The Slatest
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Aug. 1 2015 8:42 AM

Week in Photos

A child rides on the shoulders of a man as he walks through a field of sunflowers during a three-day sunflower festival in the town of Nogi, Japan, in Tochigi prefecture, some 70 kilometers north of Tokyo on July 26, 2015.

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July 31 2015 6:35 PM

Why It’s So Hard to Predict What Happens with Trump’s Supporters When He Drops Out

Donald Trump may seem invincible right now but his current run can’t last. Even if the belligerent billionaire and current GOP frontrunner doesn’t implode on the debate stage next week or on the campaign trail next month, the fundamentals of American politics will still catch up to him: At some point, the GOP field will narrow and an establishment favorite will consolidate enough support to knock Trump from his perch. Eventually, that means he will exit a nominating battle he cannot win.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Washington parlor game of predicting how Trump’s campaign will end is now turning into one about what will happen with his supporters when it does.

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There is no shortage of possibilities. Writing in the National Journal on Friday, for example, political analyst Charlie Cook pegs Chris Christie and Ted Cruz’s camps as likely homes for Trump’s backers once their first-choice is out of the race. In the Washington Post, meanwhile, James Holmann calls it a “jump ball” before ultimately suggesting Trump’s loss could be Mike Huckabee’s gain. While the predictions vary, the rationale behind them is usually the same: Whoever wins the Trump sweepstakes will be someone who shares his anti-establishment anger.

But while Trump’s outsider appeal is undeniable, a closer look at the polls suggests it may also be overblown. In the last national survey conducted by Fox News, for instance, pollsters reassigned Trump supporters based on their declared second-choice. The biggest winner? None other than establishment poster boy Jeb Bush, who saw his support climb by more than a third to 19 percent. (The bizarre Bush-Trump overlap can also be seen in reverse: With Jeb out, Trump’s support climbs by three points, the biggest jump of any member of the field.) It’s only one poll, of course, but we’ve seen similar trends in others.

That suggests that for all the talk of Trump’s anti-establishment street cred, it can only partly explain his current surge. The other part is even more difficult to pin down with any accuracy: Many of his supporters seem to be attracted to Trump the man as much as they are to his message. As one member of a Bloomberg focus group recently put it: “He's just tough, we need someone tough.” Said another: “He says it like it is.” Plenty of candidates are offering something similar—Cruz shares his hardline on immigration; Christie offers his own type of decorum-free bluster—but it’s also clear that none of them are offering the literally one-of-a-kind Trump experience.

I saw this first-hand earlier this month at summit of born-again evangelicals in Ames, Iowa, where Trump repeatedly drew cheers from the crowd despite bumbling through a series of questions about his faith. “When we go in church and I drink the little wine… and I eat the little cracker — I guess that’s a form of asking forgiveness,” Trump said at one point. A candidate not name Donald would have been unlikely to get away with that same answer.

The only common denominator among Trump, Bush, and the half-dozen or more alternatives Trump’s backers list as their second choice in national surveys is that they are all running for the GOP nomination. (Even Rick Perry, Scott Walker, and Lindsey Graham—whom have all taken their fair share of shots from Trump—see their numbers inch up without him around.) The truth is, Trump’s support remains something of a mystery. And if we don’t understand his coalition in the present, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to predict how it will act in the future.

July 31 2015 6:14 PM

“Suppressed” 1991 Trump Film Released Online by Documentary Producer

A somewhat mysterious trailer—narrated by a man with an epic/hammy upper-crust British accent—appeared on YouTube Wednesday advertising a documentary called Trump: What's the Deal? which is said to have been suppressed when it was completed in 1991.

The website associated with the film says it was commissioned in 1988 by mogul (and reputed Trump enemy) Leonard Stern but never released because Trump threatened to sue everyone on Earth who was involved with it. A New York magazine piece about Stern and Trump from 1989 tells a similar story, though I'm not sure it goes so far as to support the verb "suppressed"—more that no broadcasters wanted to deal with the pain in the ass of potential Trump suits (none of which were actually ever filed) over what was seen less as a hard-hitting 60 Minutes exposé than as a kind of dishy tabloid piece. And, as the new site acknowledges, the documentary was publicly screened in 1991 in the Hamptons by original executive producer Ned Schnurman in a fruitless attempt to find distribution.

