Talent, pot and budget cuts

It was an interesting week of work at the Chronicle. First, there was a boring story about a school Talent Exchange. I spent 45 minutes at the thing interviewing people and even that was too long. The hour and a half it took me to transcribe notes and write the story taught me nothing except how to deal with boring stories. The result is suitably inoffensive.

I also wrote a story about a Liberal Education Department instructor who wrote a book about how wonderful pot is. Actually, he didn’t write the book. His friend, “Ganja,” wrote it. He was simply entrusted as the “journal keeper,” in his words. This guy, Louis Silverstein, only wrote the introduction and the preface.

He was, very briefly, denied department sponsorship for a reading he was hoping to give. In the end, the provost overruled the decision so he’ll get his sponsored reading. But he was never actually in danger of being banned from campus or having his academic freedom restricted in any way. He just temporarily — for about two days — was in danger of not having his event sponsored. But he made a big deal out of it.

So I suppose it should come as no surprise that now he’s written a letter to the editor complaining about the headline for the feature on his book: “Faculty member book touts pot use.” Let’s see. I accurately quoted him in the story as saying:

“Marijuana allows one to cut through all that and come into connection with our basic human nature — which is good, not evil; just, not unjust; caring, not indifferent.”

And that’s just one of many similar quotes. Take a look at the book description here. To “tout,” according to Merriam-Webster, means “to praise or publicize loudly or extravagantly.” Sounds on the mark, doesn’t it?

The last story was fun to write. A faculty member came breathlessly rushing into the Chronicle offices on Thursday afternoon to announce that the state budget staff had proposed major cuts to a program that aids needy college students.

I volunteered to do the story. It would be interesting to see how I could handle writing this story objectively when, obviously, not only would I support such cuts but I also believe the government shouldn’t be subsidizing college education in the first place. But I was able to put my own viewpoint aside and talk to the usual suspects at Columbia, and found an interesting tidbit of info.

This is what they call a “shock budget.” It’s meant to scare the crap out of people so that they’ll support a tax increase instead of cutting the budget. As Jim Tobin points out in the story, rather than target pork that really benefits politicians, they announce cuts to a program that directly helps students or some other vulnerable group. And it worked. College officials are organizing a letter-writing campaign, holding college-wide meetings and on and on.

My favorite part is that Tobin called Columbia folks on the fact that they advocated a tax increase instead of cutting the aid program. “Typical bureaucrats,” he said of college administrators, “arguing for more money for their own pockets.” I was amazed that they let that run. I thought that for sure that somewhere I down the line I’d get the “Uh, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to say this” line. But nobody said a thing. I guess it goes to show that you’ll never know what you can get away with until you try.

But it was fun. That political stuff just juices me. And I think I did a good job too. In spite of my biases, I think it’s a balanced and accurate story. But I guess that’s up to the reader to judge, ultimately.