Friday, September 07, 2007

Censorship at ASU

The editors of the ASU campus newspaper, "The Appalachian," censored an investigative article by a student reporter about the controversy surrounding the College of Education building and then fired the young reporter who wrote it. We've obtained the article he wrote and reproduce it below in its entirety.

The article was prepared and finished by deadline on August 23rd for the August 25th edition of The Appalachian. It included a very full background on the ASU-Town of Boone disagreement and interviews with ASU Chancellor Ken Peacock, ASU Director of Design & Construction Clyde Robbins, ASU Student Government President Forrest Gilliam, ASU Board of Trustees member Jeannine Underdown-Collins, ASU professors (and Boone Area Planning Board members) Greg Reck and Tom Jamison, Boone Town Council member Lynne Mason, and (most significantly) Eris Dedmond, the woman whose household is threatened by a four-story university building 13-feet from her home.

The extensive interview with Eris Dedmond, which the student reporter used to write a separate sidebar profile of the retired ASU education professor (also printed in full below), is truly significant because no mainstream local reporter has gotten in to interview Dedmond about her situation. This is the first time the general public has been given any insight into the lives and opinions of the Dedmond family, who are demonstrably those most directly impacted by the university's plans.

The article obviously did not appear in The Appalachian on August 25th. First, the editors delayed it, telling the reporter that they wanted changes.

On August 29th, The Appalachian editors called in the reporter, told him his article would not run, and that his services were no longer needed. They claimed that unspecified people said he was acting "unprofessionally" in the interviews he conducted.

Whose ox was being gored by this journalism? Whose view of reality was so threatened that the article was censored and the reporter dismissed?

What follows:

  1. The main news article, with four proposed headlines
  2. A time-line the reporter prepared from his investigation
  3. A separate side-bar profile of Eris Dedmond

1. New education building causes concern among residents

Town and university disagree over use of property

Education building location causes dispute

Dispute among university and town over College of Education building


Intern News Reporter

In early October, elections will be held for Boone Town Council and mayor.

Therefore the next several weeks will be filled with heated debate over contentious issues such as close affordable student housing built on steep-slopes, and Appalachian State University's campus expanding into the town.

It is that expansion, and where exactly it should occur, that has put the university and surrounding community at odds in the run up to those town elections in October.

After some debate four parcels of land at the corner of College and Howard streets were sought out as the eventual home for the College of Education.

"They started looking at that site in the spring of 2006," said Chairman of the Anthropology Department Dr. Gregory G. Reck.

The first two parcels have already been sold to the university, while a third owned by Daniel Park, Robert Ball and Jack Underdown, is expected to be sold soon.

"It is my understanding that it will be sold by the end of the month," said Reck.

The university has concluded it no longer needs the fourth, which is owned by the Dedmond family, who have longstanding ties to the university including Eris A. Dedmond who taught in the education department for 23 years. So the plans call for the building to be built within feet of the Dedmond's home.

Those three parcels next to the Dedmonds are being purchased by the Appalachian State University Foundation, with the ASU Board of Trustees making some of the decisions on what land to purchase.

"The Board of Trustees has been very much involved in any acquisitions that we make," said Appalachian State University Chancellor Dr. Kenneth E. Peacock. "In this case the board members were involved in discussions over the purpose of this property."

That raises concern because Jack Underdown, part owner of the third piece, is the father of Board of Trustees member Jeannine Underdown-Collins.

"That is my father's property, and he was solely involved. I had nothing to do with it and abstained on that vote," said Board of Trustees member Jeannine Underdown-Collins.

There is some sentiment around campus that the school tried to sidestep the town completely.

"There were efforts, by an unknown individual at this school, to pass special legislation in Raleigh to essentially nullify the town zoning over that piece of property and say the town cannot do anything anyway because the university is the owner. That failed," said Leadership and Education Studies Professor Dr. Thomas Jamison. "Of course our local representatives would not support that, but that had ramifications across the entire state."

The university settled on those Howard Street parcels after discussing five locations including Justice residence hall.

"There were numerous locations we looked at. At least two or three would have been on the current campus," said Appalachian State University Chancellor Dr. Kenneth E. Peacock.

The school ruled against using those locations for logistical reasons and decided to buy more property.

"The ones discussed already on school grounds involved tearing down something such as residence halls," said Peacock.

The Dedmonds feel the university should have used their own land instead of imposing on them.

"It would have been better for the situation if they had used their own grounds instead of trying to impose on us," said Eris A. Dedmond. "We're not the problem here. We're the victims."

"This will be bad for us and for those in the education department."

The Student Government Association disagrees.

"I think it's the best site for the university, and I think it has the least impact on the town," said Student Government Association President Forrest S. Gilliam. "So I'm pretty determined, looking at the sites we have, to push for it because it's best for the students .... I live on the other side of the Presbyterian Church on that street," Gilliam said. "It's not nearly as much of an impact, but it will have an impact on me. And you put the needs of the community ahead of that."

One major problem has been that the plans for the building do not meet the required zoning criteria of that part of town.

"Listen if somebody comes to me and offers to sell me a piece of property adjacent to campus my answer is yes," said Peacock. "And I like green space, and seeing the students sitting under a tree reading or playing games out there."

The new education building will not have any green space though.

The plans call for a 120,000 square foot building that is 10 times the allowable square footage. According to the Boone Development Services staff report, the building is 15,180 square feet short of the open space requirement of 32,775 feet.

"They are dropping it on a very small footprint," Jamison said. "As a member of the faculty for 37 years my concern in general has been the location."

The proposed four-story building will also exceed the height limits by a considerable amount.

