Author Archives: Anthony Dent

At UNC, not all the books are open

My latest at The News & Observer:

“UNC-Chapel Hill needs to be more transparent and stop operating behind closed doors. Last year, media organizations had to file suit against the university for denying the public access to the football program’s records during the NCAA investigations. Recently, as a student journalist, I experienced that same secretive obstinacy.”

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UNC Healthcare Costs Shoot Up 54%

The debate over last year’s tuition hike was well publicized, but an increase of a far greater magnitude for students who are covered by the UNC system Pearce & Pearce (now Chartis) health insurance plan hasn’t received nearly the same attention.

Dollar-for-dollar, tuition at UNC is going up $695 or 9.9 percent for academic year 2012-2013 while costs for the health insurance plan are increasing $497 or 54.0 percent for the same period. UNC is by no means alone—rates at UNC-Asheville will shoot up 95.0 percent from last year. This increase will affect the 5,895 students on the plan at UNC and the approximately 64,000 students on the plan system-wide.

The UNC General Administration gives two reasons for the increase—a high level of usage and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as ObamaCare). Approximately twelve percent of the increase this year is attributable to ObamaCare (about $60), according to Bruce Mallette, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs. The rest of the increase is an attempt by Chartis/Pearce & Pearce to lower their loss ratio from the past two years closer to the contractual level of 77 percent. The loss ratios for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years were 118 percent and 165 percent, respectively. Basically, this means that Chartis/Pearce & Pearce has been subsidizing UNC students. For every dollar paid in premiums, Chartis/Pearce & Pearce has been paying out $1.18 and $1.65 for the past two years.

There are some questions concerning the selection of Chartis/Pearce & Pearce. The main consultant that UNC GA used during the bidding process was the North Carolina Association of Insurance Agents whose specialty is property and casualty insurance, not medical insurance. They are also paid through a one percent commission fee on the premium meaning that the NCAIA is not incentivized to keep premiums low.

The university system chose to not rebid the contract because of ObamaCare and the short amount of time that has elapsed since the last bidding process, but given the fact that the insurance premium has almost doubled since the 2010-2011 academic year, the bidding process next year is long overdue.

There are many lessons to be learned here. The fact that a private company was unable to accurately predict the premium at which it would not be effectively subsidizing its customers for the services it provides makes one question the ability of our government to be able to control costs when there is no profit motive in play.

The UNC-Chartis/Pearce & Pearce experience also seems to contradict one of the underlying tenets of ObamaCare, i.e., pooling people together will lower costs across the board. Who would have thought that students—in what is traditionally thought of as the lowest risk category for health insurers—could manage to almost double premium costs in only two short years? Never mind the fact that ObamaCare—advertised as a way to reduce health care costs—is actually adding to the financial burden students must bear next year.

It also calls into question mandates generally. UNC’s “public option” has turned out to cost much more per monthly than an individual plan with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, for example. While 10-12% of students were uninsured at UNC before the mandate, it’s not clear that students have benefitted from the mandate with highly volatile, exponentially increasing costs associated with the UNC plan.

The students who are still covered by Chartis/Pearce & Pearce this year will have to suffer the consequences of this increase, but we can only hope that the three years with Chartis/Pearce & Pearce will help ensure that insurance companies know the level of claims to expect and that they will be able to provide students with a more predictable rate of increase.

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Re: Has a University Department Illegally Endorsed Amendment One?

I’m not sure how conclusive that evidence may be, but if Marc is right, that calls into question a lot of the recent activities by the Campus Y including their campaign to “Stop Senate Bill 575.”

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CR, Getting Noticed

I realize free time is practically nonexistent during finals week, but if you do have a moment or two, definitely check out the new exhibit on campus architecture in the North Carolina Collection Gallery (second floor of Wilson Library, on the left).

Not only is it fascinating to see how UNC has changed over the years, but our very own Chase McDonough makes an appearance in the exhibit as a critic of the Brutalist/Post-Modern trash we see around campus from his April 2011 article, “Campus Architecture Review: The Worst of the Worst.”

At least they’re willing to acknowledge that some of us find Greenlaw the “second most offensive building on campus.”

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Tunnel of Oppression Countdown: Two Days

Yes, it’s that time of year: time for your RAs to hector you and time for innocent students walking through the Pit to be harangued by UNC’s Right-Thinking and Compassionate People, all in an effort to convince (cajole? browbeat?) you into attending the Tunnel of Oppression.

