Mad-As-Hell Letter-Writing 101

School spirit goes haywire at the University of Missouri

It's a good thing the days of duels at 20 paces are over -- otherwise Manuel Pacheco, president of the University of Missouri system, and Dennis Judd, political-science prof and presiding officer of the UM-St. Louis Faculty Council, might be polishing up their pistols and looking for seconds. Maybe it's just as well for Judd that he has one foot out the door, heading this fall to a new gig at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Unlike the letters Pacheco and Judd have exchanged over the last month, the details of the spat are a bit drab. This brushfire has to do with how the early-retirement program was offered and administered at UM-St. Louis (the name the university types want to use for what everyone else, including Pacheco, calls UMSL, pronounced "um-sell"). At the center of the caustic correspondence is Blanche Touhill, the UM-St. Louis chancellor who previously was the target of much faculty grief over her plan to build a $40 million performing-arts center on campus. Faculty saw it as a Taj Mahal project and a huge, costly mistake when other fiscal needs on campus were going unfulfilled.

This most recent flap began as faculty discovered that several top administrators were able to take early retirement and keep working, thereby reaping a financial benefit. The Faculty Council cried foul, because they thought faculty members weren't allowed the same option. That perceived slight, reported in this space a while back, prompted the Faculty Council on April 6 to pass a resolution expressing no confidence that the early-retirement rules were being administered consistently. The council wanted to know how the program was administered, charging that "it heavily favored a small number of administrators closely identified with the Chancellor and was unfairly biased against the faculty in general."

Judd dashed off a letter to Pacheco on April 12 about the resolution, and on April 18 Pacheco responded, saying he would not recommend an investigation by the Board of Curators. In a May 5 reply, Judd wrote Pacheco that the university president's letter "took me by surprise, inasmuch as it contains inaccuracies that one would not expect to find in such a letter." At the end, Judd told Pacheco that his recommendation to take the matter up with Touhill or her "designee" was "a complete abdication of responsibility on your part. Regretfully, I have come to agree with my colleagues on the Faculty Council who expressed skepticism that you would dispassionately consider complaints about how the (early retirement) program was administered." Then, in a last-sentence blow to the solar plexus, Judd said he was copying the letter to Missouri Auditor Claire McCaskill.

Well, then things got a bit ugly.

A May 11 letter written by Pacheco started off by saying Judd shouldn't have been surprised by Pacheco's refusal to investigate the program, then added, "Your apparent obsession to 'nail the chancellor' may have caused you to overlook a number of important matters."

After citing his point-by-point disagreement with Judd, Pacheco hurled this back: "I believe that it is you and not I who abdicated a responsibility to be objective about UMSL and its leadership." The president then praised Touhill for her "vision, energy, resourcefulness and dedication." Pacheco stated that he was copying his letter to McCaskill because Judd had "chosen to unnecessarily involve the State Auditor in this imbroglio." Pacheco said he hoped that McCaskill would recognize "this is simply a continuation of past efforts to denigrate Chancellor Touhill and others, and not worthy of her time and energy."

On May 12, Judd dashed off another note to Pacheco, saying, "I find it regrettable that you have chosen to personalize this matter by making unfounded attacks on my motivations and character. Perhaps you should consider whether it reflects well upon the University of Missouri for you to respond with invective to a legitimate expression of faculty concerns." Judd closed by telling Pacheco he would not "respond to your letter in kind."

Gee, that's too bad -- the level of vitriol was improving.

WHASSUP WITH THE LEMON SQUEEZER? The first mistake was reading the label. Ten minutes before closing time in the walk-in cooler of the Shop N' Save at Chippewa and Kingshighway, we found this display for some new fruity-tooty lemon-flavored beer. What manner of hoax is this, a shopper might ask.

It looks like a microbrewed product, but it's got a cardboard display all to itself. It's called "Doc" Otis' Hard Lemon Flavored Malt Beverage. A sixer costs $5.29, which hints that the price may be so "low" as a result of economies of scale and that it may not be a microbrewed product, because often they're a bit more pricey. Ah, yes. Beneath the logo of a Wild West "Doc" Otis, in the fine print, there it is: Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Mo.

That's not so bad, or surprising -- Ice House and Red Dog are owned by Miller Brewing, which is owned by Philip Morris, which is owned by -- wait, that's it. So many of these stealth beers try to fly beneath the radar and hide their Big Brother owners. The only funny, or sad, part of the "Doc" Otis mythology is to be found on the back label. The marketers have come up with a synthetic tale of how "Doc," who never existed, in 1878 brought lemon trees to California and had a girlfriend "named Linda, his favorite lemon squeezer." Oh my, we know what that means, and it's got nada to do with lemonade.

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