Humorless Budget Report ~ Ben Kharakh

RUSA had a good grabber for their budget meeting: “Where does your money go?” I didn’t stick around long enough to find out the answer to that question. Instead, I left after becoming both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the first hour of the event—overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at me; and underwhelmed by the absence of tools to make sense of it all.

The meeting began with the presentation of a survey regarding what some number of students thought about the current fiscal situation. I say “some number” because the audience was never informed of how many people RUSA spoke to for its survey. I’m not interested, though, in what random students think about who’s responsible for the current state of affairs. I’d care if random students knew how to fix the problem, but then they wouldn’t even be random students; I’m pretty sure we’d all know the names of the people who figured out how to balance the budget and save us all money. But rather than get something resembling a way out, I was given what struck me as a deeply unsatisfying narrative.

I was told that the cost of tuition was going up, that the amount of financial aid was going down, and that banks were profiting from it all. Meanwhile, the Obama administration had passed a bill barring private lending institutions from making a buck off the whole shebang, with the government handling the distribution of funds instead.  So: there was a massive problem and the closest thing to a solution came from the government. My gripe with all this is that there’s no room for me in the narrative besides as being the victim. The whole thing struck me as very disempowering.

Unfortunately, most of the information I get, whether it be print, online, on TV, etc.,  is oriented around problems rather than solutions thereto. I can see the appeal of framing particular parties as “bad guys,”; and it certainly seemed like the audience was none too pleased with banks or the government. But none of that tells me how the banking and lending system works in the first place or what I or anyone else can do about it.

I never found out where my money actually goes— unless RUSA meant the bank (ha ha joke’s on me!)— because I left the meeting early. I was simply too dissatisfied to stick around for the whole thing. So, I went to an open mic at the Red Lion Café instead. I watched the show rather than performed in it, but I felt very excited nonetheless. As a philosophy major, I like having things spelled out for me; as a comedy nerd, I like jokes; as someone that likes a challenge, I’d like to synthesize the two; and as someone who enjoys his sanity, I see no other option.

Philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein is rumored to have said that, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes. ” I can see that for sure. Something makes you laugh, you explain what it was to someone else, and that explanation is the joke. If something strikes you as funny about something serious and you can explain what it was to someone else, then you’ve got some serious comedy on your hands— you’ve entered Bill Hicks/Maria Bamford/Louis CK territory.  And there’s more utility to that sort of comedy beyond the good PR it’ll bring.

The first hour of the RUSA meeting was full of charts and bad news. A few jokes would have made the whole thing not only more palatable but easier to cope with too.  The latter becomes even more apparent when the budget meeting is taken as only a part of all the problems facing America and the world today. If I read nothing but bad news on the web followed by hateful, angry comments and combine that with a sense of impending catastrophe, impotence, and general absurdity, I’d feel awful. But absurdity can be a source of laughter as much as it can be a source of despair. And I’d much rather be full of laughs than dread. Besides, people are a lot more eager to listen to you and share your message if it’s as funny as it is insightful.

I figure that if I’m going to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, I’m going to need my sense of humor to lighten the load. But this sentiment, I would argue, is founded upon a misunderstanding of what it means to be a person. I alone don’t carry the weight of the world on my shoulders; all people carry that burden if a person is to carry it at all. And, by the looks of things, we could all use a few more laughs, which is good, because I got me a hankering to tell some jokes.

26 thoughts on “Humorless Budget Report ~ Ben Kharakh

  1. Nice piece Ben. In Emerson’s essay on Heroism he says something like “great men never condescend to take anything seriously.” It’s true, by the way.

  2. Also, c’mon, RUSA. Their idea of “transparency” has always consisted of shrouding the issues by quoting complex or loosely compiled data. I have no doubt that the survey you wrote about was completed by friends of the RUSA people, again shrouding the issue in personal bias. I don’t believe that it is done maliciously, but the RUSA people are a clique, and we have to be mindful about how cliques behave if we want to understand the workings of government on any level. You do favors for your friends and you expect the same in return. That usually doesn’t get people in trouble but it can be seen as undesirable when a particular group of friends seems to share a lot of the power.
    Which brings us to a discussion about power. I’m convinced that RUSA doesn’t have it–when was the last time the students really had a say in school governance? What they do have is the illusion of power, which is in many ways better than real power because you don’t have to do anything to really maintain it or keep it working in your favor. We have a student governing body, so students accept that RUSA can actually get things done. Of course, RUSA does get things done, but the things it does are usually more related to performing an empty process that is already part of the status quo rather than changing anything fundamental about how school government functions.

