Is Chapel Hill About to Fracture?

Guest post by Nick Eberlein

Once the brouhaha over November's council race and the implications it would have for the town - and more pointedly, for town-UNC relations - died down weeks afterward, we have seen very little in the press about what we may expect in the coming months, years, etc. between the two parties. But when I was made aware of Bob Burtman's fresh column in this week's Indy, it seems that a whole new round of mud-slinging, compromising, controversy, stonewalling, or stalemate could easily begin very soon.

The article, I think anyway, does a good job of weaving a synthesis between the successful advocacy candidates, the gearing up of Carolina North negotiations, the matching of university powerbrokers with elected officials to shoot the bull over common issues, and the ensuing lobbying petition that has resulted. What makes this article interesting is it sourced entirely with anonymous quotes (e.g., "a council member," "a student enrolled in Jonathan Howes' class") and makes some pretty damning allegations.

According to Burtman, the unnamed Council Member has accused UNC officials of using these meetings as a means to butter up the Council rather than breaking bread and discussing shared interests. Burtman suggests that a rift is forming between some on the Council, and there may be the possibility of distinct voting blocs forming amongst its membership on town-gown subjects. However, he is also of the mind that UNC officials right now are actively working to circumvent the town's authority on any and all issues relating to campus operations, growth, and expansion. He attributes much of this knowledge to one of Howes' unnamed students, who has apparently stabbed his former professor in the back and violated classroom confidentiality by relaying to Burtman that Howes was, at times, vocal about his distaste for some of this year's election winners because of their stances regarding UNC.

What I am wondering after reading this is: has Burtman opened up a can of worms and made public simmering hostilities that were kept relatively quiet? Or is the veil of anonymity used in this article a convenient means to push out some compelling copy? Does UNC really have the clout to hold sway over the local media's editorial opinion, as the article suggests? The article's final suggestion that 'UNC uber alles' is an agenda actively impressed upon the students may be the most daunting charge made.

What think y'all folks? Do you foresee a smooth, mutual planning interface between the town and Carolina as the years progress and proposals come together, or are they playing a high-stakes game of chicken that could go horribly wrong at any time?

Nick Eberlein is a Chapel Hill native and a senior journalism and history major at UNC.

Issues: 

Total votes: 199

Comments

Hi folks, I just thought I'd post the link to Dan Coleman's column in today's CHH. It discusses many of the same things people have written about on this thread and adds in some of Dan's personal anecdotes and analysis as well.

http://www.heraldsun.com/orange/10-444587.html

Have a good weekend everyone,

Nick

Just getting back here, so thanks for the heads up, Nick. Reading the piece this evening made me wonder if it's now an established tradition for local media types to tap OrangePolitics.org comments and discussions for their stories and columns. Howes must have really enjoyed reading the "The Truth According to D.C." upon his return from the hospital.

BTW, what's with the "Durham" byline on the column?

You're welcome e-p-u,

Good point you've made about "media types" tapping OP.org for their stories. There is a lot of danger in doing that, not the least of which is there is no way to prove whether the people posting comments are who they say they are, or if people write in multiple, similar posts under a bevy of psuedonyms. I think the story a while back in the Herald about Cam Hill and "talk of a recall brewing" after the news of his house deal is particularly pertinent (Unfortunately, due to a change in Herald policy that now disallows non-subscribers to search the archives, I can't post the link here, but it came out sometime in December). Perusing this site as a tool to help a reporter come up with queries for sources is acceptable, but leaning on this site as an actual source is wrong and beyond reproach for normal journalistic ethics (see the thread about Mark Marcoplos and the Herald editorial re: comments he made on this site).

However, in Dan's defense, I'd like to note that he is an - opinion - columnist as well as one of the official moderators of these forums. Also, the three students he mentioned as weighing in on the Howes matter can be confirmed as having actually made those posts. Both Matt Compton and Ashley Castevens wrote a printed letter to the editor of the DTH on this matter and said things very similar to what has been posted here, and Nathan Denny thoroughly identified himself and gave anyone ample ability to verify whether or not it was him that made that post (I work for Nate, he did make that post).

By the way — Dan has a right to voice his opinion of public officials or the past actions, in Howes' case, of former public officials. However, the timing of the column is unfortunate. I didn't know Howes was in the hospital, but I hope he is now in good health or on his way toward it. E-p-u, if you know him, please tell him we wish him a speedy recovery.

Nick

I just received a review of this book (paperback not yet available) and thought it might be of interest to several who participated in this thread:

The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century by Robert W. McChesney

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1583671064/qid=1075498396/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/103-0086899-1235832?v=glance&s=books

Yup--I've been lurking all along. Didn't have anything to add--so I kept my "mouth" shut. (I will pause now for cruel, sarcastic comments. ) ;-)

I still think that the tenor of Town/Gown relationship changed when Tony Rand attempted that end-run...at least that's when they changed for ME.

Carrboro/Chapel Hill resident since 1982.

Melanie

Duncan,

I know you don't really love me. :~) In fact, it sounds like you're pretty angry with me. That's OK, I was very frustrated with you and others when I made my post. I appreciate your last post and would like to add one point. This form of communication is imperfect. This is back and forth commenting, not necessarily a conversation or dialogue, and the individual contexts we each bring to interpreting what others write are not discernible without personal knowledge of the other and/or more in depth discussion. I now understand why the Dean and other blogging communities use Meetups. It's so much easier in an electronic-only forum to stand on principle alone and forget that there are feeling, caring people on the other end.

Respectfully,

Terri

Agreed!

Concedingly,

Duncan

I'd like to add that I think this has been a very successful interchange. Very thought provoking on a tricky issue. The edges of issues like this hardly ever get debated and this is a refreshing discussion.

