This letter is intended to respond to an article published two years ago by the Daily Pennsylvanian. I filed a civil lawsuit against both The Daily Pennsylvanian and the author of this article, which I considered both unfair and misleading. The defendants admitted no wrongdoing as a result of the non-monetary settlement of that suit, but The Daily Pennsylvanian agreed to revise both the original headline and a subheading (which I now understand the author of the article did not write), and to publish the following statement, which were my primary goals in pursuing the litigation. While I do not wish to call further attention to this unfortunate situation and I will not attempt to address every statement appearing in the original article, I would like to take this opportunity to attempt to clarify the issues, and to explain the facts more thoroughly before putting this matter to rest.
Perspectives Lilly Deng and I founded Perspectives in Fall 2005 to help underserved students in the mid-Atlantic region gain access to debate, an activity that greatly helped us during high school. For 3 years, Perspectives grew at an incredible rate. In Fall 2008, a variety of internal disputes broke out within Perspectives, including some conflicts between leaders not including Lilly and myself and some that involved Lilly and I acting as we believed best to protect the interests of the organization. After trying to resolve these disputes for several months to no avail, Lilly and I chose to leave the organization by not standing for re-election to the Board. During this period, Lilly and I followed what we understood to be the organization's standard procedures for reimbursement and the payment of stipends which we maintain were previously agreed to by the Perspectives leadership.
After informing other Perspectives leaders about our intentions to leave, we were removed from the organization’s bank accounts without our knowledge. When a concerned Perspectives volunteer called Lilly and myself to let us know that the Philadelphia Debate Institute, Perspectives’ original and flagship program, had been canceled, I became concerned. In particular, many donations were given to Perspectives for the purpose of running the Philadelphia Debate Institute (which they could not be used for if the institute was canceled). With the interests of the organization’s donors and future in mind, I chose to go to Commerce Bank and find out just how Lilly and I could be removed from the account when it was our understanding that we had not resigned from the Board. At the bank, I was informed that we could not be removed from the account, and that we were still named as "Account Owners" with legal authority over the funds. I chose to protect the organization's assets until the situation was resolved by securing the bank account and taking out a cashier’s check for most of the organization’s funds ($37,000) made out to "Perspectives Debate, Inc." At the end of December, when it became evident that the conflicts in question would cost Lilly and me too much financially and emotionally, the cashier’s check was given to Perspectives and we walked away from the organization.
Despite thinking the issues were now behind us, we were sued by the new Perspectives leadership two months later. Ultimately, the Perspectives lawsuit sought three items of redress: that Lilly and I officially leave the board, that an accounting be performed of the organization’s financial records, and that we pay attorney fees. All but the last were more than acceptable to me. This dispute was a product of complex and destructive infighting that led to an unnecessary lawsuit that was settled out of court with Lilly and I simply leaving the organization and asking the organization to leave us alone (which we had already tried to do).
Liberty Bell Classic (LBC) In 2005, I became a director of the LBC, a high school forensics tournament then run by the Debate Council, which was comprised of four Penn teams (Speech and Debate, Penn Forum, Mock Trial, and Parli), and independent Penn students who simply loved high school forensics. Its purpose was to give back to the high school forensics community. The Debate Council was dissolved during the 2007-2008 school year.
As a member of the Debate Council, the Parli team had maintained a limited involvement with the LBC for years. After the Fall 2007 tournament, I transferred sole responsibility and authority for the LBC to Penn for Youth Debate (PYD), a newly formed debate organization whose interests I believed better aligned with the LBC. At about this time, I thought that an agreement had been reached through an exchange of e-mail with the 2007 Parli Board (the existence of which was later denied) to divide the remaining funds in the LBC account between PYD and Parli.
Following this transfer, I used approximately $1,000 in LBC funds to run a tournament for underprivileged inner city youth in December 2007. Not only did this increase access to debate, it encouraged more traditional competitors to assist in the LBC’s outreach efforts. The use of such funds both gave back to high school debate while marketing the LBC as a means of helping underserved youth participate in debate, a practice the LBC continues today, as noted on its website: “…all proceeds from the LBC go directly to Penn for Youth Debate and its volunteer activities”.
When the newly elected 2008 Parli executive board took over in January, 2008, it challenged some $2,000 worth of expenses traced back to the LBC. The Office of Student Life (OSL) concluded the dispute internally to the agreement of all parties. Some of the expenses were absorbed by the Office of Student Life and some were absorbed by PYD. PYD’s decision to accept the expenses was based on PYD’s financial security and ability to readily pay off the debt within a year.
Note: The DP was given inaccurate information that was initially published that I purchased a camera for personal use using money from LBC. The DP later investigated and confirmed its inaccuracy. I did purchase a printer and toner that was used for the LBC left in the possession of PYD.
Conclusion I always acted in the best interests of the organizations I ran and sought to promote the various organizations’ mission and interests to the best of my abilities with the highest integrity. I will always be proud of the work I did with the LBC and Penn for Youth Debate. And I will always look fondly on the great things Perspectives accomplished when Lilly and I ran the organization.
Unfortunately, the people who have been hurt the most are young people who were denied potential opportunities to experience and develop their intellectual abilities through debate. I gave up years of my life, grades, friends, and jobs, for the sake of giving underserved students the opportunity to participate in one of the most worthwhile high school activities. Debate does more for academic achievement and life prospects than perhaps any other activity I can think of. More students deserve access to such an incredible opportunity. However, too many of them are still underserved. For them, I’m sorry it turned out this way.
Alexander McCobin 2008 College graduate
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