  3. Mike,
    I agree with your identification of RUSA as a clique. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that by the way. In fact, I think that the natural result of any group of people spending large amounts of time with each other necessarily results in feelings of closeness developing.
    The problem with the RUSA clique-iness is that it exists concurrently with abysmally low rates of student participation outside the RUSA group.
    The members of RUSA are supposed to represent the student body. The student body does not elect RUSA members though. RUSA does.
    In the link I provide, you can see exactly how many votes each RUSA member received in the most recent election. Most didn’t even get more than 99 votes. (http://www.box.net/shared/fex3kop6kg)
    I know a few people who were elected as well as some who ran, but lost. The campaigning process seemed to consist of prospective RUSAites?, RUSArians?, RUSArootoes? contacting their friends and asking them to vote.
    The people who were elected were the ones who just mobilized 15 – 25 more votes, often times even less.
    Recently, a group called Rutgers United has attempted to gain control of RUSA. This group grew out of and still has many connections to the unsuccessful EON campaign that attempted to reduce the influence of city government. The main complaint with the city government was that if you weren’t a member of the “new Brunswick City Govt. Clique”, then your input was not wanted, and in fact frowned upon.
    Regardless of what one thinks of the validity of EON’s message, or the purpose of its members movement from local to student politics, it is a little ironic to hear recent accusations that Rutgers United does not welcome outsiders who are not willing to further their agenda of consolidation of RUSA. Although I try terribly to stay out of the gossip, I have been unable to avoid certain statements floating around about RU’s opponents.
    RUSA is not the US govt. and thus is not responsible for safeguarding our right. As such, it can certainly be afforded far greater latitude in its ethical treatment of elections, representation and inclusion than can the feds. Nevertheless, I find it disturbing to hear about their ‘mandate’ when the MOST voted for member received 8/10ths of one percent of the student body support. (288/35,000=0.008228….)
    Interestingly enough, these people make up the majority of elected RUSA members, and given the incredibly small voting turnout in fact make up a large portion of students of actually vote.
    Remember what our teachers all told us in 1st grade? “It’s important for everybody to vote, because if no one votes, then people can get elected just by getting a small group to vote for them.”
    Why do these students do it then? Why spend hours as Mike said, “performing an empty process that is already part of the status quo rather than changing anything fundamental about how school government functions?”
    Perhaps we can start an interesting conversation here?
    Tell me what experiences you have had as a person, what you hope to accomplish at RUSA, how RUSA is the best vehicle for those dreams, what the nature of your personal relationships is, your issues, your growth. Don’t BS me with rhetoric or politics. There will be plenty of time for that after college. If someone really is going to represent me, then they better be prepared to bare it all.
    Or you can just be a politician :\

  4. Hey everyone!
    My name is John Aspray. I’m a University Senator representing SAS students on the New Brunswick campus. I serve on RUSA, having been internally elected to be the Internal Affairs Chair.
    I’m kind of busy with finals right now, but in the spirit of procrastination, I wanted to address some of the claims made in the article, and comments section, and further the dialogue proposed by Brendan.
    First off, in regards to the article, there’s a few points to address:
    -The survey: Ben, you’re right, the survey was not in any way scientific. That’s why we bolstered the results with real surveys done by real policy institutes. To us, the survey was a fun way of making press about the event, getting some candid responses from students, and getting students to think about the issue. We even considered not presenting the results, but felt it would be a cop out considering that we had been saying we would. Furthermore, while friends and acquaintances were polled, so were just random people we found on the street, and in class. So while it was not scientific, it wasn’t an intentionally biased, or cliquish, distribution. We tried. However, our primary focus was on compiling all the information into the presentation.
    The rest: So, my apologies for the lack of humor. I don’t know what to say except we’ll do more jokes next time. In regards to the victim narrative, we were keen on demonstrating which forces were at play. The subtext is that we’re getting screwed over, but we were more intent on showing the who and why.
    We’re certainly open to critiques, and we’d like to present it again with a little more emphasis on getting the word out in the Spring (to fight those budget cuts, ya know), so if you’d like to meet up and talk about your critiques and share any suggestions, I’m definitely willing. I think the point person for the Spring will be RUSA VP Matt Cordeiro, but I’ll let you know as we figure it out.
    Now, another comment for the rest (to be continued!)

  5. Brendan & Mike:
    You both touched on the idea that RUSA is a clique. I have held this belief in the past, and of course it somewhat holds true today. However, the steps I and my colleagues took in building the Rutgers United campaign are significantly anti-clique. Now, I come from the Tent State University movement, which had ties to the Ward Campaign and is now reincarnated as the Rutgers Student Union (now 80% less hippie!). But we did not just run candidates from this organization. Rather, we went to other groups. I personally went to recruit candidates at organizational meetings and floor meetings, including: NAACP, Black Men’s Collective, Latino Student Council, PIRG, United Students Against Sweatshops, Students for Environmental Awareness, Radigals, the Women’s Center, LLEGO, RU Choice, etc. And that was just what I did. Now, often times I didn’t even know someone in a group, I just reached out.
    My goal was to build a united ticket based on progressive ideals and action. So I went to the sort of groups that would be into these ideas. That said, I didn’t build the ticket from within my own clique, and tried specifically to not rely on just our members. And while it may not be fully representative, it’s a broader base than before. Also, I do this for free. So do the rest of us. So what else can I do? I don’t expect pay, but I don’t have infinite free time. In short, can I haz slack?
    On the critique that Rutgers United is not inclusive, the biggest basis for this claim was an editorial by the Daily Targum which asserted it, and a few people from the old RUSA body that feel marginalized by the fact that we aren’t an Old Guard club of high and mighty RUSA members. I try my damnedest to reach out to new people and support them in running for RUSA.
    As a point to how unbiased and willing I’ve been to expand RUSA members to include new groups, I have a case study. Several people wrote the RUSA e-mail address last Spring about running for RUSA. Now, it wasn’t my duty to answer these, but I did (we do have someone who;s position is to do this). One of them was Ben. I e-mailed him last February, telling him I’d love to talk to him about how to run. I knew nothing about him, but I was willing. I never got a response back, because everyone is busy and has their own priorities, but I TRIED.
    Now, in running the campaign, I do see it fit to play favorites a little bit in who I run with. That amounts to whether they agree with and are competent to execute the agreed platform. Running on what you believe is okay, right? But never have I denied access to information to anyone seeking to run. I’m also taking action to post members contact information and voting record online, so that they are accountable to their constituents.
    I am acting with political intent, but I actively strive not to let that get in the way of my duty as representative or as advocate. This is in contrast to the Ward debacle, where the City Clerk, whose salary is paid by taxpayers, rejected a citizen’s petition for political reasons, and the single-party city council used tax payer money to fight citizen’s in court.
    This also differs from the FIRST Rutgers United campaign, spearheaded by Martha Guarnieri, where the Internal Affairs Chair at the time, Kevin Nedza, used his position to reject a petition by Rutgers United, ans suggested we call our lawyers. As a progressive coalition, we got blocked by a single dude with power, who happened to be a Centurion columnist.
    Also, as an insurgent slate of candidates, we also got blacklisted by the Targum (coverage of which you can find on JVP!), at the behest of another RUSA rep, and student representative to the Board of Governors, Ryan Cooke.
    Nothing that has happened this year even COMPARES to these abuses.
    I’ve also had some fierce debates in RUSA, and some splits have emerged between me and other RUSA members. But to say Rutgers United as a whole is unwelcoming is an unfair allegation.
    Now, next: the issue that RUSA doesn’t have power, and more on my experiences.

