Letters from the Issue of March 14, 2002

University of Miami administrators called for downfield interference

Anonymous Annihilation

Even football stars should know their detractors: Kirk Nielsen's story about University of Miami football player Andre Johnson ("End Run," March 7) had more quotes from ghosts than The X-Files. Next time you want to write a piece that butchers a twenty-year-old kid, Kirk, why don't you get quotes from real people with real names?

Your attempt to lump together all Miami football players as cheaters was disgraceful at best. It was so obvious that the entire story was made possible by a disgruntled member of the UM faculty who decided to take his anger to canestime.com. Hopefully your new friend will no longer be employed at UM.

A story like this may explain why you write for New Times and not a real paper.

Danny Ramirez

Aventura

Do We Detect a Wee Bit of Bitterness?

Angry scribe cut from team, vows revenge: Wow! Kirk Nielsen's article contained a lot of hostility and resentment, which raises questions about his intentions. Was it reported and written in good faith? It seemed like an attack more than anything.

There were many comments that did not seem too relevant to what I think he was trying to address -- the problem of athletes and academics at UM and other universities. How did remarks involving the KKK make their way into the article? It was his story and he can write whatever he wants, but come on, how did that get past the editor?

Hue Hester

Miami

Entitlements 101: Football Players vs. Everyone Else

Catch a pass and UM will let you pass: I'm not surprised by the way the Andre Johnson case was handled. When I was at UM (I graduated in 1994), I certainly felt that football players got special treatment academically. Two incidents may serve to illustrate this point.

After my first year of school I had a 4.0 grade point average, but one of my grants to help me with tuition was unexpectedly dropped prior to my sophomore year and I had to scramble to make up the difference. What did that say about school priorities? If I had been a football player at the top of my game would that have happened? I think not.

Also a friend of mine was accused of cheating on an organic-chemistry exam. The evidence against him was much less clear-cut than in the Johnson case. I sat next to him during that exam and his answers were suspiciously similar to but not identical to the person sitting on his other side (not me). I was the best student in that class and my friend knew it. So if he were going to copy off anyone, it would have been me!

For that reason and others I'm convinced he was innocent and I wrote a letter on his behalf to the honor council. Unfortunately they revoked his university scholarship, he could no longer afford to attend UM, and he dropped out. Again, I doubt this would have happened to a football player.

I received a wonderful education at UM and have many fond memories of my times there, but these two incidents were not among them.

Aaron Bartholomew

North Bay Village

The Athletic Advantage

Some students are created more equal than others: I enjoyed Kirk Nielsen's article on a particular instance of favoritism for a student athlete at the University of Miami. Obviously this behavior is both morally and academically wrong on the part of the student and the school's administration. Unfortunately this favoritism has spread to FIU as well.

Although I have yet to see any example of an FIU athlete receiving reduced penalties for academic dishonesty, I can attest to the fact that at FIU athletes are put in a class of their own. At FIU our athletes have their own computer labs, special tutors, and their own library. When I bemoaned the fact that athletes at FIU are given access to better facilities than the rest of us, a professor complained to me that she has had to deal with FIU-funded tutors for these athletes sending her forms to fill out so the athletes can be tutored enough to pass her class!

Those of us at FIU who are not athletes are not so lucky. When we are failing a class, we hit the books, not the playing field. If we don't study hard enough, we have only our professor to help us. Personally I find it atrocious that a student should receive tutoring and the use of special facilities not based on academic problems but instead on the student's ability to play a sport.

This is made worse by the fact that FIU is funded in part by tax dollars. Every student at FIU deserves equal treatment, but our administration has created a host of second-class citizens by affording only athletes certain luxuries, most of which pertain not to the sports they play but to keeping their grades high enough to remain eligible to play.

Evelio E. Astray-Caneda III

Miami

New UM Degree Program First in Nation

Bold approach praised by NFL: It's disappointing to read how the University of Miami administration handled the Andre Johnson situation. Perhaps it's time for UM to offer a degree in football. That way student athletes can be accommodated without dumbing down and corrupting the rest of the university.