Thanks to all,

Mark

Thanks to everyone for participating in this little debate, which I think has been relatively civil, although heated. It's clear that we have a fundamental difference of opinion deriving from separate sets of basic beliefs, and of course these aren't the sorts of things we'll resolve -- or change -- in a forum like this. I've said what I have to say as clearly as I can say it, so I don't think I should say any more unless it's to answer questions anyone might have of me. You all have forced me to confront some of my own assumptions about things, and although I haven't changed my mind about confidentiality agreements, my thoughts on the subject -- and on the role of student journalists, in general -- have been appreciably deepened and clarified. If I've helped you all do the same, well that's great too.

And best of all, as Terri points out, we've had this discussion completely in the clear, open to whomever wants to read it. I think that's good.

Duncan:

How many conversations do journalists have with lawmakers and business leaders that are classified as "deep background" or begin with the understand that everything said is completely off the record? If a journalist been having a conversation with President Broad and she indicated that the conversation was off-the-record, then said, "We're moving the Chapel Hill campus to Pittsboro, it's already been settled in closed meetings with the Board of Governors," the journalist could choose to publish that, sure. But if he did, then right or not, there would be a price to pay. Each of the participants in the class came into the room with that sort of expectation. And like I said before, the lectures were taped—it was our discussion afterward that was confidential. That wasn’t some conspiracy of silence—it was a provision we all needed so we could speak our minds.

I think you are forgetting that this was a classroom, not a press conference. If we had been discussing Ancient Greek Pottery, then this sort of condition would not have been necessary, but the fact is we were not. We were taking a class on the University, and it was full of people who have a hand in shaping the course the University takes. This wasn’t about sounding off on policy or spouting rhetoric. We enrolled in the class to learn about higher education in general and the University in particular. The fact of the matter is that when we speak in classes we have different expectations than when we speak in meetings, and we were in class to learn from each other. If you think student leaders don’t have to guard what they say on the record, then you sir, clearly do not understand how seriously we take our jobs and the Daily Tar Heel. The Student Body President is a Trustee of this campus—that’s real. The DTH has more readers and covers more stories with its reporters (as opposed to using syndicated articles from the AP, the NYT, or the WaPo) than a lot of local papers—that’s real too. And we were students in a classroom—we shouldn’t have to guard what we say, normally, and we wouldn't. I realize that the Daily Tar Heel could care less when it comes to my opinion on Saul Bellow. But in this particular class, many of us were the experts and what we said had weight. You stand on your soapbox of journalistic integrity, but it won’t stand up to my position of academic necessity.

Terri,

That question _was_ asked (by Mark Chilton) and answered well by Ashley. I'd be happy to ask it again if you like!

I have never dealt with the university in any other role but the role of a reporter, and I don't have any particular ax to grind. I'm sure the class was fabulous and worthwhile, and I take the students' word about that. My only concern was the concept of confidentiality in an academic setting, especially as it relates to the role of student journalists, and that has been all I've been concerned about.

One other thing "good journalists" do, Terri, is avoid misrepresenting what others write to fit one's own preconceptions -- for instance, that those who have a problem with the confidentiality agreement have, to use your words, "significant local experience with the town and gown relationship and as such have built up a cynical attitude toward the university." I don't fit that definition. I'm a journalism geek, and since you asked me (Whoopsie! I guess you _didn't_ ask me. Anyway...), I am interested in journalism education and the role of student journalists on campus, which has been a matter of quite a bit of debate nationwide. (You can catch up at http://www.poynter.org ).

Love,

Duncan

When this discussion began, I was mostly upset with the university over the Carolina North planning process. But after reading the posts here, I feel there is just as much agenda pushing/manipulating from the community side. Clearly, several of the contributors here have significant local experience with the town and gown relationship and as such have built up a cynical attitude toward the university, but in the discussion about the AMST 90 course, your experience is beside the point. Instead of asking Matt or Ashley if representatives from the town council or community were invited to the class or whether they felt the local perspective was fairly represented, you assumed imbalance and manipulation. There was an opportunity here to ask good questions about the course (which I thought was what good journalists do, Duncan), and if warranted, share your experience without criticizing any of the faculty or the university as whole. Jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, and publishing the unverified complaints of a single, dissatisfied student is not conducive to improving communications between the community and the university. Communications requires trust.

I would like to see a healthy community dialogue over Carolina North and university expansion in general--but I don't think the Indy article helped make that a possibility. In response to the final question posed originally, "Do you foresee a smooth, mutual planning interface between the town and Carolina as the years progress and proposals come together, or are they playing a high-stakes game of chicken that could go horribly wrong at any time?" it looks like a game of chicken to me. I hope one side decides to quit playing before the game goes "horribly wrong."

One note that does make me happy is that all but one poster to this discussion actually used their own names. Maybe there is hope....

"The confidentiality policy was in place for the direct benefit of the students involved. In Jonathan Howes' discussion section, specifically, there was one student body president, two candidates for student body president, several presidents or former presidents of large campuswide organizations, and four members of DTH leadership."

I presume this glittering array of important people take other classes? What protects them then? Are you really suggesting that your campus leaders, elected and otherwise, are so afraid of their own shadows that they won't speak their mind in class without special protection?

"The policy was not intended to protect Howes' personal politics, because he rarely, if ever, revealed them."

Then the policy worked! Yay! Why all the gnashing of teeth, then, about his "personal politics" being described outside of class? At least be consistent.

"As has been mentioned, conversation was entirely guided by students, and confidentiality was essential to creating a classroom environment in which student leaders (both elected officers and DTH editors) could freely discuss University issues without fear of political fallout - or a frontpage story or backpage editorial in the DTH."

What do they do when they're in a class with you that isn't American Studies 94? Sit on the other side of class? Pass confidential notes to the teacher when they want to express themselves? Eye you warily and flinch whenever you put your pencil to paper?

You are suggesting that the presence of student journalists in a class stifles discussion, or at least the discussion by a cohort of students you deem to be important in some way. (By extension, you're implying that the average student does not deserve to have _their_ opinions protected from your prying eyes.) Not only do I think that you take yourself way too seriously, but now you're declaring that the only thing that keeps you civil, as editorial page editor of the DTH, is a confidentiality agreement. That's an extraordinarily bad move, as a journalist.