  6. Michael:
    The question you pose regarding power is completely on point. While RUSA has some power, it doesn’t have enough to effectively advocate for student interests in Trenton, or in university policy. Here’s the thing:
    RUSA is known as the student government, by its members and anyone else who acknowledges its existence. The idea of student government is ITSELF misleading, because we don’t govern. We don’t have the power to write policy. We advocate, and we lobby, and we develop positions, but we have no guaranteed right to effect policy.
    Other countries don’t have student governments; they have Student Unions. This name correctly orients these student representative bodies towards the idea that they do not govern, but advocate. A union doesn’t govern employees, it advocates on behalf of them, and works to build more and more power for students as a whole, and gain certain legal and contractual rights.
    In my view, RUSA needs to become more like a student union. That’s where RSU comes from [Get it? we’re the student unionists, trying to build a student union!].
    One issue is legal autonomy. RUSA has limited control over its fees. If the administration wants, they can just stop money from moving. Which creates oversight, but oversight which is not loyal to student interests. When I say administration, I mean Kerri Wilson and the Office of Student Life. She’s a lovely woman, who supports students 90% of the time. Unfortunately, she works for Rutgers, and her loyalty lies with the administration, who cuts her check, specifically Vice President of Student Affairs Blimling. In cases she opposes, she conjures up vague threats of legal questions, and speaks with more authority than befits her as an unelected staff person in a room of elected student reps.
    In order to give RUSA power to effect change, one model is legal incorporation. The idea would be to legally incorporate as a nonprofit, with a separate fee on the Term Bill (like the Targum, and PIRG). I support this model, which would give us control over our fees, and the ability to hire staff loyal to elected student representatives. That way, students could have a lobbyist in Trenton. I know lobbyists are portrayed as uniformly bad, but I believe that if you want these things done, you might need to pay someone to do it. Other interests have way more voice, but I think getting one person on it would be a start. We could also hire other staff, like student advocates, who would help students deal with red tape and the RU Screw.
    This would bring us closer to the union model. As long as people think we govern, RUSA will remain ineffectual, and student apathy and alienation will continue to be the dominant theme on campus, as they wish their student government WOULD DO SOMETHING.
    We are trying though. Even without structural changes, we are actively building a statewide student association to tackle the goal of lobbying in Trenton. Myself, Matt Cordeiro, and Legislative Affairs Chair Jack Yoon are the three point-people on that. We also have a student rights and privacy committee, spearheaded by Kristen Clarke (University Affairs Chair) and now chaired by Daniel Herbert. Our tenant’s rights project is stalled, but will probably kick into gear in the Spring.
    These represent a large number of the aims of myself, and were key platform items in the Rutgers United Campaign. There are other things happening too.
    I don’t blame people for not knowing. RUSA’s Public Relations Committee isn’t really doing things, which is unfortunate. Not to air institutional dirty laundry, but the work of many RUSA members is going unnoticed because our organizational apparatus to get the word out is kinda sort stagnant. And that sucks.
    It also means that non-partisan campaigns to increase voter turnout don’t happen. This reduces it to those that hear about it through friends who are running. I agree this is bad. I’ll say more on the issue later.
    Most public relations work that does get through is coordinated by Rutgers Student Union. That might seem partisan, but as a student organization, RSU doesn’t have to be unbiased. To me, this exemplifies the separation of powers between the Assembly and its members.
    Now, onto voter turnout.

