Berkeley Student Cooperative’s Cloyne proposal is only option

CAMPUS ISSUES: Although purging Cloyne of its culture won’t solve drug abuse problems on campus, it's the only way the co-op system can limit its legal liability.

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When the Berkeley Student Cooperative’s insurance provider settled a lawsuit over winter break with the family of John Gibson, a former student who overdosed at Cloyne Court in 2010, it became abundantly clear that, because of a number of similar incidents, Cloyne posed a significant legal liability to the co-op system. Though drug culture at UC Berkeley does not stop or start at Cloyne, and the BSC’s proposal to purge Cloyne of its residents and culture will do little to improve the dangerous effects of drug culture on campus overall, it is the BSC’s only option if it wishes to avoid massive legal liability and preserve the co-op system as a whole.

In a conversation with the Daily Cal’s Senior Editorial Board Wednesday, BSC President Michelle Nacouzi explained that because the Gibson overdose was one of multiple tragedies to happen at Cloyne, the BSC could easily be accused of negligence in a future lawsuit for tolerating a drug culture if a similar incident were to occur again at Cloyne. Following the Gibson lawsuit’s settlement, the BSC cabinet was advised that it could lose both its insurance coverage and its leases on four co-op properties that sit on university-owned land. Thus, cabinet members have proposed evicting all current Cloyne residents, disallowing former residents from returning, painting over the house’s abundant artwork and converting it into academic-theme, substance-free housing.

Although it sounds extreme, the board’s proposal to purge Cloyne of its residents and culture is its best option for avoiding the potentially dire consequences the BSC would otherwise face. It is equally understandable, though, that the proposal prompted considerable backlash. In a separate interview with the board, current residents of Cloyne acknowledged the gravity of the BSC’s insurance and liability concerns but argued that the BSC’s proposal was announced too abruptly, and that their inclusion in the process could have yielded an effective proposal while also keeping the Cloyne community intact. The residents, referred to as clones, also assert that since Gibson’s overdose in 2010, they have made strides in creating a safer and more responsible house culture by introducing, for example, a live-in facilities manager and stricter enforcement of BSC policies.

Those steps are commendable and important. But similar harm-reduction attempts at Cloyne have been insufficient in reducing risk in the past, and because the BSC needs to resolve the future of the house before it finalizes next year’s housing budget later this month, the BSC cabinet made the best choice available to it in the time it had.

Likewise, Cloyne residents are correct in asserting that the BSC proposal is unfair to individual clones in the house’s vibrant, close-knit community who have played no part in the reputed drug culture or contributed to its risk. Despite that, it’s still necessary. Reinventing Cloyne reduces the likelihood that an incident for which the BSC is legally liable will result in other properties being shut down.

Cloyne residents’ concerns with or counteroffers to the BSC proposal — legitimate as many of them may be — are simply no match for the Goliath that is the legal liability concern. That said, singling out Cloyne to limit BSC liability is not necessarily consistent with improving student safety. Drug culture is not limited to or centered at Cloyne. The majority of party-going college students can attest to the rampant drug and alcohol abuse and other high-risk behavior that has become ubiquitous, even glamorized, on college campuses across the country in fraternities, sororities, dormitories and housing completely unaffiliated with the campus. Cloyne has undeniably had numerous problems over the past decade. But shutting down a single co-op won’t solve the underlying causes of a problem that specific incidents were a symptom of.

This is an outcome that nobody wanted. But to limit its liability and ensure that it can continue providing affordable housing to students, the BSC must let Cloyne go.

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  • Adeptian

    I’m going to borrow a comment from this week’s letters to the editor in the east bay express because I think it is worth repeating –

    The Berkeley Student Cooperative (BSC) has a long-established culture that discourages people from calling 911 to receive medical attention in situations that involve drug use. From a realistic perspective, BSC students are not going to categorically stop using drugs. Discouraging students from calling 911 through punitive policies such as the multiple bad conduct terminations that have taken place in similar situations means that more serious overdoses will happen, and that they’ll happen more often. High insurance rates suck, but they’re a better option than students dying on BSC property. Every serious overdose on BSC property in the recent past that has had long-term consequences had those consequences because no one called 911 promptly. BSC’s general culture of discouraging 911 calls coupled with certain provisions in the Cloyne plan has a high likelihood of leading to future overdoses with catastrophic consequences for those involved, and higher insurance premiums for the BSC, or even an existential threat to the BSC if UC Berkeley decides to pull Cloyne or Rochdale. Fostering a culture in which students feel safe calling for medical help when they need it is critical to the future success — and potentially the future existence — of the BSC.

