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Some might say Marc Levin is industrious. When the 22-year-old wanted to start a student group at Rice that would bring conservative speakers to campus to "enrich public dialogue," he went ahead and wrote up a student group mission statement and constitution. He found a faculty member to sponsor the club. Then, as Rice requires, he registered the group on the school's web site, listing three student contacts. After the school's Student Association recognized the club, Levin brought two speakers to the school. Thanks to the group's affiliation with Rice, Levin didn't have to pay the $500 lecture hall rental fee charged to nonstudent groups.
The only problem is that Marc Levin is not a student at Rice University. He's the editor of the conservative Houston Review and president of its parent company, Houston Community Publishing. Now, three months after Rice recognized Houston Community Publishing Lectures and Forums as a student group, the organization has been disbanded after complaints that Levin used its status as a tool to recruit writers for his paper and find lecture space for free. What is even more disturbing to Rice's associate director of student activities, Mona Hicks, is that two of the three students listed as club contacts weren't sure what they were getting involved with.
"He is really, in my opinion, trying to promote the Houston Review, and whatever political views, at Rice through this system," says Hicks, who was alerted to the situation through a January 22 article in The Rice Thresher. "He is very persistent. I'm going to have to be the hammer and tell him he has to go someplace else."
Levin contends he did nothing against the rules. Rice allows non-Rice affiliates to be members of student groups as long as 50 percent of the club is students, and "there's nothing that says the initiative and work [to start a club] can't come from a nonstudent."
"It sounds like I perpetrated a fraud on Rice," says Levin. "I think the university would welcome community involvement with the school. I have to believe if we were an environmental group, a left-wing group, they would have no problem with this."
Actually, Hicks says, politics have little to do with it. The issues of recruiting, faculty sponsors and student initiative do.
"A group cannot be used as a recruiting tool," Hicks says. "We don't have an Andersen Consulting Club." If Levin was interested in promoting and finding writers for his paper, Hicks says, he should have used the Rice career services office. Hicks also worries that the group's listed faculty sponsor, professor Ewa Thompson, was abroad during the formation of the group. (Levin maintains she is still interested in being involved. Thompson was unavailable for comment.)
But what concerns Hicks above all is that students in student groups should be willing and informed members -- something Marisa Levy says she wasn't.
"I definitely felt misled. I felt like he didn't tell me the whole truth, even from the beginning," says Levy, a Rice sophomore. Levy is one of the three students Levin listed as student contacts when he applied for group status in mid-October. While Levy and fellow sophomore Jose Luis Cubria say they agreed to be informed of the club's happenings, they think Levin used their names to promote what was basically his club.
The unhappy marriage among Levin and his fellow group members began this summer when Levin e-mailed The Rice Thresher's editor in chief, Brian Stoler, to seek writers for the new Houston Review. Levin wrote that the Review planned to cover "campus, local, state and national public policy issues as well as sports and culture" and was "looking for Rice students who want to gain writing, editing, and/or cartooning experience while reaching not only their fellow students, but also a broad audience in the greater Houston area."
"I didn't know who they [the Houston Review] were at the time," says Stoler, a sophomore, "but as a courtesy I forwarded the e-mail to the staff."
Levy, Cubria and Thresher cartoonist and freshman David Chien decided they might give it a chance. "I was very excited about it; like everyone else who got the e-mail, I thought this was another place to get published," says Levy. "I called Marc and I kept asking him what type of paper it was, and he said they accepted all types of opinions." But when Levy called some friends in Austin and discovered that The Austin Review (which Levin once edited) was the Houston paper's sister publication, she decided against writing for the new paper.
"The Austin Review was very one-sided," Levy says. Levy, who had wanted to write about arts and entertainment, was especially discouraged by the Austin paper's movie review condemning the gay lifestyle portrayed in The Object of My Affection. Despite her decision to not write for the paper, Levy continued to receive e-mails from Levin about the publication.
Cubria, who hopes to break into sports writing, says he did not closely examine the Review's background and wrote a few sports articles for the paper. "Eventually people started talking about the Review, and I looked at it and realized, 'None of this is objective,' " Cubria says. He stopped writing for the paper.