  7. Voter Turnout:
    IT SUCKS. I agree. But first, the claims made previously are exaggerated.
    Brendan, I appreciate your use of statistics to make your case.
    I would, however, like to note that the figures you use are for the Fall RUSA elections, which are for freshman and vacancies. Essentially, midterm elections. If you want to use a more accurate example of turnout, look at Spring elections. The vote totals there were 2,100 votes cast. 7.5% turnout is not great, but its about ten times the amount cited. That’s a difference. Also, at the time of these elections, there were 29000 undergrads, not 35000. That’s also a big difference.
    To compare, the recent turnout in the mayoral primary (the most competitive municipal election in a while), was 3000, out of approximately 50000 residents (by 2000 census data, probably more now). This is a 6% turnout.
    Not to say this excuses us, but its not a just-RUSA issue, but rather a widespread manifestation of voter alienation.
    Here are ways to increase voter turnout:
    -Longer election periods: Prior to Spring 2010, RUSA elections were a week-long, online affair. The Spring 2010 elections, chaired by Ben West, changed this to a 24-hour online election. The less time there is to vote, the less likely people will vote. That’s why early voting in governmental elections are awesome! A return to week-long elections would increase turnout.
    -Nonpartisan Get Out The Vote Campaigns: This is what Public Relations, and sometimes the Elections Committee, are supposed to do. The problem is that lots of people run for office, and others are graduating and just wanna get out, and so no one wants to run these sorts of campaigns. However, I believe RUSA should produce a nonpartisan voter guide that presents everyone’s position who is running, and it be distributed to students. Again, this would require serious work on the part of Public Relations, and the Elections Committee, and a commitment to nonpartisan values. To me, this is the only alternative to the plainly network-based model of telling all your friends to vote.
    -Physical polling places (in addition to online): Simply put, RUSA as it is now CAN NOT do this. It’s just too much work. Now, if we incorporated, RUSA could run a more serious system of polling places, and hire poll workers, kind of like how the Targum & PIRG referendums work. But to do this on a simply volunteer basis wouldn’t work. In my opinion.
    This Fall, we also sent out an e-mail to all undergrads to vote. We should continue doing this. However, it didn’t really do that much. It wasn’t too much work either though, so why not?
    I think this concludes my comments on this issue. I am willing to talk with each of you on how to improve RUSA. If you have more comments or suggestions, post them, but to get to me more directly, e-mail them to me. My e-mail is YARPSA GMAIL.COM. Other representatives are willing as well.
    Also, while I touched on my personal experiences, if you want me to blabber on about myself, just let me know. I figured my arguments represented me most clearly.
    For now, I’m gonna get at some of these papers I’m supposed to write.

  8. Thanks for commenting, John! I would say that the who and why are fine so long as plenty of time is dedicated to providing your audience with a means of personally correcting the disrepair you identify. And I say personally because I think that leaving the job to the government is not, in my opinion, an example of your audience doing something about the problem.
    As for the jokes: I think that the way you presented your information could make people angry and/or anxious. I used to feel exactly the same way when I was doing the sort of research you likely did for your presentation. Humor displaced such feelings for me, as did re-orienting my research around solutions rather than problems.
    I will be doing plenty of work on this subject in the spring, so you can look forward to me having plenty to say about this issue in the future.
    And, yes, I did write to you. I don’t remember what I said, but I ended up deciding that being involved in RUSA would present a conflict of interest given my journalistic commitments. Given, however, my plans for the near future, I imagine that we’ll speak on a number of occasions regarding forthcoming investigations.

