Herald's Boosterism Goes Too Far

Regular readers of my part-time employer, the Chapel Hill Herald, will surely have noticed its editorialists' unflagging support for UNC's growth plans. In a Wednesday editorial titled "Carolina North is coming closer", they wrote that Carolina North is "getting ready to splash across the front pages." They went on to discuss a "new, revised plan" that they said would be presented to the trustees.

This prompted Vice Chancellor Tony Waldrop to write a letter, appearing in today's paper, correcting the editorial and pointing out that what will be presented is only an update and information on a study of potential airport sites.

The irony for me is that I have written repeatedly urging people not to overstate or over-react to events surrounding the proposed Carolina North. Now the university is doing the same!

The encouraging bit in the Herald editorial was their concluding hope that the university has heard concerns already expressed on Carolina North. Given the paper's often disdainful attitude toward those concerned with the impact of UNC's plans, this could be a very positive development.

Overall, there is a lesson here for growth enthusiasts to not get too far ahead of themselves. The requirement of profit maximization places a time pressure on every investment decision. Developers, public and private alike, would happily deem each project ready for approval right out of the gate. But it's hard to think of a project that has not been significantly improved through patient public review. That certainly will include Carolina North. It's refreshing to see the Herald recognize that fact.



Since non-subscribers can't read the letter online, it's worth sharing Vice Chancellor Waldrop's last paragraph:

"In dozens of public meetings, we have listened carefully to members of the community, and we will continue to listen as we develop, in collaboration with local officials and citizens' groups, strategies for ensuring that Carolina North serves the needs of the university, the community and the state."

Sounds to me like a commitment, as well as an invitation to continue the collaboration.

Waldrop says he/UNC will continue to listen, but what does that mean?

I would be more impressed with an enforcible commitment to act. How about UNC incorporating into their design for the Horace Williams property more of the recommendations of the Horace Williams Citizens Committee report, such as:
major reduction in parking spaces.
more affordable housing.
fiscal equity provisions
more than token land conservation

That's funny, to me Waldroup's letter sounds like more of the same.

After years of broken commitments by the University, it's going to take a lot more than kind words to build trust with the Town.

All I can say is, thank God they seem to making some headway in finally getting rid of the airport!

Dan, I don't subscribe to the weekday HS editions, so I didn't read the editorial, but I also can't interpret the HS quotes you include as support for Carolina North. A hurricane might also be coming closer, and about to splash across the front pages, but I wouldn't interpret those statements as pro-hurricane. Can you provide a bit more of what made you think they are supporting it?

Re Dan's claim that "it's hard to think of a project that has not been significantly improved through patient public review," I will assume he's talking about a Chapel Hill review and offer a one-word rebuttal: Meadowmont.

Ed, here is the link to the editorial:


Ray, I probably have the OP.org record for constructing torture prose, so I should be able to discern your meaning, but.....

Are you saying Meadowmont would've been better without public review?

Oh, and in a completely orthogonal direction, when's the HeraldSun going to restore online letters to the editor and editorial content? Hey, I cosume and refer to the woody version of the HS but it's awful hard to link to it.

Will, Dan's claim was that all projects are "significantly improved" by the council's review process. I'm not saying Meadowmont would have been better without review; I'm saying it was not improved.

As for the letters issue, I've said before and will say again that it's a byproduct of some user-unfriendly software, not of a business decision to withhold content.

Thanks, Fred. I read nothing that sounds like support. My quotes would include:

The biggest proposed development in the history of Chapel Hill is getting ready to splash across the front pages and into our conversations once again. We hope this time the splash doesn't get everybody wet.

When the university last revealed its Carolina North plans at the end of 2003, there was almost unanimous agreement, in the community at least, that the plan had some serious problems.

But there are many questions still to be answered. The university has had more than a year and a half to revise the plan and show UNC's responsiveness to concerns already expressed. We all are waiting to see if they have heard us.

Ray, I didn't think that the LTE was a business-case, but a SW issue. Is there anything I could do to help fix it? I have some small expertise with computer SW.

