Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gym Fee Hike

Welcome to the new school year!
This is Samantha Lyon, the Campaign Coordinator at GSS.

GSS is working with the labor coalition to eliminate or lower the gym fee increase, which was
raised from $40/semester to $125/semester this year. This affects all
graduate students, staff and faculty ($150/semester for faculty/staff).

Check out the Facebook group at

Please do not buy the gym membership in the meanwhile, as a
demonstration that we're committed to affordable rec facilities for
ALL grad students.

FYI, the gyms are free until the new rec center opens.

Send your complaints to:

Administration & Finance general contact email:
Joyce Hatch, Vice Chancellor of Administration & Finance:
John McCutcheon, Athletic Director:
Zulma C. Garcia, Director of Campus Recreation:

Contact: umassgss [AT] gmail [DOT] com. Subject: Gym Fee Hike

Also: contact GSS with concerns about the new $200 deductible for individuals on the Aetna health plan this year, $600 for families.


Saturday, April 29, 2006

preliminary results of officer elections

these are not official until they are ratified by senate.

Jeff Napolitano 358
Neeraj Deshpande 238

vice president:
Flavia Stanley 345
Srinkanth Dasari 252

Hasan Tekguc 358
Ahmed Hassan 242

executive officer:
Sai Madivala 372
Nerendra Meka 226

candidate statements here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

trustee and SGA election update

the tallies and percentages from the student trustee and SGA president elections, held two weeks ago, are as follows. votes are listed first, followed by percentage of the total vote.


mishy leiblum: 1560, 55%
john williams: 677, 23.9%
matt fox: 464, 16.4%
ed cutting: 125, 4.4%
all others: 8, 0.3%

SGA president:

elvis mendez: 1562, 56.1%
shawn robinson: 659, 23.7%
mike makarski: 382, 13.7%
rob shepherd: 117, 4.2%
eoin moore: 58, 2.1%
all others: 8, 0.3%

gargano's blog

looks like gargano has learned how to blog. or, more likely, he got one of his work study students to log him in.

but there's something a little fishy about his blog, though. maybe it's that there are no spelling or punctuation errors. or that there is none of his usual repetitive "elating phrases".

i guess his work studies must be proofreading for spelling, grammar and style.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

admin now trying to destroy SCERA

the attacks by gargano and his minions on the office of ALANA affairs are well-known. the attacks on the commuter services office are less known but have been discussed. mostly undocumented have been the attacks on the SCERA (student center for educational research and advocacy) office.

recently, the administration failed a search for the director of the SCERA office. this is at least the second time that a search which turned up qualified candidates has been failed. if you follow student affairs at umass, you know why: any qualified candidate would presumably do their job, i.e. work for the benefit of students- an intolerable offense for a student affairs professional at umass. so the hard work of many people is being arbitrarily trashed, presumably so the reactionary freak can install someone in his own image as director, contrary to good practice, past practice, and in all probability university policy.

in another recent event, the graduate assistant at SCERA has been informed mid-semester that he will no longer be paid to work there. this is, of course, illegal, but that seems to be of no concern.

there are some indicators that election results are next. is gargano enough of a fascist thug to throw out the results of student government elections? no doubt he is. will he dare? stay tuned.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

my lawsuit against the university (and state)

note: this is something i'm doing in my spare time, and without the use of any privileged resources.

Hampshire, ss. SUPERIOR COURT

CIVIL ACTION NO. _________________


Uri Strauss,


Alan N. Cote, in his official capacity as Supervisor of Records for the Massachusetts Public Records Division, an agency of the Commonwealth,

Dr. Esther Terry, in her official capacity as Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst,


1. Plaintiff brings this case challenging the actions of defendant Terry in failing to provide him with public documents to which he is legally entitled, without the burden of substantial and unreasonable costs, and the actions of defendant Cote in determining that the cost assessed by defendant Terry is reasonable. Plaintiff claims that defendant Terry's and defendant Cote's actions violate the Massachusetts Freedom of Information Act, M.G.L. c. 66, sec. 10. He seeks an order compelling the disclosure of the requested documents, and/or judicial review of defendant Cote's determination that the cost assessed is reasonable.