  9. Thanks, John, for taking the time from what you describe as an insanely busy schedule.
    Before I say anything, I wanted to remind everybody about the JVP’s mission and philosophy when spun from my perspective:
    All things being what they are, life is about creating behavioral solutions to what I call survival problems. Overtime we have developed various organs that allow us to perceive the world around us, that is to make predictions about what will happen depending on what our behavior is. These predictions, collectively, are our consciousness.
    One of the most powerful aspects of this consciousness is to process information through tools. Humans (as we discussed in my work with Dave Imbriaco) use social computing tools, such as reading and writing to aggregate the information from many humans in a coordinated fashion, and through emergence , deriving information that is collectively more complete than the sum of all the information from the individuals)
    What this means is that at the JVP we are all searching fro the truth by offering up our own subjective versions of it and through comparison with each others’ versions, triangulate a truth more complete than even the one of us that was most right to begin with. That is what I am trying to do now. I proceed:
    It seems from your responses that perhaps I was unclear or incomplete in my description of RUSA and Rutgers United’s “clique-iness”. Before I address any apparent discrepancies though, a few words on your response?
    You seem a little defensive about “claims” people have made, devoting what on my 27″ iMac screen amounts to around 4.125 screen-lengths to your response. As someone who is constantly made fun of for writing long comments on this site, I guess I have little room to talk.
    What I WOULD like to do, however, is to dissect WHY you might be doing so…
    I imagine any defensiveness on your part to be at least understandable.
    Maybe you are tense in public/ political circumstances in some sort of vestigial way: You built up a series of behaviors that were useful for damage control around dirty tricks including and similar to the whole centurion thing. To survive such a caustic environment you had to develop an almost instantaneous reaction time when applying these mechanisms, and as such they have become automatic.
    If I had been through such contentious issues, I would certainly be quick to defend against any perceived claims, and I would keep on the ready for them as well. I point this out because in your response to me, it looks like you are trying to refute two such “claims”.
    1. That RUSA (and the Rutgers United party) does not have a mandate to govern (or try to become a student lobby) because of low voter participation.
    – You refer to my statistics, stating that 7.5% vote instead of my cited ~.75%
    The stat I used was one that RUSA emailed me right after the election. It was the statistic most readily available and as it was supplied by RUSA, I though it was good to use (also what do you mean freshman? I know non-freshmen who ran and non-freshmen that voted)
    Anyway, I don’t want to misrepresent the state of Rutgers, Rutgers United, or RUSA so I accept that other elections do indeed achieve almost 10% turnout. I don’t think that the different statistic detracts from the overall point you were responding to (“Because participation is low, individual members of RUSA can get elected by campaigning to RUSA and its satellite groups rather than to the student body”) I agree that voter apathy is a widespread problem, and that Rutgers Student Govt. suffers because of it. I was just pointing it out, and still believe it to be an issue. I feel like you only explained how it WASN’T an issue anymore or something.
    I don’t think I ever made such a claim in the first place, but like I said, I understand where you’re coming from on the knee-jerk pro-self theme.
    2. The other claim you disagree with, is that RUSA, and Rutgers United specifically is not “clique-like”. You list numerous groups to which you reached out, suggesting that this diverse and well rounded list is an indicator of Rutgers United’s broad and inclusive nature.
    I would like to point out that “working with, assimilating, or interfacing with” groups that serve as representations of minority groups does not make someone inclusive.
    Furthermore, I would like to be so bold as to suggest that you and several other Rutgers United members only seek to be “inclusive” within the public aspect of your/ their relationships, and that in private you act quite differently.
    Over the past year, I have had the most unpleasant necessity of having to interact with you and no less than four other members of Rutgers United around issues I consider to be very serious and have been ignored every time.
    The issue in question has to do with my younger brother, Christopher Kaplan, who was just elected as an off campus rep on your ticket with around 80 votes as well as a few other members of your organization.
    This past year, Christopher was living with his twin brother Ethan, me, and my girlfriend in a house in Highland Park. It was a really nice place, but we had what lots of Rutgers students can commiserate with each other about: Horrible Landlords (who seem to think we live in some sort of neo-feudal system with them as samurai or something)
    During this time, Christopher was engaging in some self destructive behavior. The household was designed by me to try to address a lot of the issues present in my family that were contributing to this self destructive behavior, along with other issues.
    To make a long story short (although we can get into details should the public deem it necessary) Christopher ended up running away from home because the rest of the household was continually asking him to clean up after himself and not to scream when asked to do so. As he left he, with prompting and help from your ‘revolutionarily oriented’ RUSA friends, called the police and tried to charge me with felony domestic abuse.
    He did so after his parents (mine also) asked me to bring his clothing to his room in Princeton, NJ (we had agreed that if anyone misbehaved they would come home to Mom and Dad. Christopher had been deemed to have done so (by an 83% [5/6] majority vote that he was the sole nay on) and so was to go back to Princeton. Sometimes democracy votes you out, and as a member of a system, you have to be willing to accept the results of that system, otherwise you have what we like to call ‘civil unrest’
    Despite his being told 8 hours earlier what was happening, by myself and parents, he told the police that I had “stolen” his stuff.
    Why do I make such a spectacle?
    Because you claim that Rutgers United is not clique-like.
    If this is so, why then, when all of this was happening did you and several other Rutgers United members refuse to talk about this when contacted?
    Why did you house him illegally in the dorms when he was not homeless, but in fact had access to one of the nicer homes in the state (along with 3 meals and transport to RU) and not to respond when questioned about it?
    As I answer for you, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s because you didn’t know the whole story. And why would you?? You’re a clique; you only bother to check out your side of the matter blood runs thicker than water, blah blah etc)
    Now, it would be rude and inappropriate of my to just leave you with that, and I assure you, I am trying to be neither.
    You personally can redeem yourself as the leader of a Rutgers United committed to the highest standards of ethics, be the consequences public OR private.
    I swear, that much of Christopher Kaplan’s work at Rutgers has been plagiarism of theories I have shared with him and his twin brother, who was also present at the time of the sharing. I further swear that Christopher has attempted to claim this work as his own, while referring to it as an indicator of my faulty logic in his interactions with others. I swear that his twin brother as well as other witnesses who saw me transfer my knowledge to Christopher who is plagiarizing will attest to this fact.
    I expect that given your stated commitment to examine (include) all information from an unbiased perspective, you will look into this very serious matter, will cooperate in any such investigation, and will hold me accountable for what undoubtedly would be defamation of character should me assertions prove false.
    I hope that you fulfill your stated commitment to true ethics (the only reason one SHOULD seek to be inclusive in the first place). I also hope that you do not try to play politics with this, or to turn it around on me.
    I am calmly asserting something that is or is not true. You are going to do one of three things:
    A) Fight Back! Don’t find out what’s going on. This is war!
    B) Consider what I am saying and find it to be false. Plan from there.
    C) Consider what I am saying and find it to be true. Plan from there.
    I have spared the nasty details online as that is both dangerous for all parties due to the posterity of the Internet. I am not slinging mud, or engaging in any behavior that has not been presented to me as ‘the only last option’.
    The fact remains that I am telling you that your party has behaved in a disreputable way with me, and you have party members that are engaged in behavior unbecoming of a representative. What process do you recommend to rectify this?
    You can respond here, or by phone or email to work out some sort of statement or resolution to this matter as you see fit.
    For now, I will take no further action beyond that which I already have: asking for resolution. Whether you will answer, and how you will do so is, of course, up to you and your ethical understandings.
    Sincerely,
    Brendan Kaplan

