Illinois Student Senate

Illinois Student Senate is the representative body for the students at the University of Illinois. This blog allows members to discuss a variety of aspects about their lives, including but not limited to their involvement in ISS. ANY OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THAT OF ILLINOIS STUDENT SENATE AS A WHOLE.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Call For Reform

This afternoon members of the Student Senate will be recommending several reforms to the current system of student discipline. Several aspects of the discipline process raise serious questions about the fairness of these proceedings.

One curiosity about the culture of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) is they maintain that student discipline is not an adversarial process. Although the university has an interest in counseling students and educating students through the disciplinary proceedings, the interests of an accused student are fundamentally different from those of the university.

An accused student wants to avoid punishment, or receive the least severe possible punishment, and in extreme situations the student may just want to avoid being kicked out of school. The university is most concerned with protecting and preserving the campus community as a community of scholars. To some extent implicit in this aim is an interest in helping the accused student, but that interest is certainly secondary to their broader mission.

By repeatedly denying that student discipline is by its very nature an adversarial relationship, those administering the process are obscuring the truth. The discipline officers may repeatedly say they are acting primarily as a “counselor” or as an “educator,” but they are also keeping a record of everything the student tells to either sentence the student or to issue a report to a committee that will decide the student’s fate. Denying the adversarial nature of the process will naturally lead students to be more candid, but it is outright deception that works against the interests of the student.

Several aspects of the actual procedures call into serious question whether or not our discipline procedures are fair. Under the current discipline procedures an accused student does not have a right to question adverse witnesses. This is every bit as fundamental to due process as the right to present a favorable witness. Denying question of adverse witnesses might make the process appear less adversarial, but it does so at the expense of making the process less fair.

In some cases, students were presented with the evidence against them less than fifteen minutes before their hearing. The administration owes students a reasonable amount of time to prepare a defense. We are asking the administration to guarantee accused students receive the full case against them, including all evidence, at least five business days prior to their hearing.

One of the most troubling aspects of the discipline system is how few cases even make it to a hearing. The staggering majority of cases are handled through a process that is very similar to a plea bargain. Students are offered a particular sanction they are told is the “least severe probable punishment.” If they waive their right to the hearing, then the penalty will not get worse, but if they demand a hearing the penalty may be even likely to get worse. The administrator who runs the OCSR, the ironically named Dick Justice, denies this is like a plea bargain. Once more, denying its nature does not change its nature.

This waiver process is and is not like a plea bargain. It is like a plea bargain because students are threatened with the possibility of a more severe punishment if they do not waive their due process rights. It is not like a plea bargain because with plea bargains a prosecutor offers a sentence and a judge has oversight to make sure that sentence is fair and reasonable, in the student discipline context there is no case-specific independent oversight of the discipline officer officer. Here the judge is the prosecutor.

Fundamentally, student discipline is intended to educate students, not just punish them. This mission does not justify denying the adversarial nature of the process. Even if the administration has the best of intentions, students must be given robust protections to ensure they are treated fairly. Students should be afforded the best process the university can reasonably afford.

Published in the Daily Illini on January 30, 2006

*for more information on student discipline reform and other student rights issues, click here

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Goals for the Spring Semester

Please post your goals for the Spring Semester under this thread.

Textbook Example of Price Gouging

According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study, textbook prices have increased 186 percent in the last 20 years. Many authors are constantly pumping out new editions with few substantive changes. Meanwhile, publishers are bundling textbooks with supplements that often go unused. Being forced to buy bundled books is like ordering a coffee black and being told instead you're going to have a caramel macchiato with extra whipped cream and sprinkles. And by the way, instead of 60 cents it'll be $4.50.

At Illinois we are blessed with the opportunity to learn from some of the finest minds in the world. It isn’t surprising that we also have our share of textbook authors. Two authors in particular, Dr. Fred Gottheil and Dr. Steven Zumdahl, are widely criticized by students over the pricing of their textbooks.

Professor Fred Gottheil has won more teaching awards than any other professor on campus. However, he comes out with new editions of his economic textbooks every three years. I called Gottheil to ask him about the difference between his editions and he told me that he updates the data and rewrites special sections he calls “Perspectives.” I compared his third and fourth edition on macroeconomics and immediately noticed that all of the chapters began on the same pages in both volumes, almost all of the text remained the same and only a modest amount of data was updated. As for the “Perspectives,” only 13 of 65 were replaced.

The current edition of Gottheil’s textbook for microeconomics is over $90, and is bundled with student specific access codes, requiring students to purchase new books every year that they cannot sell back.

Gottheil is currently working on a fifth edition of his book to add information on globalization. Professor, if you’re reading this, please wait to produce a new edition until it is educationally necessary and consider saving your students some money by putting the new material online.

Chemistry Professor Steven Zumdahl makes Gottheil look like a champion of consumer rights. His “new” hardback chemistry text is labeled Spring 2006 and according to one sales associate, it includes a course guide and homework assignments that are torn out of the text. This text is still the sixth edition, the same as last year. He didn’t even bother updating it. The insidious little trick of including material that can only be used once instead of distributing those items in class or making them available online makes used books obsolete.

As if these practices weren’t predatory enough, Zumdahl is also bundling both a study guide and a solutions guide with the text. The chemistry students I’ve talked to have told me these supplements aren’t useful enough to justify buying them separately. You can’t buy just the book, and the bundle costs an outrageous $144.

Many of our faculty members are doing their part to help keep costs down for students. For example, Geoffrey Love required an older edition of the B.A. 310 text to save his 600 students money. When the publishing company ran out of older editions, he negotiated to lower prices on new editions. Numerous professors are making the substantial effort to prepare course packets instead of requiring numerous texts. If you have an instructor who is making an effort to keep costs down, please be sure to tell them you appreciate it.