2. Plaintiff Uri Strauss was at all pertinent times a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

3. Defendant Dr. Esther Terry was at all pertinent times the Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

4. Defendant Alan N. Cote was at all pertinent times the Supervisor of Records for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


5. Between November 2004 and March 2005, Plaintiff served the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as a member of the Commission for Campus Diversity, charged with investigating diversity at the University and making pertinent recommendations to the Chancellor. The Commission was asked to make structural recommendations with a view towards long-term impact. No specific charges related to personnel were delivered, and internal discussions of the Commission made it clear that the Commission interpreted its charge as specifically excluding personnel recommendations. Defendant Terry, the University's Associate Chancellor for Equal Opportunity and Diversity, was also an appointed member of the Commission.

6. At the press conference announcing the formation of the committee, UMass Amherst Chancellor John Lombardi promised in public that the Commission's proceedings would be fully open and transparent.

7. On the first full day of the Commission's meetings, Andres Gomes, then a student of the University, entered the room in which the Commission was meeting, upon which Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Gargano called security to escort him out. As he was being escorted out, he protested to Vice Chancellor Gargano that the Commission's proceedings were supposed to be open and transparent.

8. The same day or the next, a group of students at the university complained to Dr. Orlando Taylor, chair of the Commission on Campus Diversity, about the Commission's proceedings not being open as promised. Dr. Taylor agreed to meet with concerned students after the end of the Commission's meeting on that day. At that meeting, he promised the students that the transcripts of the Commission's proceedings would be posted on the University's website. He repeated this promise to an individual student, Marisha Leiblum, in an e-mail communication.

9. On Feb. 3, 2005, Vice Chancellor Gargano testified before the commission. During his testimony, he was chastised by Commission members for his evasiveness. After his departure, critical remarks were made by Commission members about his impact on diversity and his competence as an administrator.

10. On March 15, 2005, plaintiff sent an e-mail to Commission Chair Orlando Taylor, asking him to make the transcripts public, as promised. This was not done at the time, or since.

11. On Oct. 31, 2005, plaintiff requested, via letter, from defendant Terry a detailed budget of planned and YTD spending of money in a diversity fund administered by her, as well as the full, unedited transcripts from all meetings of the Commission on Campus Diversity, except the public forums, pursuant to the Massachusetts Freedom of Information Act. As Director of the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office, defendant Terry is the administrator responsible for these records.

12. On Nov. 9, defendant Terry provided the requested budget of the diversity fund. In response to the request for the transcripts of the Diversity Commission, she responded that the full transcript is 4500 pages long, and that payment would have to be provided for photocopying the document and for screening the transcript for "materials or data relating to specifically named individuals, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy". She cited Section 7(26), exemption (c) of the M.G.L. as justification for withholding such records. The total cost estimate provided was $373.12 for search and segregation costs, reflecting 32 hours of search and segregation time at $11.66 per hour; and either $450 or $900 for photocopying, depending on whether plaintiff opted to make the copies himself, or wanted defendant Terry's office to make the copies for him.

13. On a date not recorded in November 2005, plaintiff spoke via telephone with a lawyer in the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, believed by plaintiff to be Rebecca Murray. Plaintiff described the events discussed above. The lawyer advised him to appeal the assessed cost.

14. On Nov. 14, Plaintiff sent to defendant Terry a letter thanking her for the budget information, and modifying the request for transcripts, narrowing it down to the portions of the daytime part of the Feb. 3, 2005 Commission meeting pertaining to Vice Chancellor Gargano. He requested a revised cost estimate in light of the revision to the information request.

15. In a letter received on Dec. 13, defendant Terry responded with a cost estimate of $500, not offering a breakdown into search and segregation costs and photocopying costs.

16. On the same day, plaintiff appealed defendant Terry's cost assessment to defendant Cote. Plaintiff presented three grounds for the appeal, described in 17 - 19.

17. Plaintiff reasoned that an analysis of the $500 cost estimated by defendant Terry in her communication shows that the search and segregate portion of the cost must be larger than $373.12, and that therefore the search and segregate cost assessed by defendant Terry for a small portion of the document is greater than the search and segregate cost assessed for the full document. Plaintiff charged on this basis that defendant Terry's revised cost assessment was arbitrarily set at an unreasonably high dollar amount in order to deter plaintiff from pursuing his request.

18. Plaintiff asserted that based on his complete knowledge of the contents of the transcript, there are no reasonable grounds for believing any portions of the document to be subject to the privacy exemption.

19. Plaintiff pointed out that Chancellor Lombardi, who convened the Commission on Campus Diversity, made a public commitment to the complete openness of the Commission's proceedings, and that Chair Taylor made the same promise privately.

