Q&A with ASUN Chief Justice Robert del Carlo on his impeachment decision, more

The following is a list of emailed questions and answers between myself and ASUN Chief Justice, Robert del Carlo, regarding the impeachment process for embattled ASUN President Jake Pereira. I’ve edited for spacing and spelling, but left his answers almost … Continue reading

ASUN AG: Impeachment trial for student body prez must go on

ASUN President Jake Pereira

ASUN President Jake Pereira

According to an opinion filed today by Associated Students of the University of Nevada Attorney General Steven Kish, the scheduled impeachment hearing for President Jake Pereira on May 7 is legitimate and should not be delayed.

The opinion, written in response to Speaker Cadden Fabbi’s request for clarification on the legality of the judicial council’s actions, found that the council acted legally and that a delay in the impeachment proceedings would result in charges brought forth against Fabbi.

In the Judicial Council’s 3-2 decision, the body found that Pereira acted with “malfeasance” in intimidating Kish to delete an erroneously sent email regarding Pereira’s membership in UNR secret society Coffin & Keys. Pereira also lied to students during a presidential debate, saying that he was not affiliated with the group.

(For more information on the judicial council’s opinion, please see my previous post.)

Both Pereira and ASUN Vice President Alex Bybee released statements yesterday admitting their membership in Coffin & Keys.

“I was wrong in being untruthful during the debate and am making every possible effort to be as forthcoming and transparent in this current process moving forward,” Pereira said the statement.

During an interview on Tuesday, Bybee said he will retain support for Pereira due to his leadership, and that being a part of Coffin & Keys is only a part of their identity as leaders.

“Do I think Jake should have lied? No,” Bybee said. “But Jake has been honest since then.”

Bybee said he began the initiation process into Coffin & Keys during the semester, but was not fully aware of Pereira’s membership in the organization until after the election due to the group’s secretive nature.

Pereira and Bybee both stated that they will retain membership in Coffin & Keys. Both leaders denied commenting on the identity of other members in Coffin & Keys, as well as other details about the organization.

A large coffin-shaped sign erected at UNR alleging to name the members of Coffin & Keys was not from the group and not entirely accurate, Bybee said.

“The list that was published on the coffin today was speculative,” he said.

Since the Reno Gazette-Journal published a story on the impeachment process yesterday, more than 530 people have liked a Facebook page titled, “We Stand with Jake Pereira.” A Facebook post on the official Coffin & Keys page promised that the group’s members would continue working towards the betterment of the University of Nevada.

It is neither the comments we post, nor the articles we publish that make us who we are,” the post said. “Rather it is the actions of each of our members, known or not.”

For a collection of documents related to this story, please visit this link.

UNR Student Body prez lied to students, brought up for impeachment

(Note: The Reno Gazette-Journal has published a story on Pereira’s impeachment. It can be found here.)

Newly elected ASUN President Jake Pereira has been brought up for impeachment by the student judicial council stemming from his involvement in UNR secret society Coffin & Keys.

The student judicial board, in a 3-2 decision released on April 27, found that Pereira alongside fellow Coffin & Keys member Steve Bezick intimidated ASUN Attorney General Steven Kish (all of whom are members of Sigma Phi Epsilon) into deleting an accidently sent email regarding Coffin & Keys activity.

The council also found that Pereira lied to students about his membership in Coffin & Keys during an ASUN Presidential debate. (Remarks start at 18:00)

During the debate, Pereira stated, “Going back to those allegations of being in secret societies such as Coffin & Keys…I’d like to deny my membership in said organization as well as the fact that these organizations will dictate any part of the visions and goals of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada.”

Pereira said his answer was more focused on ensuring that his presidency would not be influenced by Coffin & Keys, and that he’s tried to act with transparency since being elected. He said that since taking the oath of office, he’s fully dedicated to fulfilling his role as ASUN President.

“I was a candidate then, I’m the president now,” he said.