    Daniel Jackson, Berkeley

  • Jonathan

    How and why will this action decrease liability? This article and the BSC cabinet state this decreased liability as matter of self-evident fact. I don’t see the evidence. Will someone please provide this evidence of how purging current membership of their residence, painting over murals, and creating a theme, “Substance free/academic,” that is empty without the compliance of membership, will decrease insurance liability? Yes, creating the theme for the house will encourage and support substance free activity, and will disallow out-of-house parties from happening, but the main issues in the past ten years, Jon Gibson, the 2010 summer overdose, and the 2006 death, did not happen at out-of-house parties, nor did they happen in spaces abled to be monitored in a housing cooperative.

    I’ll ask again, how and why will this action decrease BSC liability for the insurance company, or in general? Please show evidence of how a purge will decrease liability. This article states that the actions taken in the 2010 plan were insufficient. There was a purge in the 90s which has also proven insufficient with the numerous drug-related emergencies happening soon after. Are white walls the answer? Is the changing theme the answer? This article states that substance abuse is a nation-wide problem, revealing the direct contradiction to the empty gesture that will be changing the theme. If one wants to experiment with drugs or alcohol, one will. The best way to deal with that inevitability is to figure out ways to better educate to prevent harm. It is not the theme, or the art work, that made a person overdose in Cloyne; it was the personal desire to experiment with drugs, a risk that John Gibson and others assumed by their own wills. Regarding the response to those emergencies, namely the delay in calling 911, has more to do with the BSC’s punitive approach to substances than those members’ concern for their friend. It is not the fault of the BSC for Gibson’s harm, or anyone, for that matter, who chooses to experiment with illegal substances in the privacy of their own room, despite that room being between BSC walls.

    Furthermore, the biggest risk is not insurance plans, it is the University of California, Berkeley who poses the biggest threat to the BSC. The BSC has the privilege of paying one dollar per year for Cloyne’s lease, which will be revoked if there is another substance-related emergency. It is the University who threatens to shut down Cloyne altogether, which will be much more catastrophic than insurance rates rising, though both would likely come from the same cause. In other words, insurance matters very little, it is the threat of a drug-related emergency that is the root issue. The BSC and Cloyne need to take action to prevent harm from its residents. A “Substance-free” theme is a possible step to harm prevention, but only to a house that consents to this change. It is unfortunate that the BSC cabinet aims to use force, disregarding any question of consent toward Cloyne residents, to make an empty gesture for insurance companies. It is a cooperative organization. Cabinet did not cooperate in their formation of this proposal, they created it without any deliberation of the larger membership, and proposed it as the only possible way to solve the problem. They have acted disgustingly irresponsible, manipulating the board of representatives by presenting themselves as more knowledgable and therefore unquestionable to the larger membership. They, nor the operations manager, are not to be trusted with the fate of the BSC, or any one house. The BSC is democratic, run from individual membership up, and they have made an attempt to make it a top-down organization.

    It is not the responsibility of the BSC to solve the world’s drug problems, but steps taken only to lower insurance liability are not the solution, nor does this proposal made by cabinet address the real risks which are inevitable in any house on any college campus spanning the country. The biggest risks are a member’s harm, and the cooperatives getting shut down. The BSC must focus on transformation through education and training, not punitive action.

    Personally, I don’t want to see the BSC fail. I appreciate the three years of low-income housing I enjoyed at Cloyne, and I appreciate the community it fosters. Forcing a purge at Cloyne, defacing its art, and creating a theme to the house without direct communication with the house is uncooperative, failing to acknowledge Cloyne’s autonomy as a cooperative part of the larger BSC, and is only repeating history with a couple minor, empty gestures. It seems that BSC cabinet, and upper management, has adopted a “we’ll see what happens” attitude that will have dire consequences for both the BSC culture, and the BSC’s existence as a cooperative housing organization.

