Monday, October 21, 2002

To Megumi, Murph and Alex:

Regarding your Core II story:

--you say in your lead that Ikeda's 1996 talk at Columbia was "controversial." This implies that there was or is something controversial about
the text itself. But is that the case? Or isn't (wasn't) the "controversial" issue whether to make the talk mandatory reading in Core II?

--you say Chappell "pointed out" that a fired faculty member had "expressed doubts about SGI's religious interests in the university."
To point out is to call attention to a demonstrable fact, yet circumstances surrounding that dismissal are strongly disputed, are they not?
If so, Chappell cannot be said to have "pointed out" anything about it, can he? Or do you mean he "pointed out" that a faculty member had
been fired (true), and only coincidentally that this faculty member had "expressed doubts..." etc.? Moreover, "expressed doubts about SGI's
religious interests in the university" is so vague as to be possibly misleading. Did the fired faculty member "express doubts" that SGI had "religious interests" in SUA? Was it the sincerity or extent of SGI's religious interests that was doubted?
And what are "religious interests," anyway? And what form did the expression of "doubts" about them take?
I think you were careless with vocabulary here. Not only does that sentence not illuminate, or explain
(which is what you say Chappell did), it confuses. As journalists, you don't have to be nice, but be precise.

--the problem worsens with the next sentence, where the unnamed faculty member (but you make clear it's a "he") "expressed this very
concern." What "very concern?" You've said that the fired faculty member (let's call him or her FM1) had "expressed doubts about SGI's
religious interests in the university." By saying the second faculty member (FM2) expressed "this very concern" you seem
to be suggesting that he, too, was voicing doubts about "SGI's religious interests" here, yet he has not said that; nor, of course, do we
even know what "religious interests" means. I think "expressed this very concern" was a phrase you did not carefully consider before using.
You also say he wrote you that he did not want to put his job at risk by saying "the wrong thing." But what, in this context, might be
"the wrong thing" to say? Instead of answering a reader's natural questions, you're giving birth to new ones. Are you just blowing
smoke because there isn't any fire? If there are further or deeper issues, explore them, report them, elucidate them;
but don't let loose language lead you into misleading your readers.

--Lastly, there is the matter of your omissions. Not only do you not quote anyone who advocates the use of Ikeda's speech,
you don't even tell us what he said. What was this "controversial" speech about? The immorality of war? The sanctity of the
environment? The importance of education? Or did he urge all in attendance to pledge half their earnings for the rest of their lives to
Soka Gakkai, or claim that he could walk on water? What was so controversial about what he said, and how did that controversy
manifest itself? And why was this particular speech--among all the writings of Ikeda over the years--suggested for mandatory inclusion
in Core II now? And by whom? And in what context? What other sorts of things are included in the Core II curriculum? Is there
something about the content of this talk to which people object, or is the issue, instead, whether the inclusion of any
writing by Ikeda might violate the non-sectarian, or secular nature of the curriculum? You don't tell us. You leave us groping
in the dark for the source of the controversy, and for its nature. All you really say is that Chappell said five committee members told him
they were not coming to the meeting, but that "not all...didn't show up because they felt intimidated." Not all? Well, how many
stayed away because "they felt intimidated?" Intimidated by whom? By Chappell? By the two members of the committee,
besides Chappell, who did show up? By the "about a dozen" students who attended? You say Chappell said some faculty
"felt uncomfortable" discussing the proposal. Did they merely "feel uncomfortable" or were they afraid they might be fired if they said
"the wrong thing?" In that case, what might "the wrong thing" have been? That this speech should not be included, or that there
should be no Ikeda, ever, in the curriculum? Does including in the curriculum writings by the founder of this university, who is
the leader of the religious organization whose money funds the university, impinge upon the ostensibly non-sectarian nature of
that curriculum? If so, should they be included anyway? Why? Why not? It seems to me that these issues may be at the root of whatever
controversy exists, yet not only do you not attempt to answer such questions in your story (and they are relevant, aren't they, since the story
is about whether or not an Ikeda writing should be made part of Core Il?), you don't even give a reader a basis for framing them. And, by the way, who put forth the proposal, and when, and what did he or she or they say in support of it? You don't tell us those things, either.
Would not answers to these questions be more germane than the extraneous information about the possible effect on the bookstore? I'd be interested in seeing either a response, or a revision, updating, and amplification of your story. I'll bet lots of other Weblog readers would, too.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Pot smoke and booze at SUA

