Sin city (College Park, to be exact)

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for the three semesters prior to my graduation. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 19th and final opinion column, Sin city, originally published May 4, 2007.

My bad luck with letting the editor choose the column title struck once again.


This is my last column for The Diamondback. I am graduating this semester, and I hope at least some of you out there enjoyed reading my columns these past three semesters. One thing that has stuck with me during my entire stint as a columnist is the utterly dysfunctional love/hate relationship between the city of College Park and the university. The city owes so much to the university yet seems to think it can get away with making no compromises.

I went to Maryland Day last weekend and saw the booth set up by the city of College Park. It had two bullet points on a large poster bragging about the city’s selling points: “Home of the University of Maryland” and “Cradle of Aviation.” As for the second bullet point, this may be news to some of you, but College Park does have a civilian airport that is pretty ancient. Without the university, this would be the city’s only bragging point: “We have an old airport.”

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Lessons from Blacksburg (the one year anniversary)

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 18th and penultimate published opinion column, Lessons from Blacksburg, originally published April 19, 2007.


On Monday morning, the Virginia Tech community witnessed the worst civilian shooting spree in United States history. One of Tech’s students, South Korean national Cho Seung-Hui, killed 32 others before turning the gun on himself. As we at this university continue to witness the horrors unfolding on television, we feel a special bond with the students of Virginia Tech. Even if we don’t know any of them personally, they too are college students, and they’ve faced an unexpected, extreme tragedy that could just as easily have happened in College Park.

There are some lessons to be taken away from the events of Monday morning, and I hope the administrations of both Virginia Tech and this university are learning them. For one, if there is a deadly homicide on the campus and the perpetrator isn’t caught, it may make sense to take drastic actions such as bringing in dozens of police officers for a manhunt or locking down the campus. One who has killed already and is still on the run is a uniquely dangerous individual, as Monday unfortunately taught us.

We also now know there was significant evidence that something just wasn’t right with Cho. His writings consistently showed signs of psychopathy; in one particular play a teenager is killed by the stepfather he falsely accuses of molesting him. He also wrote poetry so disturbing that it creeped out the majority of his poetry class, causing him eventually to be removed from it. His classmates openly questioned whether he could become a school shooter. The police were even contacted multiple times regarding his disturbing writings and the multiple times he stalked women on the campus. Clearly, all the warning signs were there; now many will live in perpetual regret that more was not done.

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Curse the whole damn flawed system (housing at University of Maryland)

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 17th published opinion column, Curse the whole system, originally published April 6, 2007.


On Tuesday, 556 rising seniors and 86 current seniors were told that they could not continue living on the campus in any of the dorms next year (only South Campus Commons and The Courtyards are immune). Next year will mark the first in Maryland’s history that no seniors, except resident assistants, will be living on the campus. To what or whom do we owe this massive failure of planning?

The university actually has, in recent years, tried to secure funding to build a new high-rise dorm on North Campus. But the funding request was quickly shot down by the Board of Regents, citing a priority toward academic buildings. But one wonders why the priority is focused so exclusively on academic buildings; surely if the housing crunch had been this bad during all of the university’s previous growth, its academics wouldn’t be near where they are today either. Sorry Board of Regents, but you definitely deserve some of the blame for this, as does the Maryland State Assembly, who has seen fit to not give us the necessary funding.

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Less money, more problems at University of Maryland

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my sixteenth published opinion column, Less money, more problems, originally published March 16, 2007.


As each week goes by, we hear even more negative financial news regarding this university’s public funding. This year, the University System of Maryland is being underfunded to the tune of many millions of dollars by the General Assembly. Gov. Martin O’Malley has not yet reneged on his promise of a tuition freeze, but the promise is looking impossible to keep. In the wake of budget cuts, how else will the university be able to raise the necessary funding if not by extracting it from the pockets of its students?