    To address the Daily Cal “senior staff,” who are you? Have you ever lived in a cooperative, or have any idea of what Cloyne actually is? I realize this is an op-ed but check your manipulation as the “senior staff” and its affects on readership. You assume a role of superiority, in the same way Kim Benson does as the “operations manager” of the BSC, to present yourself as more knowledgable to readers and therefore more trustworthy than a person who writes their real name. It is not the Daily Cal’s, as an organization, purpose to take a stance, it is the news’ purpose to share the news. I recommend that you use your real name as an opinionated journalist rather than using your title in a superior light, especially when you clearly, like cabinet, have not weighed different options and want a quick, easy, and thoughtless fix to Cloyne.

    Thank you,

    Jonathan Pyner

  • crtclthnkng

    The murals are beautiful. Old and new members should get to choose which murals should be painted over at least.

    • Jonathan

      Members already have that ability. That is one of the ways the most a obvious ways the “we own it” model comes to fruition, and why the proposal to paint over them completely disregards house autonomy.

  • Elijah Z. Granet

    I am very pleased to see the Daily Cal has endorsed the same position I advocated in my op-ed that appeared last Tuesday. It would appear that a coalition around campus is forming, united on the position that Cloyne Court must be shut down.

    • crtclthnkng

      It’s not being shut down.

      • Elijah Z. Granet

        You’re technically correct; it’s being turned into a substance free academic house with new people. Given that this effectively shuts down Cloyne as we know it, however, I find “shut down” to be effective shorthand.

        • Natasha von Kaenel

          Elijah, will you please come visit Cloyne? It hurts me that you keep slandering us in the press without ever having talked to one member.

  • ucactivism

    The murals have subliminal messages telling you to do drugs, didn’t you know?

  • ucactivism

    At least this editorial is transparent about the reasons why this decision was made: not for the welfare of other co-opers (since whoever was part of the “drug culture” at Cloyne will just end up in other BSC houses) but to appease lawyers and insurers. Maybe you should have ask the BSC if they plan to change anything to their policies and educational materials about drug use? (To give just one example, the BSC once sent a document to members encouraging them to verify the reputation of their drug dealers to ensure the product was of sufficient quality… not kidding.)

  • The Daily Cal continues to embarrass itself by publishing opinions based on hearsay and little evidence. Sensationalism wins again. Get those pageviews!

  • Lani

    In short, it doesn’t. It reveals the malice involved.

    They are trying to “change culture”, but what they really are doing is destroying culture. If this idiotic plan succeeds (which in all likelihood it seems like it will given the general lack of competence I have thus seen) then let the new residents decide themselves what to do with the walls.

  • Thea Brown

    “Though drug culture at UC Berkeley does not stop or start at Cloyne, and the BSC’s proposal to purge Cloyne of its residents and culture will do little to improve the dangerous effects of drug culture on campus overall, it is the BSC’s only option if it wishes to avoid massive legal liability and preserve the co-op system as a whole.”

    I would like to ask please for a citation for “BSC’s only option” other than Michelle Nacouzi, Jim Gray, Kim Benson, or the BSC cabinet before this claim could be stated as a fact. Like maybe an insurance provider? Or maybe even better the BSC insurance provider?

    I guess a piece in the Opinions section doesn’t have to have citations or actual evidence supporting any claims, but it does suck when its SENIOR EDITORIAL BOARD OF THE DAILY CAL vs. me and my housemates.

    I just hope people realize that without actual support or any citations other than the same fear-mongering that Cabinet has been trying to feed us for three? four? weeks now this piece is simply just another opinion on the matter that just happens to be written by the SENIOR EDITORIAL BOARD OF THE DAILY CAL and was formed without a “conversation,” like the one they had with Nacouzi, with anyone at Cloyne.

  • Valar_morghulis

    “Though drug culture at UC Berkeley does not stop or start at Cloyne, and the BSC’s proposal to purge Cloyne of its residents and culture will do little to improve the dangerous effects of drug culture on campus overall, it is the BSC’s only option if it wishes to avoid massive legal liability and preserve the co-op system as a whole.”