Pereira said that he plans on releasing a statement shortly, and being addressing the situation during Wednesday’s Senate meeting. However, Pereira said he will retain membership in Coffin & Keys.

Pereira said he agreed with the two dissenting justices, who found Pereira’s actions in asking Kish to delete the email not serious enough to warrant impeachment. The dissenters, who filed different opinions, found that Kish’s initial charge sheet asked for the council to not levy judgement against either Coffin & Keys or Pereira’s involvement.

According to the decision, Pereira planned to appoint former Senator and current Coffin & Keys member Steve Bezick to the position of Chief of Staff. Bezick is still on the Senate agenda for confirmation to that position.

Additionally, a large coffin-shaped sign was erected on campus Tuesday, listing the names of alleged Coffin & Keys members. The alleged members include former ASUN President Ziad Rashdan, Pereira, current ASUN Vice President Alex Bybee and Speaker of the Senate Caden Fabbi. Among the alleged members is current ASUN justice Jake Pinocchio, who dissented in the council’s decision.

(Note: I previously had a picture of the sign itself up. After talking to several Coffin & Keys members, I’ve decided to take it down, as several of the names listed are not members of Coffin & Keys. I will be reaching out to everyone on the list to ask whether or not they’re members in the next few days.)

Pereira said the sign was not entirely accurate, and he was not in the position to confirm or deny any names listed. He said that he didn’t know who put the sign up.

ASUN’s judicial council criticized Pereira for falsely campaigning, noting that it was setting a precedent in not allowing “this type of behavior” to jeopardize the integrity of ASUN. In the decisions, the justices clarified that it was not Pereira’s membership in Coffin & Keys that lead to their decision, but the fact that he lied to students about his association, as well as intimidating Kish into deleting the email.

Coffin & Keys is a male-only secret society that occasionally publishes obscene, humorous newsletters often commenting on campus politics and life (An excellent history can be found here). Pereira said that he has never written anything in the Coffin & Keys newsletters.

The council ordered the ASUN Senate to stay Pereira’s executive board appointments, as Bezick is one of the nominees, and instructed the senate to hold an impeachment hearing on May 7. The judicial council also provided instructions for ASUN to purchase advertising space in the Nevada Sagebrush relating the council’s decision.

As of April 29, the Sagebrush has not posted any story on Pereira’s impeachment. A Sagebrush writer confirmed that a story on the impeachment will be published in next Tuesday’s issue.

A copy of the decision has been posted below.

ASUN Judicial Opinion Assenting Impeachment

Future of College Media: How to make editorials matter

This post is the eighth in a series of 10 about the future of collegiate journalism, focusing on specific projects undertaken by members of college journalists around the country. This post details the role and value of editorials by collegiate newspapers.

Last month, the Sioux City Journal did something a little out of the ordinary for their front page; they published a full-page anti-bullying editorial after the suicide of a 14-year-old high school boy who was teased for coming out as a homosexual. The resulting paper is immediately attention-grabbing and also a great introduction into the role of newspapers and editorials. In a piece published by Charles Apple, the paper’s editor Mitch Pugh is quoted as saying, “We believe that as a community news organization one of our critical responsibilities is to serve as a strong advocate for the well-being of our community. This page underscores that belief.” The Journal is not the only paper to take this route; in years past, papers as diverse as The Detroit Free Press, The Arizona Republic and the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

While newspapers do have a critical role in any modern community, the continual debate over how much influence should be extended to a journalistic body shows no signs of stopping (especially with public trust in journalists falling every year). Although there is a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing, media outlets such as Gawker say, “…institutional editorial writing is a worthless anachronism in this modern media age.” It’s needless to say the effectiveness and purpose of editorials has, at least in the eyes of new media outlets such as Gawker, diminished greatly in the past few years.

