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June 14, 2010 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2010-06-14

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Monday, June 14, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
*14cfihct-ga DA

Prioritizing ethics

Edited and managed by students at
the University of Michigan since 1890.
420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109




Unsigned editorials reflect the official position of the Daily's editorial board.
All other signed articles and illustrations representsolely the views of their authors.
The LEEDers and best
Silver certification should be a baseline, not the final goal
The University has a subpar record on environmental friendliness.
But last week, the administration took a positive step in announc-
ing that all of its future construction projects would meet at least a
LEED-silver certification level. This commitment is commendable, but con-
sidering that some colleges and corporations are committing themselves to
carbon neutrality, it's clear the administration could still do more. If the
University is to be a world leader in both research and social responsibility,
it should aim to attain the highest standard of environmental sustainability.

When I learned that law-
makers on Capitol Hill
were seeking to gut the
Office of Congres-
sional Ethics, only{
one thing crossed<
my mind: It's about
damn time.1
I realize that
I might be in the '
minority on this,
but bear with me.
I, like most Ameri- NOEL
cans, believe that all GORDON
of our elected offi-
cials should be held
to a higher ethical standard because
of the power entrusted to them by our
votes. At the same time, I also know
that politicians are human and that
there needs tobe some type of mecha-
nism in place to ensure that abuses
of power are punished to the fullest
extent of the law. But it seems to me as
though many of the offices and com-
mittees charged with this simple task
are failing their mission.
The Office of Congressional Eth-
ics is an independent, non-partisan
committee charged with reviewing
allegations of misconduct against
members of the House of Representa-
tives and their staff. It's governed by
an eight-person Boardof Directors of
private citizens that cannot work for
the government or serve as members
of Congress. While I think the Office
of Congressional Ethics is a good idea
on paper, for a number of reasons, it
just doesn't seem necessary.
First and foremost, the OCE refers
all appropriate cases to the United
States House Committee on Stan-
dards of Official Conduct, which
essentially does all of the same
things as the OCE. So, in effect, there
are two separate entities perform-
ing the same exact jobs, doubling the
cost of ethics oversight to taxpayers.
Moreover, the OCE has an absurd
amount of discretion when it comes
to handling allegations of abuse and
misconduct that the official House
committee does not. It can initiate
investigations based on unsubstanti-
ated complaints or news reports and
publicize its findings even if a case
proves to be fruitless.
These privileges alone should
be cause for alarm, as it essentially
means that I could make up an alle-
gation about a representative I don't
like, submit it anonymously to the
OCE and wait for the reputation-
damaging circus that is an eth-
ics investigation. Though I'm sure
this isn't something that happens
every day, the fact remains that this
amount of leniency lends itself quite
easily to both wasteful investigations
and wasted taxpayer dollars.

But above all else, my biggest issue
with the Office of Congressional Eth-
ics is one that can be applied elsewhere
in Washington. Investigators need to
do a much better job of distinguish-
ing a professional ethics violation
from a personal one. Nothing irritates
me more than seeing a member of the
House of Representatives request a
hearing because someone from the
opposing party cheated on his or her
spouse. Suchaction, whilehorrible and
worth condemnation, are not grounds
for an ethics probe.
Professional and
private violations
are not the same.
Now I'm not saying that we should
suddenly ignore the fact that a con-
gressman or senator cheated on his
wife. After all, such an act suggests
a disregard for honesty and virtue,
both of which are characteristics I
think most of us want in a politician.
But a clearer line needs to be drawn
between what is and is not an ethics
violation. It was definitely the right
call to launch an investigation into
allegations made against Represen-
tative Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), since he
allegedly used his position to sexually
harass and then intimidate his aides.
But I think that is completely differ-
ent from the huge deal being made
about Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.),
who cheated on his wife because he
apparently had other things on his
mind than legislation.
Ethical probes should only be
launched when an elected official is
suspected of either breaking the law
or hiding his or her actions. But that
doesn't seem to be happening these
days. Investigations seem to be start-
ing at the drop of a hat in this con-
tentious political climate, and that is
simply unfair to both the American
people and our elected officials.
We deserve a government that
works tirelessly to fix the problems
facing our country. But we are enti-
tied to a government that is prudent
about which allegations it spends its
precious time and money investigat-
ing. I suspect there'll be a lot of talk
about cleaning up Washington in the
coming weeks as Election Day draws
nearer and nearer. I just hope that
those same people start realizing
that some ethical lapses must take
priority over others.
- Noel Gordon can be reached
at noelaug@umich.edu.

A project of the nonprofit U.S.
Green Building Council, Lead-
ership in Energy and Environ-
mental Design (LEED) provides
its certification to buildings that
meet its eight standards of envi-
ronmental friendliness at the
certified, silver, gold or platinum
levels. These standards include
energy and water use as well as
materials used and location. Two
University buildings, the Ross
School of Business and the Dana
Building, are already silver and
gold certified, respectively. The
new Mott Children's and Von
Voigtlander Women's Hospital
and the law school addition are
also expected to meet some level
of LEED certification. North
Quad, however, is not.
The University is right to rec-
ognize the importance of envi-
ronmental sustainability. The
threat of climate change is a pow-
erful reminder of the very real
impact humans can have on the
planet and its resources. An insti-
tution of the vision and prestige of

this university should know that,
in the long-term, sustainability
won't be a choice - protecting
the environment now is the only
way to be able to continue using
it later. As Michigan's flagship of
higher education, the University
should act as a model, setting an
ambitious and unparalleled stan-
dard for environmental steward-
ship. Adopting a policy of LEED
certification is an important step
toward doing just that.
But avague policy for silver cer-
tification on "major" construction
projects won't make the Univer-
sity the leader it needs tobe. Uni-
versity policy should clearly and
forcefully dictate what consti-
tutes a "major" construction proj-
ect and have similarly stringent
policies for more minor projects.
And whatever the language of
the policy, administrators should
consistently seek to go above and
beyond its requirements. If the
University is to be an environ-
mental leader on the internation-
al stage, it must relentlessly strive

to out-green its own standards.
That's why silver-certification
should be the University's base-
line, not its final goal. It's true
that the University has made an
impressive commitment to green
building by this recent action.
Even before the adoption of its
new LEED-silver policy, the Uni-
versity plans to exceed national
energy use standards by 30 per-
cent. But other colleges, like Mid-
dlebury College in Vermont, for
example, have committed to com-
plete carbon neutrality. LEED-
silver is a great stepping-stone,
but it falls far short of placing
the University at the forefront of
the environmental sustainability
movement - a place an institution
with the University's resources
should invariably hold.
Only setting that kind of inter-
national example is acceptable
for this institution. And the way
to do that is by striving for the
top certification on all construc-
tion projects, not settling for
third-best on most.

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