20. On Jan. 24, 2006, Defendant Cote denied plaintiff's appeal in a letter, disputing plaintiff's reasoning presented above in 17, and finding defendant Terry's cost assessment to be reasonable. Defendant Cote stated that 32 hours is a reasonable amount of search and segregation time and asserted that "while a more specific request may decrease the costs of copying the documents, the overall cost may not be greatly reduced because the same large amount of documents must be culled in order to provide the appropriate records". As the basis for this assertion, defendant Cote cited a telephone conversation between Attorney Rebecca Murray and defendant Terry on Jan. 24, 2006, in which defendant Terry asserted that in order to comply with plaintiff's request, approximately 4500 pages must be examined. Defendant Cote's letter does not mention any attempt to verify the truth of defendant Terry's claim. Defendant Cote's letter also contains no evidence that plaintiff's grounds for appeal described in 18 or 19 were considered.

21. On Feb. 3, plaintiff and defendant Terry were both present at a meeting between university administrators and a search committee on which plaintiff served. After the meeting, plaintiff asked defendant Terry whether she believed that her refusal to provide the information without substantial costs was legally defensible. Defendant Terry told plaintiff not to bother her with legal questions, and added that her desire to withhold information was motivated by "professional courtesy".


Defendant Terry's refusal to produce the requested documents within ten days of the receipt of Plaintiff's formal request without the burden of substantial costs is a violation of M.G.L. c. 66, sec. 10 and 950 C.M.R. 32.00 et seq. WHEREFORE, plaintiff requests that this court determine and order:

    1. That the requested documents are public records.
    2. That defendant Terry make them available to plaintiff without the burden of substantial costs.
    3. That the plaintiff recover his costs.
    4. That the court grant any further relief it deems just and equitable.

22. Plaintiff is also seeking judicial review in connection with denial of appeal of a surcharge, pursuant to M.G.L.A. c. 30A, # 14.

23. Plaintiff is aggrieved by a decision of defendant Cote denying plaintiff's appeal of a charge imposed on plaintiff by defendant Terry.

24. Plaintiff's appeal is based on an assertion that defendant Cote’s finding was not supported by substantial evidence, and/or arbitrary and capricious, and/or contrary to law, and/or in excess of his authority, because:

    1. Defendant Cote made no attempt to verify the statement of defendant Terry that "in order to comply with (plaintiff's) request, approximately 4500 pages must be examined". Defendant Terry's claim is implausible on its face, since the records requested cover only a small subpart of the 4500 page document. This claim by defendant Terry is the sole justification cited by defendant Cote for rejecting plaintiff's appeal.
    2. Defendant Cote responded only to the first of plaintiff's three grounds for appeal. If plaintiff's second or third grounds had been considered and found reasonable, the question of how many pages would have to be examined would be moot, because the entire record would have to be ruled public.

WHEREFORE, plaintiff requests that the court determine and order:

    1. That defendant Cote did not fairly evaluate defendant Terry’s statement that "in order to comply with (plaintiff's) request, approximately 4500 pages must be examined".

    2. That defendant Cote reconsider plaintiff’s appeal, fairly evaluating defendant Terry’s claim.

    3. That defendant Cote consider plaintiff’s appeal in light of plaintiff’s argument that there is no basis for withholding any part of the document, and that therefore no justification for a “search and segregate” charge exists.

    4. That defendant Cote consider plaintiff’s appeal in light of plaintiff’s argument that no parts of the transcript may be withheld because both the Chair of the Diversity Commission and the Chancellor of the Amherst Campus of the University of Massachusetts made guarantees that the Commission’s proceedings would be completely open and transparent.

    5. That the plaintiff recover his costs.
    6. That the court grant any further relief it deems just and equitable.

              The Plaintiff

              Uri Strauss
              26 Graves Ave., Northampton


Verification of factual allegations

Signed under the penalties of perjury

Dated: February 23, 2006

election results

last week's elections for SGA president and student trustee were won handily by elvis mendez and mishy leiblum, respectively.

i don't have the results in front of me, so i'll give you rough numbers. both elvis and mishy received in the area of 1500 votes, with the runners up, shawn robinson and john williams, receiving 600 - 700 votes.

voter turnout was higher than usual, with about 16% of undergrads voting.

election results

last week's elections for SGA president and student trustee were won handily by elvis mendez and mishy leiblum, respectively.

i don't have the results in front of me, but both elvis and mishy received in the area of 1500 votes, with the runners up, shawn robinson and john williams, receiving 600 - 700 votes.

voter turnout was higher than usual, with about 16% of undergrads voting.

