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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A right to MassPIRG?

First an apology. In my letter to the editor I approached the words of C.D. Stone, K.R. Vergets, and N.J. Aldrich as if they were the words of The Mass Media. They clearly were not. Although these three identified themselves at the end of their opinion piece as having some official capacity at The Mass Media, their words were not printed in the newspaper space designated for the Official Editorial Voice of the paper, and therefore I should not have represented them as such. I apologize for this confusion.

However, I will take this opportunity to make my case again since Carl Brooks questioned not only the target of my argument, but also its substance in his “Editor’s Response.”

In his reply Carl Brooks declared that student’s rights were at stake because “UMass students added the opt-out fees all by their little selves, they have a de facto right to do so. When the State Legislature butts in, it is abrogating that right.” UMass students did not add these opt-out fees on their own, nor do these fees represent any sort of “right” that we may hold.

These fees, like everything else that occurs here at UMass, were established by the State of Massachusetts. Mass. General Law 15A Section 29 defines how our fee process shall be run, and it is within the authority of the State to change this law. Do not forget that we are a public university. Our representatives on Beach Hill have clear legislative authority in this matter. To suggest otherwise is to deny reality.

Furthermore, Mr. Brooks is clearly playing fast and loose with an honest conception of “rights”. Rights are so much more important than your argument suggests Carl! Any sixth grader could tell you that your rights are written down in the Bill of Rights, and while the additional body of work on the subject is too numerous to list, Mass. General Law 15A Section 29 clearly is not expressed anywhere in these centuries of thought.

What we all understand is that Rights have names. We all know their names because rights are so fundamental to our society and so cherished by us as beings capable of ration and mercy. You have the Right to Free Speech, the Right to Travel, the Right to Bear Arms, the Right to Vote, and many others. Amongst these there is not a Right to Divert Student Fees to MassPIRG, not even if we vote for it a million times here at UMass.

What is the important distinction to understand here? HB 2400 is not about Human Rights, Student Rights, or the Right to Pass Go and Collect $200.00. HB 2400 is about a policy. A policy cannot deny you of your rights, but a specific policy in and of itself is not a right. MGL 15A Section 29 is the State’s current policy towards the collection and dispensing of student fees in the UMass system, just as MGL 22 Section 12 details the State’s current policy toward the running of a State boxing commission. We have a “right” to the current system of student fees as originally defined by state law as much as a boxing commissioner has a “right” to pay “not exceeding forty-three hundred and seventy-five dollars each…” as also determined by the state. To suggest that everything that is codified in state law constitutes the substance of our rights is to suggest that state law may never again change. This is an absurd claim.

Why do we need to understand the distinction between a Right and a Policy? It’s very simple. Policy decisions are debatable, Rights are not. Our system of government relies on steady, open and honest debate. When special interests (and make no doubt about it, in this instance MassPIRG is a special interest very concerned with maintaining its funding from the students of UMass) lie and make factually unsupportable claims about rights being infringed, the market place of ideas is tainted with a dishonesty that not only prevents good policy work from being conducted (their overt goal of preventing HB 2400 from passing), but it also sends citizens fearfully away from their government (their covert goal, in this case making students believe Beacon Hill is scheming to get you and your rights too!).

This brings us to Mr. Brook’s second objection. He asserts that the measures taken in HB 2400 are “pretty extreme and likely unconstitutional.” Mr. [Brooks’] assumption that HB 2400 is unconstitutional comes absent any proof. It’s just stated. We’re to take his word for it? How exactly is outlawing the diversion of student fees to MassPIRG unconstitutional? (Short answer: it’s not.)

The hollow claim of right’s violations from MassPIRG supporters displays a clear contempt for honesty in debate, and my disgust for their scare tactics knows no bounds. Their reprehensible methods for mustering political support must not be overlooked while the question of their funding is debated on campus and on Beacon Hill.

It is very clear to any honest person that HB 2400 is about policy, not rights. If they’re willing to be honest with the students of UMass, the question opponents of HB 2400 must rise to answer is not “where are our rights going?” (answer: no where), it is “why is MassPIRG given the sole privilege of fund raising on tuition bills at UMass, and should this privilege continue?”

Nicholas A. FavoritoPolitical Science ’04