Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It’s About Time by Katie Dunne

A homeless man sits on the sidewalk of a bustling city street, holding a Styrofoam cup. His hair is gray and matted and his clothes are torn and ragged. He shakes the cup halfheartedly, and the few coins inside clink together. The man looks up, scanning the crowd. One after another they pass him: students, doctors, lawyers, businessmen. All too busy to take notice of their fellow citizen. “Not my problem,” they think as they walk by.

Sound familiar? This phrase, “not my problem,” seems to describe the attitude of many Americans toward the less fortunate. It’s so easy to overlook poverty, especially for those whose lives are never touched by it. As a society, we are reluctant to commit time or funds to the disadvantaged simply because it’s not our problem.

So whose problem is it? The single mother who works two full-time jobs to pay the rent and feed her children? The man who was laid off after dedicating thirty years of his life to a company that supposedly valued his work? The disabled woman who has no family and is living off the minimal income of social security?

Capitalism teaches us that every person is responsible for his or her own circumstances. Though this is not the ideal manifestation of capitalism, it has created a selfish mindset on the part of many Americans and because of this state of mind, we’d rather blame the poor for their condition than to examine the fundamental structural problems that cause poverty.

These people are underrepresented because they are not a valuable demographic to politicians. They don’t contribute a significant number of votes, making them easy ignore.

Those in poverty are not poor as a result of their own laziness or incompetence; they are poor because the system has failed them. The ideals of American society no longer apply to all Americans. The values of equality, charity, and opportunity have become subordinate to the agendas of major lobbying groups and politicians. The homeless and impoverished are given very few outlets, and limited means by which they can improve their lives. The government is not fulfilling its responsibility to this group and, as a result, poverty has become a vicious cycle.

All too often I hear the phrase “not my problem” in response to these concerns. It’s about time we reexamine the definition of representative government and give a voice to the voiceless. It’s about time we stop thinking as Democrats and Republicans or as members of a capitalist society and start thinking as human beings. Many of these people that we label as “poor” are lost without the helping hand of their fellow man. It’s about time we make poverty our problem.

Katie Dunne is a freshman double majoring in Political Science and Spanish. Katie is a newly elected Student Senator, the Chair of the ISS Appointments Committee, and one of my favorite people.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The role of the student media by Kiyoshi Martinez

One question that keeps the media on its toes is: “What is the role of the media?” It’s a question of purpose a reason to reflect on what journalists do. We have to gauge our footprint on the world’s consciousness and determine what part we’ll play in moving society forward – or as some argue, backward – as we do our jobs.

I have yet to work for “professional” media, so I will refrain from commenting on what role I believe it should play. However, having worked in student media for nearly two years now in various roles, I think I’m somewhat able to comment on the role that student journalists have to adhere to.

For those curious, I’ve been an opinions and technology columnist, assistant opinions editor, reporter, page designer, night editor, managing editor and editor in chief during my stint at The Daily Illini. I never claimed to be perfect, and I’m still learning and developing my skills. I don’t profess to be the end all authority on journalism, but I sure as hell have an opinion and have reflected on my time and duties quite a bit.

Student media is unique, particularly at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The Illini Media Company is a non-profit corporation that is completely independent from any control from the University itself. At most, the University can pull its advertising from the IMC, but University advertising is hardly the only entity providing advertising income to the IMC.

With this independence comes a large range of freedom and the student media should use this ability to its advantage. The student paper exists as a voice for the students and a force for advocacy against the University, when warranted.

While the mainstream media is able to take on the state and national government, the student media should play an important role in investigating, hounding and questioning the University’s actions and policies. The University has its advocates and power structures. The students, however, have a 5-day a week publication that reaches 20,000 people in print and even more online.

The odds, in my opinion, are about even.

The student media should listen to the voices of its primary audience: the students. Whether the voice of a lone individual or the chants of the many, the student media should show a favorable pen toward its peers. This idea does not destroy the idea of objectivity, but instead highlights a role of listening and relaying a message. The University has its news bureau, let them speak accolades of their employees.

The student media must also show fairness and be willing to take sides when necessary, whether for or against the popular opinion – including beliefs held by students. Does this mean a more liberal or conservative outlook? No, it means looking at situations ad hoc, and using informed opinion to advocate the correct idea in the proper forum.

But the student media, however, is in the end a business. It must sustain itself through advertising and adapt to changing mediums of information. As much as the current generation uses online technology, the student media lags behind and has yet to grasp a full concept of what being an online provider of information means.

