Monday, November 12, 2007

Crisis in Annapolis

As I hope you all are painfully aware, we have a fight on our hands in Annapolis that risks tuition increases of 12% next year and serious cuts to current services. As the state attempts to put its fiscal house in order, we must make sure that they protect the future economy and do not continue to sacrifice students to make ends meet.
I have been in Annapolis consistently attempting to ensure the student voice is being heard. However, I cannot be effective unless we all work together to hold our elected representatives accountable to our needs.
On Wednesday and Thursday, we effectively mobilized with students across the State to get the Senate to put back the $55 million in dedicated funding to higher education they had taken out in Budget and Tax Committee. However, we took another blow when the House elected to get rid of dedicated funding (and $55 million) as well as a $3 million cut for next year's budget. So we need to regroup and get to work so we are restored when the two
I urge you to visit the SGA website for information on how to contact lawmakers both by phone and by email. I also hope you and all your friends will join our Facebook Group "Terps for Affordable Higher Education."
We have a strong voice if we unify and decide to use it. Please join me and the SGA in making our representatives work on our behalf. Let's get to work.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What it means to be a Terp

There was a lot of stuff that happened this week that I could talk about, not the least of which was a great Homecoming, well maybe all of it besides the actual football game. But I wanted to talk about a great event I was at that really made me proud to be a Terp.

The Friday before every Homecoming, the Alumni Association hosts a an event called the Golden Terp Brunch. "Golden Terps" are alumni who graduated 50 years ago and each year on their 50th anniversary they are invited back to be recognized and receive a medal of commemoration from the University President. They are joined by loved ones, University staff and administrators, and by those who are already Emereti (50+ years since graduation). I was humbled to speak before this group, joking about how foreign 50 years is to my 21 year-old mind. Bert Sugar, arguably the greatest boxing writer in the sport's history was chosen as the class speaker. It really was a great event!

But what impressed me more about this event wasn't the years since they had graduated or the degree by which the campus has changed; I was astonished to hear the pride they had, the fond memories they shared, and the pranks they still remember getting away with. As I said in my speech to them, we often focus on recruitment success in determining the success of an organization. However, it is the retention that is the true determinant of well we are doing. You can fool someone into accepting, joining, or coming through. That only takes a good sales person. There is no fooling someone once they are here.

If that brunch is any indication, there is something we've got here that really works. It's more than rankings and statistics and the strength of our incoming freshman classes. It's about relationships and connections and knowledge that extends beyond books. I am proud of that fact and I am looking forward to building upon it.

So if not before then, I'll see you at brunch in 50 years!


Monday, October 15, 2007

Shouting Pride at UMD

It's a bit scary to realize, but we are actually half way through the semester at this point. Hopefully you are surviving mid-terms and papers and maybe even your parents visiting this past weekend.

I went to a ton of events and all seemed to be vibrant, but I wanted to point out one event that was particularly powerful. On Friday night, I went to TerPoets/Pride Alliance's event featuring Andrea Gibson. I am always impressed by spoken-word poets. I envy their ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings in words the way that they do. But this particular poet's ability to convey powerful political and personal messages was particularly moving. But Gibson proved on Friday to be more than just a poet; she was an ultimate performer. She carried the crowd through ups and downs, joking about the seeming negativity of her various poems. She was funny, charming, and powerful. If you haven't had the opportunity to watch a poet perform, I strongly encourage you to do so. I have been so impressed with TerPoets ability to bring talented acts to campus and in the talent that we have right here in our student body. TerPoets holds open mics every Tuesday at 6 pm in Dorchester Hall basement and this week's performer is supposed to be a great talent.

Beyond the performance, Andrea Gibson's performance came on the heels of the Pride Alliance's successful rally the day before. Unfortunately, I was out of town that afternoon and unable to make it, but I am proud to have signed the SGA's resolution and have offered my full support in fighting for full benefits for University faculty and staff. I hope that their activism will lead to this University adopting an equitable policy and for other state institutions to follow.

These student groups are two examples of some of the amazing work students are doing through our 550 student organizations on campus. If you aren't already, join some of them. If there isn't the one that you want, create it. If you have any questions about involvement in student organizations, contact Ruth Igielnik at Have a great Homecoming Week!