Far from easing my mind, if I was a student at UNC-CH, this admission of yours would disturb me. Ironically, I agree with the notion that you, as a student journalist, should allow your fellow students the widest possible freedom to express themselves in class without fear of, as you say rather hilariously and precociously, "the political fallout." If you go on to a career in journalism, you'll be constantly called upon to use your best judgment in such situations, weighing the value of your scoop against other values equally (or even more) important. Often you'll decide against the scoop. But by going another step and agreeing, officially, to keep your mouth shut, you've accepted the idea that your speech must be officially curtailed if it's to remain civil, that you can't exercise self-restraint, and you've told every single other student on campus (at least, those who aren't important people like SBP candidates and editorial page editors) that _their_ class discussions are fair game in the presence of a student journalist, absent an official gag agreement.

Finally, it's a little unnerving to hear an editorial page editor state that his fellow students needed to be protected from him.

Ashley said: "Being a student at Chapel Hill is an interesting situation to be in."

What makes you think many of us haven't been in that situation? In fact, it is my time as a student leader at UNC from 1989 to 1993 that most informs my understanding of how the adminstration works. My experiences since then have allowed me to further refine my understanding of the politics of South Building, but nothing has proven my original impressions wrong.

The point that Ms. Castevens was attempting to make - and that was lost on most of her audience - was that the confidentiality policy was not put in place for the benefit of legislators, administrators or faculty members. In fact, it frequently put all of the above members of the University community in a far tighter position, for reasons explained below.

The confidentiality policy was in place for the direct benefit of the students involved. In Jonathan Howes' discussion section, specifically, there was one student body president, two candidates for student body president, several presidents or former presidents of large campuswide organizations, and four members of DTH leadership.

The policy was not intended to protect Howes' personal politics, because he rarely, if ever, revealed them. As has been mentioned, conversation was entirely guided by students, and confidentiality was essential to creating a classroom environment in which student leaders (both elected officers and DTH editors) could freely discuss University issues without fear of political fallout - or a frontpage story or backpage editorial in the DTH.

The policy, if anything, allowed students to more freely and intensely grill University officials and legislators, who had to fend off some pretty fierce questioning at times.

While everyone tends to think that either University administrators were molding the politics of student leaders, or that student leaders and journalists were remiss in allowing the confidentiality to go unchallenged, the policy was absolutely essential to the success of the course.

I believe in this policy wholeheartedly, and thought the class to be extraordinarily informative and the source of endless discussion - that was very frequently critical of the University. As editorial page editor of the DTH (and an editorial columnist during the semester in which the class took place), I know that the course was truly a unique opportunity.

In my position working with the opinion content of the DTH, I know that I have had - and probably never will again have - such an opportunity to speak candidly with people such as UNC Student Body President Matt Tepper, or for that matter Ashley Castevens and Matt Compton, who are currently running for student office. American Studies 94 allowes us a valuable chance to speak openly, off the record, and without risk of fallout.

"Please explain to me further why you feel it is unethical and unacceptable to forsake a student's academic or professional experience for the other."

I accept that a student might occasionally be faced with that decision and have to make a choice. That's life, and we sometimes put ourselves in such situations.

But that is not the situation here. There's no inherent conflict when a student journalist sits in a class in which university and state leaders speak candidly about public matters. It's only a conflict because those university and state leaders demand secrecy. There's nothing preventing those leaders from speaking candidly without the protection of a gag rule, only their own fear. And in order to assuage _their_ fear, the student journalists (and the rest of you, for that matter) become the subjects of coercion -- either agree to protect us, or leave class. I find it unacceptable that a professor would force a student to make that decision at a university where the free exchange of ideas is a bedrock value. As a journalist, I find it particularly loathsome that this condition forced the journalists in the class to either cease to "uphold high levels of journalistic integrity," as you put it, or leave a class. I am, like you, fully aware that they are also students.

I do not accept the idea that "journalistic integrity" is at odds with the free exchange of ideas in a classroom setting. I recognize, though, that it is at odds with the desire of public officials to operate in secrecy. Between the two, it is secrecy -- and not "journalistic integrity" -- that is at odds with scholarship and the free exchange of ideas.

I do not accept that the professors and guest speakers of your class rated any more protection than any other professor on campus. People on your campus -- professors, students, guests -- have been held accountable for what they say in and out of the classroom many times in the past, so I'm not very impressed by the perils of being an SBP with real live opinions.

In your class, what information was so sensitive that it could not be allowed to be discussed in the open, and so important that you would volunteer to assist university and state leaders (and, apparently, student leaders) in the stage-managing of their public images? In fact, you seem to be arguing that there was _nothing_ very sensitive discussed in class. You and Mark have asserted (in the absence of evidence due to that pesky gag rule) that there was nothing newsworthy about what Prof. Howes said about the Chapel Hill elections. Fine, I believe you. Does that go for the rest of your guest speakers and professors? And if so, you might want to ask yourself why they asked for confidentiality in the first place, and what that says about the way they conduct business, and whether our government and other public leaders have an unhealthy, kneejerk desire for secrecy.

And if they _did_ drop a few bombs on you during that class, important and significant information that only you and say, Tony Rand know, how does that make you feel about your government? Do you wonder how much else he knows that you don't know, and will never know now that class is over? And what about his constituents -- do they have a right to know this hypothetical thing, or not? I guess not, because they're not students at UNC-CH.

I'm not so stupid that I don't recognize how confidentiality can loosen people's tongues. I do work as a journalist, and I very rarely but occasionally grant sources off-the-record status because I'd like to hear what they have to say, even if I can't use it. It may be a fine distinction, but let me make it: I think there's a difference between James Moeser denying me an interview (to which I have the recourse of finding the information by other means, usually), and James Moeser, for the same reasons, denying me a seat in a class at a public university to which I am paying tuition (a decision to which I have no recourse).