I’m told our ace Tunnel of Oppression correspondent Marc Seelinger will be on the ground shortly, giving us the scoop on this year’s Tunnel of Leftist Stereotypes (sorry, I mean Oppression). Until then, take a trip down memory lane and enjoy Marc’s devastating critique (and the comments too!) from his first visit to… the Tunnel: “The Tunnel of Oppression: A Review”

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Who’s Racist Now?

Fun fact: with last night’s endorsement of Calvin Lewis, Jr., College Republicans has endorsed a minority candidate four out of the last five elections: Kristin Hill (2008), Michael Betts (2009), Ian Lee (2011), and now Calvin (2012).

Young Democrats, on the other hand, have endorsed only one minority candidate in the past five years, when they endorsed Kristin Hill in 2008.

How racist.

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When Nondiscrimination Becomes Discrimination

Last week, I received notice of a meeting this week to review the university’s nondiscrimination policy as it relates to belief-based organizations (e.g., Young Democrats, Carolina Review, or InterVarsity). This committee was called after university administrators ruled that Psalm 100, a Christian a capella group, did not violate the current nondiscrimination policy when they voted Will Thomason out of the group because of his views on homosexuality. Critics assert they voted him out because of his sexual orientation, not his views.

According to an email I received from a member of the policy review committee, there are four actions that they may take:

  1. Implement an “all-comers” policy where belief-based groups cannot take a prospective members beliefs’ into account when considering them for membership
  2. Implement a modified “all-comers” policy where you can take their beliefs into account, but none related to “personal characteristics” (i.e., “a Christian organization couldn’t require that gay members believe homosexuality is a sin”)
  3. Require student leaders to sign a non-discrimination statement or require student organizations to incorporate a non-discrimination statement into their bylaws.
  4. Make no change.

The first two are highly problematic. Consider the current policy:

Student organizations that select their members on the basis of commitment to a set of beliefs (e.g., religious or political beliefs) may limit membership and participation in the organization to students who, upon individual inquiry, affirm that they support the organization’s goals and agree with its beliefs, so long as no student is excluded from membership or participation on the basis of his or her age, race, color, national origin, disability, religious status or historic religious affiliation, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or, unless exempt under Title IX, gender.

This policy is comprehensive and mediates between the need for free and open access while allowing belief-based organizations to ensure that their members adhere to the organization’s mission statement. Given the multiplicity of beliefs to which an organization may adhere, it also gives both members and the organization flexibility to determine the extent to which a member must support its beliefs before their membership is called into question (i.e., many College Republicans, myself included, disagreed with President Bush’s TARP program, yet were allowed to remain members).

So why is a change necessary?

The member of the committee gave a rationale for a potential change:

The current policy is the legacy of legal action taken against the university nearly a decade ago. It allows for political and religious groups — groups based around a set of beliefs — to limit their membership to students who profess agreement with those beliefs. This is technically different from discriminating on the basis of personal characteristics, which is what the rest of the policy addresses. However, recent history has shown us that this can become problematic for individuals who are required by organizations they are members  of to hold beliefs which could be considered antagonistic toward their personal characteristics. Furthermore, what beliefs are required for membership is open to interpretation with each successive leadership — what it means to be Christian or Conservative is hardly set in stone. In fact, that discussion is in part why many of these groups exist. This can potentially jeopardize members down the line who were formerly in good standing.

This is in keeping with the sentiments expressed by Thomason, Terri Phoenix, and other participants to the Daily Tar Heel which seems to indicate that some change will occur. Also, knowing the other members of the committee, I strongly suspect some change will be made especially given the outside pressure seen last semester for retribution against Psalm 100.

Whatever change is made will be the first step in regulating what precisely student groups may believe. The impetus behind the policy review is a perfect example. While I consider Will a friend and disagreed with Psalm 100’s decision to vote him out, ultimately, the decision was up to Psalm 100 as to whether or not Will was upholding their mission statement. And properly so. The moment the university decides whether or not certain beliefs are acceptable is the moment that we’ve effectively ended the idea that the university is supposed to be a free marketplace of ideas.

Even on the face of it, the proposed changes are laughable. Why should Young Democrats be forced to accept my membership, even though I fundamentally disagree with their values and beliefs? They might want to accept my dues money, but should I be able to vote on which endorsements they make or be elected to their executive board? Should a contingent of College Republicans be allowed to try and dictate YD policy or be present and able to vote when sensitive decisions are being made?

For larger groups such machinations probably aren’t an issue, but for smaller organizations like Carolina Review the chance that a few liberals could dominate the group is very possible. Recent actions taken against the Review by fringe organizations indicate that this could be a real threat.

Or take the issue of representation. After the presumed new policy is in place, could someone who disagrees with the Campus Blueprint join and do anything in the name of the organization simply to embarrass Blueprint? Will magazines like The Siren be able to take editorial stances any more or refuse to publish articles they think don’t uphold their brand of feminism?

