064: Classless of 2008

Stella Case No. 064, Originally Published: 3 September 2003

Mark Edmonson, 18, was doing pretty well at Northwest Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C. Early in his senior year, he had a 3.8 grade-point average, scored a perfect 1,600 on his SAT (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test), was a National Merit finalist and, outside school, had incorporated his own Internet company. Combined, that made him a shoo-in at the college of his choice, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

UNC sent him a letter of acceptance in April, 2003. However, the letter warned, “your enrollment will depend upon your successful completion of your current academic year.” Further, it said, “We expect you to continue to achieve at the same level that enabled us to provide this offer of admission; we also expect you to graduate on time.”

Edmonson graduated on time, but that’s about all — in his final semester he earned only C and D grades, and failed one class entirely, dropping his overall GPA to 3.5. Not surprisingly UNC was unhappy, but rather than rescinding Edmonson’s admission it “temporarily suspended” it and asked him to come in for an interview to discuss the matter. Apparently unsatisfied with the answers after the interview, UNC did rescind Edmonson’s acceptance, though it suggested he might consider “transferring to Carolina after you have established a record of success at another college or university.”

064: Classless of 2008
The school is clearly focused on student achievement, as this recent graphic from UNC makes clear.

But Edmonson only wanted to go to UNC. Once he got their April acceptance he not only slacked off in high school, he didn’t bother to apply anywhere else. “If they say he can’t come, I don’t know what we’ll do,” said his mother, Barbara. “We’re kind of stuck.”

Edmonson wasn’t satisfied with “stuck”: he called Marshall Hurley, an attorney. In a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court in Hillsborough, Hurley argues the university’s admission letter was a binding contract both parties agreed to. Thus UNC’s rescinding the offer is an unjustified “breach of contract.” It asks the court to order UNC to allow him to start classes immediately.

The suit claims the university didn’t give Edmonson a chance to explain what happened in his in-person interview, but admissions director Herb Davis differs. “He looked at his transcript and responded to my question of what happened to him with philosophical quotes but nothing directly related to my questions,” Davis wrote in a formal affidavit in response to the suit.

Attorney Hurley sees it differently: “I frankly think that his 1,600 [SAT] score was being held against him, that even with his lofty score, they can teach him a lesson,” he said. “I just think there’s some arrogance going on here, some bureaucratic arrogance.”

Beyond the rather laughable claim that an institution of higher learning would hold academic achievement against a student, would Hurley also consider it “arrogance” to accept the terms of a “contract” and then fail to live up to them? The acceptance letter made it clear what his client had to do to be admitted to UNC — the clearly laid-out “terms” of the so-called “contract” letter — but he didn’t do it. If there’s a “breach of contract” here, Edmonson is the one who breached it.

By failing to have any sort of back-up plan to implement as he saw his grades slipping, and by putting all his energy into a lawsuit rather than applying at other schools, Edmonson only proved one thing: he’s not the sort of scholar a university like UNC prefers to walk through its halls.

Apparently Edmonson’s case wasn’t strong enough for an injunction — the judge refused to grant a court order forcing the school to admit him. However, the judge didn’t throw out the suit, so it will be heard in due time.

Meanwhile, Edmonson won’t be going to school, his mother says. “The general feeling is just so negative that I’m not sure what he can do or where he can go,” she said. “I can’t imagine any admissions person in the area, at N.C. State or Duke or anywhere, even looking at him.”

He’ll never know unless he tries, but it looks like Edmonson gave up long ago. And isn’t that the entire problem?

Sources

  • “UNC Admission Rescission Sparks Suit,” Durham Herald-Sun, 19 August 2003.
  • “Rejected Student Ponders Future,” Durham Herald-Sun, 22 August 2003

Case Status

I found a reference from UNC’s student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, that Edmonson’s final high school grades were worse (or at least different) than reported above: an “unweighted” 2.75 GPA vs an earlier 3.22; perhaps that is merely the difference between “weighted” and “unweighted.”

That article also noted that in his final year of high school, “Mark Edmonson has been volunteering at a rock-wall climbing center and working on his own computer and Web design business, which he started when he was 15, rather than attending classes.”

In November 2003, the Tar Heel reported that Orange County Superior Court Judge Wade Barber dismissed the suit, and Edmonson had 30 days to appeal. “We are looking at all of our options,” said Hurley, his attorney. “This case is more about a young man that needs to be in school.”

Well sure, that makes sense. But he “needn’t be” at UNC: there are plenty of schools who would be glad to have a tenacious student study there. And then, he might consider “transferring to Carolina after you have established a record of success at another college or university.”

I didn’t find any reports that there was an appeal, so apparently the case ended there.

My 2021 Thoughts on the Case

“The general feeling is just so negative that I’m not sure what he can do or where he can go,” his mother said, as quoted in the initial case writeup. “I can’t imagine any admissions person in the area, at N.C. State or Duke or anywhere, even looking at him.”

Says a lot, doesn’t it?

I suppose that a university’s Letter of Acceptance can constitute a contract, but the student can’t then pick and choose which parts of that contract apply to him: if he accepts it, he has to accept all of it.

The school was very clear in its terms: that he “achieve at the same level” (keep up his grades), and graduate on time. When the terms of the “contract” are not met, then there are consequences, and it really isn’t up to the courts to change the terms that were agreed upon.

