"Nobody asked for this western campus."

Last weekend I wrote that the Connect NC shell game has nothing for public schools, and I was mostly right. But let me set the record straight. There is, in fact, money allocated to the North Carolina School of Science and Math. It's for a $58 million “western campus” to be built in Morganton.

A campus not even the School itself wants.

If you know Morganton, you know it is not a shining star in the science and math universe. Which means this western campus will be completely isolated from North Carolina’s important research universities and from the industries needed for collaboration. Government is already the largest employer in town. The new western campus would tilt the scales even more in favor of public sector dependence. And here I thought those mountain men were all about free enterprise.

Nobody at NCSSM asked for this campus, and nobody wants it. The faculty and administration would much rather have $58 million to spend upgrading current facilities and technology.

Ask faculty members and all you'll get are heads shaking. Same with alumni. Not surprisingly, however, none of them would go on the record. "We're thrilled that the legislature thinks so highly of us," said one faculty member. "But why didn't they bother to ask us what we needed? It's hard to think of a less effective use of resources."

Among the reasons I oppose Connect NC, my lack of confidence in the governor and legislature tops the list. The fact that they're forcing a western campus on NCSSM, a campus that nobody wants, is a prime example of what I'm talking about.

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Princeton student agrees with you

I stumbled across this very insightful blog post by a recent NCSSM graduate:

The purpose of NCSSM as a residential school is so that students from as far away as Cherokee County and Ocracoke Island would be able to attend a high quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) high school. This keeps them from being disadvantaged compared to students like me, who come from places a lot closer to Durham (half an hour in traffic). Like my counterparts from Ocracoke, I basically only went home on the weekends when I was required to: breaks and extended weekends. My parents joked that they might as well be sending me off to school in California, that’s about as often as they saw me.

So I’m disinclined to listen to the arguments of folks like NC State Senator Warren Daniel, who says “it’s a fairness issue as to whether a student from Murphy should have the opportunity to go to a school for science and math that’s two hours away instead of six hours away.” (http://www.morganton.com/news/nc-school-of-science-and-math-leaders-aim-to-keep/article_855b2a58-fad...). If you’re at a boarding school, it really doesn’t matter how far away from home you are. NCSSM doesn’t even allow cars, so anything that’s not within walking or public transit range might as well be six hours away anyway.

Other rhetoric about the location is downright patronizing. “These kids are very impressionable,” House Majority Leader and NC Representative Mike Hager says. “They need their parents. A school of Science and Math in western North Carolina would level the playing field." (http://www.wral.com/house-approves-2016-vote-on-2-85b-bond-plan/14815276/) Actually, part of teaching kids to be independent innovators involves taking them outside of their parents’ sheltering. After the first few months at NCSSM, no one I know still thought they “need[ed] their parents” to wash their clothes for them or remind them to go to class.

Tucker also mentions something I thought must be a temporary quirk, the inability to access the NCSSM website. I tried four different links and they all came back "Bad Gateway." But since he wrote this six weeks ago:

As of writing, the ncssm.edu website is inaccessible, so I can’t access previous proposals for expanding the Durham campus.

I'm thinking that inaccessibility is more than just a glitch.

Hager and Ralph Hise

It's basic pork barrel spending

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The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

But Somebody Obviously Did Ask for This Western Campus

The original post of this thread has a strong stench of the same "establishment elitism" that has lately caused deep and justifiable divisions across the country. The author of the blog entry completely discounts the values of anyone not already part of the NCSSM "establishment." Moreover, the author improperly condemns those outside that privileged establishment who seek productive change for themselves by leveraging the very resources their tax dollars support.

It is simply not true that "nobody" asked for this western NCSSM campus just as it is simply not true that "nobody" asked for the founding of the original NCSSM campus in the first place. The original campus was a creature of politics. So is this new, expanded vision for NCSSM.

I can think of arguments pro and con regarding this new campus. Likewise, I can think of arguments pro and con for NCSSM itself. Having graduated myself in the NCSSM Class of 1984, I have had many years to ponder these latter arguments and have addressed them publicly in my own blog entries and videos. Similarly, recent graduates have posted some excellent blogs and videos on various sites outlining the benefits and detriments of their NCSSM experiences.

As a side note, private conversations with various students over many years have revealed that, yes, some candidates decided not to attend or even apply because of the long distance from home. Others who did apply and gained entry did so to “escape toxic home environments” rather than because of the academic opportunities. Furthermore, most NCSSM students at the campus never get to take advantage of the research and other advanced opportunities that ultimately benefit only a small cadre of highly favored “top performers” at NCSSM. Most students will attest that the main benefits of NCSSM are freedom, friendship, challenge, and, yes, escape from toxic home environments. The western campus can deliver those same benefits. Consequently, that the western campus will have fewer research opportunities should not deter its establishment.

Crime statistics for Morganton versus Durham also strongly favor Morganton. Perhaps students at the western campus can enjoy venturing away from campus without fearing for their safety. Certainly students in Durham cannot say that. So there is clearly a trade between the two regions for “opportunity” versus “safety” here.

At the end of the day, the duly elected gears of the state political machine have turned based on voter input. The new campus has become the tangible output of that machine whether we like it or not. We need to accept this outcome and deal with it productively. I look forward to seeing how it will progress over the coming years.

Slightly delayed reaction...

Not criticizing your post, just making the observation that it refers to a blog written a year and a half ago. I'm glad to see it, actually, because we recently ported our data to a new web hosting site, and this demonstrates that older posts survived that move.

On the subject of the diary itself, keep in mind we were in the midst of a controversial subject, the bond issue. Originally, it had been proposed as an across-the-board infrastructure bond, with bridges and broadband and such, but it was changed at the last minute to cover (mostly) expensive university construction projects. A lot of things we really needed got tossed to the side, but the taxpayers still had a $2 billion-dollar debt burden placed on them, and that $58 million price tag for the Western campus of NCSSM represents a serious chunk of that money.

That being said, I do hope the campus succeeds in producing more engineers and other science-related professionals from our state, and that it provides an opportunity for young people in the region to acquire skills and knowledge they need.

Bait and Switch

I missed the "bait and switch" aspect of this entire bond issue. Thanks for the clarification. It makes much more sense now why it upsets so many.

I have followed the controversy about the western campus intermittently since it first arose, but this is the first time I realized how it was buried under misleading language in a much larger package. I have lived in Florida since 1989, so my involvement in North Carolina politics is nil. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Someone is getting rich from all this.