By Alex Bardales, Alex Marcos, and Valerie Melichar

Can students who use drugs become “global citizens”? Most students came to Soka University of America because they agreed with the idea of combining their education with issues of global peace. For some people, this means indiscriminately following all policies the university sets, especially those about illegal drugs and alcohol. For others, drug use is okay as long as it doesn’t interfere with class work or personal relationships

Out of sixty students who responded to our survey on drug and alcohol use, 25% said they have smoked pot on campus. Compared to other campuses, this is a very small portion of the student body. A similar survey at Humboldt State found that 58% of their students have used the drug. The website of their student newspaper even has a weekly bong confiscation tally. (For those of you in the clean 75%: a bong is a water pipe used for smoking marijuana.)

Chico State, known throughout California as the party school (possibly because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company), has tragically suffered the loss of several students through alcohol related incidents during recent years. According to the university website, 59% of its students are “high risk” drinkers. At SUA, our survey shows that about 66% of the students drink, but only 25% drink once a week or more.

SUA officials know that some students drink on campus. Moreover, students are allowed to drink as long as they follow the university’s policies. Dean of students Ed Feasel said, “Alcohol is not to be consumed by minors and is not allowed in public areas on campus. Alcohol is only permitted in the sophomore dorms of 305 and 385.” Page twenty-seven of the students’ Residence Life Guide, lists the consequences of not following the rules for alcohol consumption. These include a series of fines, counseling, and possible expulsion from the dorms.

Residence Hall Coordinator (RHC) Shimina Harris said that while the amount drinking at SUA is mild in comparison to other colleges she has worked at, she enforces the rules in the same way. RHC Lisa Sasaki suggests that of-age students have the option of drinking off campus. Sasaki said that while residents should feel at home in the dorms, they should not drink in the alcohol free halls. She points to dorms 305 and 385 as a place to drink, if students really wanted to. She also said that last year, when all the campus dorms were alcohol-free, the shuttle ran to the town center so late on Fridays and Saturdays - until 11pm - so that if of-age students wanted, they could drink at an off-campus location such as Stadium Brewery.

Some underage students are fed up with the alcohol policies and do not understand the purpose of this law. One teenage student said, “I think minors should be permitted to drink as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. There is a sense of trust between the students here so nothing will happen and no one will take advantage of another person.” Another student pointed out the cultural differences in attitudes towards alcohol. “In my country, I have been able to drink alcohol all my life,” she said.

As for using drugs other than alcohol on campus, SUA did not so much set a policy of its own as it followed federal regulation of controlled substances. While the Residence Life Guide devotes four pages to alcohol, students will find only one simple paragraph prohibiting illegal drugs. Director of Student Activities and Residential Life Michelle Hobby said that if a student is caught using illegal drugs, the first step taken will be an “incident report,” followed by assistance, rather than punishment. She did emphasize, however, the illegal status of these substances, and that involvement with the law is a possibility. For international students, this could mean deportation and loss of their student visa.

Of the students who admitted to being recreational users, many said that they smoke pot “to have a good time, socialize with friends, and to relax.” “I like marijuana because it stimulates my creativity,” one student commented. One student, whose drug use is more than recreational, admitted to having used methamphetamines to stay up during a hectic finals week.

Student opinions on drug use at SUA seem to depend more on personal judgment, experience (or lack thereof), and popular opinion, than education and facts.
Many students have very negative feelings toward drug use. If he found out someone was using marijuana on this campus, he “would be surprised,” freshman Tsubasa Togawa explained. Like many others, he had the view that use of drugs of any kind – including alcohol – is something to be looked down upon, for reasons of health and safety. Tsubasa believed drug use to be “strongly connected to crimes.”

In light of SUA’s aspiration toward “global citizenship” and “value creation,” drug use becomes a more serious matter, the key issue being whether someone who uses drugs can become a “global citizen.” For example, at a recent dorm meeting for residents of building 380, Lisa Sasaki said that breaking school policies is tantamount to disrespecting the university’s mission. While she was specifically referring to the ban on alcohol in that hall, her stance can be enlarged to include drug use.