Everytime I drive by Perryville I think about how the then Council failed in agressively protecting the main corridor into Town. The delta between the advertised look-n-feel and the actual implementatation is so large, one wonders what would've happened with no Council involvement! I recall that a lot of the "agreements" between Council and East-West rested on the "good will" of the developer and private assertions that citizen concerns would be addressed. Is that your recollection?

Ray, Meadowmont certainly COULD have been improved. Many of the changes that were suggested by the Council years later were originally proposed by the Transportation Board the first time around. If the Council listens to it's citizen advisers, good changes will trickle up.

But your statement is so absurd, I don't even know why I'm sitting here trying to argue against it.

I'll just remember that you don't think it's worthwhile next time I read a Herald editorial involving the development review process.

User un-friendly software? Oh, brother.

Meadowmont did not have a school site or any affordable housing prior to pressure being put on the developer by the Town Council.

Ruby writes, "If the Council listens to it's citizen advisers, good changes will trickle up."

To go from "listens" to "changes" requires action. Did you mean if they accepted the recommendations of citizen advisors good changes would result, or did you mean if they listen there would be good changes for a council to consider?

It's also interesting when a council is presented with conflicting recommendations from its various boards/advisors, generally proving the old saw that "where you stand depends on where you sit."

Fred, how is it that for you when the university "listens... and continues to listen" that "sounds like a commitment," but when the "Council listens" it then "requires action."

I agree with your standard in the second post and can't help wondering why you do not apply it elsewhere?

Dan, you are not following the question that I posed.

The point of the question was to discover what Ruby believed the Council was obligated to do. If it listens to its boards and follows their advice, it must vote (take action) to make the changes recommended. Getting from “listens” to “changes” therfore requires action when we are talking about a Council. What if different boards recommend different things? That's why I was curious to learn whay Ruby meant.

Please review my statement about Vice Chancellor Waldrop's letter tand the "promise" contained therein: "Sounds to me like a commitment, as well as an invitation to continue the collaboration."

Do you disagree that that is what his words sound like? I see no inconsistency in what I have written. I think when it comes to anything that the UNC-CH leadership says or does, they will never please some here.

The point I'd hoped we might agree on is that actions make a difference. Words, promises, "commitments", claims of listening do not. (A delinquent client listened to me and made a commitment to send me a check last week. Monday I'll be calling my attorney.)

Just what are you talking about? Commitment to what? What collaboration?

When UNC says it is listening, you seem to lap it up but many of us are aware of their past claims to listen and the irrelevance of those claims to actual results.

I can't put it any better than Ruby did: "After years of broken commitments by the University, it's going to take a lot more than kind words to build trust with the Town."

1. You have a written commitment from a Vice Chancellor to listen as they develop strategies for ensuring that Carolina North serves the needs of the university, the community and the state.

2. You say it means nothing.

3. Nothing more needs to be said.

PS: I'm deeply offended by your use of the dog analogy directed towards me; I had more faith in you than that. Guess we aren't family.

In this week's Chronicle of Higher Education there's an article by the president of Northeastern University (Boston) entitled: Universities and Cities Need to Rethink Their Relationships. Unfortunately a subscription is needed to access the article electronically. But his bottom line is that universities have glossed over their impact on cities and cities have exploited their universities for too long. Both parties need to seek out relationships that are mutually beneficial to both the universitiy and to the city.

The author (Freeland) references a new book that might be of interest: (it's too pricey for me but would love to hear a local review)
The University as Urban Developer: Case Studies and Analysis
Edited by: David C. Perry; Wim Wiewel

Another book by the same publisher that may be of interest is: (again too pricey for me)
Partnerships for Smart Growth: University-Community Collaboration for Better Public Places
Edited by: Wim Wiewel; Gerrit-Jan Knaap

Fred, I do have faith that colloquialisms can have different meanings to different people. Sorry if I offended you. I assure you it was not intended.

Jean: 'sfotware' is user un-friendly
'software' can be either friendly or not.
Stand by your subconscious.