Sadly, being an online focused company does not simply mean reposting stories in print on the Internet. It’s a whole new philosophy of newsgathering and presentation for a different audience. The student media has yet to adapt and grow properly into this realm, because to do so would be destroying what already exists and rebuilding from scratch.

For the student media to continue to be muckrakers of the University and advocates of the campus community, it has to provide new avenues of expression and embrace the full potential of the Internet to fight a war that reaches students beyond the paper they will pick up for the crossword puzzle and “Get Fuzzy.”

The student media will have to have a radical change. It will have to “never sleep” when it comes to news, constantly updating with shorter articles and more write-thrus. It will have to realize the need for more interactive features that readers can engage themselves in. It will have to incorporate brief video clips, hyperlinks to source documents and expansive archive systems that feature accurate search capabilities.

But student media will have to also learn how to fund themselves online too. One day, believe it or not, like it or not, print will die. And with the death of the print, comes the death of advertisements. To remedy this, the online version must already be profitable and generate revenue in other areas beyond just the news content.

To get this revenue stream, classifieds needs to be available online with incredible search options, again, and have the option to be posted for free. Craigslist already is damaging major metropolitan newspapers in their classified sales and it’s only a matter of time before it hurts the smallest papers. Absorbing and preparing for this rude shock now will prevent devastation in the future.

The student media can only achieve its chief role by finding methods to sustain it. If it has to shut down the presses and doesn’t know how to adapt to new markets because it’s unprepared, it will only have itself to blame.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to moving student media in this direction is the fact that the ideology and implementation for this great change must come from the top, not the student level. The students who produce the paper on a daily basis must do just that, produce on a daily basis. Long-term strategy and agenda planning for 1, 5, 10 years ahead is not something that is currently done by student managers. It is always next week, and at most next month.

Next day is perhaps the most current thought in many editors’ minds. It is this rut that must be overcome to prevent the eventual demise of the student press.

Simply put, a vision must be realized and enforced with funding and an iron hand willing to oversee the transformation from start to finish. This can’t be half-assed or wavered on. It either happens, or it doesn’t. It has to be methodical and tedious. It must be rigid enough to be productive, yet adaptable to various necessary changes.

While I have gained much from the student media, I fear for its future after I am long gone. I worry that no one wants to believe in the end of what we have now. I am terrified at the thought that no one is planning for the worst case – and in my mind, inevitable – scenario that will not be addressed until it is far too late.

I have serious concerns that the student media isn’t prepared to lose its classified sales to Craigslist. Or that it doesn’t believe that someone with a brighter idea to market free advertising for apartments on campus won’t undercut more sales for the paper. Or that the paper will not be ready to provide the content students want in terms of news coverage, especially breaking news and sports.

I fear the student media isn’t ready to deliver content to students who will be online almost everywhere when the campuswide wireless networks go online. I am concerned that it’s never going to be ready to deliver content to mobile phones and devices, let alone relevant podcasts or vcasts.

Old formulas are just that, old. Selling special supplements around holidays and seasons will not always work. Why would a student group purchase a $60 advertisement in the paper for one day when they could just as easily spend half as much on a Facebook.com advertisement that lasts for days and even weeks and reaches more people?

Frankly, doing more of the same is a weakness and a crutch. It creates dependency and complacency. The student media has the opportunity to be radical in its business and set experimental standards for the industry as a whole. With so much potential, it makes sense to not be afraid of change and be willing to take the lead so that journalists can continue their mission for the readers they serve.

For the student media to continue its role, and I believe it’s a very important one, it must be self-realized to the dangers that faces its own industry and be pessimistic about its own survival and be more aggressive in unexploited areas.

The only way student media will change is if readers demand it and if the students who work for it advocate it beyond their menial daily tasks. There’s more to the student media than what comes out the next day, it’s just a matter of realizing potential, both negative and positive.