You may choose to limit your speech, and that's your right and your decision to make. As I understand it, the students of your class were not allowed a choice; or, rather, the choice you were forced to make was between being allowed to go to class or not, based on your willingness to be silent once you left the room. I recognize that all classes have certain prerequisites -- certain classes one must take beforehand, for instance -- but I'd like another example of a class that requires secrecy in order to spare public officials public scrutiny.

Finally, your example of the SBP sitting next to the DTH editor is one based on fear and the exigencies of politics and public relations. I would hope you would elect an SBP who wasn't afraid of the implications of her own opinions.

In much political discourse, there is what one truly thinks and what one wishes to convey to the public. There is the notion that it is perfectly acceptable and part of the game for someone to have two, often distinctly different, perspectives. Society can endorse such behaovior and describe it as diplomacy as easily it can dismiss it as a con job. Yet it is not impossible or even difficult to hold generally to what one truly believes and thus avoid situations where important issues are discussed in private. I think most thoughtful people will elaborate on their opinions in relation to who is listening or how much they care about how their comments are received.

In a small group of trusted friends & acquaintances, one may feel free to be more irreverent. In a group that contains strangers & reporters, one might be more measured and circumspect. And furthermore, any request that discussions be held in confidence - especially when reporters are around - is silly to begin with. Even though an exact quote may never appear in print, an attitude can be noted and communicated in any number of ways later on. In a way, it could be interpreted as condescending that a group of students, especially journalism students, was asked to keep the discussions off-the-record.It could also be interpreted that the officials simultaneously held public and private views on some matters. Probably not a good lesson in any respect.

Mark

Ashley and Matt: It's reasonable to take issue with the Indy's characterization of the course. However, I think you run into trouble when you rest on the "confidentiality" argument, especially if you also insist on emphasizing that "this was an ACADEMIC course." As Duncan Murrell mentions above, you seem to be overlooking the fundamental tension between "academic" and "confidential" that arises in this discussion. There are very few circumstances in which confidentiality is not offensive to traditional academic values. It's kind of shocking that the course's coordinator thought the policy was acceptable, much less ethical. Also, it's puzzling to me that the participants in the course would even bother to ask for confidentiality. I mean, why? What opinions could they possibly have expressed that informed locals didn't already know they held?

To try and answer some of your questions:

Being a student at Chapel Hill is an interesting situation to be in. On one hand, we are here to get a classroom education; on the other, we are in one of the most active student bodies with a multitude of extracurricular involvements. It would be a sincere shame to not take full advantage of both. The two, unfortunately, can create quite a conflict at times, making such things as confidentiality agreements in courses and conflict of interest policies in organizations not only quite common, but absolutely necessary.

Imagine, for example, the editor of the DTH newspaper and the Student Body President sitting next to each other in class (which is more or less the case we're talking about here)--the campus is not anything less than a professional environment in these spheres. But does that mean they should feel restricted in their classroom involvement? Because as a journalist, the editor must remain neutral as possible and uphold high levels of journalistic integrity, while the student government representative, who knows much, may not wish to have every comment put in print and perhaps suffer repercusions for a personal opinion voiced in class? I think that's perfectly reasonable, and logical as well.

Please explain to me further why you feel it is unethical and unacceptable to forsake a student's academic or professional experience for the other.

On a quick note about the selection of speakers, we were operating on a limited amount of time and with those who are willing to speak and participate in the course. It is not feasible to collect the perfect balance of lecturers, and there were certainly a great variety in our classroom--not just those individuals mentioned, but many who simply know a lot about some part of the university (hospital construction, even the Dean of Duke Chapel). Furthermore, every participating lecturer was chosen for their knowledge, experience, and willingness to share both--it is highly unlikely that there was a conscious move to do anything more.

Ashley, this is probably not a 'righteous indignation' kind of moment. Whoever spoke to the Indy should not have done so (assuming that s/he really agreed to the 'confidentiality'), but so what?

Is it an insult to Jonathan Howes to suggest that he loves UNC and wants others to share that love? I don't reckon I have a problem with him sharing that sentiment in AMST 94. Seems like it would have been pertinent to have some guests who take a different view, however.

I mean Howes, Moeser, Broad, and Rand? Sounds a little lop-sided, don't you think? Maybe there were others with more diverse viewpoints (but that have not been mentioned on this thread). What about some present or former Town Council Members (other than Prof. Howes)? How about Bill Strom or Julie Andresen or someone? They have legitimate (and very different) perspectives on the Town Gown relationship.

-Mark Chilton

Thanks Duncan. Indeed he was a member of the BOT at the

time I had the conversation -- it occurred in front of Memorial

Hall while the BOT was attending a ceremony there that

included the Chancellor, the Governor, and Sen Rand.

Former councilmembers Julie McClintock and

Joyce Brown were holding signs

that protested the Rand proposal. An interesting

sidebar was that Julie, Joyce and I talked at length with Tony

Rand's son, who I believe is a lawyer in Fayetteville.

We asked him how he would feel if Fayetteville State Univ.

were to take his neighborhood, but got no response.

Joe, I was there holding signs as well! (I'm glad someone has a good memory.)

I don't care how much credit Howard Lee takes for stopping the budget rider that would have stripped Chapel Hill of zoning authority over UNC, it would never have been introduced if he had truly opposed it. He was a very effective lobbyist for UNC. I think he said so himself in his campaign literature.

I would like to reiterate my classmates’ points regarding Jonathan Howes’ discussion section last semester in AMST 94. Not only did Matt Compton and I argue the points in our letter to the editor of the DTH that the comments relayed from a student were largely false and that we found the article to be unmistakably poor in its composition, but we emphasized the confidentiality of the class. And that, in my opinion, is of utmost importance in our comments.