Recently, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn proposed the “Fair Textbook Pricing and Access Act.” This would mandate the unbundling of textbooks, create a sales tax exemption and require publishers to provide libraries with free copies of textbooks. The Illinois Student Senate will be advocating in support of Quinn’s reform package. E-mail us at if you would like to lend a hand.

Until substantive reforms are passed, ask your professors if an older edition will suffice. Be sure to take advantage of Web sites like or For now, these Web-sites are your only protection from finanicial exploitation at the bookstore register.

Published in the Daily Illini on January 20th, 2006.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Response to George Will

Last Thursday Washington Post columnist and Champaign native, George Will commented on the ongoing controversy surrounding the use of Chief Illiniwek, a controversy that is heating up again because the Board of Trustees must soon decide whether or not to comply with the NCAA mandate to retire the Chief. Mr. Will rhetorically asks why the disapproval of a nickname should doom it.

While Mr. Will is correct that people do not have an entitlement to not be offended, the relevant question is whether or not it makes sense for one of the nation’s finest public institutions to continue using a nickname that so many find offensive. When a mascot’s main purpose is suppose to be uniting a campus, does it make sense to use a mascot so divisive that over 30% of the student body opposes it. George Will, like many other pro-Chief advocates, offers examples of mascots that are allowed by the NCAA such as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Florida State Seminoles. Although he claims the NCAA is arbitrarily censoring Illinois, Mr. Will overlooks an important distinction. Carol Spindel said it best when she pointed out that at Notre Dame if the Irish Catholics did not approve of “The Fighting Irish” as a mascot, the team name would be changed overnight. Similarly, with institutions like Florida State, the NCAA has approved of mascots and team names where the relevant tribe has approved.

The Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma are the decedents of the Illini Tribes. In April of 2001, the Peoria Tribe passed a tribal resolution asking the University of Illinois to stop using Chief Illiniwek as its mascot. Despite the passage of this tribal resolution, Mr. Will claims the tribe is too busy running a casino and golf course to care about the Chief Illiniwek. They do care. They have spoken up. However, the university has ignored their request for the last five years.

Regardless of your stance on the Chief, no one can deny that the controversy is a tremendous waste of resources. We have funded countless diversity and sensitivity studies, which almost all recommend retiring the Chief. Additionally, due to the controversy surrounding the mascot, the university has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on wholly unnecessary litigation. We continue to throw good money after bad wasting more administrative time and energy on a debate that will continue to divide and disrupt us until the mascot is ultimately retired.

Perhaps the only factor preventing the retirement of the mascot is the threat of reduced donor money. On its face this threat seems empty. People give to Illinois because of fond memories of college and because of an appreciation for the tremendous wealth of opportunities Illinois gave them, not because of a mascot. Other schools faced similar threats (Stanford, Dartmouth, and Marquette) and after a brief decline, giving soared to unprecedented levels. Since the NCAA is forcing the University to either retire the mascot or lose the opportunity to host any postseason tournaments or events, donations will continue because reasonable athletic boosters would see that retiring the Chief will only help Illinois athletics.

Mr. Will also overlooks the native students currently enrolled at the University of Illinois. A staggering majority of our Native American students oppose the continued use of the Chief. Sadly, those who speak up and voice their criticism are often taunted, threatened, and told “if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” This kind of behavior is obviously inappropriate in a community of scholars. The Board of Trustees has the power to end this sort of treatment if they can summon the political courage to do so.

The ultimate question facing the Board of Trustees must be what course of action is best for the University of Illinois. The time has come for the Board to boldly answer that question, even if the answer is unpopular.

-Josh Rohrscheib

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The ISS beat: A year in review

The Illinois Student Senate is out of session as winter break continues. The break has allowed many ISS members and ISS analysts to review a tumultuous year.

As the term of the first assembly of the Illinois Student Senate drew to a close, confrontations flared over the issue of Illinois Student Senate representation. Problems ensued after Vice-Presidents Jason Plummer and Daniel Nugent began creating press kits opposing two Allen Hall speakers. The press kit was full of fabricated quotes and misinformation. The Senate was up in arms against its leaders. Many Senators threatened to resign from elected office. Through a motion by Senator Derek Chan, the argument culminated in a vote of no confidence against VP External Daniel Nugent.

The term of the second assembly of the Illinois Student Senate started off with a bang. No one can forget the depraved insanity of Kalycia Treshana Watson’s accusations at the officer election. Her target was none other than current ISS co-President Ryan Ruzic. Her tirade included allegations of money-laundering, physical assault, alcoholism, public sex acts, and the fondling of little children. Ms. Watson did not bring forth one iota of evidence.

Scandal continued as a Frisbee assignation attempt was made on former Student Senator Adam Blahnik. The Frisbee narrowly missed the kill zone, but Senator Blahnik suffered a rather severe head wound. The would-be assassin was never captured, although experts suspect the act was ordered by the Rorcheib-Ruzic administration. Mr. Rorscheib commented, “I am not saying [President Ruzic and I] gave the executive order, but I am saying that if we had, it would be constitutionally permissible.” Mr. Blahnik has been living in exile since his expulsion from the Senate.

As the year dragged on, controversy continued. Arguments over senator disclosure and bounce balls nearly shut down operations. Analysts agree however, bridges have been rebuilt and wounds have healed.

Analysts also agree on one other issue, the biggest winner this year was the Committee on Student Rights and its chairs, Christopher Kantas and Hassen Al-Shawaf. The committee has gone above and beyond expectations in its first year of existence. The committee’s 20 page report to the ISS stands as a testament to its success.

Hassen Al-Shawaf
Graduate Senator