Is there really a "written commitment from a Vice Chancellor"?
Did Waldrop sign something saying that he would listen?
Remind me again why that means anything?
Did Waldrop sign that UNC will incorporate good ideas that he hears into UNC's planning?
Or does being quoted in the newspaper make it "written"?.

I will listen as you explain all this to me. I really will. I promise to listen.

In a letter in today's CHH appearing above his name and title, the last paragraph says,

“In dozens of public meetings, we have listened carefully to members of the community, and we will continue to listen as we develop, in collaboration with local officials and citizens' groups, strategies for ensuring that Carolina North serves the needs of the university, the community and the state.”

Obviously, I can't tell you how to interpret what he has written; Dan and others seem to agree with you that what "they" write/say means nothing, why why bother with this discussion any longer?

Fred, you sound tired.
Those who want to understand continue the discussion in order to clarify.

Here are the last two paragraphs from a letter sent out by UNC's Linda Convissor today:
"Some of you have been involved in the many public meetings we have had on the Carolina North plan. We have listened and will continue to listen to the community as we develop, in collaboration with local officials and citizens' groups, strategies for ensuring that Carolina North serves the needs of the university, the community and the state.
Please share this information with your neighborhood and community groups."

Do you see that UNC's Linda is saying word for word what UNC's Tony Waldrop was quoted in the media as having said? Both are saying that they will listen; nothing more.

But it sounds good. Reassuring. It conveys attention and perhaps warmth. We are charmed. We think that maybe we the common people matter after all. We like being listened to. But that's not collaboration. We continue the discussion longer to climb up out of the cloy and discover what they're really saying, which we have now pretty well established: they will continue to listen. Swell.
Good night.

Thanks, Mark. That's an excellent point.

Diana, how do we make progress if we can't get the basic facts straight? He was not "quoted in the media," he wrote a letter to the editor. The two things are different.

Both the Vice Chancellor's and Linda Convissor's statements are similar (note the slight difference, "carefully to members of the community" is missing from her second sentence) and make the same two points: (1) that they will listen, and (2) that they see this as a collobarative process. Hold them to it!

Mark: would you say the changes at Meadowmount were the result of a collbarative process with much give and take? That's the way that I seem to remember it.

Fred, you're right; I misspoke. Mea culpa.

The fact that the Vice Chancellor was quoted in a letter instead of verbally doesn't change the fact that both are speaking from the same template.

That would seem to indicate that these words are coming from a unified UNC PR message rather than from the heart. Repeating the same sentences verbatim (or very close to it) doesn't make the words any more convincing to me.

Ruby, I will say it one last time: the letter was from the Vice Chancellor, he was not quoted in it.

If they didn't have the same message, somebody would parse that, wouldn't they?

Let see what they do going forward and not dwell in the past.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."---George Santayana

"Fool me once, shame on… me. I won't get fooled again."---George W. Bush

"We listened to our neighbors"---James Moeser, April 1, 2001

"we will continue to listen"--- Tony Waldrop, May 13, 2005

The Harvard Negotiation Project's 4 Principles of Negotiation on the Merits:

People: separate the people from the problem
Interests: Focus on interests, not positions
Options: Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do
Criteria: Insist that the result be based on some objective standard

Terri, I'm not sure why you think this is relevant here but I'll respond briefly. These principles are a case of the somewhat popular tendency in our culture to mistake the oversimplified for the merely simple. To whit:

1) Sometimes people are the problem. It's not uncommon for a change in negotiating partners alone to unblock a negotiation and lead to a solution.
2) Sometimes you have to recognize and reflect on positions before you can get to a clear expression of interests. The Vietnam peace talks were a very literal case of this.
3) Actually, sometimes a good possibility is found early on and it's a waste of time to look for others.
4) What objective standard will be used to define the objective standard? And, who has the power to define objectivity?

"2) Sometimes you have to recognize and reflect on positions before you can get to a clear expression of interests. The Vietnam peace talks were a very literal case of this."

Explain please...

I was alluding to all the fuss over the shape of the table, i.e. literally "positions", at the Paris Peace Talks.