    Right, because that worked so well for Barrington and Chateau, and because a top-down, scorched-earth approach works so well for the War on Drugs. How about instead of punishing co-op members for something that happened before many of them even moved in and blaming them for a ‘drug culture’ (which doesn’t even reflect a large portion of Clones), we make the BSC itself accountable for failing to provide adequate education and support about drug abuse and mental illness (another thing the co-ops need), and make more of an effort to actually help co-opers? People who really want to do drugs are going to do them anyway, but 1) you might as well make sure they know what they’re getting into, and 2) you might as well create as safe an environment as possible. All this proposal will do is destroy a de-facto historical art gallery and community, and push all the wild partying to other coops (making CZ likely to be next on the hit list). Until the BSC acknowledges some of its members do and will do drugs, and does a better job of addressing this constructively, nothing will change.

    If you’re going to hide behind “senior editorial staff”, at least make some effort to be balanced and profound. An interview with Nacouzi is hardly adequate “research”. From one of your own articles, “What a progressive organization should do is pick a proposal that’s best for its members, not for its insurance companies” — Cloyne’s consulting lawyer. I’m with Anthony Fossati on this one. Shame on you Daily Cal for not contributing to the conversation, but instead lazily echoing the myopic perspective of a few individuals.

    • crtclthnkng

      so people expect the bsc to be liable for providing education and support about drug abuse and mental illness, would you get that in your apartment? it’s a non-profit. It’s a privilege to live in the co-ops.
      also, there are always harm reduction workshops, i’ve had one every semester I’ve been in the co-ops, you are liable if you don’t take the initiative to attend. People do know what they’re getting into and they have a safe environment to do drugs in. Also people condone and enable substance abuse regardless if they’re educated on it.
      why do people keep denying the drug culture? yes, many college campuses/residences have a drug atmosphere and cloyne is big which means its even more apparent. Denying it makes it easier to not notice that, yes, people do have substance abuse problems in college.
      I do agree that an interview is hardly adequate research.

      • Jonathan

        The issue isn’t people denying that drugs are in Cloyne, the issue is that said “drug-culture” has been misperceived and projected. Prior to the 2010 overdose, a handful of students did hard drugs, such as the ones Gibson used when he overdosed. Cloyne took steps in the fall semester following the OD to remove members, even terminating a known drug user. That was my first semester and since that time there were not any cases of drug use. I do not state that there were no drugs in the house, but if there were, it was not a “cultural” aspect of the house, and they were done by a very small minority without any one else’s knowledge. The same drug use, that done behind closed doors, can and will happen no matter the theme of the house, as it happens in places that have stricter monitoring like dorms or fraternities. They will not solve the risk of harm by painting the walls white and telling students, who run the premises independent of the central organization, “don’t do drugs. The BSC isn’t DARE, though it seems to be aiming in that direction, and DARE has caused more harm than it has prevented, just as cabinet’s proposal will.

      • Valar_morghulis

        To echo what Jonathan said, no one’s ‘denying the drug culture’, whatever the hell is meant by a ‘drug culture’ (one of the lawyers even said at Board that it’s not really a legally-recognized term). It would be idiotic not to be aware of the fact that some kids that you see every day drink or smoke or whatever. But what the BSC is doing is a similar tactic as the USFG uses with the War on Drugs, which is attacking suppliers rather than helping users. All jailing dealers and cartel members does is fill our prisons and leave power vacuums (leading to more violence). If there is a demand, there will be a supply to fill it. The most effective way to deal with a drug problem is dry up demand, either by legalizing a substance or providing education, treatment, and support for users so they can effectively overcome the risk of addiction and possibly choose to abstain altogether. Obviously the BSC isn’t going to legalize all drugs, so the best way to minimize the risk of further tragedies is to provide better support for people who are going to get wrecked anyway. So what if people ‘condone’ substance abuse? ‘Condoning’ and ‘doing’ and even ‘not knowing your limits’ are not at all the same thing, and most coopers are liberals who don’t believe in imposing their morals on others. Just because you think something is icky for yourself doesn’t mean you have the right to stop other people from doing it.

        You really think destroying Cloyne’s culture, which is so much more than “YAY DRUGS”, is going to stop a subset of Berkeley kids from seeking out drug experiences? No. All it will do is make CZ the ‘party’ house, and probably lead to its shutting down in a few years, too. It solves nothing.