Kiyoshi Martinez is a senior in Journalism and the former Editor in Chief of the Daily Illini. Yoshi is also one of the main contributors on The Next Frontier.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Outstanding column

My dear friend Brian Pierce just wrote his best column so far on the importance of the university immediately divesting from Darfur. Please take a look.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Resignation Letter

I've recieved multiple questions about whether or not I intend to resign following the Illini Media Company's decision to fire Acton Gorton. Yesterday afternoon I submitted the resignation letter below to the Managing Editors and Opinions Editor. They have very graciously allowed me to write a farewell column discussing the strategic plan for our campus. Here's the letter:

March 15, 2006

Dear Jason, Shira, and Jenette:

I'm writing to resign my position as a guest columnist for the Daily Illini. I appreciate the opportunity I was given to advance campus issues of great concern to our student body. I have tremendous respect for the journalists who make up the family that is the Daily Illini, and I hope that in the future we will continue to have the lighthearted, engaging working relationship that I've come to enjoy.

While many people whom I respect a great deal disagree with me on this point, I believe the public reasons for Acton's termination are little more than a pretense. Additionally, Mary Cory's letter to the Daily Illini's alumni was an irresponsible act that further entrenched parties on both sides by forcing Acton to seek legal advice; she blew what could have been a powerful education moment for all involved.

There has been much talk that the Daily Illini had the right to run the cartoons, but the responsibility not to do so. This statement lacks an appropriate appreciation for the special role played by college newspapers. College papers have a duty to cover controversial and even offensive ideas so they can be scrutinized by academic communities. In the past the Daily Illini has been widely praised for its commitment to fulfilling this duty, I hope it will not shrink from its proud tradition in the years ahead.

If it could be arranged, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to write one final farewell column the Monday after Spring Break. This affords you two weeks notice to make any necessary changes to the page and it would give me the chance to thank my readers and give parting words to students interested in shaping university policy. If allowed to write this column, I intend to evaluate the most current version of the strategic plan from a student perspective.

Although I feel it is necessary to resign as a guest columnist, in the future I will remain accessible if I can be of any help to any members of the Daily Illini, and it is likely that from time to time I will submit letters to the editor.

I treasure both the friendships I formed with members of the Daily Illini and the experience I gained as a columnist. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your readers.


Josh Rohrscheib

Monday, March 13, 2006

Saving Illinois

Our University is approaching a turning-point. Future historians will mark the years ahead as the time the tide began to turn. We still have the power to determine the direction, but the price of that power is a rising burden, a duty of candor to take a hard look at ourselves and address our own failings as a University and a community.

We cannot deny the hard truth that public universities are in very real trouble. State legislatures nationwide are failing to fund higher education. We must become self-reliant. The three ways of filling the gap in funding are raising tuition, increasing out-of-state student enrollment, and substantially bolstering private donations. To have any hope of improving or even maintaining quality, we must do all three.

Illinois has the lowest annual alumni giving rate in the Big Ten, perhaps because for so many, Champaign-Urbana never felt like home.

To save Illinois we must evolve from a giant campus, almost a small metropolis, to a close-knit community. We must make the big feel small. This requires making the impersonal more personal.

Upper level administrators and faculty leaders must set the example for student engagement by getting out from behind their desks and have more face-to-face interaction with students.

One of the most important and often frustrating meetings for new students is their initial consultation with an academic advisor. The need to improve advising is widely recognized, but we are deluding ourselves if we deny the need to immediately hire more advisors. You can not have a personal relationship with an advisor if they are responsible for over 500 students.

University housing must become more responsive to students. Instead of providing a thoughtful and caring environment that allows students to grow and thrive on their own terms, housing staff dictates the terms for growth. An area coordinator once told me "we understand the needs of all our residents." This is a terrifying assertion. When you think you see the whole picture, you stop looking.

Compartmentalization is also harmful. Pitting departments against each other for funding leads to the "that's not my job" mentality. Far too often students seeking help are sent office to office, and once a student is out the door, it's someone else's problem. No one responsible takes responsibility, and everyone else is blamed.

Everyone has their own fiefdom. Innovations of others aren't celebrated, and individual successes aren't shared. Regarding fundraising, academic units are fighting over donors instead of developing strategies to maximize the total contribution to the campus. The result: small public wins dwarfed by immeasurable silent losses.

Other universities create a sense of class identity. Here classes get together only for convocation and graduation, nothing in between. Class events build pride in the campus by bringing students together to celebrate their common experience and their collective potential. This leads to increased annual giving, class gifts and more substantial contributions in the future.

College should be the place for students to shape their values and find their voices. This begins in the classroom, which is why we must take immediate steps to reduce class sizes. How can you be expected to find your voice in an 800 person lecture? It's hard enough to find a seat.