  10. Actually, I’m 26 AND… I can’t believe that at age 21 you have no more confidence in yourself than to steal other people’s work, then go around and tell people like your professors that the ideas are yours, try to get your own family members arrested, and then try to feign moral outrage…
    I seems though that you’re missing what I’m saying a little bit (you and those who are sending me the unwanted text messages
    Chris, you think I’m writing rants about YOU on the comments section of Ben K’s article, but that is not the case.
    John Aspray wrote how Rutgers United is such an inclusive group of people. While I’ve interacted with several of them and been nothing less than pleased, as I said, I’ve had the unfortunate necessity of having to deal with JA on several issues, specifically: You.
    In each of them, he along with several other Rutgers United people, have been negligent in getting the issues dealt with, refusing to even hear what they were in the first place.
    To me, that smacks of non-inclusiveness (or inclusiveness only in Public situations) That is exactly why we have many political problems right now: Politicians think that what they do in pulic and private are somehow different, and that its OK to remove what they’re doing from the public eye simply because they really want to accomplish it, AND will not be able to if subjected to the public eye.
    That’s why it’s important to share the comment I did above.
    If you, Chris, think I’m doing this because I have nothing better to do, well that’s a sorry mistake on your part, and really shows how complete your transformation really is. You now don’t even understand how the personal actions of purported politicians is related to some of the problems that arise in the governance.
    I would like to further state, on the record, that after posting the message I did, I received the following text messages at 1:05 AM last night.
    Before I share these despicable communications, I thought I’d let everyone know what an appropriate response to my message would have been.
    “John Aspray:
    Hi Brendan. Thanks for taking the time to write this. I can tell you feel very strongly about the matter. While I don’t know anything about what you’re saying here, this certainly sounds serious. Of course, I will be looking into the matter, as we here at Rutgers United take accusations like this incredibly seriously. I must remind you, that if what you claim is not true, we will be taking full action on that matter, the least of which will involve us forcing you to retract your statements. I hope you understand our position in this matter, as as I mentioned before, this is very serious. I’m kind of busy with finals right now, but if you wanted to talk about this, I’ll be available after break so that we can get to the bottom of this.
    Sincerely,
    John Aspray
    Rutgers United”
    Instead, you coordinated the sending of the following:
    ———————————————————————–
    Can you grow up? Most people whove ever met you are aware that youre an immature
    depressed asshole and yet they leave you alone. Can you please just do
    the same already? Stop writing offensive lies about chris on the internet you fucking child. No one is threatening you, no one is doing anything to you.
    I know youre going to call your mommy and daddy to cry about this, but just keep in mind when you do that , while its hard to believe, you are 26 yearsnts and your family is incredibly embarrassed by you. Just shut up and l old Not 9. Shut up because people dont care about your insignificant selfish ra
    eave your brother alone.
    ——————————————————————————-
    In those messages you claim that I’m unstable or sad or something. Either you don’t believe that and are trying to be hurtful, or you DO believe it and even after Tyler Clementi don’t have any qualms about hatefully pushing what you to believe and already unstable and sad person.
    Is this the type of person we should have in student government?

  11. Funny also how you would respond in private but not public. Sort of goes along with my point about how your ‘political party’ conducts its business in differently when it is in front of people.