Foremost, let me point out something rather simple: this was an ACADEMIC course at UNC. As such, the crucial matter of the semester was learning. Such an obvious fact, I would say, but something overlooked by those only concerned with the political sway of campus administrators. Not one of our professors was on a mission to indoctrinate us with their personal opinions, and not once did I feel that the discussions had in class were in any way overly influenced by their opinions. The class was rich in academic merit and the discourse was entirely student-led, as were many of the presentations made in our small section (of less than 20 students, I would say). As has been pointed out, the class was crammed full of student leaders of every variety, and we did indeed have an agreement that what was said in the classroom stayed in the classroom. Frankly, a course of such great value could not likely exist without such clause, as in particular the DTH staffers and student government leaders—as well as the faculty members—must be allowed to participate in an academic conversation without fear of extracurricular backlash. We are, at the end of the day, still students, and our professors are our teachers; there is no king-and-pawn relationship going on in the classrooms of the Chapel Hill campus.

The problem is that a valuable teacher on our campus is suffering the ill-will and uninformed breech of trust by a student. I am wholly disgusted that one of my classmates in an undeniably excellent course would betray the trust so graciously granted.

I still don't understand how UNC administrators can think that something that is bad for Chapel Hill can be good for UNC. It's not like they can pick it up and move to Pittsboro.

I know you know this, Joe, but for the others you might want to mention that Stevens was also a member of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees and ultimately the board's chairman. Given his politics, I find it surprising that he's so enthusiastic about government takings, but his former position on the BOT helps to explain it for me.

The future may be bright for the journalists who acquiesced to the powerful UNC administrators - NPR has a stableful of such journalists and they will need replacements.

Mark

Like Ruby, I agree fully with Mark Chilton when he said that

UNC has showed its hand in NC legislative attempts to

overrule the town of CH. The town council would be naive and

foolish not to expect it to happen again. It's not that the

UNC officials and the state legislators are bad people, it's that

they beleive that the needs for the state outweigh the

needs of the citizens of the town. Two years ago, I talked with

Richard Stevens, then Wake County manager

and now an NC legislator -- we were discussing Tony Rand's

move to overrule the town. He told the story about his father

whose house was taken so that DOT could build a highway interchange He and his father believed that this was a reasonable sacrifice that they should make for a larger good. These

people feel that Chapel Hillians should be willing to sacrifice their personal lifestyles for the good of the state. We must assume

that the UNC officers will promote what is best for UNC and we

must rely on the town council to present what is best for CH

citizens.

A quick note about the class that has been discussed: How could

someone present an opinion in a class of (how many people?)

and believe that it wouldn't be revealed. I told the secret

about my bank robbery to only 10 people -- they promised

that they wouldn't tell anyone -- now the police are at my door.

And Matt, if you ever needed a reminder of the perils of secrecy, you couldn't do any better than this:

"Terri pretty much hits the nail on the head--if this source had come out publicly, we would all have had the opportunity to have a real debate about this. Instead, we are left with one version of the story cast out before the eye of the public, and those of us who were actually enrolled in the class are scrambling to set the record straight."

Of course, you're not setting the record straight -- you're just claiming it's crooked. And you _can't_ set the record straight because you're bound by that agreement to secrecy. So now you're in a bind -- you can either break your word to defend someone you think has been wronged, or you can keep your word and let that person be slagged in public.

How does that ethical dilemma feel? Get used to it if you're going into government, because the dirty little secret of secrets is that no secret is secret for long.

Also, the southern part (where most development is planned, IF the airport closes) is zoned OI-2. This requires the developer to get a Special Use Permit from the town for any building over 20,000 square feet. The rest is OI-3, which lets the developer do pretty much anything.

Matt Compton: "What I mean is that we took the class with a strict understanding that specific opinions expressed were off the record. As I've said before, there were a number of editors from the DTH in the class, and I'm sure they would have enjoyed the opportunity to print some of the things that were said, but the fact is they did not."

Here we have another example of the way schools (high schools and colleges) put their student journalists in terrible binds. The choice those editors were given, if I'm reading you right, is that they could either accept that all discussions were off the record in a blanket agreement -- no matter how newsworthy -- or drop the class. If the president of the university system had said something like, say, "We're moving the Chapel Hill campus to Pittsboro, it's already been settled in closed meetings with the Board of Governors," those editors would have been barred from reporting it. That is, for the sake of their educations, they had to choose to enter a conspiracy of silence with the very institutions they're expected to cover. (Matt: please don't lecture me on the use of the word "conspiracy"; I'm using it in its non-pejorative sense.)

I'm frightened but not surprised that a room full of student leaders didn't find it odd to be in a class that required an agreement of silence between instructor and student. One of the things that is arousing and therefore attractive about power is becoming privy to secret knowledge, no less if you're president of the student body than if you're president of the nation. And, anyway, we've become so inured to the idea of "official secrets" that we've begun to grant the privilege to all who claim it.

But I'm sad that three student journalists rolled over like that. I will admit that I'm wishing three people had the guts to do something I probably wouldn't have done when I was 21 and more dazzled by pomp and position than I am now. But I wonder -- what would have happened if one of those young journalists had stood up and said, "No, Dr. Willis, I don't accept those terms." Ask yourself what would have happened to that person -- a tuition-paying student, likely a citizen of the state of North Carolina, and presumably academically qualified to be in the course, with their only disqualification being their refusal to keep the secrets of public officials.

If it's anything like what happened to me when I objected to the closing of a Board of Trustees meeting I thought was in violation of the state's open meetings law, they would have been ejected. (One of my most treasured possessions is my audiotape of Susan Ehringhaus throwing me out.)

You might think this is a minor matter, but I don't. I'm sorry that those young journalists chose to go along with a very unusual condition that was specifically -- if we're being honest here -- meant to keep comments out of the earshot of journalists and others who might have an interest in the opinions of public officials. But I'm more sorry that they were put in that position in the first place.

And with all of those future NC leaders sitting in that classroom, happily agreeing to a gag rule, is it wrong to be just a little pessimistic about the future of open government in our state? Secrecy is a habit, and so forgive me if I don't congratulate Dr. Willis for teaching you the ropes.

Mark C.-

the northern part of horace williams is zoned

R-2.

Most people don't seem to know this.