What about the Muslim Students Association? Their bylaws require that only members can serve in leadership positions, while, to be a member, one must “strictly accept doctrines prescribed in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as practiced by Ahl-Al Sunnah Wa Al-Jama’a.” In what world does it make sense that MSA would have to accept a non-Muslim as a leader?

Even if the policy only bans belief discrimination based on personal characteristics, that leaves the door wide-open for interpretation. Homosexuality is fairly straightforward, but a “characteristic” is simply “a distinguishing trait, quality, or property.” What would fall under this category? Unpopular opinions (i.e., “homosexuality is a sin”) may be the first to go, but the administration would have set a strong precedent for far broader powers to determine which beliefs would pass muster, effectively wielding veto-power over those beliefs.

Vanderbilt University implemented a similar policy to the one UNC is now considering which put the Vanderbilt chapter of the Christian Legal Society in violation. Last September, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent Vanderbilt a letter which brought out a crucial point:

[W]hen it comes to religious groups on campus, Vanderbilt’s failure to recognize that religion is also a belief compromises those groups’ ability to effectively communicate their messages. Part of CLS’s expressive purpose is to communicate to other law students what it sees as the Christian message.

On that point, the Christian Legal Society is no different than any other belief-based organization. In the rationale that the committee member gave me (above), he said that our concepts of Christian and conservative are not “set in stone.” No one disputes that. Yet it is still the right of an organization to define what it believes to be Christian or conservative. In our own history, the Review was founded in 1993 after a disagreement over the direction the original Carolina Critic was headed. A later split occurred when some members wanted to go in a more “human interest” direction and founded the Blue & White. If Will Thomason felt as though Psalm 100 were not upholding true Christianity, he had every right to start his own Christian a capella group. No one- including Psalm 100- could stop him. But the fact remains that belief-based organizations are fundamentally evangelical in nature insofar as they have a set of beliefs and it is their intention to publicize those beliefs and recruit new adherents to its standard.

In a follow-up letter to Vanderbilt, FIRE outlined a set of hypotheticals that I hope the policy review committee considers before making a final decision:

  • If one of the leaders of Vanderbilt’s Muslim Students Association were to convert to Christianity, is the group required to maintain that person in his or her leadership role despite the fact that he or she is no longer Muslim?
  • Vanderbilt informed the Christian Legal Society that its requirement that student leaders “lead Bible studies, prayer, and worship” was against the policy because it implied that these leaders must hold certain religious beliefs. How do you suggest religious groups at Vanderbilt fulfill their purposes without leaders who can accomplish such core tasks of religious leadership?
  • While this dispute was originally confined to religious organizations, your statement of January 20 states that all student organizations must accept any student as a member or a leader. If a group of straight students—the majority at Vanderbilt—were to join the Vanderbilt Lambda Association, vote themselves into office, and disband the group or alter the group’s mission, what recourse would LGBT members of the Lambda Association have?
  • If a member of the College Republicans joins the College Democrats to discover their plans for political activism and report those plans back to the College Republicans in order to thwart them, do the College Democrats have any way to stop him or her?
  • Under this policy, must an ideological student journal like Vanderbilt’s Orbis accept editors or publish columnists who disagree with, mock, or denigrate its progressive political views?
  • Many groups in the Occupy movement choose to make decisions by consensus. How could a Vanderbilt-based Occupy group operate if a small group of students joined specifically to prevent the group from acting in any way by constantly preventing a consensus from forming?
  • If a student were to join an environmentalist group like Vanderbilt SPEAR and then use his membership in that group to increase his or her credibility when publicly criticizing the group’s positions in the Nashville or Vanderbilt newspapers, what could the group do to prevent this?

The reality is, under an “all-comers” or similar policy, there would be no recourse for the groups in the above situation.

Student fee money became an issue last fall, but the fact remains that Psalm 100 members also pay into the pool that is disbursed to student organizations. Why should they not be eligible to receive money simply because the university thought Psalm 100 fell short of “inclusivity” benchmark? Of course, a voucher system for student fees would resolve this issue quite nicely, but the university administration seems to believe regulating beliefs is the best way to go.

If UNC decides to expand our nondiscrimination policy, they will have joined Vanderbilt- to quote FIRE- in “abandoning America’s pluralistic tradition by banning religious and political student groups from making leadership decisions based on their religious or political beliefs.” That pluralistic tradition has long been the underpinning of the liberal arts enterprise which UNC will jettison and, in doing so, make a mockery of our motto lux libertas. That’s definitely not the Carolina Way.

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