Perhaps the most troubling change on the horizon is the shift in University policymaking from shared governance to a more corporate structure. Nothing could be more dangerous or wrongheaded. Our mission is creating knowledge, not generating profit. Shared governance is the principle that decisions that substantially affect the community should be made by the community. If we are all stake-holders, we all have a greater fidelity to the institution, the community, and ultimately, to one another.

Eliminating inefficiencies should not be confused with cutting services, or taking more power from faculty and students and giving it to administrators. We need students to feel like stake-holders, not mere consumers.

This is a time for bold leadership. There is an inherent tension between collaborative dialogue and decisive action. We must play in both arenas at the same time to dramatically change our campus culture from a faceless metropolis to an engaged community. We should start today.

Published in the Daily Illini on March 13, 2006

Monday, March 06, 2006

Please vote 'yes'

This Tuesday and Wednesday, you will be asked to vote on three separate referenda questions. These ask if you support two scholarship programs, and if you believe the University should increase its commitment to minority recruitment. I strongly urge you to vote 'yes' in response to all three questions.

The first question involves the creation of the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship. This scholarship would be a new and enduring source of both need- and merit-based financial aid created by a refundable fifteen dollar fee. Five dollars goes toward the immediate creation of new scholarships and ten goes into an endowment, and the interest from the endowment will create a permanent source of scholarships.

The Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship will create a new surge of community service on campus. Every student awarded these scholarship dollars will be required to do fifty hours of community service to have their scholarship renewed. This requirement is based on the principle that by funding the scholarship, the community is making an investment in students, and these students will be expected to give back to the community.

Some have argued that fifty hours is too low of a requirement, but consider the following: 1) Students required to engage in service tend to enjoy it so much they continue giving back to their community beyond the required amount; 2) the program will increase service on campus; and 3) you can make a difference in fifty hours.

If this passes, next year there will be at least an additional $405,000 in scholarship funds available, and this amount will steadily increase. In twenty years, Student Affairs has projected the endowment will approach fifteen million dollars and over a million dollars in scholarships will be awarded each year. These amounts could dramatically increase if we succeed in getting alumni to donate to the program, and this is the kind of program alumni will be eager to

The program allows students to proactively solve problems facing our University instead of futilely asking the state to solve these problems for us.

The second proposal is the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee. This refundable fee is only six dollars. This organization was created to provide need-based financial aid in 1970, and students have continually voted to renew the program.

This is an extraordinary value because the state provides matching funds that double the amount of scholarship funds available. These are state funds we would not have access to without the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee.

The final question concerns minority enrollment. In the last few years, freshman enrollment has increased dramatically, but the number of minority students has remained stagnant or in some cases even decreased. For example, since 1996 the total number of freshmen enrolled has risen from 5,946 to 7,584, while the number of African Americans enrolled decreased from 521 to 499.

This proposal does not advocate the creation of quota systems or any changes in the way the Office of Admissions reviews applicants. Instead, a 'yes' response acknowledges the need for the University to more actively recruit underrepresented students to increase the strength of our applicant pool. Without a renewed commitment to minority recruitment we will lose out on both the intellectual quality of these students and the diversity of background that they could
offer this campus.

Answering 'yes' to these three questions will increase both the level of community service on our campus and the diversity of perspectives in our classrooms. While we can't guarantee success we do have an obligation to guarantee that others have an opportunity to succeed. We can fulfill our promise to future students through the power of pooling our resources.

It is a fundamental principle of our society that the cost of progress is often sacrifice. By making the modest sacrifice of endorsing these three proposals you can contribute to lasting progress on our campus. Please vote 'yes.'

Josh Rohrscheib is a third year law student, a guest columnist and the President of the Illinois Student Senate. He would like to thank Student Affairs, Vice-Provost Ruth Watkins and Financial Aid Director Dan Mann for their help with developing the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship proposal. He can be reached at opinions@dailyillini.com.

Published in the Daily Illini on March 6, 2006

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cartoongate & the Daily Illini

Due to the Daily Illini's new, draconian anti-blogger policy, I'm not going to post all of my personal thoughts on how poorly Mary Cory is handling this situation on this blog or go into how unprofessional her letter to the Daily Illini Alumni was, but I do want to open a thread to encourage a discussion on the information about this process that has been made public.

I will say that I have requested that the private taskforce investigating Acton allow their identities to be made public. This will either confirm or refute the allegations that this taskforce is nothing more than a witch hunt looking for some pretense to fire people they simply do not like.