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(The New York piece, FWIW, is also highly recommended reading for '80s NYC nostalgia fans. And it mentions that Leonard Stern also funded an '80s publication called 7 Days, which was founded by current New York editor-in-chief Adam Moss, who is also the person who hired me, the writer of this Slate blog post, for my first job in magazine journalism more than a decade ago. All these connections—it's like a conspiracy movie, but boring!)

In any case, the finished Trumpumentary has been revived and posted online by Libby Handros, a producer on the original project who says she inherited the footage from her mentor Schnurman when he passed away in 2004. Leonard Stern is still alive, and in 1991 told the Times he did not believe that Ned Schnurman had legal rights to the footage but that he (Stern) was not going to retaliate against "a little guy with no money" for screening it. (Handros says Stern is "definitely not" involved in the online release.)

Here's a Huffington Post piece about the documentary by its original writer, and here's the press release announcing the online debut—it appears that the film covers some allegations, like Trump's connection to Mob-affiliated companies and his alleged exaggeration of his own wealth, that still figure quite prominently in Trump's public persona. If you'd like to watch it in full, click here. And FYI—the narration for the trailer was recorded by Libby Handros' friend Peter Foges, whose LinkedIn page says he was the BBC's New York bureau chief from 1979 to 1984.

Trump! Trump! Trump!

July 31 2015 4:55 PM

Actually, Republicans Don’t Need to Read the Iran Deal to Know They Don’t Like It

Nancy Pelosi today questioned the motives of congressional opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran, saying, “Have they even read it?” As the Week notes, this may invite unwelcome memories of when Pelosi famously said in 2010 that Congress needed to pass the health care bill “so that you can find out what’s in it.” But it’s a pretty common line of argument on the Iran debate. President Obama himself said in a press conference the day after the deal was announced, “now we have a document so you can see what the deal is. We don’t have to speculate, we don’t have to engage in spin, you can just read what it says and what is required.”

Of course, this didn’t stop critics of the deal from attacking it before they had even read it. John Oliver had some fun with the premature opposition of John Boehner and Lindsey Graham, comparing it to “the way a 4-year-old talks about broccoli.” The actual meat of the agreement, he points out, is only about half the length of a Babysitters Club book.

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Likewise, some Democrats who are still on the fence about the deal say they need time to study it further. “We still need to look at the agreement in its entirety before passing judgment,” argued Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. After speaking the president, Tom Friedman of the New York Times said he needed “more time to study the deal.”

I have read the deal. It’s right here if you want to as well. But I find it hard to believe that doing so would change the mind of anyone who went in with a strong opinion of its basic premise. This may seem an odd point given how long it took to hammer out the final details of the agreement. These fine points are certainly crucial to many who how the agreement will be implemented, but in the context of the political debate over the agreement, they don’t actually matter that much.

As Steve Coll put it recently, while the deal has strengths and weaknesses and involves significant concessions from both sides, “Obama’s best argument … is not the fine print but the fact that the deal is better than any other realistic course of action.” The argument for the deal, from the administration’s perspective, is that while Iran may be a malign force in world politics, its leaders are rational actors who respond to incentives and will see that giving up a nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief is a better course of action than a return to isolation and the threat of war. Allowing the country to maintain much of its nuclear infrastructure is a risk, but one worth taking if it can prevent either an Iranian nuke or a dangerous and likely ineffective military strike.

The deals critics reject this premise, arguing the Iran will cheat if given the opportunity. Even it doesn’t, these critics would say, the cash windfall from sanctions relief will allow it to increase its support for terrorist groups and anti-American governments in the region. Better to keep in place the sanctions to weaken a regime that will invariably be a threat to the United States and Israel.

If you feel either way, the details of the agreement aren’t going to sway you. Critics have raised concerns from the delay of inspections to the eventually lifting of the weapons embargo. But even had the negotiators gotten larger concessions on these issues, it’s unlikely those now opposing the deal would have supported it.