So where does that leave collegiate newspapers? Most collegiate newspapers publish a staff editorial every week, covering and commenting about on-campus news and events, such as student government elections and other contentious issues. The editorial board has long been a mainstay of college newspapers, especially the Nevada Sagebrush, which famously made the decision in the 1960’s to publish a blank issue after an Editor-in-Chief was removed by the student government. This year’s staff continued with that tradition of pushing editorial content to the forefront by embarking in a six-part series called “ASUN Future,” designed to point out problems with the University’s student government and offer solutions on how to fix them.

It’s a noble goal, and has merit as ASUN isn’t anyone’s idea of an efficient organization. I won’t comment on the ideas suggested in the columns, but I do wonder about the effectiveness of the series. A series which begins it’s first column with, “The Nevada Sagebrush believes there is a big problem lurking on the third floor of the Joe Crowley Student Union,” is immediately taking a hostile position toward the current ASUN government, which leads to an instant tension between the people capable of making the change and the newspaper calling for change.

This isn’t the first time the Sagebrush has attempted to engage in public journalism; in 2008, Sagebrush editors Michael Higdon, Brian Duggan and Jessica Fryman published a ‘public-interest’ issue in response to the then-recent kidnapping of Brianna Denison. The issue contained a lengthy main article, guides to proactive protection and an editorial calling for a more active campus community. Much like the ASUN Future series, these Sagebrush members identified a problem on campus, but rather than publish numerous front-page columns, they actually did investigative and journalistic work. As then-Design Editor Michael Higdon said in a message to Charles Apple, “…We executed our main goal: to give students the tools of the press by providing them with information and access to officials they can deliberately use in order to make a difference by asking questions and offering solutions.”

That’s a lot different than just coming out and identifying a problem. Higdon understood that while members of the paper may have decent ideas about campus safety, change must come from public fervor and pressure, not columns in the paper. It’s a completely different mindset, in a way utilizing many different aspects of the paper to identify areas needing change, and attempting to engage students. Despite good intent, the ASUN Future series seemingly quickly delved into Ben Miller’s ideas of how to fix ASUN, rather than a combined effort with a strong emphasis on student engagement. Rather than only publish opinion articles, why not actually go through and write a handful of stories and guides to understanding ASUN? That way, students who aren’t as well versed in the operation of ASUN have an opportunity to understand the situation more clearly and to identify problem areas themselves.

For editorials to work in a modern media environment, they have to either come as part of a public-journalism package (as described by Higdon) or attract as much attention as the Sioux City Journal. While collegiate newspapers are often bastions of charged and controversial opinions, just writing about a subject usually won’t be enough to change anything prominent. If done in a more efficient manner, however, editorials can be extremely effective ways to hold public and private figures accountable.

Breaking: ASUN Senator resigns over racist tweet

Image courtesy of nevadaasun.com

Reynolds School of Journalism senator Spenser Blank resigned today due to a racist tweet he sent out last weekend, prompting ASUN officials to immediately apologize and host a public forum next week to hear from students.

Blank’s resignation comes directly on the heels of its appearance in the semesterly Coffin and Keys newsletter, which published a screenshot of the tweet (See the tweet here). At the time of writing, Blank appears to have deleted his Twitter feed, and has not announced anything on his senate Facebook page (Editor’s Note: It appears that Blank deleted his facebook page as well)

In a statement released today, ASUN President Huili Weinstock announced a public forum will be held Monday at 2 p.m. for students to hear concerns from students, and that ASUN’s mandatory sexual harassment training will be bumped to the government’s general retreat over summer.

“I would like to apologize directly to anyone who may have been offended  by the content of the tweet,” Weinstock said. “Students have come forward and expressed their concerns. I would like to say ASUN does not support this kind of speech.”