I would leave the northern part R-2 and not rezone that part.

I hope you're right, Matt. But with all due respect, my years of experience in dealing with the University (both as a student and as a townie) indicate otherwise. I agree with Mark Chilton's assessment.

I have believed UNC administrators many many times, including most recently when I was told my participation and input on the Carolina North Advisory Board would be valued. My trust has been violated repeatedly, and I'm only one of many that have had our loyalty abused. But we can't survive without that bully who keeps beating us up.

If it sounds ike domestic violence, that's no conincidence. This may sound dramatic, but the stakes are as high as they have ever been. We HAVE work together as equal partners to survive. More on this here: http://www.dailytarheel.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/01/12/4002a5f9c28c7

Matt Compton wrote: I don't buy into the good vs. evil rhetoric, and I've commented about Carolina North on this site before.

Mark Chilton responds: You are the one who wrote: ". . .the Independent can do better than be manipulated by those who would wish us ill." Characterizing an unnamed critic of AMST 94 as being one "who would wish us ill" sounds a lot like you are on one side and the 'ill-wishers' are on the other.

Matt Compton wrote: So, I resent the implication that I've "Fallen prey to a kind of UNC-can-do-no-wrong indoctrination."

Mark Chilton responds: Well, I apologize. That comment was probably out of line.

Matt Compton wrote: I take exception with the thought that anyone affiliated with the University (and Mark, Nick, that's who I'm talking about when I say, "us"--Not the University planners) is out to railroad the Town and steamroll all that Chapel Hill stands for.

Mark Chilton responds: You can take exception if you like, but we both know that Sen. Rand showed his cards back in 2002 on the question of railroading the Town of Chapel Hill. Others at UNC made their willingness to do the same thing VERY clear to me in the mid-1990's when I was advocating to rezone the Horace Williams Tract. I am not sure whether your use of the word 'anyone' is really meant to be more like 'everyone.' Clearly, not everyone associated with UNC is out to railroad the town, but on the other hand it is naive to believe that no one is.

According to the university honor code, students should "Refrain from conduct that impairs or may impair the capacity of University and associated personnel to perform their duties, manage resources, protect the safety and welfare of members of the University community, and maintain the integrity of the University." Similarly there is a section on Conduct Affecting the Integrity of the University. One violation in that section is "Knowingly violating officially adopted University policies designed to protect the integrity and welfare of the University and members of the campus community."

Lest you think that the university only imposes an ethical constraint on student discourse, there is also a section for faculty called Confidentiality of Unpublicized Views and Associations. "Information about student views, beliefs, and political associations acquired by professors in the course of their work as instructors, advisors, or counselors is confidential, and is not to be disclosed to persons outside the University except under legal compulsion."

While I don't think any of these codes say students or faculty shouldn't publicly discuss what goes on in their classroom, I do think there is an ethical standard outlined requiring both students and faculty to use discretion in how they share this information. From what Matt wrote, it seems like the students accepted the need for discretion by registering for the course (or not dropping after the initial discussion on discretion).

If any of the students in the course took issue with what was being said by the instructor or any of the speakers, the honorable road was to take responsibility for making those objections public so that Dr. Howes or others could respond either publicly or in private.

Mark Chilton:

There is a difference between providing reasonable criticism or making constructive suggestions about a project like Carolina North, which I've seen a lot of, and the personal attack on a professor, like what we saw in Burtman's column. I don't buy into the good vs. evil rhetoric, and I've commented about Carolina North on this site before. Time after time, I've said that we all have to be reasonable. Time after time, I've said Carolina North has to happen, but not without plenty of input from the town.

So, I resent the implication that I've "Fallen prey to a kind of UNC-can-do-no-wrong indoctrination." I don't think that Carolina is infallible, and I never have. There are lots of things about Carolina North that I'm not too pleased about, not least of which that there is not a student seat on the Executive Committee that will oversee the project as it moves from idea to implementation. Don't try to dismiss what I say because I'm not ready to burn the Chancellor in effigy.

Where I find fault with the Independent's column are statements like, "Sentiments such as Rand's have led some council members to expect a full frontal assault dressed in light blue if they don't agree to approve plans for the project. For a preview, Town Council members may want to audit the freshman seminar Howes is teaching this semester--'Working together to build a community: UNC and the town of Chapel Hill experience.' " Perhaps Burtman wasn't wishing ill circumstance on Dr. Howes, but he wasn't sending hugs and kisses either. I take exception with the thought that anyone affiliated with the University (and Mark, Nick, that's who I'm talking about when I say, "us"--Not the University planners) is out to railroad the Town and steamroll all that Chapel Hill stands for.

Nick,

You've misunderstood what I meant when I said confidential. I don't mean that those of us who took this class were prohibited from discussing the ideas or the facts that we were taught. In fact, the reason I started posting on OrangePolitics at all is because AMST 94 helped me to fill in some of the gaps in my Chapel Hill education. And, each of the guest lecturers was taped as she or he talked to the class, and those tapes exist in the University archive. What I mean is that we took the class with a strict understanding that specific opinions expressed were off the record. As I've said before, there were a number of editors from the DTH in the class, and I'm sure they would have enjoyed the opportunity to print some of the things that were said, but the fact is they did not. Terri pretty much hits the nail on the head--if this source had come out publicly, we would all have had the opportunity to have a real debate about this. Instead, we are left with one version of the story cast out before the eye of the public, and those of us who were actually enrolled in the class are scrambling to set the record straight. Ashley Castevens and I wrote another version of what I posted last night that we have sent to the DTH and the Independent as Letters-to-the-Editor. With any luck, they will publish our response, and more people can understand the way the class was run.

-Matt

PS—When I say agenda, I don’t necessarily mean the source was looking to score points politically. The motivation for going to the Independent could have been any number of things. As another student in the class told me, the reason could have been as simple as, “Someone being pissed about his grade.” But I do know that the student sought to damage Dr. Howes’ credibility, and that concerns me.

