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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The self-importance of being a BU student (II)

Larry Bird. Steven Spielberg. Mike Capuano. And the winner is...

As someone who can't remember who spoke to my Boston University commencement (I think it was some poet known to John Silber and some of his sycophants) I can only laugh at the reaction of some seniors to the choice of U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano as the speaker.

But I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at the reaction of Katie Koch, a senior journalism and political science major, who objected to the choice because Capuano has worked to steer dollars to BU for the rehab of Comm. Ave. and the BU Bridge and for the construction of the controversial biolab at BU Medical School.
"He's a poor choice because the money ties he has to the university are through taxpayer dollars, and it makes the university look tacky" by inviting him to speak, said Koch, who created a Facebook group called "Your Money is Not as Important to BU as Mike Capuano's."
My initial reaction was "no kidding? Welcome to the real world." And that's a dose of reality you desperately need if you majored in journalism and political science. Since you didn't get that lesson, how about the appropriate speech lesson you will need for your first job?

"Would you like fries with that?"

But if you are thinking about either of those areas as a profession and you didn't know that money, politics and serving constituents are integrally related -- and not necessarily in an evil way -- you should probably not be getting that piece of paper.

I'd echo the thoughts of Capuano press secretary Alison Mills.
"If this is the most important issue facing some graduates, they must be doing OK."
Oh and Katie, if you do show up, prepare for a surprise. Capuano is a heckuva good speaker. You will learn more from him in that one short address than you obviously did not learn as a journalism and political science major.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Judy Meredith said...

Thank you for this. I "network" with dozens of earnest, idealistic, totally sincere young men and women, political science majors all, who want to be paid a good wage to do "policy work" that will advance environmental justice, or economic justice, or social justice or racial justice or gender justice here in Massachusetts. And who have not been taught, or perhaps don't remember from their political history classes, the hard earned lesson learned by every single successful political leader from Franklin Roosevelt to Ted Kennedy to Michael Dukakis to Mike Capuano: how to succeed in moving positive change forward in the face of the "unpredictable reverses and unpleasant compromises required by grown up life."

They learn that lesson the hard way I think and not from any of their undergraduate courses.

May 09, 2009 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Representative Capuano is a fine member of the House of Representatives--no argument there.

But the graduation speaker at a large, private university with many students who aren't even from Massachusetts?

At my two graduations the speakers were U Thant, secretary-general of the U.N. and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; I still (after 40 and 20 years) recall the "presence" of each man and the importance of the issues he addressed.

It's not "self-important" to prefer a speaker who will be remembered decades later. Please reserve your outrage for something serious, dear Outraged Liberal

May 09, 2009 11:16 AM  
Blogger Not Whitey Bulger said...

"As someone who can't remember who spoke to my Boston University commencement (I think it was some poet known to John Silber and some of his sycophants)"

Let me see if I'm clear on this. You complain about the lack of a memorable speaker at your BU commencement, but you dump on a currect student who is complaining about the lack of a memorable speaker for her commencement.

Gotcha.

May 09, 2009 1:13 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Sorry Not Whitey, but the point is the speaker doesn't matter. And showing you haven't learned a heck of a lot about journalism and political science suggests there's a bigger question about her BU experience.

May 09, 2009 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with complaining about the money ties between Capuano and BU. Should anyone be particularly shocked if that's why Capuano is speaking? No.

But Miss Koch is not expressing that she is shocked, she's expressing that she is indignant. A lot of people, of all ages, are indignant about political happenings based on who gets money where.

It would be far better if money didn't talk quite as loud -- so unless you're advocating that it's a good thing that people get speaking gigs based on scratching another's back, you should let Miss Koch be.

As for the BU students who just want someone famous, there's no good reason for that. A commencement speaker should, as far as I can tell, speak well, and that's all that should matter. Whether he or she is famous shouldn't mean much. The president of my Boston-area university is on the record as saying he'd rather have campus professors speak -- why not? It's the speech, not the title of the person, that's memorable.

May 09, 2009 3:52 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

It's 300 idiots on a facebook page, not all BU kids. Don't lump us all together. Fuck those spoiled morons.

