Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Alumnus Embarrassed No More

Last week I expressed my embarrassment at the apparent heavy-handedness with which a lawyer representing Phillis Academy treated the administrator of a poor urban New Orleans charter school that sought to use the same name. It turns out that things didn't happen quite in the fashion that was initially reported in the Times-Picayune. Imagine that -- a newspaper reporting the facts wrong.

I closed that post by saying this: "It would be my hope that in the future, Dr. Chase sees the efficacy in picking up the phone herself, before the white shoe litigators are unleased on the unsuspecting principals of struggling minority charter schools in the Louisiana bayou, and suggesting (in the convincing manner that heads-of-school quickly develop) that Andover would be most willing to contribute the cost of a name change, if that would be fine with him, and 'do please keep me informed of any of your students who you consider to be compelling candidates for an Andover education.'"

Well please accept my apology, Dr. Chase, for being oblivious to the fact that that you had already done exactly that.

According to an Open Letter to the Phillips Academy Community, When this contretemps was first reported in the Times-Picayune, the co-founder of the national charter school organization known as KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), Michael Feinberg, sent a letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune, a copy of which was given to Globe Columnist Alex Beam before he wrote his column.

Before he wrote his column.

Let's take a look at snippets of Mr. Feinberg's letter:

.....While some may have gotten the impression that this was a David vs. Goliath adversarial struggle, the reality is that we resolved potential trademark confusion with a cordial phone call and a generous agreement that Phillips Academy would reimburse KIPP for new signs. There was no acrimony or threats or bullying, and we fully respect the legitimate interest that Phillips Academy has in monitoring its trademarks. That school’s name is synonymous with the best in education, and we are proud that graduates of the KIPP schools in Washington, DC, New York, and Houston have matriculated to Phillips Academy. Indeed, we are similarly proud of the KIPP name and protect it just as much....

...The fact is that KIPP and Phillips Academy of Andover value each others’ missions and respect each others’ efforts. Although it might be easy to take potshots at a 227 year old institution with the history and prestige of Phillips Academy (and, of course, any lawyer), that simply wouldn’t be fair. We were happy to work with them to resolve concerns, both schools remain committed to providing an excellent education for our students, and we hope that many of our KIPPsters will become Phillips Academy graduates....

So, as between KIPP and Phillips Academy, there appears to be a history of collaboration and collegiality. And since they're the main players in the story, that would seem to be all that matters.

But I am not so eager to let attorney Whitman off the hook, for my instinct tells me that she was the catalyst behind this "misunderstanding" all along.

As the Open Letter described the chronology of events, " [b]y July 15, when KIPP had not responded, Michele Whitham of PA's law firm Foley Hoag wrote to Mr. Robichaux to reiterate the academy’s need to protect its trademark. Soon after, Ms. Whitham and Mr. Robichaux spoke briefly on the phone to discuss the concerns. Regrettably, some misunderstandings arose during the course of that conversation and created some tension.." And, when the Times-Picayne initially wrote the story, the reporter "used an inaccurate representation of the phone call between our counsel and Mr. Robichaux to sensationalize the situation."

Now this requires some vetting. The reporter's story used quotes from Mr. Robichaux: "Are you aware that President Bush graduated from our school?" Whitham said, according to Robichaux. "There's nothing funny about this -- we could go further. . . . And do you have the resources to fight this?"

So in order for the representation to be inaccurate, Mr. Robichaux would have to have been misquoted or lying. Which is it? Unless he happened to know independently that both Bushes went to Andover, he couldn't have been lying about that part of the conversation with Whitman. And it seems like an awfully curious thing for a reporter to have deliberately invented. My bet is Whitman has a nasty streak (odd thing for a litigator, eh?).

One very important point needs to be made about Mr. Beam.

If it is indeed true that a columnist of his tenure entirely ignored Michael Feinberg's letter before writing his attack piece, then the Boston Globe needs, at the very least, to apologize to the Phillips Academy community and smack Beam around.

Beam arrogantly ends his August 30th column with the following gratutious slap: "Maybe the preppies should throw in a little hurricane relief to atone for their arrogance and stupidity."

While there is plenty of time to debate who are the arrogant and stupid in this, I hope he didn't miss this story that ran in his own newspaper four days later:

"Public and private schools across Massachusetts yesterday opened their doors to students displaced by Hurricane Katrina, offering financial aid, speedy enrollment, and help getting settled in their new home away from home....

...Phillips Academy received dozens of calls from families for spaces in its 1,080-student school, Barbara Chase, head of school, said.

Phillips staff members landed in Houston yesterday and plan to meet with families at public and private schools to gauge their interest in attending the private school. Students will have to take a placement test, and if accepted, the school could provide financial aid, Chase said.

''This is an extraordinary circumstance, and we want to open up our community," Chase said. ''All of us are just devastated by everything we're seeing."

So Alex, while you were patting yourself on the back for your righteousness, the preppies were at the Houston Astrodome with survivors, looking for kids to bring to campus.

And since last week, what have you done?

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