John Johnson

Kingwood, Texas

There's a Flag on the Play

But what's this? The coach himself called it! Concerning the Andre Johnson case, what an outrage! But not a surprise. This is a problem not only at the University of Miami but at many other schools across the nation. I hope Coach Coker would have the sense to do what the administration did not: Suspend Johnson for the upcoming season. Any other student would be nailed to the wall for cheating twice.

This is an embarrassment to UM and to academia in general. But as the saying goes, money talks....

Gary Brunette

Colorado Springs, Colorado

A Proud University Tradition

Bond them out of jail, bend the rules, and build a better draft pick: It isn't surprising to see that the University of Miami is continuing its long-established tradition of supporting lowlifes, thugs, sociopaths, and convicted criminals in its athletic programs. How wonderful for the students to see the rules and regulations modified, overturned, and set aside for the benefit of the football program. Administrators and everyone involved should take pride in their decision. It provides an excellent example of what students should expect in the real world. Parents should also be proud to send their children to such a fine institution of higher learning.

I'm sure this story will probably be buried and forgotten as it is not conducive to recruiting. What does it matter anyway? The true importance of athletics far outweighs the necessities of a sound education. Sell the tickets. Market the Canes' gear. Prime these young men to make it in the world of professional football.

Nice job, UM. You have set the academic standard that all should follow.

Michael F. Heintzelman

Las Vegas, Nevada

Droll Model

It'll pay to study as hard as you play: Thanks, Andre! You are a shining example to all the little football stars out there. Why work hard in school when all you have to do to get through is cheat? Better yet, have your girlfriend cheat for you. How fair is this to the other students who work long hours to pay their way through school?

I realize football is a huge business, but I thought UM and Coach Larry Coker were more principled than to let something like this go by with a slap on the wrist. Andre, keep up the good work. You just might break the locks on those doors and let all the old Hurricane skeletons out of the closet.

M. Weinert

Omaha, Nebraska

Take My Money, Please!

And thanks so much for squandering it: Rebecca Wakefield's article "Resegregation Now, Resegregation Forever!" (February 28) shows us what a mess public education is today. One thing is certain, though: Charter schools are not the answer to our education problems.

The difference between charter schools and public schools is simply the bureaucracy that runs them. The money for both comes from taxpayers forced to pay into a system whether they use it or not and whether they like it or not. There is nothing wrong with private schools that are directly accountable to their consumers (parents), but under the current setup the funds for these so-called charter schools will be taken from taxpayers and fed to these corporations headed by former school-system bureaucrats. This is not privatization by a long shot. This is merely the shifting of power, money, and accountability.

The term "public school" is also misleading. These schools, as we have seen, do not belong to the public. Public schools belong to politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, and union bosses. A more accurate label for these schools would be "government schools." The voucher system is no panacea either. It will only serve to make private schools also beholden to the government for their money.

The ultimate losers in this battle of bureaucracy vs. corporations are the students and their parents. Regardless of which system they choose (public or charter), their money will be taken by force. If you think force is too strong a term, try not paying your school-board taxes because you don't like the way your money is being spent and see what happens.

There is no easy solution or quick fix, but it's obvious we must find a way to empower parents by giving them more control over their children's lives and education. The only solution that ultimately will favor students and their parents is the dismantling of the government school system. If parents weren't taxed into oblivion they would have the money to put their children in the school of their choice, not Mr. Bush's choice.

Who do you think has the children's best interests in mind: A) perennial union boss Pat Tornillo; B) influential and connected lobbyist Ron Book; C) a bunch of politicians dependent on campaign contributions; D) a bunch of overpaid bureaucrats who otherwise wouldn't qualify to work the night shift at a Wendy's drive-up window; or E) the parents?

If you get the answer wrong, blame it on that government school you attended.

