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UVSC student officers not backing down

They call Moore decision right, and they'd do it again

UVSC student body president Jim Bassi, left, and vice president Joe Vogel have lost sleep over the decision to invite Michael Moore. The ruckus has been an eye-opener.
UVSC student body president Jim Bassi, left, and vice president Joe Vogel have lost sleep over the decision to invite Michael Moore. The ruckus has been an eye-opener.
Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

OREM — For someone who lit a firecracker of controversy that has sparked across Utah Valley and Utah at large, Joe Vogel is surprisingly demure.

He comes across as the wholesome boy next door with his cropped blond hair, gentle voice and courteous manners.

Rumors of his secret agenda in inviting "Fahrenheit 9/11" director Michael Moore to Utah Valley State College seem to dissipate as he speaks openly about his decision as student vice president of academics to bring in the controversial filmmaker.

It's a decision he and student body President Jim Bassi have thought about a lot.

They've lost sleep over it. They've faced the possibility of losing their offices. They've received death threats.

But if they had to do it all over again, they'd do it the same.

It's a realization that causes an earnest Vogel to break out in a huge grin.

"It's been cool to be involved with something this meaningful," Vogel says. "We've made a decision that's impacted the whole state. A lot of people are upset, but a lot of people are getting involved."

Indeed, nothing has awakened UVSC students like the ruckus that erupted last month when the state school announced the student government would pay $40,000 from student fees, in addition to $10,500 for travel and security expenses, to bring the Oscar winner to campus on Oct. 20.

Hallways once lined with posters for upcoming social activities are now plastered with fliers debating Moore's "Slacker Uprising Tour."

Classrooms of sleepy students are now home to lively ethics discussions.

Rallies have been held to support Vogel's decision and to protest the student fees used to pay Moore.

Students even put on a mock demonstration objecting to Monday's scheduled appearance of conservative talk show Sean Hannity, who personally offered to waive his $100,000 speaking fee after learning of UVSC's desire to balance out Moore's liberal views with a conservative voice before the Nov. 2 general election.

But most important to the two student leaders is that campus voter registration booths have registered a record 3,000 students since the controversy broke less than a month ago.

"I love it," UVSC senior Jared Sumsion said. "To have this much enthusiasm on campus is awesome."

All of this reaction caused by two students who never wanted to be politicians and don't plan to pursue political careers.

Vogel wants to be an English professor. Bassi hopes to attend law school.

If it hadn't been for Vogel's older brother, Ryan, neither would be in office today. The elder Vogel implored Bassi, his former LDS mission companion, to be his running mate when he ran for student body president two years ago.

When Bassi decided to run for the top seat last year, he asked Joe Vogel to be his right-hand man.

"I kind of wanted to put my energies into different things like my writing," Vogel said. "But I knew it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Little did I know what I was in for."

Bassi's gregarious nature quickly explains why he is the head Wolverine.

While Vogel quietly contemplates his answers, Bassi tells a story, cracks a joke and frankly discounts the attempts by some students to remove them from office.

Their facts, he claims, aren't correct. And their approach toward running him out of office — litigation is being pursued by two students who consider Moore's total costs to be in violation of the UVSC student constitution — is inappropriate, he said.

As Bassi and Vogel tell it, the student senate weighed all the possible pros and cons of bringing Moore to campus before determining the political discourse, as well as tickets sales, generated from the controversy would be worth any bad publicity.

They didn't worry about donors pulling their funding — though most threats have since been rescinded, Bassi said.

And they didn't expect state legislators would turn their backs on UVSC, which receives the least state funding per student of any Utah institution. UVSC only receives 47 percent of its funding from the state. Tuition and donations make up the rest.

"We didn't go into this blind, for sure," Vogel said. "We knew it was going to be controversial. We knew it was going to be a big deal. We knew it was going to sell out."

Despite their resoluteness, however, there are quiet moments when each questions the decision.

Vogel worries about his mother, a UVSC English professor. She doesn't like Moore, so it's been hard for her to defend her son's decision to her students.

And Bassi recently asked his wife, a former Miss UVSC, if she would have encouraged him to run for student body president if she'd known the chaos Moore's appearance would bring.

"I told him I would do it again in a heartbeat," Alexis Bassi said. "It's built his character."

Protecting their family and learning to deal with a hounding media is real-world political experience, their adviser Phil Clegg said.

While others in student government are worrying about the details of an upcoming dance, UVSC student officers are busy coordinating large-scale security for Moore's appearance, which Bassi expects to get "crazy."

"It's definitely been a learning experience for them," Clegg said. "I think they've gotten a real taste of politics, and I think they've handled the scrutiny very well."

But the life lessons being learned are almost an afterthought for the pair.

Bassi makes a mental note to write in his journal so that he can examine this experience down the road — once he's accomplished a long list of goals he still has for the remainder of the school year.

"I don't want this to be the only thing we're remembered for," he says. "We've got a lot of time left."