Letters

Readers were amused with Case 062 about the quarreling newspaper columnists, and had some interesting comparisons to make. “It seems that it’s perfectly OK for religions to defraud believers with unproven and specious claims,” said one, “so long as they do so on a regular basis and in smaller amounts. But when someone gets greedy and uses beliefs to collect large sums of money, they are suddenly frauds — yet countless other preachers use the spiritual dependency of followers to sway their voting, their lives, and exert influence. I think we need to develop consistency in how our laws treat claims made by religion/ists with other business claims. If a company claims its product will cure your warts, and it doesn’t work, you’re entitled to a refund, and if it is discovered that the company knew it didn’t work but promised results anyway, they can be prosecuted for fraud. Why not hold religious claims to the same standard?”

Interestingly, the reader was in a sense arguing my point. When people give money to their legitimate, mainstream church (however you’d like to define that), we don’t expect something in return or demand the money back if whatever “miracle” you’re hoping/praying for doesn’t come through. Mrs. Reynolds freely chose her spiritual path, and wanted a jury to second-guess her own decisions. How is that reasonable?

Meanwhile, Case 061 (where the police officer decided the suspect handcuffed in the back of her patrol car needed to be stunned, but accidentally shot him with her sidearm, killing him) continues to bring letters.

Kathy, a 26-year veteran police officer in Texas: “There is a large difference between ‘needing’ to do something and hitting panic mode and being completely unprofessional. In my opinion she hit panic mode; she was and is wrong. Her department has decided to try to cover their asses by suing Taser. If I was her captain, she would be put on unpaid leave, investigated for 2nd degree manslaughter (at the very least), and taken to trial if the investigation proved she was wrong (and from the info I see, it does not look good for her).

“There is a very noticeable difference between a firearm and a Taser — weight, color, feel and, as you said, trigger and so on. What does she consider unruly? Yelling, kicking the seat, spitting, cussing? Well tough luck, welcome to the world of law enforcement! Suspects are very irate/scared, they will not act rationally as they do day-to-day. Emotions are high and they are very upset. Law enforcement officers must ignore all [insults] said to them in anger; it is not directed personally at them, but more so at the situation. Sure some attack and we get into a tussle — it’s part of the job. We use our training to take control of the situation and calm down our suspect, but [we have to] respect the person, no matter what they say to you.”

Pete in New Hampshire: “Another very plausible take on this is an enraged cop who couldn’t be professional and detached in the face of verbal abuse by the prisoner and just lost her cool and shot the gun intentionally. Some cops are saints, most are probably decent law abiding people of integrity, and some of them are psychopaths who’d be in jail themselves without the badge and the totally misguided and self-destructive ‘thin blue line’ ethos of the police community.”

Several others indeed suggested that the officer shot the suspect in a rage, and covered that up by saying she meant to stun him. I don’t see any evidence of that, frankly. To me, that argument shows a general distrust of any law enforcement officer who uses excessive force, which is just another hurdle this longshot suit will have to overcome.

Darrell in Florida: “We do not hold gun manufacturers responsible for ensuring that purchasers of guns, whether they are private citizens, military or government paramilitary organizations, are properly trained in their usage. Police departments are responsible for training their personnel in the usage of the weapons issued to them. The police training regime does training in the usage of pepper spray, batons, handguns, shotguns and tasers. If an officer is not comfortable with distinguishing between weapons or the usage of them, they should not carry them. The police officer overreacted, drew a weapon and killed a handcuffed prisoner. Her lawsuit against Taser is just another example of our blameless society.”

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5 Comments on “064: Classless of 2008

  1. My take on the officer killing a handcuffed prisoner is that it is just another example of some people being “totally incapable of accepting responsibility for their own actions” and trying to blame Taser is beyond absurd.

    Reply
  2. Just curious: In the police case, if they had decided an unruly arrestee already hand-cuffed and locked in the back of the police car needed to be tased and actually used the Taser to do it, would that have been ok? Even that strikes me as excessive if their unruliness didn’t extend to the point where it was reasonable to believe they were about to injure themselves.

    That gets into department policy, which is beyond the scope of this site. My guess is that it could be for the stated reason: that he was injuring himself and that was a safe way to stop it. Except for the gun part messing up that theory! -rc

    Reply
  3. I was intrigued by the fact that UNC was willing to interview Edmondson before making a final decision: that indicates flexibility and some care on the part of the Admissions Committee. When a university prof I was dean of students and heard all varieties of reasons & excuses for lousy marks ~ some definitely legit, and for those I’d recommend extensions. That after his interview Edmondson was jettisoned tells me that his own behaviour tipped the scales against him. Any arrogance would have have been on his part, and to me shows up in his decision to sue. Not exactly a learning attitude.

    Reply
  4. For Edmundson to ace his SAT, he has to pretty much be a genius. For him to then immediate slack off in his grades indicates he might be a bored genius who did not feel challenged enough to stay interested in school. And, also, he had a business on the side that interested him more. He apparently thought he could coast into college on his past successes.

    Genius does not automatically confer emotional maturity or foresight or common sense. Young Edmundson lacked enough of those three to stay on track for college.

    UNC gave him a chance to explain the drop-off in grades. After all, grades can be affected by something outside their control like a tragic loss leading to depression or a crisis in their living situation. Or struggles in a pandemic. The university admissions team saw that none of that happened with him and decided to not risk having a disinterested student taking up space.

    Reply

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