Blank was elected to his position by about a 4 to 1 ratio during the ASUN elections in March, and the process to appoint a replacement senator should begin in the upcoming fall semester. In a statement released today, Blank apologized for his actions and pledged to atone for his mistake in his future actions

“Words cannot express enough how sincerely sorry I am for the actions I’ve taken that hurt my constituents in the Reynolds School of Journalism and every other student who was offended by what I said,” he said in the statement. “I am taking full responsibility for my actions and I plan to personally apologize to the groups of people who have approached me.”

This isn’t the first social media controversy ASUN has faced: several years ago, Inkblot employee Nicole Dion was fired after tweeting about a University police incident.

How the Sagebrush graphic of the ASUN budget ended up more confusing than the actual budget

Although I’ve never claimed to be a graphic design expert, I do believe that I have the ability to tell a good infographic from a bad one. And man, last week’s Nevada Sagebrush graphic on the proposed ASUN budget was not good at all. Here’s what it looked like (page link is here).

Image courtesy of The Nevada Sagebrush

Where to begin?

  • What am I looking at?: This graphic looks like it’s been pulled out of a high school chemistry book. In addition to no visual elements beyond basic geometric shapes, the graph just looks boring. Same-ish text types, no eye-catching colors or images and way too much white space. This is not visually appealing at all.
  • What does it mean?: It took me a few minutes to figure out what exactly was going on. Apparently, the vertical axis represents the change in dollar amount from the last year, while the horizontal axis shows the percent change from the past year. The bubbles are the largest changes in the budget (but the Budget and Finance and Student Activities Center don’t have one??) with the size of the bubble representing the portion of the total budget. So that’s three different pieces of information all crammed into one smallish space. It’s confusing as hell, and isn’t very self-explanatory; hallmarks of any good infographic. (Also, bubble charts suck. Read this)
  • Explanation: Ok, so after studying this graphic for about 10 minutes, I think I understand the information conveyed within. But what the hell does it mean? Why was more money given to Campus Escort? Why did the Budget and Finance section lose so much money? What is the ASUN Student Activities Center? What’s the actual dollar amount in the budget for 2013? What does all of the other money go towards? Graphics such as these can work as long as they’re accompanied by an explanatory text element, but what you see is all you get. I could easily get more information faster and easier from the actual pdf submission of the budget than from this graph.

This isn’t the first time the Sagebrush has goofed on a graphic, and while this graph doesn’t appear to misinform, its structure and layout is confusing as hell. Graphic design is an incredibly important part of newspaper production, as interesting and informative infographics and design can help a story come alive and look better than just words on a paper. But it needs to be done well for that to happen, and unfortunately the Sagebrush missed an opportunity to tell a pretty decent ASUN budget story here. Instead, we get this graphic, and are forced to either look through the official documents themselves or just ignore the issue entirely. It’s a failure to report and a failure to tell a story that needs to be told accurately and clearly.

Senator’s comments reveal widely-held (and false) view on Sagebrush funding

In recent weeks, ASUN officials have been in a bit of a spit with the staff of the Nevada Sagebrush. Their anger isn’t unfounded: the paper has published several articles critical of the student government, ranging from an ongoing series criticizing the organization to a staff editorial proclaiming both candidates for ASUN President unfit for office. While in the past, Senators and other ASUN officials would complain privately about the Sagebrush, this new world of social media and online-oriented lifestyles means that comments made by certain senators are made available to anyone with a computer and the ability to take screenshots.

On that note, College of Liberal Arts Senator Taylor Snell has been on a warpath lately, commenting on the Sagebrush website and posting vague threats via Facebook of stripping funding from the Sagebrush. Three senators (MacCallister Higgins, Drew Sheehy and Jasper Allen Jacobs) liked the status, though it’s nigh impossible to decipher the intentioned meaning of a Facebook ‘like.’ If you don’t want to read the entirety of Snell’s writings, I’ve taken a few quotes from both posting, which still happen to be online:

Lovely, just fucking lovely. Here’s an idea you sad excuse for a writer; TALK TO THE SENATORS. CALL ME. There’s more that’s been done and gone under your blissful noses, and just because you idiots didn’t report on it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. (Nevada Sagebrush)