  12. Hey everyone!
    SO, I wrote a response to your comments a few days ago, Brendan, but due to the article going up and down as a result of editorial decisions, I didn’t post until today. However, I think it’s necessary to discuss the allegations you brought up. Below is my response which I attempted to post on Tuesday. I figured the original would be better than crafting one anew.
    Brendan,
    I’m not really sure where to begin here.
    I responded to the comments made by you and Michael, as well as Ben’s article, in good faith. As to the length of these claims, you yourself told me to “tell me what experiences you have had as a person, what you hope to accomplish at RUSA, how RUSA is the best vehicle for those dreams … If someone really is going to represent me, then they better be prepared to bare it all.” You wanted to open up a dialogue.
    So I wrote to you. At Length. Blame the coffee, and the term paper I did NOT want to write.
    You wrote back with a piece that both intentionally misinterprets and ignores what I said, as well as puts forth allegations of a quite serious nature (some of which are certainly untrue).
    So, first, my apologies, but, I don’t believe we’ve ever met before. If we had, I’d certainly remember the contentious nature of the conversation; however, up until now, I have only known of you through your brother, and all I really knew was that y’all were not on good terms. If we have met, we certainly didn’t talk about Chris, and I don’t remember you. Sorry.
    Since I never spoke with you about Chris (or at all?), I cannot approach your accusation of me and other Rutgers United members ignoring you with very much seriousness. This is basically our first conversation, and I am already subject to tarring and feathering. So much for dialogue.
    As for Chris, in all of my experiences with him, he has been nothing short of a well-mannered, intelligent, and outwardly stable individual. I don’t know what the deal is between you two. But contrary to your assertion that I don’t know because I (or we’re) clique-ish, it’s actually because I don’t believe I have the right or duty to endlessly scrutinize someone’s family or personal life, especially if given no suspicion that I should. Everyone has little family issues. Chris seems and acts well-meaning, and I have no reason to go all CIA in vetting him as a potential student representative. RUSA membership was lacking, and all well-meaning students are welcome to run.
    You also accuse me of helping house him illegally in the dorms last year. First off, I lived off-campus last year. Secondly, I only met Chris at RutgersFest last year (May 1st-ish), and he was already staying in said dorm. So ‘me and my friends’ are not to blame. Please stop accusing me of such.
    You also accuse him of plagiarism. I really don’t know anything about this.
    You have also instructed me that I need to investigate all of these allegations and take action on them through official or unofficial means. Frankly, I do not. I am not a judge and jury, and RUSA is not a student judiciary for civil suits. There are bodies at Rutgers that investigate academic integrity, I recommend you contact them if you think it’s really serious. As for RUSA rules, there is no evidence to suggest he broke any. I’m not gonna handle a plagiarism case, and an 18-year old moving out of a house is not a punishable offense. As for your personal family matters, I really don’t think it’s my business at all. Chris, throughout the past six months knowing him, has never remotely appeared to me as a danger to himself, so his personal safety is not at stake. What we have here is a family feud. Sorry, but that’s not my business. In terms of seeking resolution, that’s all I got for you.
    Now, you wrote another response to Chris’s response, which also accused me of harassing you via cell phone. First off, I am upset that you asserted that I am the one who sent the text, because you go on to slander me as the sort of person to bully the unstable, invoking the name of Tyler Clementi in that accusation. I have a 443 number (Annapolis, MD), and don’t have your phone number. As such, that text did not come from me. Before making that accusation, you should have asked any of our mutual friends for my phone number.
    You accuse me of impropriety because of someone else’s actions, you accuse me of impropriety using false statements, and you use both as an example to demonstrate why the ideas I represent and uphold are false and empty. This is unfair, and not a logical way to look at the world. If you’re trying to ‘triangulate the truth’, your coordinates are WAY off. Your approach to this as a giant conspiracy should point in that direction as well.
    I thoroughly don’t enjoy having me and the Rutgers United candidates (as individuals or as a group) treated as a hive mind in which each component part is responsible for the sum total of good and bad things any individual has done. We are, in fact, individual students with individual ideas, from different backgrounds, different families, and different social circles. We can act independently, or in concert, or in opposition to each other. Sometimes we disagree. It happens.
    Brendan, I must also say that, while I was bothered by the accusations you leveled against me (which you claim was not mud-slinging), I was shocked that you would do this to your brother. I do come in from Chris’s side of things, but still, man: On an Internet comment board? For a News story? Really?
    Despite the philosophical underpinnings you have manufactured to address the topic, this is very clearly not about me, Rutgers United, or RUSA, but rather, you and your brother. I hope that you both can resolve this.
    Lastly, I must express my disappointment with the way this discussion has been conducted. While there have been many times I’ve disagreed with the JVP, I have never questioned the general integrity of any of its writers, until now.
    The bait of an honest, constructive conversation on the state of student leadership at the university was thrown forth on the comment board. When I took it, and responded, the conversation immediately became a flurry of accusations leveled at ill-defined targets (me or Chris or Rutgers United or anonymous), using a combination of lies and unverifiable allegations to derail the conversation, all while trying to prove a certain point: that I am, and Rutgers United is, BAD NEWS.
    Michael & Ben, this is not leveled at you. Your critiques are both biting at times, and we have disagreed, but I believe your intentions to be well-meaning. Brendan, it seems you responded out of anger you harbor against your brother, and a need to control his actually-quite-stable life.
    I seek a more open, constructive discourse about student leadership and RUSA, and would love to discuss it further. However, the discussion created here on this page was a veritable sh*t show. If y’all would be interested in having an ad-hominem free discourse, I would be honored to join.
    But this sort of senseless bickering is ridiculous, and stressful, not to mention poorly-reflecting on each of us, as individuals, as well as the institutions of JvP and RUSA. We can do better. Right?
    With that, I am going back to writing my papers. I hope we can seek a more amicable, sensible discourse in the future.
    Sincerely,
    John Aspray

  13. No problem, playing is what unemployed law students do best. Maybe one day you can join the ranks of Dick Army and John Boehner as hilariously-named politicians. As for anything constructive to add–not the patience to read any of the comments–I’m going to get a beer.

