policy in that light. While the decision that was made, to an arguably greater or lesser degree, defies purely democratic principles, it will yield results that are quite in line with the practical goals we have: high quality, experienced student leadership.

*I am making absolutely no comment about Medicare. I am not qualified to do so.

Posted By: Sumner Handy, President