We’re already facing the effects of this budget crunch. The construction of the new journalism building is being delayed by two months, a delay which could extend to much longer as the full extent of the budget deficit becomes clear. Construction of a new, desperately needed highrise dorm on North Campus has been delayed indefinitely, a travesty I wrote about in one of my previous columns. The Physics Building is old, decrepit and proving to be a huge liability to the department’s attempts to attract top-notch professors to the university. University libraries do not have enough funding to keep up subscriptions to many journals, a problem that is harshly affecting undergraduate students, graduate students and professors alike.

Unfortunately, there is precious little that can be done in the face of looming funding cuts by the General Assembly. The university has a lot of private sector deals in the works and is currently in the midst of a record fundraising campaign, but neither of these will provide the necessary immediate monetary relief. If the cost of tuition does not go up, the university will have to start cutting all sorts of programs and services. It is hard to say which is worse.

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Learn by doing (on the importance of undergraduate research)

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my fifteenth published opinion column, Learn by doing, originally published March 2, 2007.


Many students seem to think of the university as a solely educational institution. It’s not. In fact, the majority of the work that goes on here is research-oriented. So it is a shame so few undergraduate students get involved in the university’s largest focus area. They’re missing a huge opportunity they may never get again if they aren’t going on to graduate school.

Undergraduate research is an excellent opportunity for students. Almost every department at the university offers undergraduate research programs, and most of them offer the guided or independent study variety through which you can earn class credits. You have to take 120 credits to graduate – why not get a measly three or six of them from doing something unique?

I’m working on a guided research project run by a professor in the astronomy department. It’s a three-credit class with a workload comparable to normal three-credit classes. But it’s so much more fun and exciting. I’m using satellite imagery taken by Mars Global Surveyor to determine Martian surface ages using isochrons calibrated against surface ages of the Earth’s moon. Basically, the more craters on a surface, the older it is. Of course, the details are a bit more complicated than that.

Conducting and working on research is a great opportunity, and it’s sad that relatively few undergraduates are availing themselves of it. How many people in this world get to perform primary analysis on data taken by a $100 million spacecraft millions of miles away? It has a certain “wow” factor that impresses graduate schools and prospective employers alike. You should get involved in research if only for selfish reasons: Real-world research experience looks very good on resum├ęs and gives your education more depth than just classroom learning. Research also advances the body of knowledge in the field, so even selfish motives yield altruistic results.

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Stamping out chaos

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my fourteenth published opinion column, Stamping out chaos, originally published February 16, 2007.


Last Friday, the Black Student Union and Phi Beta Sigma tried to host an abomination of a party at Stamp Student Union. One person was arrested, another injured, a police officer was assaulted, fights broke out as admission was closed, the fire alarm was pulled and the whole travesty was finally canceled. The whole event just wasn’t planned or organized well at all, yielding an all-too-predictable result.

This was the sixth time so far this year that an event at the Student Union has fallen into disarray. This is far too common an occurrence. The rules need to be changed to foster a safer atmosphere. If a student group doesn’t have its act together, it should not be allowed to try and bungle its way through hosting an event. Its application for use of the Student Union should be swiftly denied.

The staff members in charge of the Student Union must be stricter in their application requirements. Student groups should be required to submit a detailed event plan showing that they have thought everything through and that they are thoroughly prepared. The No. 1 thing that could have prevented this embarrassment Friday night would have been preparation.

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Gimme shelter (the student housing crisis at University of Maryland)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the thirteenth of my opinion columns, Gimme shelter, originally published February 2, 2007.


During the past few decades, Maryland has become a significantly better university. Average GPAs and test scores of admitted students have shot way up. Maryland is no longer considered a safety school by so many of its applicants but is now a first choice. Its ability to attract top researchers and professors has increased significantly, and a look at Maryland’s rankings among other universities shows a sharp upward trend.