Emiliano Antunez

Miami

A Deal, but Not a Done Deal

Care to put in a bid on a school? I read with interest Rebecca Wakefield's article "Resegregation Now, Resegregation Forever!" (February 28) concerning the charter-school movement in South Florida. The article was timely and well written. Ms. Wakefield, however, may have gotten a little ahead of herself when she wrote that "Miami Shores will open a high school in 2003 to be run by Chancellor Beacon Academies."

Miami Shores Village has indeed been granted a charter for a high school to open in 2003, and we have a request for proposals as part of a competitive-bidding process. But we have not yet chosen any entity to run the school.

Richard Sarafan, village attorney

Miami Shores Village

The Water Is Fine, It's the Reporter Who's Polluted

Obviously that story missed the filtration system: Jim DeFede's February 14 column "Pollution Solution" contains numerous inaccuracies that must be corrected lest the people of Miami-Dade County lose confidence in a water system that provides safe, high-quality drinking water at one of the lowest costs in the state. I am a water-resource engineer with more than twenty years of experience in South Florida working for government agencies and private industry, including the lime-rock mining companies discussed in Mr. DeFede's article.

I attended the July 23, 2001, meeting that formed the basis of much of the column and have a substantially different recollection of what transpired than that reported by Mr. DeFede, who was not present. First, it was not a small private meeting of County Manager Steve Shiver, two department heads, and an industry lobbyist as reported. Rather it was a large meeting with numerous county staff from both the Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) and the Water and Sewer Department (WASD), executives and consultants from several mining companies, the county manager, and assistant county manager Pete Hernandez.

Mr. Shiver attended only the opening minutes of the meeting. Mr. Hernandez moderated the meeting and made sure all points of view were heard. At no time did DERM staff express support for the new tax on mining proposed by WASD director Bill Brant. In fact both the head of DERM and the assistant county manager stated after the meeting that they did not feel the tax was justified. Mr. Shiver was not involved in the discussion.

With respect to the supposed "threat to our drinking water," the article is equally misleading. The mining lakes do not create a habitat for cryptosporidium. The pathogen has never been detected in any mining lake during any of the numerous sampling programs carried out to date. The county recognized that limestone mining and water supply were compatible in the Seventies, when it decided to locate the county's largest and most critical wellfield in the same area that had previously been designated for mining.

The lakes could only become a problem if inappropriate land uses are allowed along the shore, and DERM and the mining companies are acting together to make sure that does not happen. The county has recently developed a Northwest Wellfield Watershed Protection Plan and hired a consultant to complete a pathogen-risk assessment for the wellfield. It is important to remember that most of the county's wellfields are designed and located to be supplied by South Florida Water Management District canals in the dry season, which are surface water sources unrelated to the lakes.

The county and the industry will also be implementing a joint water-quality-monitoring program specifically aimed at this issue. Lakes, bottom sediment, groundwater, canal water, standing water, and production wells in the northwest wellfield area will all be systematically analyzed to develop a definitive database on the presence or absence of pathogens. County ordinances already contain a setback distance separating mining activities from the wellfield. The industry has agreed not to start any new mining activities for the next three years in a much larger area surrounding the wellfield while the risk-assessment and water-quality monitoring programs are completed. This will give the county time to evaluate the scientific results and determine if any changes to the Wellfield Protection Ordinance are needed -- before deciding to construct expensive new treatment facilities. There is no threat to the water supply now, nor is one likely in the future.

Miami-Dade County is blessed with a truly unique and invaluable groundwater resource. It has also benefited from a history of progressive leadership in the Water and Sewer Department. Bill Brant is a proven professional and one of the most respected utility directors in the state. Unfortunately he is caught in the same bind that affects many of his peers around the nation. The federal Environmental Protection Agency continues to tighten water-quality regulations while Congress is no longer willing to fund the generous grant programs that eased the financial burden to comply with new regulations in the past.