Monday, March 13, 2006

elvis and mishy for president and trustee

it's been almost a month since i've posted. it's not been an uneventful month, rather a month too full of events to be able to pay attention to the blog.

where to begin? i'm suing umass for the transcripts of the diversity commission (text soon); i've written a summary of the university's compliance and noncompliance with the diversity commission's recommendations (text soon); i've put many hours into GEO's personnel committee; i got into several law schools; i got hold of an all-grad-students mailing list (to be used soon); and i've done many other things i don't care to tell you about.

funny story from last week: i got a letter published in the daily collegian last friday, ridiculing gargano for his illiteracy and stupidity (text soon). before publishing the letter, the collegian editorial staff changed a grammatically correct sentence into a grammatically incorrect one. it was an honest accident, i assume (microsoft word didn't like the grammatically correct sentence but liked the incorrect one), but given the tone and substance of my letter, made me look like a fool of garganotuan proportions. so far, the collegian editor has made a private apology but has indicated that the collegian will not print a correction which makes it clear that the error was theirs. i am continuing to insist that they do. we'll see.

these days i'm campaigning for the elvis/mishy ticket. why? they're the candidates with the vision, integrity, experience, guts, and mobilizing ability to get things done for students (does it sound like i've been talking them up for two days straight?). their track record includes involvement in some impressive successes, such as getting lombardi to adopt the faculty union's umass 250 plan to increase the number of faculty; lobbying the state to boost funding to the university by some $26 million; stalling the administration's plan to implement bag searches; restoring upward bound; and getting lombardi to commit $800,000 to new diversity spending; all the while dramatically improving the level of political consciousness at the university.

what were their opponents doing in the meantime? apparently thinking up some lame smear campaigns with almost no connection to reality. they apparently seek to return the SGA to what it was before the bustamante presidency - a high school student council writ large.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

board of trustees report

i was among 30 or so umass amherst students who shlepped to the dartmouth campus for the board of trustees meeting. quick summary:

- the fee hike was approved, but for the first time in recent memory, there was non-unanimity among the appointed trustees. trustees boyle and carlin joined amherst student trustee valerie louis in voting to oppose the fee.

- trustee boyle presented a good argument for opposing fee increases. he pointed out that the board has been raising fees as a general revenue-raising measure, which is normally supposed to be covered by tuition. tuition has been frozen as a matter of state policy, and raising fees as a substitute for tuition means that the trustees are making decisions that ought to be made at the state level. this strikes me as an argument that might be effective at the level of the legislature.

- GEO vice president darren griffis told the trustees that in view of the boards present unaccountability, GEO will be asking legislators to get rid of the practice of appointed trustees, replacing it with elected trustees.

- GSS president uri strauss accused the trustees of failing to engage seriously with students regarding the disastrous administration of the amherst campus, and asked the trustees to become compliant with the state laws regarding campus councils, as a remedy.

- chair of the board james karam made this revealing remark: "you students have more influence with the legislature than we adults do".

the day before at the meeting of the trustees's committee on academic and student affairs, three amherst students - trustee louis, former SGA president eduardo bustamante, and co-chair of the ALANA caucus nate kupel - made a presentation rebutting president jack wilson's rosy report on the state of diversity at umass. president wilson conceded that the student report was correct, and the trustees decided to set up a task force to look into students' diversity concerns.

study on grad school success

inside higher ed reports the following findings from a new study by Michael Nettles and Catherine Millet, both affiliated with Educational Testing Services, on factors affecting graduate student success.

  • More than 30 percent of all graduate students never feel that they have a faculty mentor.
  • Two-thirds of graduate students enter Ph.D. programs without any debt, suggesting that those concerned about expanding the pipeline to graduate education should pay attention to the affordability of undergraduate education.

  • Students rate their social interaction with faculty members as high in the engineering, sciences, mathematics and education — and relatively low in the social sciences and humanities.

  • In rating the quality of academic interactions, students in the humanities think highly of their professors while those in the social sciences and math and science are more critical.

  • Significant gaps exist in the experiences of minority and female graduate students — from admissions to getting teaching or research assistant jobs to publishing research while still in graduate school. Generally, these gaps do not favor minority students.

the article also reports:
The study also found a strong preference among female and minority Ph.D. candidates for mentors and advisers who are from their same groups. The demand for such mentors is particularly hard to fill for the many institutions that lack a critical mass of black faculty members, the authors write, creating “a vicious cycle” in which black students can’t find black mentors, and — if they don’t finish — leave fewer potential mentors for the next cohort.