I don't know what student violated the confidentiality policy - one that was made sufficiently clear to all student repeatedly throughout the entirety of the course - so I can't attest to any agenda.

But, as a member of Jonathan Howes' discussion section, I can attest to the fact that Burtman got it all wrong. Sure, he was right on his background information, but his understanding of "The Role of the University" was limited.

His unnamed source reported quotes that were either entirely out-of-context or never happened at all. In effect, the anonymous student botched his or her attempt to represent conversations that were never supposed to leave the classroom in the first place.

Matt,

What do you suppose might be the "agenda' of the student who spoke about the class? What is an "agenda" exactly"? And lastly, do you suppose anyone who appeared in front of the class has an "agenda"?

I only bring this up because the word "agenda" is commonly used to mean something akin to a personal & negative obsession about something unrelated to the serious business of whatever is being discussed by those presumably without an "agenda". It appears to be some sort of code and, at the very least, is poor use of language.

So this is a serious inquiry, since this word has apparently morphed into a pejorative.

Mark

Matt, thank you very much for your comments to this post, I would just like to add my little bit, please comment (or anyone else for that matter) if you can shed some light on a few of the things that concern me about having a "confidential" class taught on campus. Before my enrollment at UNC, many professors were cordial and gracious enough to let me sit in on their classes the semester before I chose what courses I would like to take as a means of deciding what course(s) of study would suit me best. In fact, I can't recall being denied the opportunity by any of them. However, I find it rather scary that a course taught in a public institution, relating to said institution and its relationship with other public institutions be kept "confidential." Did any students disagree with this? I see no reason for the information exchange that occurred in these classes to be kept out of public discussion — unless those who initiated a vow of confidentiality believed some of the comments may have been controversial or at odds with others in the community. Even if that were the case, public debate or insight into this complex relationship and the negotiations that grow out of it can only be hampered by closed-door discussions of the town-gown dynamic. Yes, apparently the class did have a lot of "star power" — including yourself, best of luck in the upcoming SBP elections — So, why curtail the expression of many campus leaders by telling them what they learn or debate in class must not leave the classroom? To be frank, I am a Chapel Hill native, I'm graduating from UNC in May, and I'm extraordinarily dissapointed with UNC's plans for Carolina North and am more toward the side that the second campus is unnecessary and should not be in Chapel Hill or Orange County, period. Believe me, I don't wish the campus ill. UNC has paid my family's bills my entire life, has educated me, given me a place to play and read books as a youngster, and is the first place I ever successfully completed a bunnyhop on my BMX or many tricks on a skateboard. I have a deeper love, appreciation, and memory of this campus than many in its administration do — just because I question the motives of university planners does not mean I have "ill will" toward UNC. I just don't see why you may learn something in a class and not share that with me. If there is any "ill will" existent, based on your argument, it may seem to reside on the University's side because of restricted speech engendered by an irrational fear of UNC's critics (And NO, "critic" is not a bad word, a critic can label something as poor as well as it can label something as extraordinary).

Nick

Matt, it is notable that you are the one buying into the good vs. evil tone that some would like to set. Why does criticism of Carolina North somehow equate with "wishing [UNC] ill?"

It doesn't.

Your post actually suggests that you have indeed fallen prey to a kind of UNC-can-do-no-wrong indoctrination.

Don't take my comments here as any criticism of Prof. Howes or AMST 94. I too took a class from Jonathan Howes and I learned a lot from him and from our in-class discussions (which were not confidential). Neither am I defending the Indy article (which I haven't had a chance to read).

-Mark Chilton

PS Don't confuse 'confidential' with 'privileged.' Privileged means that you cannot subpoena the information in court. Confidential only means that the parties agreed not to share the information with others willingly.

Kirk--thanks for the clarification. So sorry I got the story mixed up.

And I'm glad I'm NOT losing my mind--entirely. That is the story that was niggling at the back of my brain. Thanks!

Melanie

Hi all:

First off, I would like to apologize for being missing in action for the past month. My January and February are both going to be rather busy, but as always, I’ve been reading what people are saying around this place. And this is one thread that I can’t ignore.

Last semester, I was a student in American Studies 94, and I was in the section taught by Professor Howes, mentioned in last week’s Independent. Let me begin by explaining the confidentiality agreement. AMST 94 is a rather unique class at Carolina. Not only are Jonathan Howes, a Special Assistant to the Chancellor, Dean Bresciani, the Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs, and Lynn Blanchard, the Director of the Carolina Center for Public Service, the section leaders, but the guest lecturers ranged from UNC-system President Molly Broad to Chancellor Moeser to Bill Friday and Senator Tony Rand. Even with all that star power, students were the driving force in the class, and one look at the roster would make it obvious why. In the section with Jonathan Howes alone, there were three editors for the Daily Tarheel, the Student Body President, the statewide President for the Young Democrats, the Inter-Fraternity Council President, a candidate for the Chapel Hill Town Council, and a whole bunch of us who care a lot about what’s going on in Chapel Hill and at Carolina. Rachel Willis, lead professor for the class, initiated the confidentiality policy, but we agreed with it because it let us speak our minds.

Dr. Howes was never anything less than exemplary as a teacher. The lectures Dr. Howes gave were briefings about the Master Plan, the projected building schedule for facilities on campus for the next ten years. All conversation about the Town Council, the State Legislature, the Board of Governors, or anything else, stemmed from student-researched presentations. Dr. Howes acted as a facilitator in all these discussions, but mostly, he just sat back and let us students debate the issues.

And let me say this about Indy Weekly’s article. The piece was sloppy. The first half of the column was simply a rehashing of other journalists’ work, summarizing articles written first in the News and Observer, the Herald-Sun, and the Chapel Hill News. But the part of the column dealing with Carolina’s American Studies 94 course showed a complete failing of journalistic principle. Not only was the article a gross misrepresentation of "The Role of the University in American Life," it was written on a tip from a single student who refused to go on record, describing privileged conversation, obviously recalled after-the-fact, ripped out of context, and not corroborated by any other person in the room. To me, the only thing that the Independent reports in a column like this is its own anti-University bias.