Yet Maryland also faces some disadvantages in comparison to its peer universities. It has a relatively small endowment, a consequence of its very recent ascension to greatness. It faces a perpetually high level of crime as a result of its geographical location, something that many other universities do not have to deal with. And it faces the looming threat of a lack of on-campus housing that too few have yet realized is a significant problem.

The size of the waiting list for on-campus housing continues to grow year after year, even as the annual admissions numbers have stayed more or less level during the past five years. A larger percentage of students than ever before now want to live on the campus and enjoy all aspects of the college experience Maryland has to offer. In a few short decades, this university has transformed itself from a predominantly commuter school to a genuine live-in college community. However, we are not entirely there yet, as many students, particularly transfer students from other colleges, are denied the opportunity to live on the campus.

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Professor Rockstar

Friday, February 15th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the twelfth of my opinion columns, Professor Rockstar, originally published December 1, 2006.


A bit of a kerfuffle recently spilled across The Diamondback’s pages regarding athletics funding – in particular, coaches’ compensations. A lot of people are questioning Ralph Friedgen’s high salary, especially when compared with the median salary of academic professors. But that comparison is a bit misleading.

The fact is, our football team brings in a lot of publicity and money by attracting tens of thousands of paying fans to each home game and earning the ad revenue and national profile that come from our games being nationally broadcast on ABC and ESPN. You cannot get these things without a strong football program, and to get a strong program, you need to spend the market price on a good coach. So the amount we are spending on Friedgen is at least somewhat justified.

I think our problem lies not in the fact that we have a superstar coach, but that we lack superstar professors. This isn’t just a Maryland problem, of course. It affects the entire collegiate system. Why can’t there be more people like Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov? Where are the engaging, brilliant professors with the ability to draw huge crowds and inspire interest among the general public? In a nutshell, where are the highly profitable professors?

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A buried gem (how winning a Nobel Prize is a big deal)

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the eleventh of my opinion columns, A buried gem, originally published November 17, 2006.


Tuesday night, I had the privilege of attending the first public talk on the campus by John C. Mather since it was announced that he had won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for his groundbreaking experimental research into the beginning of the universe. The event was well attended by student, faculty and community members alike. Mather was treated as a hero, receiving standing ovations both before and after his talk.

I say I had the privilege of attending because there were many more people who would have liked to attend, but either because they didn’t know about it or because the hall ran out of standing room, they couldn’t. Having one of our professors win a Nobel Prize is a big deal. This is only the fourth time it’s happened. I would have expected a bit more effort to be put into it.

I cannot fault Mather, as he did a great job, giving carefully considered answers to off-the-wall questions. I also cannot fault the physics department, as it opened up its biggest lecture hall and did the best job it could trying to promote the event. But I can fault the university at large, as this monumental academic event wasn’t given the attention it deserved. No single department can handle putting together a really large event like this deserved to be. The university needs to run the show in events of this magnitude or, at the very least, provide heavy assistance.

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No true Christians

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the tenth of my opinion columns, No true Christians, originally published November 3, 2006.


Last week, Donnie Morris, a traveling Christian evangelist with the Word of Truth campus ministry, demonstrated at the Nyumburu Cultural Center against all the sorts of people he considers to be sinners – pretty much everyone but him. He was obnoxious, vicious, hypocritical, racist, sexist and homophobic. Most of the people in the crowd were there to either laugh at or yell at him or to simply enjoy the circus-like atmosphere. He certainly didn’t seem to win any hearts or minds.

It was during this spectacle that I found myself turning my back to the preacher and helping to hold up a “Hate is not a UMD value” banner provided by the Pride Alliance. I had many deep discussions with other students on the various topics brought up by the preacher, and at least in this way, the preacher’s visit to the campus did serve a purpose, even if that mainly involved students finding common ground on how much they disagreed with him.

One event in particular stuck out in my mind. As I was holding the banner, a student who identified herself as a member of the Campus Crusade for Christ came around and said something to the effect of, “I just want to apologize to you guys about this; his views don’t reflect real Christian values. He’s not a true Christian.”

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