  14. John,
    Merry Christmas! I arrive back here and what do I find? A newborn baby Jesus along with such a genuine and caring comment from John Aspray. I guess Christmas miracles DO exist.
    Anyway, In your comment, after a few pleasantries you say that you can’t approach what I said with any seriousness because I never contacted you, at least in any capacity that you remember.
    Just because you deny knowing something does not mean you don’t know it. If you don’t believe me, Just ask Bill Clinton or Mark Sanford.
    However, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt (even though I DID contact you) and assume you didn’t know anything prior to my first comment.
    You yourself said that you aren’t going to give the situation any attention because in the time you’ve known Chris he has been “well-mannered”
    I have not instructed you to take action. I have instructed you to look into the matter IF AND ONLY IF you are committed to running an ethical organization. As you said, you are not bound to do so. The only reason I mentioned any of this, in fact, is because you claimed (in direct response to my and Michael’s comments) that you and your party is so ‘inclusive’. As I’ve mentioned, I have direct experience to the contrary. I simply called you out on political BS that you attempted to slip into a conversation in which I was participating. Since you claim to not know me, I’ll warn you: Don’t do that. I will call BS out every time I see it. If you think that is ‘manufactured’, check this article out:
    http://johnsonvillepress.com/2010/09/26/on-corruption-tomatoes-and-why-you’re-in-grad-school-or-back-at-home-instead-of-working-at-a-real-job-brendan-kaplan/
    or this one:
    http://johnsonvillepress.com/2010/11/01/inside-jvp-an-interview-with-brendan-kaplan-by-ben-kharakh/
    True, you personally did not house Chris in the dorm. Beth B. did, and Martha G. helped. I tried contacting them both, in addition to you. As they are senior members of your organization, AND as you are the coordinator, I assumed you had something to do with it.
    If you have so little knowledge of the nature of the relationships between your organization’s members that you actually didn’t know about this, then I’m sorry. I will amend my accusation I made about you to “Failure to respond to my communication/ willful ignorance of the situation.”
    Also, I have your phone number, and in fact identified who exactly sent me the messages in the 1st place. I did NOT say it was you, but rather that you coordinated it. Again, this is based on my assumption that you and Chris talked about these comments. Maybe you didn’t, but if the situation was reversed, I sure would be talking to you about it.
    By the way, what ‘lies’ did I use to level my accusations?
    I admit, your response sounds really good. The outrage, the confusion, the calm tone of voice…
    It is not, however, an honest comment. I DID NOT attack you or Rutgers United. I only gave you the rope to hang yourselves with, ALONG WITH the opportunity to be honest, and to come to the table in ‘good faith’
    You were presented with the opportunity to be constructive, and instead you only tried to dissemble. While you are correct in pointing out that this situation is RELATED TO a family issue, politics is about our society. As I pointed out before, we allow politicians to lead double pubic/ private lives at our peril. I have called you and your organization out (which, by the way, is full of great people who I really like) for just that reason… nothing more.
    Finally, you ask how I could ‘do this to my brother?’ Let me answer:
    A) I didn’t really do anything. I’m sure he was very angry about this, but I purposefully left out any information that could do any real damage to his future. You don’t even want to know what was going on that year (as you yourself stated)
    B) The fact that you are wondering why at all shows that you don’t know the situation. If you knew it, you WOULD KNOW WHY I did this. This should be an indicator to you, that you might want to look a little more in depth.
    C) In the same post that you ask me ‘how I could do this to him’ you also suggest that I try to get him expelled by sending my complaint to the plagiarism board. Let me ask, If I did that, would you wonder ‘how I could do THAT to him??’
    I too hope for a more productive exchange. I am now going to have Chris’ twin brother comment on the nature of my actions, in case you would like a more ‘un-biased’ perspective.
    – Brendan Kaplan

  15. Hi this is Ethan, Christopher’s twin brother. As this DOES relate to family issues, as people have said, I will leave the details out but I have to say that I don’t fault Brendan for anything that he has said here. There are no untrue accusations or attacks. The horrible details of the last year, which did in fact culminate with Christopher calling the police who did try to press felony charges, were all left out and the few that were provided were accurate. The claims of plagiarism are true and I have been present while Christopher has admitted to them (not just once, either). I can’t say anything about whether or not RUSA is being clique-ish and ignoring Brendan but I will be happy to clarify, for anyone, what I think regarding either of my brothers.

  16. Ethan,
    Has Christopher attempted to use other groups aside from Rutgers United in his pursuit of preventing this information to get out?
    Has he engaged in any other types of behaviors that you think would indicate that perhaps Christopher is encouraging Rutgers United is falling into this type of role? John Aspray seems to think that I’m making all of this up and that any suggestion from me that Chris might be manipulating him or his group is an indicator of my paranoia. Do you think that this is the case?
    From your 21 years of experience (+ 9 months in the womb), do you believe that Chris is the type of person who would be likely to do something like this? If you cared about them, would you warn Rutgers United to be careful of this type of behavior from him?
    – Brendan

  17. Once again I will try not to include any personal details but yes, I do know Christopher as somebody who might try to manipulate the members of a group like RUSA. John, if you really do think that Brendan is for some reason making all of this up just think for a moment: why would he make all that up to hurt his brother? Why do you assume that Chris is telling all truth and Brendan is telling all lies? Doesn’t it make more sense to assume that you might not have the whole picture? If you are just going to assume that Brendan is lying without looking into it then don’t come on this website telling everyone how inclusive and anti-clique you are. I happen to know for a fact that, despite what you insist is true, you HAD met and spoken to Brendan before he replied to your comment. Please stop lying.

  18. John Aspray, two members of my family are now insisting that RUSA is interfering with our personal matters, specifically with our relationships with Christopher. I have no political interest in anything you do but I have to agree with Brendan for calling you out on your refusal to even acknowledge a problem, let alone to try to solve it. You can now recognize that Brendan is NOT making stuff up or you can continue to keep your solidarity with Christopher and the other members of RUSA and refuse to listen to us. Brendan’s original point, if you remember, was that that solidarity made you inclusive and while you have stated your disagreement, you haven’t DONE much to prove your case. So which will it be?

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