 As lovely as of a paper as it is, we should consider if it is ethically acceptable, on behalf of our constituents, to allocate the Sagebrush money and have them report on our behavior and workings in office. (Facebook)

Here’s something that Senator Snell should of considered before publicly denouncing the Sagebrush: ASUN doesn’t pay for the Sagebrush. I’ll repeat it, for clarification’s sake. ASUN gives no money directly to the Nevada Sagebrush. The staff themselves made the same point after criticism arose over the sexual awareness issue. No student fees go toward the production of the newspaper, whether that’s staff salaries or printing costs- all is covered by advertising revenue. (For additional clarification, Director of ASUN Sandra Rodriguez also posted on Facebook regarding the same topic.)

That being said, there are a few things ASUN helps support, which in turn also assist the Sagebrush. According to this session’s budget, tens of thousands of dollars go toward running and staffing the Publications and Advertising department, which does the legwork of finding advertisers and getting them to advertise in the Sagebrush. But the department also provides the same service for all other on-campus publications, (Insight, Wolf Pack Radio & Brushfire) and the paper provides a portion of the salary for the graduate assistant in charge of the program. ASUN also provides the office space in the Joe Crowley Student Union, pays for any computer updates needed, and pays for maintenance. So it’s safe to say that while the Sagebrush is mostly independent of the student government, it is still in some ways tied to ASUN.

For senators such as Snell, who would seek to cut whatever funding ASUN does provide that benefits the Sagebrush, I would strongly caution against. The Nevada Sagebrush has existed since 1893, and is the oldest student-run and student-operated organization in the state of Nevada. It’s won several Associated Collegiate Press awards for both it’s print product and website. Yes, the paper has made mistakes. I’ve written many times of the Sagebrush’s failings, from news judgment to lying in a graph to making unsupported statements on it’s front page. But I’ve never once called for the paper to lose funding or declare bankruptcy.

There’s a fine line between critiquing the Sagebrush and actively trying to censor it, and I fear Senator Snell has made it apparent that he supports the later. For anyone who has a problem with the Sagebrush, don’t passively make snarky comments on a Facebook group or insult a writer on a website: email the writer in question, or set up a meeting with the editor-in-chief. Or go visit their office- it’s in the ASUN section of the Joe Crowley Student Union, on the third floor.

I’m not saying that the Sagebrush should be free from criticism. If anything, it needs to take a look at itself as much as it claims ASUN needs to self-examine. But a disagreement over coverage shouldn’t prevent the operation of what has been the student voice of the University of Nevada, Reno for the past 119 years.

Did the ASUN Elections Commission possibly nullify the elections?

The Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno elections opened today, and just like last year, the main thrust of the Elections Commission has been to get students to vote online through Webcampus. I’ll have interviews with 3 of the 4 executive candidates up sometime today, but before I do that, I’d like to point out something potentially devastating for the student government.

Students who go to vote on Webcampus today and tomorrow will see 3 options for ASUN President: Huili Weinstock, Richard Corn and None of the Above. It’s the same for Vice-President as well. While it seems like a non-issue, this same situation happened during the 2008 elections, which quickly turned ugly.

Quick history lesson: In 2008, incumbent President Eli Reilly ran against former Sen. Carmen Gilbert in a heated race. A Nevada Sagebrush endorsement article received more than 100 comments in about three days, and the election process was rife with mistakes and legal violations. Reilly defeated Gilbert by 11 votes, but the Elections Commission put a ‘none of the above’ option on the ballot, which 23 voters chose, which Gilbert argued placed neither candidate at a majority and nullified the election.

The ASUN Election Code states in Chapter 502, Section 15, letter E that:

NONE OF THE ABOVE: An option of “None of the Above” shall be placed at the bottom of the
ballot for each Senate college. In the event of this option receiving more votes than a candidate,
the candidate with the next highest amount of votes shall be elected.

