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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kudos to the Crimson White

This is largely a local matter, so it may be of little interest to others, but I wanted to praise the Crimson White, the University of Alabama's student newspaper.  On a variety of issues in the last year, including coverage of last April's tornado and its aftermath and reporting on a student government scandal this year (one in which the university administration has been less than helpful in providing full disclosure of relevant information, relying on an overbroad reading of FERPA), the Crimson White has provided some really superb student journalism on a campus with more than 35,000 undergraduates. 

Today and continuing on Thursday, the CW is running a two-part package of articles and editorials on "The Machine," a legendary -- but not mythical -- undergraduate organization at the University of Alabama composed of representatives of the school's powerful Greek system: one that has used secrecy, bloc voting, the threat of expulsion from the group, and, allegedly, intimidation, threats, and boycotts to ensure much more often than not that its candidates, and the interests of the racially segregated Greek system, enjoy an undue dominance in campus student politics.  Today's stories, and the editorial from the paper's editor-in-chief, are excellent, and the paper should be commended for doing such good work.  You can read them at the paper's web site here.  I don't much like posting this during the teaching recruitment season, and I should add that these stories are about undergraduate campus politics and so far as I know have nothing to do with the Law School; but the CW chose to publish these stories now, and I consider myself duty-bound to bring attention to them.  Good work, CW.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on November 16, 2011 at 01:45 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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About 40 years ago I was copy editor on the CW, so I am always interested in stories about it. I was also a candidate for SGA president -- against the Machine. So I speak with some bias on both the CW and the Machine.

The interesting thing about exposes on the Machine is the number of times the same thing gets exposed. When I was at UA (before I was copy editor), there was a big article exposing the Machine. For some reason, I checked the archives of the paper across the Quad at the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library and found other such articles every six to 10 years apart. In other words, long enough for the student body to have turned over.

As KS points out, the Machine regularly wins the SGA presidency. Why? Because they start out with a permanent organization (or 28 of them), while we Independents had/have no continuing organizations interested in political power.

I don't know how the campaigning is done now, but I represented some students about 20 years ago who thought that the SGA's rules allowing only one week for campaigning were a violation of the 1st Amendment. The Machine was having its candidate getting invited to one frat house after another long before "campaign week." Independents had to wait till the "open forums" held during the campaign week.

We lost. Alabama Student Party v. Student Government Ass'n of the University of Alabama, 867 F.2d 1344, 57 USLW 2560, 51 Ed. Law Rep. 1169 (11th Cir. 1989).

What did I learn from all of this? That the deck is stacked. That the Golden Rule is "those who have the gold rule, and those who rule get the gold." (Read "gold" as "resources.") But it is still the right thing to do to "rage against the Machine."

Posted by: Ed Still | Nov 19, 2011 5:32:06 PM

Inasmuch as the UA SGA presidency is a gateway into Alabama (and other) politics, it is a quite important story. The SGA presidents have gone on to become Governor, Senators, Congressmen (Representatives), a 5th (pre-split)/11th (post-split) Circuit Court of Appeals judge, and even a president of the American Bar Assocation. Take Wikipedia with a grain of salt, but here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine

One could posit that those with political acumen would only be the ones who rose to the top of the SGA, but no other school in the state has such an impressive alumni list.

Only seven times since 1928 has a non-Machine backed candidate won the SGA presidency, and none have in the 20 years since the SGA got suspended due to Machine chicanery. (Though if they had a do over, I'm sure they would, considering the girl they intimidated was the daughter of then-future and now-past Governor Bob Riley.)

Sadly, this could be far more important than "just" an undergraduate collegiate news story, especially coupled with the resignation of the SGA president earlier this school year and questions of misappropriations of student funds two years ago when some members of the SGA went to the BCS Championship game on the school's dime. Couple that with the University's "overbroad reading of FERPA" seeming like the university itself is shielding the Machine and the SGA instead of trying to bring openness to the process. I'm not saying there is more (and I hope there is not more), but from what it looks like, the cover-up(s) make it look like there's more chicanery to be found if people just keep on looking.

At the end of the day, in the nicest light to the Machine and the UA SGA, the story is about a secret society that is made of a group of 28 organizations and how it controls three-quarters of a million dollars annually. They get to choose what organizations get funded and what doesn't. They get to abuse funds and send themselves on lavish trips. They get the final say on everything with their controlling majority. Come to think of it, it really is politics with training wheels: candidates even take campaign contributions from the Machine and its constituent fraternities/sororities...

Posted by: KS | Nov 17, 2011 2:56:36 AM

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