At the same time Miami-Dade's water rates are among the lowest in the nation. Mr. Brant's proposed lime-rock tax was a creative attempt to reduce the impact of new treatment costs to his customers. No utility directory likes to raise water rates, but that is not a sufficient reason to single out one industry to pay an ostensible user fee that is in reality nothing more than an illogical and unfair new tax.

Thomas MacVicar

West Palm Beach

Pits of Horror

Holes in the ground, holes in the head: The Sierra Club has been concerned for some time that the Miami-Dade County "Lake Belt Plan" is not adequately protecting the environment or the county's drinking water and is unduly focused on maximizing the recovery of limestone. The proposed "lake belt" is little more than greenwashing what will be a 25-square-mile array of pits carved into the drinking-water aquifer, destruction of vast tracts of wildlife habitat, and the sucking of water out of the Everglades we are paying billions to restore. We are cannibalizing ourselves when we should know better. In years to come we will look back at these pits with horror and disbelief.

The Sierra Club hopes that county commissioners, whom we elected to protect our public health and environment against the ravages of profiteering corporations, will request a report on the cost of building a filtration plant to replace a ruined aquifer, along with the yearly operating expenses so ratepayers can learn just how much their bills may increase.

Rock-mining permits should not be issued until after the ongoing three-year study (in which Mr. Shiver places such confidence) and any necessary ordinances to safeguard the county's water supply are put in place. The rock miners already have permits for ten years of mining. Mr. Shiver and Mayor Alex Penelas should be far more concerned about "unfairness" to the county's citizens than to the limestone corporations.

Barbara J. Lange, Everglades co-chair

Sierra Club

Coconut Grove

Grandpa, What Was Water Like?

Well, kiddo, you won't believe this but people actually used to drink it: A measure of a society is what it chooses to protect. By this standard, jeopardizing the natural quality of our drinking water to coddle the rock-mining industry speaks volumes about us, volumes that will tell our story to future generations. Our children, grandchildren, and their progeny will pay a steep price for all we have taken for granted and abused. One way or another, nature in all its unpredictability will have the last word.

Although South Florida and Miami-Dade County in particular are not the only places to risk the safety of drinking water, we are unique in that all of us stand, literally, a few feet above the aquifer that holds our water, gradually moving south from Lake Okeechobee through prehistoric limestone formations, filled with voids, holes, and caverns. While the seepage of toxins into deep aquifers is a long and slow process in most other industrialized parts of the nation, what we put on the ground today can be in our drinking water tomorrow.

The bigger picture, of course, is that our faith in engineering and technology to protect our health is nearly absolute. Our hubris puts us right at the top of doomed. Never mind the cast of characters Jim DeFede chooses to put in today's spotlight. Tomorrow no one will remember them.

There is more than a little that is sad and familiar about the plans to expand excavation of rock pits at the edge of the Everglades. Just recall that the freshest water in America once flowed ceaselessly down the Miami River, nourishing thousands of years of native civilization.

Unless our elected officials take action, we taxpayers are going to foot the bill for an industry, rock mining, that supports turning a cheap commodity, drinking water, into an expensive one. Count all the costs of rock mining if you can: destruction of the Everglades, loss of drinking-water quality, threats to our health and impacts to our quality of life because this industry is right in the middle of the worst sprawl in the nation.

Jim DeFede is no tree hugger, and you don't have to be a bird lover to be sick at heart. It's your drinking water, stupid. So here is a positive thing you can do: Call your county commissioner and Mayor Alex Penelas today. Ask if they agree that the measure of a society is what it chooses to protect. Ask them about protecting our drinking water. Ask them about using our aquifers to dispose of municipal waste. Ask them about using our aquifers to store polluted water. Tell them you are going to call ten friends and that each of them is going to call ten friends, all of whom will call and ask you the same questions. Then ask our elected officials if they think they can get away with the slow-motion murder of our quality of life and still be re-elected.

My guess is you won't get anywhere with them. Why? Because as far as they're concerned, no one who counts is paying attention.

Alan Farago

Sierra Club Miami Group

Coral Gables

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