Notice that the SAS doesn’t say anything about non-Senate ballots. Barring several hundred students voting for “None of the Above” in the executive races (which the Sagebrush apparently wants, according to their endorsement), their votes won’t mean anything. And if a situation like the one 2008 happens again with a close race, ASUN will go through the same circus that it did four years ago and once again possibly nullify the election.

Even though I doubt this election will be as close as the 2008 process, the fact remains that both situations are set up similarly, leading to a possibility of potential election violations. Any student who votes for “None of the Above” immediately is in a tricky legal spot.

Although it’s appalling that the ASUN Senate hasn’t really clarified this issue in the SAS, the blame lies on the shoulders of the extremely high turnover rate in all ASUN offices. Any organization with such short institutional knowledge is bound to repeat the mistakes of the past, barring proactive efforts by members. Evidently, they haven’t.

UPDATE:

The Sagebrush is reporting the same thing, as well as issues with an incorrect number of senators to vote for. The article says:

The mistake could mean a run-off election for the colleges if the error alters the results, according to a statement from ASUN. More than 35 students from each college voted during the three-hour window. The margin of victory over the only losing College of Liberal Arts senator last year was 28 votes.

Why accuracy in graphs is paramount

Last night, the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno student senate passed a bill that would about double their yearly pay, much to the chagrin of commenters on the Nevada Sagebrush website and Facebook page. ASUN officials have defended the bill as a necessary way to decrease senate inactivity and apathy, with students countering with failures to stop tuition hikes and other senate failures isn’t a reason to give themselves a raise.

I’ll leave my personal opinion out of this for the time being, because there’s another issue that I want to address with the Sagebrush’s coverage of the event. In last Tuesday’s issue, a graph appeared along with a story on the proposed hike, which I’ve posted below:

There’s one rather large issue with this graph: it doesn’t equally increment the scale on the left, which leads the proposed increase to look smaller than it actually is. After a comment deriding the poor judgment was made by cartoonist and illustrator Paul Horn, the Sagebrush changed the graph to be more accurate, which was put together by Horn:

It’s immediately obvious how much of a change that this pay increase makes when presented this way. Professional designer Charles Apple goes over this problem of misrepresenting information in graphs within his own blog on a seemingly weekly basis, and it is definitely a problem. Journalists have a responsibility to accurately present information not only in stories, but also in a visual manner. There was no reason for the other graph’s y-axis to be structured in the way that is was, as it cuts out about a $1000 worth of graph points; nearly the exact change proposed by the Senate. In the future, I’d like to see the Sagebrush put more of an emphasis on making sure that their graphs and information are accurate, rather than stories about erectile dysfunction or a Humans vs. Zombies game.

Future Plans

With the school year beginning to kick into high gear, I figure that there’s a little bit more that I can do on this blog than occasionally critique the RGJ or the Sagebrush, which is why I’ve decided to implement some new regular features which should have an impact on everyday student life here at UNR. They are:

  • Start an ASUN Elections Blog: In the past, I’ve covered the ASUN elections for the Nevada Sagebrush, but the set-up and execution of the coverage was minimal, to say the least. That’s why I want to delve deeper into these candidates, and hopefully get a better idea of who they are, what they stand for, and if they know what they’re talking about. I won’t hide my biases here, and I promise to be transparent if I have a pre-existing relationship with anyone I cover. Primary elections are on March 7 & 8, so look for interviews, analysis and more in the coming weeks.
  • Follow Friday- Blog edition: There’s a lot of talented bloggers and students at this university, so I want to start a weekly recurring feature about a student and their blog, in the vein of Twitter’s #FF (Follow Friday) hashtag. If you want your blog featured, feel free to email me.

I’ll begin working on these things next week, as I’m going to Portland for a leadership conference this weekend. If I don’t get mauled by hipsters, I’ll probably post a few pictures and blog a bit.