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Strengthening our voice

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who came out to the SGA Crab Fest on Thursday. The event was a huge success, bringing almost 1,300 students together to share in a Maryland treasure in a historical venue. The outpouring of positive feedback was encouraging and I am confident that this event is now secure as an annual campus tradition.

I also wanted to thank all those students who registered to vote and helped us reach our target goal for new registrations. If those already registered can join the 1,064 new voters we registered, we can make a lasting impact on the City Council and on politics for years to come.

Speaking of shaping politics, we face a serious challenge to keep tuition down with the state's projected $1.7 billion structural budget deficit. I have been fighting for funding to various members of the state Legislature and two weeks ago I attended a town hall meeting where the Governor described his proposal to overcome the budget shortfall. Governor O'Malley's proposal, among other things, increases the state corporate tax by 1% and half of the projected revenue will go to higher education funding. It is important to realize that this is only around $50 million which makes up only a small fraction of the total state funding necessary for higher education. Yet, this down payment makes an important (and seemingly obvious) link between the corporate world and the higher education institutions that provide those businesses with trained and qualified talent. I intend to work to ensure that this proposal comes to fruition and I hope to have your help as I do. We have become and will continue to be a regular presence in Annapolis because we cannot afford to let our needs be ignored.

As always, don't hesitate to contact me with any questions, comments or concerns. I cannot advocate on your behalf if I don't know what you want me to fight for! Have a great week...


Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Good Start to a Positive Week

With all the detrimental incidents that have occurred so far this year, I think it is important to highlight some of the great things that are happening on campus. Thank you to all of those who participated in the First Look Fair. We had the largest turnout ever in terms of participating organizations and total attendance. A special thanks to Ramsey Jabaji and Ruth Igielnik for their hard work. We have good news on student housing as well. Not only have I been in contact with several interested developers to discuss potential student housing projects in College Park, but the University's South Campus Public-Private partnership generated a significant amount of interest which is a very good sign. Also, the East Campus Student Focus Group and Community Steering Committee both met this week to discuss the markets for retail, hotel, housing, etc. It was really interesting and I encourage you to check out the project on Lastly, OMSE's Unity Welcome on Friday was a great success with 125 participating organizations. I doubt there could ever be a more fitting time to welcome unity in our community; and I am proud to have been able to participate.

I know everyone is concerned with the recent crimes that have gone on in College Park. I share your sentiments wholeheartedly. I would like to offer some good news, though. Today I learned of a student who noticed a suspicious person and promptly called the police. Her diligence has led to the police having a good chance of catching a criminal. Please call the police ANYTIME you are suspicious of someone or something. It never hurts to dial 3 numbers and it makes all the difference in the world. I am staying in communication with the PGCPD and campus police as we get through this difficult time.

I hope that this week can be one where the positive outweighs the negative. I would like to start off the positive week by announcing that the SGA's 2nd Annual Crab Fest will be held on October 4th. Thanks to the generosity of the Division of Student Affairs, the Alumni Association, and the Division of Administative Affairs, tickets are available for just $8. This is $4.50 cheaper than last year and the tickets sold out early so get them fast!

I hope to see you on Friday from 1-2 pm in the Baltimore Room if not before then. Let's make the news this week for all the great things we're doing!


Sunday, September 9, 2007

My Disappointment

I had planned on writing this blog about the landmark legislation that Congress voted in on Friday afternoon that will add about $20 billion to student loan and grant programs over the next five years. There are so many positive things I have to say about it, but I won’t have the opportunity to do so today. It is terribly disappointing that instead of taking this time to celebrate a historic win for students, I must rather address the incident that occurred at Nyumburu on Friday.

There is no doubt in my mind that the rope placed on a tree outside Nyumburu was intended to reference lynching, something that is both disturbing and disgusting and a threat to everyone’s ability to peacefully go about their life. It is my sincere hope that this was perpetrated by someone outside of our community. I am as shocked as anyone to have such an overt act of prejudice occur on our campus. Though, it matters less who did it and more why they did it and what we can all do to prevent it from happening in the future.

I actually spent last Wednesday evening at Howard University at a rally to “Free the Jena 6.” For those of you who aren’t aware of the incident, I encourage you to read about it at: I was impressed by the turnout. In fact, they filled up their main auditorium and there was a supplementary rally that took place outside. Words of motivation and encouragement, spoken-word poems, and community prayer accompanied a night of activism, passion, and at times- outrage. I hope we can follow the example at Howard and galvanize as a community to fight against racism.