Michelle Hobby, however, thinks this is a non-issue. Although she is personally against the idea of students using drugs – and assures us that they are not permitted at SUA – she doesn’t see how the university’s values can be used to judge the actions and decisions of an individual. Her unease comes when considering the future of this university. “Clearly we don’t have the level of problems (with drug use) that other universities do,” she says. But her main concern is that problems present at the beginning might grow into something much larger later on.
Lecturers' strike held at UC Irvine

By Alex Bardales

About 200 people rallied in front of the UCI administration Tuesday afternoon as part of a two day strike put on by UCI lecturers. The strike took place at five out of the eight UC campuses, after failed negotiations between the lecturers’ union, the University Council – American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) and the University of California. At UCI, about 135 classes were canceled because of the strike.

UC-AFT Local 2226 secretary Tira Palmquist explained why the lecturers were on strike: “It’s about unfair labor practices.” She said that the union has been in contract negotiations for two years, but that the UC is guilty “bad faith bargaining,” or not taking the union seriously. She also said that the union has filed “various Unfair Labor Practices” (ULPs), but that the UC has refused to process them.

Union member Pam Sutherland explained that this week’s strike was sanctioned, meaning that the strike was on “just grounds” and legal. If strikers refused to cross picket lines, then legally the university cannot punish them. Also, because the strike was sanctioned, teamsters respect the picket line. “No teamster worth his salt would dare to cross a sanctioned picket line,” said Sutherland.

One UCI freshman had empathy toward the striking lecturers. “They have no job security,” he said, “and so I can see why they are on strike.”

Lecturers at UCI have the lowest salaries among teachers. According to an LA Times article, UC Irvine lecturers on average earn $43,081 per year for the first six years. The next highest teaching salary is that of an assistant professor, who makes an average of $60,000 per year.

University lecturers teach about a third of the undergraduate classes at UCI. Their union and the UC go back to the bargaining table on October 21 and 22.
Failed Quorum stalls Core II Development

By Megumi Oda, Murph McMahon, and Alex Bardales
10 October 2002

Faculty on the Core II Planning Committee were not able to vote on whether or not to include a controversial speech Thursday because they couldn’t establish a quorum. Only three out of ten committee members were present. About a dozen students attended as well.

At the meeting, committee chair David Chappell said that some faculty felt uncomfortable discussing a proposal to include a 1996 speech from SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda as required reading in Core II. Ikeda is also President of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International (SGI), of which many SUA students are members. Earlier that afternoon, five faculty members had phoned Chappell telling him they weren’t coming. At least nine faculty on the committee had been present at each previous meeting.

Explaining the controversy, Chappell pointed out that one faculty member who expressed doubts about SGI’s religious interests in the university was fired the year before last. At least one faculty member expressed this very concern when he wrote in an email that he declined to comment to our questions because he did not “wish to jeopardize my job by saying ‘the wrong thing.’”

But Professor of Rhetoric and Composition James Williams, who is not on the committee, had no such qualms. In an email to the Core II committee, he said that the proposal was an attempt to “transform Core … into seminars on SGI philosophy,” in violation of the school’s declared non-sectarian status. “The administration falsely assumes that we all agree with the school’s mission,” he said in a later interview.

Not all absent committee members didn't show up because they felt intimidated. Economics Professor Hong-yi Chen couldn’t go because she had a meeting for the study abroad program.

Ramsey Demeter, a non-SGI student, struggled to understand the hullabaloo. “On the one hand, there are already so many Ikeda-related-things, like all the pictures on the dorm walls.” Clearly, the amount of attention given to the school’s founder is one of SUA’s characteristics that sets it apart from other universities. “But I’m sure it’s a great reading, so I don’t know.”

The failed quorum is bad news for Lorraine Oda, SUA’s bookstore manager. According to Chappell, she had already told the committee that October 1 was the deadline for the final list of books for Core II. Books for spring courses have to be ordered from book distributors months in advance. With the failed quorum, the final vote will have to take place next week, more than two weeks behind schedule.
Alex B says: My my, it has been lonely in here, hasn't it? Isn't it time that someone posts an article so that Joe can tell his friend Roberto what SUA students are up to? At least let's make it so the only news here isn't about Baggio. Here are a few that my groups have written, before they were sent over to the Pearl, warts and all...