For proponents, most any decent deal blocks Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. For opponents, virtually any achievable deal puts Iran on the pathway to acquiring one. Those arguing the report can study the agreement as closely as they want, but as long as they’re divided on the basic premise, it’s hard to imagine it would make much difference.  

July 31 2015 3:46 PM

How Sacramento’s New Trailblazing Assistant Coach Nancy Lieberman Thinks About Coaching Men in the NBA

Less than two weeks after Becky Hammon led the San Antonio Spurs to victory as the first ever female head coach in the NBA Summer League and only a few days after Jen Welter became the first woman to hold any coaching position in the NFL, Nancy Lieberman accepted an assistant coaching job with the Sacramento Kings.

On early Friday morning, she tweeted, “Honored to be a Sacramento King” after reports that she was going to be offered the job. A formal announcement is expected next week. Lieberman will become only the second woman to ever coach in the NBA, following Hammon’s appointment to the Spurs staff in 2014.

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The pioneering role is not new to Lieberman. Throughout her career she has led the way for women coaching men’s sports. After playing in the Women’s Professional Basketball League and later briefly in the WNBA, Lieberman, nicknamed “Lady Magic,” made history in 2009 when she took on a position with the D-League Texas Legends to become the first professional female head coach of a men’s sport in the United States. She has also coached the Kings in the Summer League and served as an assistant general manager for the Legends.

“We didn’t have a roadmap,” Lieberman said in an interview with Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen earlier this week before her new job was revealed. “Becky has a little bit of a roadmap … she can say, ‘OK, this has been done or somebody has at least been in my shoes.’ ”

While the number of female professional sports coaches is still very low, the NBA has shown a more consistent commitment to gender diversity than other men’s professional sports leagues. Although the NFL made a historic gesture Tuesday when the Arizona Cardinals hired Welter, the league still lags far behind the NBA. Welter’s official position is training camp/preseason intern, whereas Hammon has been the center of recent speculation about whether she could become the NBA’s first female head coach. Last year Slate’s Amanda Hess explained that the differences between the NBA and other sports are in part a result of the focus on the development of women’s basketball compared with football and baseball.

Despite these recent breakthrough appointments, men have even started to dominate coaching staffs in the WNBA while maintaining a stranglehold on jobs in the men’s game. At the collegiate level, as of 2013, women only held 38.7 percent of the coaching jobs in Division 1 for all women’s sports.

“If you are a male coaching college basketball, if you get fired, you can then go to another college team, you can go to women’s college, you can go to women’s high school, and you can go to men’s high school,” she said. “If you are a women’s head coach and you get fired and you don’t get hired in the NCAA, you can go to high school and that’s it.”

While Lieberman praised her male mentors, she emphasized that she wished there were more opportunities for women in the women’s game. She also expressed hopefulness that opportunities in the men’s game were also on the way.

“Everything in life is about opportunity,” she said. “Somebody gave [Spurs] Coach [Gregg] Popovich an opportunity 18, 19, 20 years ago to be able to coach in the NBA as an assistant. … What the Spurs organization did was give this opportunity to [Hammon], and then it was her job to take it to the level of respect and she’s done it like a champ.”

Lieberman says that she and Hammon have played important roles on men’s basketball teams that male coaches haven’t necessarily been able to fill.

“We have mind coaches, we have strength coaches, conditioning coaches, we have everybody on [an NBA staff], and if you can have a Becky Hammon or a Nancy Lieberman, or somebody that they respect, and they reach out to, then that is going to be really important in the mix,” Lieberman said. “They know that we know our stuff because we really work hard at it. We don’t ever take it for granted.”

She added, “I do know that they will come to me and share some things that are on their hearts, that they maybe wouldn’t go to a male coach because maybe they don’t want to show a weakness.”

In an article in Time in 2014 following Hammon’s recruitment to the Spurs coaching staff, Lieberman wrote, “I look forward to getting an opportunity to do what I love, which is teach and coach at the NBA level one day. I will thank Becky Hammon for the door that she has opened with her relationship with the Spurs and Coach Popovich.”