        [email protected] the notion that the harm reduction workshops are the solution. Clearly they aren’t doing nearly enough, particularly since they’re voluntary, and they do *nothing* for mental health issues, for which the coops desperately need better support. And no, if people don’t show up (which no one ever does unless they have to), they as individuals aren’t liable. The house is. The BSC is. And if the BSC is so worried about being liable, then they need to be making more of an effort to implement support services, rather than just leaving it to house-level and providing band-aid solutions to a systemic issue.

  • Confused

    Was the Daily Cal paid to publish this by cabinet?

    Also, note the lack of any citation to any documents actually from the insurance company.

    If said document does actually exist (which at the board meeting it was discovered that it does not) please publish it. Cabinet assured us all that they would send us more information and so far we have received NO MORE INFORMATION. So, if they have gotten it and are just sitting on it this is further proof of how uncooperative Cabinet has been acting.

  • Shannon

    To the Senior Editorial Board of the Daily Cal: I am seriously disappointed. You have made statements for which there are no evidence. For example:

    “Although it sounds extreme, the board’s proposal to purge Cloyne of its
    residents and culture is its best option for avoiding the potentially
    dire consequences the BSC would otherwise face.”

    “…it is the BSC’s only option if it wishes to avoid massive legal liability and preserve the co-op system as a whole”

    “Despite that, it’s still necessary.”

    I am sorry that your journalistic integrity has succumbed to fear-mongering rhetoric. Posing this as the ONLY or BEST option is incredibly short-sighted and does not make an effort to hear ANY OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY BESIDES CABINET’S.

    If I thought that we could bury our heads in the sand and pretend like putting a rubber stamp of “Substance Free” on Cloyne would pose a real solution to a real problem, I would support it. However, it is increasingly clear to me that there has not been nearly enough research done to figure out a working solution.

    • crtclthnkng

      if the other proposals were good maybe they would have mentioned other solutions on the other side of the story.

      • Shannon

        If Cabinet had involved Cloyne earlier, maybe they would have had more time to come up with a fully-formed proposal and been given a fair shot.

  • Lani

    Doesn’t this belong in the opinions section with the rest of the bias? Why is the Dailiy Cal getting legal advice from Cabinet?

    Read the Gibson Case, consult lawyers, consult insurance brokers. We have. Did you guys just start investigating this case? This is the same fear mongering that was presented in the original letter sent out to the BSC.

    When an the executive branch of an organization meets in secrecy, claims impending doom, and singles out one target for this impending doom, a PoliSci 101 red flag should come up. Ask for evidence. Analyze that evidence.

    It seems the Daily Cal has adopted the same argument as Cabinet” We understand that purging Cloyne is a horrible thing for everyone, but it is necessary to save the entire BSC.” Very clever, since it acknowledges the emotional plight of its opposition yet appeals to a greater good mantra. Never mind that that greater good mantra is unsubstantiated fear mongering.

    • LOL

      This is in the opinion section…

      • Lani

        Thanks . What I was trying to convey was that it was written by the “staff ” at the daily cal rather than an individual, but it does not represent rigorous journalism. Edited this to reflect that.

        • LOL

          It was written by the Senior Editorial Board, a set of 15 or so editors at the paper who converse on the topic and then produce an editorial. Perhaps you need to do some research yourself…

          • Lani

            I need to do more research because I wrote “staff” instead of Senior Editorial Board? I spend my time researching important details regarding the eviction of 150 members of the nations largest student co op, not how to properly address the “Senior Editorial Board”, who clearly need such titles to remedy their pathetic journalism.

  • Neal

    “the BSC proposal is unfair.” Nuff said. If a landlord has a complaint about a specific tenant, go ahead and take action. Punishing the people who played by the rules doesn’t reduce liability, it’s just easy. We expect better from the BSC. If a house is causing a riot, why not put them on social probation like the frats do?

    • crtclthnkng

      going for the “easy” solution is probably cheaper than the “better” solution you expect from the BSC. Pumping money into harm reduction workshops, cloyne committees, wellness plans, etc etc etc will just raise member rates and are not guaranteed to be well-received especially in 5 more years when the new clones don’t have the impending doom of the purge that stirred community action to “save cloyne”. Unlike the frats, the BSC is supposed to provide low cost housing for those that would otherwise not be able to go to college. we need a sustainable plan that keeps us working towards our mission statement.