Dan--I posted those criteria because because neither the town nor the university is going to get everything they want in this debate. So far, I don't see much negotiation in the public debate although it does appear that the council and administrators are privately handling the conflicts more amenably. If the goal of the public argument is to reach a settlement that both sides can live with, absolute stances (arguing for positions) and name calling simply aren't productive. I offered the Harvard Negotiation Project as an alternative approach. Personally, I find their work to be grounded in theories and practices that I find to be both respectful and productive.

By "this debate", do you mean on Carolina North? As WillR has pointed out repeatedly, the town has an expression of its principles on the table to which the university has not responded. Are those principles "interests" or "positions"? It's not always so clear, is it?

It's hardly the case that nyone has taken or suggested an "absolute stance" since there's nothing really on the table yet.

Moreover, I haven't heard anyone calling anyone names except for me. And believe me, in the interest of our shared, harmonious future, I've been very restrained.

And their model works, Terri. The consulting firm that I am with uses the work of Professor Roger Fisher and his colleagues at the Harvard Negotiation Project ("Getting to YES"). Operationalizing the model of “principled negotiation” when doing Fortune 500-employee confict avoidance work, or conflict recovery, is challenging to say the least. When the parties see that the model can help them achieve some of their goals, they become believers. Most difficult, however, is getting the parties to differentiate between positions and interests in their negotiations, much as we see here.

It strikes me that some seem more interested in applying position labels than dealing with interests. After a point, you have to wonder if it isn't a political strategy to feed the unrest and conflict to keep it alive, rather than help all parties "get to yes." As long as some see civility as "polite capitulation," and are unwilling or unable to distinguish between "remembering the past" and "dwelling in the past," we will be stuck there. Fortunately, I think more citizens want a civil and positive process than don't.

Dear readers: for a textbook case of "applying position labels rather than dealing with interests", please see the second paragraph of the preceding post.

This is the CAN/Black approach to politics: since you don't have a winning stance on the issues, take the position that those who disagree with you are thereby "uncivil." Oh, and be sure to follow-up with the assertion that therefore the silent majority (who value your self-serving notion of civility above any actual outcome) agrees with you. I don't think that's quite Fisher and Ury had in mind.

Amen Terri and Fred.

There is a big difference between "remembering" the past vs. "living" in the past, as many do in their views regarding UNC and the town. Oh how I long for the days when Franklin Street was a dirt road.

P.S. I for one believe that Ray G. is right. Meadowmont is planned growth. Beautiful and diverse housing and community. And yes, I know how expensive homes are in Meadowmont.

I haven't read this myself but a wise friend tells me it's "the better deal":

Start with NO...The Negotiating Tools that the Pros Don't Want You to Know

Dear readers: for a textbook case of the problem, read the 1:33pm comment, as it shows how you take the words of someone and twist them as you desire. Who was taking a stance and on what issues? Who was called "uncivil?"

Remember who said: "The point Fred and I agree on is that Chapel Hillians want town-gown relations worked out in a positive way."

What is clear is that outcomes to date have escaped the notice of those who choose to dwell in the past.

Enough already; it's just not worth the time when honest debate is not the goal.

On another point, having read the Herald for 30+ years now, I've actually really enjoyed the changes being made with the paper, and I'm not refering to the op-eds (pro or con).

There appears to be more interest in coverage on local lifestyle and community activity. For example, I've see more of the local high school sports being profiled, and some attention is also being paid to Chatham County.

Our Chaple Hill community is a bit complicated for a small circulation local paper to serve well. Retired, families with small or older kids, graduate students, young professionals and academics; wide income gaps. Many would encourage the Herald to keep pressing ahead with their changes. Fundamentally, however, my guess is that how the N&O goes in Raleigh and how the Herald goes in Durham will dictate the viability and effort which will go into the "local" Chapel Hill editions/inserts.

Ever tried to negotiate with a 2 year old Dan? Most are highly skilled at Starting with No. They typically get either capitulation (eg, it's easier to do it myself) or authoritarian (do it NOW). But then again, like you, I haven't read the book. BTW, the Fisher/Ury book has a 24-year publication history (c. 1981). The Camp book was first published in 2002.


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