July 31 2015 1:15 PM

Hillary Wants to Make Cuba a Campaign Issue. That’s Smart.

Hillary Clinton went into Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio’s backyard on Friday to offer her support for the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and to call on Congress to lift the decades-old trade embargo on the communist country.

While she has written about lifting the embargo before, this speech was the clearest indication yet that she plans to make a campaign issue out of a topic that presidential candidates, particularly democrats, have long preferred to avoid.

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In the speech at Florida International University in Miami, Clinton called the embargo a “failed policy” that is “unintentionally helping the regime keep Cuba a closed society.” She continued: 

The Cuba embargo needs to go, once and for all. We should replace it with a smarter approach that empowers the Cuban private sector, Cuban civil society, and the Cuban-American community to spur progress and keep pressure on the regime.
Today I am calling on Speaker [John] Boehner and Senator [Mitch] McConnell to step up and answer the pleas of the Cuban people. By large majorities, they want a closer relationship with America. They want to buy our goods, read our books, surf our web, and learn from our people. They want to bring their country into the 21st century. That is the road toward democracy and dignity. We should walk it together.

Should congress fail to act, Clinton vowed that as president she would “use executive authority to make it possible for more Americans to visit Cuba.”  

Clinton, who back in 2008 criticized then-primary opponent Obama for his promises to engage with Catro’s government, more or less took ownership of the Obama administration’s recent Cuba moves in the speech. She also reiterated what she had said in her book Hard Choices about having recommended to the president that he take a look at ending the embargo at the end of her tenure as secretary of state.

In the speech, she pledged more support to democratic reforms in Cuba and opponents of the Castro regime. In one of the speech’s more interest moments, she gave a nod to Miriam Leiva—the founder of an advocacy group of wives and female relatives of jailed dissidents that had previously criticized Clinton for calling to end the embargo—who was in the crowd. Clinton also praised the Cuban-American community in Miami as a “compelling advertisement for the benefits of democracy and an open society.”

As for her Republican opponents, she accused them of viewing “Cuba and Latin American more broadly through an outdated cold war lens” as a “land of crime and coups” rather than “free markets and free people.” Should the recent moves be reversed, she suggested, “no one will benefit more than the hardliners in Havana.”

With frequent references to the power of free-market capitalism to transform societies, the speech seemed designed to put Republican candidates in the position of defending the increasingly unpopular embargo. The embargo was once a third rail of American electoral politics, but no longer. A healthy majority of Americans support ending the embargo, including 59 percent of Republicans. Even a narrow majority of Cuban-Americans support the Obama administration’s recent moves.  Obama won the once staunchly Republican Cuban vote in Florida in 2012. While a large portion of that community strongly opposes lifting the embargo, Clinton is clearly betting that by keeping the emphasis on the right of Cuban-Americans to maintain contact with their families and the power of good old American capitalism to transform the island, she can keep their votes.

A bill proposed by a bipartisan group of senators to lift the embargo altogether seems unlikely to see a vote in the current congress, but politically, Clinton may have a winning issue either way. Staunch opponents of normalizing relations would probably never vote for the Democrat anyway. If the embargo stays, she can continue to criticize a policy that an increasing majority of Americans don’t see the point of. If it’s lifted, she seems to be angling to take at least partial credit for it.   

July 31 2015 10:43 AM

California Officials Would Really Appreciate It if Dingbats Stopped Flying Drones Over Forest Fires

Officials in one California county are offering $75,000 in rewards in the hope of catching drone operators whose devices have been getting in the way of larger aircraft trying to fight wildfires, while one member of the state's delegation in Congress has proposed federal prison time for operators who send drones over fires on federal land.