May 09, 2009 4:53 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Anon 3:52. Being indignant would be appropriate if there was a quid pro quo established between Capuano getting the funding for the projects and the tendering of the invitation (even though that seems like a VERY small reward). A good journalist would establish that before going public with a complaint.

Yes, it is public money. In the case of the street repair and renovation clearly used for the public good.

Funding for the biolab is far more controversial when it comes to the public good (at least of the South End). But it clearly went for a publicly financed function -- bioresearch.

Where's the problem journalistically or politically? Well, to find one, a good reporter would search Capuano's campaign finance records and establish ties between BU and Capuano. I'm quite sure there is a nexus, but again, where is the quid pro quo?

Good journalists and political science majors would understand that. All Ms. Koch seems to understand is that she's not getting a "name" for her commencement.

Her real pique should be that she doesn't seem to have gotten a very good education for her (or her parents') investment.

But the jury is out on who is to blame for that.

May 09, 2009 4:59 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Scott, there is a certain appropriate elegance to your words. Good luck to you and other others who don't fall into that category.

May 09, 2009 5:00 PM  
Blogger Garrett3000 said...

Outraged Liberal FTW...it's good!

May 09, 2009 5:04 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Jesus, dude- what got into you? "Do you want fries with that?"- you sound like friggin Howie Carr. Inappropriately harsh- and kind of odd.

May 09, 2009 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

asd

May 10, 2009 12:08 AM  
Anonymous Katie Koch said...

Hi Outraged Liberal,

While you make your M.O. pretty clear from the title of your post, I'd appreciate it if you would read the content of the Facebook group before you publicly smear me. I'm especially intrigued by your suggestion to me: "A good reporter would search Capuano's campaign finance records and establish ties between BU and Capuano." That is, in fact, the only reason I created the group. Not to whine, not to spread a grandiose conspiracy theory, but to compile some numbers in a public forum for BU students to have easy access to and to judge for themselves--and to encourage other students to do more digging as well. (My sources are listed in the comments section.)

The one quote Tracy Jan chose to use from her 25-minute interview with me was her decision, and as the reporter she was free to make that choice, for better or worse. But if you want to smear me, please do so on the basis of my reporting, not Tracy Jan's. Thanks.

(Caveat: While I understand Facebook is a public venue, the group was created to be an online meeting space for BU students. I do not consider Capuano's earmarks or BU's lobbying enough of an established or out-of-the-ordinary connection to cry dirty politics in a more public forum like a newspaper, a judgment I make clear in the description of the group. In fact, I was approached by a Phoenix reporter looking to do just that, and strongly advised him against pursuing it unless he was willing to put in way more man hours than I had had time to invest as a graduating senior. That the Globe saw fit to blow student reaction a little out of proportion is something you should take up with them.)

Best,

Katie Koch

Here's a link: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=77061739006

If you aren't on Facebook, here's the text from the group description:

Your Money Is Not as Important to BU as Mike Capuano's

Of course you thought your $200,000 would get you a better commencement speaker than the one at Bridgewater State.

But Mike Capuano paid his dues, too.

Capuano's website lists his earmark requests for the 2010 budget (as all Congressmen are required to do now as part of Obama's openness initiatives). Among them are:

--$25 million for the Center for the Integration of Medicine and Technology, a Boston-based consortium of 12 institutions (including BU and Boston Medical Center) to “improve combat casualty and soldier care.”

--$5 million to Textron Systems Corporation to replenish the Air Force’s weapons stock with Textron’s Clean Lightweight Area Weapon (CLAW). CLAW’s effectiveness comes from its sensors, which allow it to detonate 16 feet from the ground, rather than on impact. Those same sensors are promoted by BU—Textron is a member of BU’s Sensor Network Consortium, a College of Engineering forum that provides companies with faculty expertise on, among other things, “joint proposals for federally funded research; for submission to DoD, NSF, DOE, or other agencies” for an annual fee of $6,500.

--$2.25 million to the Executive Office of Transportation for the Commonwealth Avenue Road Improvement Project's "reconstruction of Commonwealth Avenue between Amory Street and Packard's Corner," the section of Comm. Ave. BU has not yet secured funding to improve.

