The semester is once again almost over. This means I have
several things to talk about but only one column to say them in. So I’m
cramming three issues into one article this week. Think about that — three
topics in one column. Some might call this approach “quantity over
quality,” but I think of it as “delivering value to the reader.”
Yep, I’m always thinking of you guys. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Graduation speaker

This semester’s graduation speaker at the University of
Wisconsin has yet to be announced, as Suchita Shah pointed out in yesterday’s
Herald. She’s not holding her breath in anticipation of a big name either,
given that the school hasn’t exactly secured world-beaters to speak in recent
years.

Indeed, UW has consistently attracted less glamorous
speakers than many of its peer universities lately. Winter 2007 speaker Scott
Van Pelt is one of the better SportsCenter anchors (and an avowed Madison fan),
but from a society-wide perspective, he falls well short of luminary status. Spring
2006 speaker Odessa Piper, whose claim to fame is founding a fancy restaurant
in Madison, was an even more pedestrian choice. Spring 2005 speaker Tammy
Baldwin is a congresswoman, but she’s already a frequent visitor to campus and
so lacks any “wow” factor.

The problem is that graduation speakers — big, important
graduation speakers — command hefty payouts, some even stretching into six
figures. UW does not pay its graduation speakers, other than to compensate them
for travel expenses.

And really, it shouldn’t. Think about what schools get for
their sizable investment in graduation speakers: their students are told for 20
minutes how they can achieve their dreams. I hate to be cynical, but once you
get over a speaker’s initial cachet, they’re all somewhat interchangeable. And
it’s not as though UW lacks other areas in need of money. A big-name speaker’s
fee could pay a professor’s salary for an entire year.

Besides, most students probably remember their graduation
more for walking across the stage and receiving their diploma than for
listening to the speaker, regardless of who that person is. The speaker is like
a halftime show — it’s cool, it’s nice, but it’s not the reason you’re there.

It also needs to be noted that money isn’t everything in the
graduation speaker market. The right personal connections and the right
non-financial inducements (some people, like MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, get a
kick out of honorary degrees) can sometimes land a big speaker. So while UW may
be hampered by its frugality, it still could land a big name sometime. And if
that fails, I hear Stephen Nass may be available.

Press office

The state of the Associated Students of Madison is as bleak
as always, but a significant group of incoming members are pledging to clean up
shop. They have some good ideas, like the establishment of a budget cap and an
ASM president, along with one truly dreadful one: the creation of an ASM press
office, responsible for helping members craft their messages to the media and
public at large.

ASM is a bloated bureaucracy, and a press office staffed by
paid media liaisons would only add to it. Worse, the office would probably be
paid to do nothing. Other than distributing segregated fees and appointing
people to shared governance committees, ASM doesn’t really do anything.

If, by chance, an ASM member does need the press office to
distribute a press release, who would be the recipient? ASM coverage is the
province of the two student newspapers and a handful of student blogs.
Contacting them doesn’t require a press release or any other fancy techniques
— it simply requires keeping in contact with a key person or two.

If an ASM member can’t sell or otherwise create an effective
message for an idea, chances are the idea is bunk to begin with. There’s a
reason the U.S. Senate doesn’t write press communications for its members. They
have to figure that out on their own. ASM members can too.

Voter ID

The continuing Jeremiah Wright/Barack Obama controversy
continued to dominate national news this week, and it left somewhat neglected a
pretty important decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court
upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, which requires all Hoosier voters to present a
photo identification when voting at the polls.

Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Steven, probably
the most liberal member of the bench, provided this nugget: “For most
voters who need [an ID card], the inconvenience of making a trip to the [motor
vehicle department], gathering the required documents and posing for a
photo?graph surely does not qualify as a substantial burden on the right to
vote, or even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of
voting.”

Most people already possess a photo ID, usually a driver’s
license, sometimes a passport, military ID, etc. Those who don’t can obtain an
ID free of charge from Indiana’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Opponents of
voter ID claim this presents an unconstitutional burden on voters who lack a
photo ID. Yet if that is so, then driving to the polls and waiting in line to
vote is surely an unacceptable burden too, right? It’s an absurd irony — the
thought that the very act of voting disenfranchises the actor — but it’s
really only an extension of the logic employed by voter ID opponents. Kudos to
Mr. Stevens for making this observation.

Granted, it won’t matter to people like Gov. Jim Doyle, who
has thrice vetoed voter ID legislation in Wisconsin, claiming it would
disenfranchise large swaths of the population. Luckily, given the Supreme
Court’s ruling, Mr. Doyle will have to continue to justify that position to the
Wisconsin electorate, a large majority of which support voter ID.

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Ryan Masse
([email protected]) is a first-year
law student.