The Los Angeles Times reports that San Bernadino County, where pilots battling wildfires have been forced to delay operations on at least three occasions since mid-June to avoid colliding with drones, is offering a $25,000 reward for help identifying the amateur operators in each of the cases:

Drones first became a problem in the county during the Lake fire, which ignited June 17 and burned through more than 31,000 acres of wildlands in the San Bernardino National Forest and nearby San Gorgonio Wilderness.
Low-flying aircraft were preparing to drop fire retardant over flames in the Barton Flats area when a 3- to 4-foot drone was seen buzzing between two planes. Fire officials immediately grounded the aircraft. Fire officials later saw a second drone in the area.
On July 12—the first day of the Mill 2 fire—officials had to briefly suspend a tanker after a drone was spotted flying over Mill Creek Canyon near California 38.
And for about 25 minutes, officials had to halt tankers over the July 17 North fire, which jumped Interstate 15 near California 138 and destroyed dozens of vehicles, U.S. Forest Service officials said.
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After interference during the North fire, which sent motorists on Interstate 15 fleeing on foot as fire consumed their cars, state lawmakers proposed a pair of bills that would make flying drones over fires a misdemeanor carrying up to $2,000 in fines and shield emergency personnel from liability for swatting them out of the way. U.S. Rep. Paul Cook, a Republican from California's Eighth District, has also introduced legislation that would threaten more than fines (or mangling of one's expensive toy) for operators that fly drones over fire zones in federal areas—H.R. 3025, the Wildfire Airspace Protection Act, was proposed by Cook earlier this month and would make flying a drone over a fire on federal land a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

As San Bernadino National Forest aviation officer Mike Eaton told KTLA, authorities are already empowered to create aviation exclusion areas over federal land during fire operations, though such rules were written with traditional aircraft in mind. The FAA did once try to fine a drone operator in Virginia $10,000 for recklessness during a non-fire-related flight in 2011, but the case took several years ro resolve and ended up being settled for $1,100 without an admission of guilt. As drones become more affordable, there are bound to be more people who use them to buzz disasters with cameras attached, perhaps hoping to see their Twitter handles credited when the footage shows up on the local news—so whether or not any of these newly proposed rules become law, it seems likely that some additional restrictions on drones will be coming to protect the interests of emergency responders.

July 31 2015 9:38 AM

Ebola Vaccine Was 100 Percent Effective in Recent Trial

No one from a group of 4,123 potentially Ebola-exposed individuals in the West African country of Guinea developed the disease after receiving a trial vaccine, a group of health authorities announced Friday, one of the most promising developments yet in the effort to eradicate the disease. Here's more detail on the trial from the Lancet:

Between April 1, 2015, and July 20, 2015, 90 clusters, with a total population of 7651 people were included in the planned interim analysis. 48 of these clusters (4123 people) were randomly assigned to immediate vaccination with rVSV-ZEBOV, and 42 clusters (3528 people) were randomly assigned to delayed vaccination with rVSV-ZEBOV. In the immediate vaccination group, there were no cases of Ebola virus disease with symptom onset at least 10 days after randomisation, whereas in the delayed vaccination group there were 16 cases of Ebola virus disease from seven clusters, showing a vaccine efficacy of 100% (95% CI 74·7–100·0; p=0·0036). No new cases of Ebola virus disease were diagnosed in vaccinees from the immediate or delayed groups from 6 days post-vaccination.
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Said a Doctors Without Borders official in a statement: "Even if the sample size is quite small and more research and analysis is needed, the enormity of the public health emergency should lead us to continue using this vaccine right now to protect those who might get exposed to the disease."

There were seven new Ebola cases reported in West Africa in the most recent week for which data available. More than 11,000 people have died in total from the disease during an outbreak that began last year.

July 31 2015 8:58 AM

Who Needs Snow? Beijing to Host 2022 Olympics.

Beijing will be the first city ever to host both the summer and winter Olympics after the IOC announced in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, on Friday morning that the Chinese capital will be home to the 2022 Olympic games.

While it can get pretty chilly, Beijing isn’t typically thought of as a winter sports wonderland. Three inches of snow is considered a record-breaking blizzard there. The plan is to hold the snow-based competitions in Zhangjiakou in Heibei province, about 120 miles north of the city. After subtropical Sochi, a lack of snow is clearly not a dealbreaker for the IOC. 

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The candidate cities were down to just Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, after a number of other cities including Krakow, Poland, and Oslo, Norway, dropped out of the bidding, many citing public opposition to the expense of hosting the games.