"I've been working here for 35 years and I just do not think it fits that site," said Reck. "It will be right beside the Dedmond's doorstep."

"We're still trying to litigate that and we're studying options that will be discussed with the town," ASU Director of Design and Construction Dr. Clyde D. Robbins said.

"We could set it back some from their house."

The chancellor however disagrees.

"We would have to go somewhere else," said Peacock. "We can't scale it back."

There is also concern over added traffic the building will bring: an estimated 1,200 cars a day, a lack of close parking for faculty and what would happen with Hamby Alley.

"There will obviously be some little issues with that location but in looking at where we wanted the college of education to be, in a central part of campus, that piece just caught our attention," said Peacock. "It's the right spot to me."

If the town and university had been able to come to terms sooner this whole situation might have been avoided in the first place.

"Part of the problem from the beginning when it was first proposed has been communication between the university and the town," said Jamison. "I have a feeling the university kind of presumed everything would fall in place."

The Boone Town Council will gather with university officials including Peacock on Sept. 4 to discuss zoning regulations that had been postponed.


August 2006 -- North Carolina General Assembly gives $1.8 million to finance plans for new education building

September or October 2006 -- ASU settles on Howard Street property

November 2006 -- Chancellor's chief of staff Dr. Lorin A. Baumhover calls the Dedmonds. They tell him they're not interested in selling

January 5, 2007 -- Robbins meets with Town of Boone Planning Director Dr. John Spear for first time about building. Spear advises Robbins to apply for special use permit through Board of Adjustment

January 8, 2007 -- Robbins submits application for conditional zoning to TOB

February 6, 2007 -- University withdraws petition for rezoning. Meanwhile, University begins buying 9 apartment bldgs. on the site

February 8, 2007 -- Town of Boone releases staff report detailing how proposed building will not fit zoning requirements

February 23, 2007 -- Gov. Easley's proposed state budget contains $34 for new college of education

March 2007 -- Chancellor sends letter to Dedmonds offering to buy property and give them lifetime estate. Dedmonds say they never received it

March 29, 2007 -- Robbins tells The Appalachian that he is under the impression here will be no problems putting the building on that site

March 30, 2007 -- SGA President Forrest Gilliam calls on town council to reconsider granting Conditional Use permit for College of Education. In the letter Gilliam calls the area "existing slums"

April 2007 -- Representatives from university continue to call Dedmonds, who maintain they are not interested in selling

May 2007 -- University xeroxes copy of original letter sent to Dedmonds and remails it. This one they do receive

June/July 2007 -- Town Council holds meetings with university representatives to further discuss zoning requirements

July 30, 2007 -- Appalachian gets the $34 million as an appropriation for the construction of its college of education building as a part of $20.7 billion dollar state budget for 2007-2008

August 20, 2007 -- University postpones planned meeting with town council until Sept. 4

October 9, 2007 -- Elections for town council and mayor will take place

3. Family with Appalachian heritage faces crisis

[sidebar feature]

Dedmond family set on staying


Intern News Reporter

Eris A. Dedmond, 76, taught in the College of Education at Appalachian from 1968-91, and her career spans a large part of the history of that department.

"I interviewed with Dr. Plemmons while this was still Appalachian State Teachers College, and then overnight we became a university," said Dedmond. "I first lived in Coffey Hall for two years, which was a dorm for faculty at the time. Then my husband and I rented this place for a year and bought it."

Today, Appalachian wants to build a new home for the college of education on land adjacent to the Dedmond's property.

The university contacted the couple in the fall of 2006 about buying their house, but Dedmond was adamant about not selling. Now that the university has decided to move on and build without their property she is quite upset over the effect it will have on her and her older husband who has health issues.

"We can't afford to move health-wise, and with so many memories here, it'd be like leaving it all," said Dedmond.

Many Boone residents perceive Howard Street as a Mecca for social activity. For the family that has lived at the head of table on that street for 37 years, it has a far deeper meaning.

"This is home to us and has been since 1970, and we've made it clear from the beginning that we are not interested in selling," Dedmond said.

"We've loved living here, and the students have always been nice and friendly. Our only concern had been vandalism, but that has only happened on a couple of occasions to some fencing."

For nearly four decades the Dedmonds have lived peacefully with a front row seat to witness first'hand the progress and growth that Appalachian has experienced.

What were once houses gave way to apartments, while the Dedmonds held strong in the middle with no quandaries.

"They've obviously seen a lot of changes happen in that area, before there was even zoning," Boone Town Council member Lynne Mason said.

Those changes include a brand new parking deck and library in the immediate area. While the makeup of the neighborhood continues to transform, the Dedmonds wish to remain no matter what.

The Dedmonds think a massive building will be more than just an unfriendly neighbor. It will also be breaking the existing town zoning laws.

"According to the zoning rules, the building would have to be 100 feet from our house," said Dedmond. "The water cooling tower for it will only be 13 feet from our front doorstep."

"It will overshadow their beautiful property, including that garden they have in the backyard," Mason said. "You hate to see things happen like this, to folks like that."

Since Appalachian is determined to make it the site, the Dedmonds feel the university has forced blame onto the town and its officials.

"The university has scapegoated the town council over this. The council wants the new building just like we do, but we want it in the right place," said Dedmond. "They're stalling by postponing meetings until those elections in October when they can try to get a new town council and mayor."

More than that, though, Mrs. Dedmond is concerned about the students, students she once taught, and the inadequate structure she thinks they will be stuck with if groundbreaking commences.

"If this were a good location, I'd say yes, but this is not an adequate location for the College of Education," said Dedmond. "I'm advocating a proper spot, one that it deserves."

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