Dr. Rachel Willis, the lead professor for the course, taught the class mindful of the quote from former University President Franklin Porter Graham’s tombstone, telling us, “He trusted the students, and they gave him their best.” All our professors in AMST 94 trusted us, but at least one person violated that trust. The purpose of this course was the acquisition of knowledge, not the political indoctrination or manipulation of student leaders. Even outside Jonathan’s section, all the class discussions were student-initiated and dominated, promoting informed discourse and the analysis of a slew of issues relating to Carolina. Jonathan Howes is an excellent asset to the University community, and he continues to act as an invaluable resource to his students.

Surely, the Independent can do a better job reporting on an issue as big as Carolina North. And surely, the Independent can find a better source for its columns than a student motivated by some sort of agenda. And if the point of this article was to reveal how the University was manipulating its student leaders, then clearly, the Independent can do better than be manipulated by those who would wish us ill.

Since I broke the story on the legislative effort to exempt the university from town zoning rules, I'd like to set the record straight. The bill was introduced by Tony Rand over Howard Lee's objection. It came at a time when the Board of Trustees and the chancellor were at odds with the council over the university's proposed development plan for the main campus. The provision would have exempted the university main campus, Horace Williams and Mason Farm from zoning regulations.

Joe Hackney, Lee and the rest of the Orange legislation fought it.

Hackney made it clear he would fight it hard in the House. Rand backed down, but he had made his point that the expansion plan had some pretty powerful backing in Raleigh.

kmr

Mark K, you have got that exactly correct, as I understand it. Joe C may be technically mistating the situation at one point in his post. It is probably more accurate to say that the General Assembly can suspend the Town's zoning power (rather than that the General Assembly has zoning authority). I suppose they could theoretically apply state-level zoning, but I don't think that has ever been done.

It is also notable that despite my efforts to rezone the Horace Williams Tract about 7 years ago, the HW tract is in the O&I-3 zone which gives the university the latitude to build almost anything WITHOUT Town approval.

They resisted my rezoning effort mightily (even privately threatening to go the General Assembly). UNC won because of a combination of week knees on the council at that time and the claim that it was 'premature' to rezone the property. It doesn't seem like it was such a premature idea in retrospect.

-Mark Chilton

I think the question about whether UNC is subject to local zoning is a result of confusion surrounding the fact that UNC is not subject to overlay districts that might be put in place by a local government. Isn't that right? These includes RCDs, NCDs, etc.

This is why UNC reps were making it clear during their public presentations that UNC would voluntarily comply with Town RCD restrictions.

Like Joe, I encourage anyone to correct or clarify this.

This is important because LUMO uses overlay districts like the RCD to make real our interests in protecting our rivers and streams.

Hi everybody,

Any of the local lawyers (I am not smart enough to spell attornee)

can correct me, but I think the following is correct.

There are only two legislative bodies in NC that are empowered

to zone property: the local government (in this case the

councils of CH and Carrboro) and the NC General Assembly.

State-owned land is subject to the same zoning regulations

that land owned by anyone else is. The UNC Campus and the Horace Williams Tract are owned by the State of NC.

Unless a bill is passed in the General Assembly to zone the

property somehow, or unless a bill is passed in the General

Assembly to exempt the campus or HW Tract from CH and

Carrboro zoning, both tracts (and all the other UNC property

in town) is subject to town zoning. There are some exceptions

to this that pertain to water runoff which might become

a sticky issue, but without an explicit bill in the NCGA, the

towns do have the zoning authority over the HW Tract.

The town does have some leverage in the General Assembly

on two bases. First we have a good delegation headed by

Joe Hackney. Second, we have quite a few allies here, namely

the other towns and cities in the state that have UNC campuses

and other major state insitutions, and these groups are well-

organized through the NC League of Municipalities. All this

does not mean that Tony Rand, with or without the support

of Howard Lee, wouldn't proposed a bill that would exempt

UNC from CH and Carrboro zoning, but it would be quite a

fight. I believe that about 20 years ago the President of the

Univ of Mich asked the Mich legislature to exempt U of M

from Ann Arbor zoning, and the legislature did so.

Tony Rand could propose such a bill, but passing it would

be difficult. Alternatively, he could attach an 11th-hour

amendment to a bill that was going to pass and possibly sneak

it through, but in either case there would be a loud, statewide

howl.

Thanks Terri. My mind resembles nothing htese days so much as a sieve...

And we wonder why there is an adversarial relationship? Surely this affects Town/Gown relations...

MElanie

Yes Melanie, you remember correctly. Howard Lee and someone else advocated for the widening of S. Columbia (?) to overrule the town council. Someone else (forget who) is currently threatening to use that same process if the town tries to impose restrictions on Carolina North. And yes, I think you're also right about the university being exempt from local zoning laws--even though the water, security, education, traffic headaches, pollution, etc. that goes with their expansion will come at the expense of those who live in the town/district.

Mark--it depends on how you define "worse". The impact on me was worse in 77--perhaps as a result of a smaller supply--but worse just the same. You say po-tah-toe and I say po-tay-toe.:~)

I seem to remember something about the University threatening to bypass the council entirely and take something (Chapel Hill North?) straight to the state legislature for approval--have I got this completely garbled? It was awhile ago--there was some concern that, because the University property is STATE property it isn't REALLY bound by local zoning laws, becaus the U can got to the state and get it approved--and then it's "tough luck" for us. Is this so--or is my brain playing tricks on me?

Melanie

Nick, I guess I am more interested in the process being FAIR than it being SMOOTH. Not that they are mutually exclusive, but they are definitely two different things.

The Council has generally been getting less and less likely to roll over and do everything UNC asks for (although they still haven't said 'no' to anything). Speaking up for your rights is a core foundation of democracy, that's what we elected them for, and it need not be considered a "hostile" act. (Certainly not relative to the administrators' tactics.)

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