Despite Kazakhstan’s recent oil and gas-driven economic boom, Beijing was considered the safer choice. China proved during the 2008 Summer Games that it can put on quite a show, and the IOC can be fairly confident the country will have no trouble completing facilities on time, unlike some other recent and upcoming hosts. There are concerns about Beijing’s infamous smog, but the government is confident the air will be better in seven years—all the major coal plants around the capital are being taken offline next year. Despite similar worries about air quality last time around, the government was able to manufacture a few sunny days by temporarily shutting down factories near the city. The IOC will face criticism from human rights groups for yet another dictatorship-hosted games, but Kazakhstan is only marginally better on that score.

The decision comes the same week that Boston dropped its bid to host the 2024 Summer Games amid widespread public opposition and 2016 host Rio de Janeiro got more bad press around its preparations. Tecent tests have show that the swimming and boating events in Rio will be held in what one scientist called “basically raw sewage”—not the sort of headline Brazilian officials probably had in mind when they bid for the games.

Around the world, publics officials are getting wise to the fact that huge sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup usually don’t bring the promised economic benefits and aren’t great for publicity either (particularly for developing-world megacities with major infrastructure challenges like Rio). Increasingly, only resource-rich autocratic governments that don’t have to concern themselves with public opinion or civil society backlash are becoming interested in hosting such events.  

Given how few cities at this point have the political ability to mount a successful bid, it’s certainly possible Almaty might get another shot. 

July 31 2015 7:00 AM

Did a Building Kill Four Professors at a New Orleans College?

At the intersection of class, race, university politics and the lingering damage of Hurricane Katrina lie the bodies of four professors from Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO), a historically African-American institution that primarily serves older, returning students. The professors died within three months of each other, and they all worked for years on the same floor of a building that leading environmental health experts have deemed uninhabitable. Now, thanks to a damning three-part investigation in the New Orleans Times-Picayune by reporter Jed Lipinski, folks are finally starting to wonder in public what many of the professors’ colleagues have been asking in private: Did the building kill them?

“The evidence suggests that the water-damaged building was a contributing factor to the occurrence of the four fatalities,” toxicologist and physician Michael Gray told the Times-Picayune. As microbiologist and immunologist David Straus put it, “This was not a building you wanted to have people working or living in.”

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When the levees broke in 2005, the SUNO campus was deluged with four and a half feet of water, causing $600 million in damage. By the time power was restored in 2008, the Multipurpose Building, where the four professors worked, had sustained extreme damage. After faculty moved back in, they lodged complaint after complaint with the administration of respiratory symptoms, nausea, and migraines. The mold Stachybotrys—which contains, as Lipinski writes, “potent toxins that, if inhaled, can adversely affect the central nervous system”—was present in 25 of 62 interior air samples taken by the firm responsible for the Multipurpose Building’s “successful” remediation.

There is no empirical medical evidence (yet) that directly links any of the professors’ deaths with mold exposure: Sudipta Das, 60, and Marina Dumas-Haynes, 57, both had recurrences of breast cancer; Guillarne Leary, 72, died of a pulmonary embolism; Felix James, 76, died of heart disease. A skeptic might say that the deaths of 50-, 60- and 70-something professors with other health issues were simply a tragic coincidence. But the experts Lipinski consulted said the conditions in the Multipurpose Building may have exacerbated the illnesses that killed the professors. According to Tulane medical professor Maureen Lichtveld, they could have had compromised immune systems that drastically increased the chance of chronic infection. Individuals with prolonged exposure to dust and mold can develop chronic inflammatory response syndrome—which at least one reputable study found increased the chance of a breast cancer recurrence twofold, and another found carried a significant risk of lung clotting.

Lipinski’s investigation also captures the domineering style of chancellor Victor Ukpolo and his administration and how the poor state of the job market in New Orleans—academic or otherwise—might have prevented faculty from taking other, safer work. Now, SUNO may close altogether. But the service SUNO’s faculty and staff perform to a traditionally underserved demographic—lower-income, older African-American students—is vitally important to the community. It would be tragedy compounded if the university were now driven into the ground.

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