--$750,000 to the EOOT for the Mountfort Street Corridor Improvement Study, which would look for ways to improve the "intersection and nearby surface roadways of Commonwealth Avenue and the Boston University Bridge."

--$4 million for the AdMe Tech Foundation, which partners with universities to develop non-invasive imaging techniques to detect and treat prostate cancer. Prior-year funding from the Foundation’s project has gone to researchers at BU, among several other universities.

Capuano has served on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure since 2002. Since then, BU has paid the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates between $760,000 and $960,000 a year to lobby the House and Senate Transportation Committees and the Department of Transportation to secure funding for its ambitious construction and beautification projects. (They have also lobbied committees on defense and homeland security and for higher education legislation, all of which is included in the total amounts above.)

Furthermore, Capuano has been a key supporter in Congress of the Level IV biolab BU wants to open in South Boston. (The National Institutes of Health contributed $128 million to building the biolab in 2006; its opening has been delayed because of legal challenges from community activists.) The Jamaica Plain Gazette called this "possibly his only position that is truly controversial locally."

Yes, Capuano has done great things in garnering aid and political support to address the crisis in Darfur. Yes, some of these earmarks are useful and will support some probably-legitimate projects. Yes, commencement speaker selection is always political--the speaker is almost always expected to funnel money to the university in some form or another.

But this is not Capuano's money, or even his well-connected friends' money. It comes from taxpayers. And whether or not there are any dirty dealings going on, selecting Capuano reinforces the crass and embarrassing perception that our "world-class university" (ha) rewards political hacks for throwing cash our way. The administration's total lack of transparency in the speaker-selection process certainly doesn't help.

Honestly, I would have preferred Larry Bird.

May 10, 2009 12:18 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Thanks for your comments Katie. I agree I probably should have checked your Facebook page. These days I bloviate and don't report. This is a good reminder for me that some basic reporting is occasionally in order.

But a smear? Hardly.

Your beef, if you have one, is with the Globe and this serves as a good introduction to the world of journalism (and commentary). YOU need to take it up with them, but I think the tone of the Facebook page is pretty consistent with the quote Tracy Jan plucked out from a 25-minute interview.

As I said in my post, you fail to establish a nexus between Capuano's actions and his invitation to speak. Nor do you show anything untoward in his actions.

And I do think your "reporting" from Capuano's own website also lacks a simple basic requirement -- comment from the person you are focusing on. A good reporter would let Capuano have a say on how he sees his job and why this is important to BU and a good use of taxpayer dollars.

Your post is as one-sided as mine, a "smear" of Capuano if you will. That's fine because neither opinion blogs like mine nor Facebook are good places to practice real journalism.

I would hope (and think) that if the Phoenix reporter believes there is something to your thesis (s)he would not be deterred by the time involved to dig.

As it happens I agree with you that BU's claim to "world class" status is over the top, more a marketing phrase invented by John Silber than anything with real basis in fact -- except maybe world-class tuition.

And I also agree there is way too much too much money poured into lobbying on capitol Hill and on Beacon Hill.

But overall, Mike Capuano is one of the good guys (and I should note I have never worked for him nor do I live in his district so I have never voted for him).

And while I know you would prefer Larry Bird (me too) I suspect you will learn a great deal from listening to Capuano.

Welcome to the real world of journalism, politics and opinion. I hope your next encounters are better than this one.

May 10, 2009 6:42 AM  
Blogger Aaron Read said...

BU has a history of lousy Commencement speakers. Mine was Gary Locke. At the time he was, I think, the first Asian-American governor of a US state (Washington). He was boring as hell...I don't remember anything of the speech but I do remember it was dull and I wanted it to be at least 20 minutes shorter.

And let's not forget the titantic ego and tin ears of the management when they decided to have President Jon Westling be the speaker in 2002, and Chancellor John Silber be the speaker in 1997 (I think).

Depending a little on your political views, having Henry Kissinger as speaker for 1999 was a great thing or was grounds for justifiable homicide...but at least he was a real big-name speaker.

Yessir-ee. Real good choices for speakers at BU Commencement, ayuh.

May 13, 2009 12:06 AM  

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