Whether it is out in the open or existing behind the scenes, we cannot and will not tolerate prejudice in our community. I hope to work with student leaders across campus to address this issue specifically and the indications it may have regarding our campus. Please do not hesitate to contact me about your feelings regarding this or any related incident.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Summer Re-cap: Starting the Year Off

Welcome back to school. I hope you enjoyed your summer. I enjoyed myself but kept busy working on ways to improve the campus. Here are just a few of the highlights from the summer:

Cost of Higher Education
I spent much of my summer working on this issue. I met with over a dozen state senators and delegates to discuss the importance of funding higher education. I went to all but one of the (then) Hogan Commission meetings to show that student presence on this issue lasts year round.
On Capitol Hill, I lobbied several Congressional offices, including the Office of the Majority Leader, both Senators from Maryland, and others to fight for legislation to alleviate student loan debt burden. Joined by fellow members of the SGA as well as countless student leaders from across the country, we successfully defeated the highly detrimental, Sallie-Mae backed Nelson-Burr Amendment in the Senate and passed some of the most substantial pieces of federal higher education legislation since the GI Bill in 1944. I had the privilege of being asked by Senator Kennedy- who sponsored the Senate version- to join him and speak at his press conference along with Senators Bingaman, Brown, Sanders, and Murray. The SGA has signed on to two important letters sent to all Members of Congress pushing that the legislation quickly come out of conference committee so that students and families can benefit from the $17.3-$19 billion the legislation will yield in grant and loan programs. Check out the first letter and an article from the Center for American Progress' Campus Progress on our site.

I have worked hard to continue the momentum and pressure we started last year at our housing protest on McKeldin Mall. It is still proving how important it was. Over the summer, the Board of Regents and the University finally agreed on a public-private partnership on South Campus that will add at least 400 beds. I have lobbied the Mayor and City Council, as well as some County Council members Eric Olson and Tom Dernoga to prioritize housing. I have met with University administrators and developers to work on seriously increasing beds on- and off-campus. I am also working to develop a long-term strategy to increase student beds in the area by 5,000 before my term ends in May.

Voter Registration
We spent a lot of time working on voter registration during the summer. Matt Stern who led the summer registration efforts led an organizational push to register upperclassman living off-campus. After several meetings leading back to last school year, we finally came up with a plan to get registrations on every resident student's bed when they came to campus with a self-addressed envelope. I am proud to announce that after a week of events where we registered students including Terp Market and the Hillel Opening Barbecue, we pulled in over 200 registrations last week. We need to continue this push and I hope you will join me in this important effort.

*In a meeting with VP of Administrative Affairs, Doug Duncan, I pushed for a student focus group to mirror the Community Steering Committee. The group will have its second meeting tonight and as the sole undergraduate on the Community Steering Committee, I am thrilled we are able to widen the scope of student input on this historic project.
*I also successfully fought over the summer for language to be added to the College Park Local Advisory Council's by-laws to make all efforts to include a student. This newly formed committee was in need of a student voice and I am glad we have it.
*I wrote a letter to the County Council and County Executive Jack Johnson opposing a cell-phone tax that would increase the tax from 8% to 11% and I believe it unfairly targeted college students who use cell phones as their primary phone.
*I made presentations to most of the Orientation groups to try to get to know all new students.
*I met with representatives of the Urban Debate Leagues from Miami-Dade, Baltimore, and DC and have put them in touch with students on campus to work to get students involve and perhaps eventually expand this monumental program to campus.
*We held our Kickoff event on Chapel Field and I was delighted by the turnout. Hundreds of students came out to a great event. I spent over 2 hours in the dunk tank due to how popular it was, which I hope was not an indication of my popularity on campus.
*I had my first Friday in the Baltimore Room from 1-2 pm. I encourage you to come out and let me know what is going on with you and what you want me to work on.

I am working very hard to advocate for you, but I cannot do it without your help. I try to be at as many different events as possible so please do not hesitate to come up to me, introduce yourself and say hello. And if I am not at your event, drop me a line and invite me. I'd love to come! Thank you for allowing me to have the great honor of serving you. It has been a pleasure and I hope to continue to work together to make this campus better.

My very best,