And another thing ... a fire averted curbs on sex and the president's pay plan

And another thing ... a fire averted curbs on sex and the president's pay plan

March 15th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Betting on Barger

A week ago Friday, an incident at Barger Academy of Fine Arts in Brainerd had the potential not only to cause extensive fire damage but also to scar a young student for life. Thanks not only to the teamwork of all involved but to the understanding that, as principal Greg Bagby noted, "a good kid made a bad decision," neither happened.

What it involved were a curious boy, a lighter that shouldn't have been brought from home, and some paper towels that might have looked appealing hanging down from their dispenser. One thing led to another, and eventually smoke was coming from the bathroom. What happened next? Everything went according to plan. The fire alarm was sounded, teachers began the orderly evacuation of children from the school, and parents were called and allowed to pick up their children if they so desired. The school's food services even worked to feed students who hadn't eaten lunch, some getting a picnic on what was a picture-perfect day.

"One of the things I'm most grateful for," Bagby said, "is that all the pieces worked together. You don't want it to happen, but I'm very thankful it happened the way it did."

It would have been easy for the principal to write off the perpetrator as a loser, perhaps insist he not return to the school. But the principal, whose daily mantra to students is "be great because you are great," preferred to look at the incident as isolated and may have felt as one teacher did, "who broke down in tears because of who the student was." Another educator, now in another job, recalled the student as "a sweet, sweet boy." While some consequences are likely to occur over the incident, it seems clear they won't be the catalyst to ruin his life.

UT President Gets a Clue

Dr. Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee, talks to reporters at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in this 2013 file photo.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro's announcement Thursday that he plans to make policy changes in the school's student-led Sex Week is welcome news. That is a better alternative than legislation that would restrict the university by law. DiPietro made his announcement after the Tennessee Senate passed a resolution condemning the six-day event in which students are provided with a series of programs, games and speakers on sexual health, relationships and issues ranging from date rape to safe sex and gay sex. The House passed a similar resolution last month.

DiPietro, who has defended students' free speech rights in relation to the event, said he would look at how student programming fees are structured or might be changed since student funds go in part to speakers for such events. The Senate resolution, which directs UT officials to develop new rules cautioning parents or students paying fees that any organization's programming "may be of a controversial nature to you," is nonbinding.

Colleges do and should offer a wide variety of programming, and students do and should have access to centers where they can receive information about health and sexual issues. But when students are bombarded by "people in a giant penis costume and a giant vagina costume attacking students," as Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said an email from the mother of a freshman student read, it's clear such programs and antics should be confined to places where students can attend them but not where it's forced upon them.

"King" Pen

There he goes again. President Obama has once again signed an executive order that has a potential to hurt jobs. By ordering the Labor Department to devise new overtime rules that would make more salaried workers eligible for time-and-a-half pay for their extra hours of work, it will encourage already beleaguered employers to reduce overtime or hire fewer employees. Worse, it continues the president's precedent of bypassing Congress when it suits him to act on his own initiatives. He did the same thing when he signed an executive order increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors.

What Obama importantly didn't include in the order, but left to the Labor Department, was the pay level under which the overtime would be paid. It's currently $455 for workers classified as supervisors or those in managerial roles. Amounts the level might be raised to have ranged from $550 to $970. The higher the level, of course, the more jobs it has the possibility of hurting. For some companies, that comes on the heels of Obamacare, whose mandates often require larger outlays of money for health care for employees. Republicans, according to the Washington Times, said they had been open to working with the administration to change overtime rules but called Thursday's stunt a political move.