Updated: March 10, 2014 6:26AM
Luckily for everyone including himself, Jon Costas is a nice guy. He’s bright, affable, and he’s been a good mayor for Valparaiso.
But the danger of likeable competence in politics is that you are less likely to be body-checked on a dubious idea because you’re a swell guy. If the emperor is charming, who will suggest buck nekkidness is a bad idea?
But bad ideas can happen anywhere, even in Valparaiso, which is Lake Wobegon with better restaurants.
So at the risk of being accused of felony rudeness, let us suggest that the Costas-invented Lumenus USA Institute for Global Citizenship is pompous, self-interested commerce masquerading as progressive, global virtue.
Actually, it’s a profound conflict of interest, which Costas does not recognize. In Valparaiso, no one says no to the mayor.
Of course, Lumenus has some value. It soaks rich Chinese parents for $45,000 or so with the promise of transforming their teens into America-ready collegians in nine months. That’s the sales pitch.
The twerking and joint-rolling classes must be fab. As for provable value, it’s hard to monetize moonbeams.
Valparaiso University is an official “strategic partner” because American colleges adore parents of foreign students. They always pay full tuition in cash. Lumenus primes the pump.
When Lumenus was invented last February, the idea was to take Chinese high school grads, supply a year of cultural/linguistic seasoning and basting, and then shove them into the VU pipeline.
What’s the Mandarin phrase that translates “For $45,000, I thought my kid was going to Harvard”?
Sometime between last February and now, the concept morphed away from the off-campus, self-contained posh condo prep school with a dozen college professors doing the teaching.
The new translation of Lumenus apparently requires public high schools to take foreign non-graduates and polish their transition.
For 45g’s, you get a high school diploma. What’s the Mandarin word for “sucker”?
Of course, Costas and various business partners, not Valparaiso taxpayers, still get the $45,000 apiece.
Profiteering often depends on credulous allies. In this case, the Valparaiso public school board pretends the arrival of these students not only fulfills its duty to local parents, but actually benefits hometown students, too.
But Americanizing Chinese teenagers has only one identifiable, superseding value. It makes money for Costas and his partners. It’s personal gain. But in this case, his business is not public business.
There are no coincidences in politics. The all-appointed School Board is a function of the Valparaiso City Council, which has never met an idea Costas did not invent.
The Valparaiso School Board seemed angry and perturbed when parents questioned their decision to take 30 Chinese students a year. Board members even played the “How dare you fear the yellow peril” race card.
Of course, Valparaiso parents rightly question why they must train Chinese youngsters to compete with theirs, and why they should pay Costas for the privilege. Maybe their first job is to train American kids to compete with China.
It is not as if the founders of Lumenus were unmindful of these subtleties. When Costas launched the company, it was “The Lumenus USA Center for Global Leadership.” Very corporate.
Then it became the “Lumenus Institute for Global Citizenship.”
“Citizenship” seems so much more benign.
In any case, using American tax money to primp Chinese teens for “Global Leadership” would seem redundant. The Chinese seem capable of pursuing global leadership without our help.
As for Valparaiso parents, demanding their school taxes not be co-mingled with Costas’ bank account is hardly xenophobic bias. Spending money on your own kids is just intelligent resource management by parents.
Parents recognize Costas’ conflict of interest for what it is.
The conflict is easy to see if you look squarely at it. Not every teen in Valparaiso or Center Township who wants to attend VU can attend.
What those students might lack is not desire for achievement. They have dreams for world citizenship, too. But unfortunately they lack what the students shepherded and shielded by Valparaiso’s mayor do have.
They don’t have rich Chinese parents.
David Rutter was an editor at six community newspapers more than 40 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.