      • Neal

        I don’t think education only is a viable solution, either. I think it improves safety, but it’s not enough to reduce our liability. What I think we really need is more active participation from central. Cabinet’s first instinct when it realized the seriousness of its liability was to isolate itself in executive session, rather than trying to work together with the house towards a solution. Cabinet has posed this as an “us vs them” issue, when it’s really not. Last week Board voted for Cabinet to meet with house leaders twice before they’ll vote this Friday. I hope the meetings are being productive, and I really wish we could have more of them, but again, Cabinet waited 5 weeks before it said anything.
        I’m glad you mentioned “sustainability.” I think that the attention that we’re giving right now to drug abuse in the BSC is a great opportunity to make some long term, system wide changes. Cloyne is not the first to have to face the issue, I’m positive it won’t be the last. Purging cloyne is just kicking the can down th road. So far, the BSC’s longterm plan has been to wait until something terrible happens and then apply some scorched earth policy. I really want Board to realize that THIS is not sustainable, either. We need to seize this opportunity and steer the BSC in a different direction.
        Obviously the frats and coops are different in many ways, but they’re similar in that they’re both liable for a bunch of rabble rousing college kids. We can learn from the way they handle the issue, which is to put a house on social probation when something goes wrong; it encourages houses to take security very seriously because the consequences are immediate and a total bummer (I’m not sure how you’re imagining social probation would raise rent rates, if you could explain you’re thinking I’d appreciate it).

      • crtclthnkng

        The argument of board making decisions behind closed doors in “executive sessions” and intentionally without cloyne membership is a really silly argument. Why would cabinet invite 150 people into an office to draft a proposal and have 150 people freaking out right on the spot? They presented it 3 weeks after they found out the lawsuit was settled and the proposal was presented in board and has been opened up to other proposals (that were relatively drafted in the same amount of time) and amendments and are democratically being decided on. I think cloyne is making it a us vs them thing, which is understandable- they don’t want to move.
        I also think it’s ignorant to think a substance free house is the death of cloyne (especially when clones are advocating that they are so much more than their drug culture- which i agree with). The BSC needs a substance-free house, a safe space for those that want to live in huge communal houses but don’t want to deal with their housemates’ drunk friend puking in the bathroom.

        active participation by central- that is vague. what does that mean/look like? this proposal is active participation from central. Are you suggesting harm reduction education? we have that. Are you suggesting more extensive training? That costs money, is not always well-received and adds to the extensive hourly commitments already put on each member of the house. “working with the house”… the house is the physical entity that will last beyond the “house” the current residents, those that will remember this (yes, traumatic) past couple weeks but have little force on the residents that will live there in 7 years. current residents are the reason the BSC tends to have to make drastic changes post-incident. Plus this is an effort to make changes before another drastic decision-which many people argue about- the perception of future risk- which leads to that cycle of not acting and then an incident occuring.

        I have no clue what “social probation” is.. or what that entails… sorry. We have termination? :/
        the thing is many people are acting like it would be such a burden for someone to have to live in a substance free house. There are people that WANT to live in a substance free house (maybe the first term might not fill up maybe) but making space for those individuals AND reducing risk of the entire bsc collapsing. boom. win.

        • Neal

          Social probation means no out of house parties for some time period (semester or year).

  • cal.bear

    Maybe it’s me, but what the hell does painting over the murals have to do with remedying the problem?

  • Anthony Fossati

    Hey Daily Cal, why not actually contribute something of substance to the discussion before taking a stand. Nowhere–and this includes from BSC leadership and Clones–has anyone provided background about insuring such properties, the specifics of Cloyne’s case nor how other housing organizations (dorms, frats, etc.) deal with such matters. It’s as if this event is occurring in a vacuum and we should all cower to the as-yet defined specter of “massive legal liability.” The past four years to my uninformed eyes (mostly because the settlement was sealed) seem like a shakedown on the part of family Gibson, the insurance company and a weak BSC board. This case should have been fought.

    So, have you got any investigators at this paper or just bloggers with opinions & without facts? You have the UCB at your fingertips. Is there really no faculty expert that could shed some light on residential liability and add some weight to your argument? What are typical & extreme insurance fees? How about taking a look at the BSC board/cabinet minutes discussing the Gibson case. You hereby support an extreme conclusion. I would hope that in arriving at it you cultivated some extreme facts.

    Please, I’m a concerned alumnus of both the UCB & BSC. Help make me understand.