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Life lessons 

Thomas Baker knows he doesn't fit the mold of the typical North Carolina State University freshman. The political science major is 24 and has had some broader life experience. In an interview last month for a seat on the university's Freshman Senate--an appointed position--Baker discussed his plans for foreign service, his military experience and his family. He thought those would be strong selling points for an aspiring member of student government--especially given the growing number of non-traditional students on campus.

But in an e-mail he received after he was turned down for the post, Baker was essentially told that he had too much life experience. Sophomore Bradley Dixon, an appointment commission member who was present for Baker's interview, wrote that members "felt it rather unfair to consider you along with the 17 and 18-year-olds applying from the freshman class. You have already completed a career, established a family--frankly you have experience and know-how that no other freshmen have, sir. Pardon the commission for believing that your presentation, experience and potential were in a league of their own."

Baker also received an e-mail from Student Senate President Michael Anthony offering him a position as a senate representative for the continuing education program. But Baker says he's not a continuing education student and doesn't represent that segment of the student body. He feels he was offered that position because of his age.

Jessie Elting, a third-year senior and chair of the appointment commission, says age had nothing to do with the appointment and that the senate was unaware of Baker's age because members didn't ask for that information on the application. She adds that Dixon's e-mail expresses his personal opinions and not those of the commission. (Dixon declined to comment).

There are older students serving on the senate, Elting says, but most of the freshman senators are under 21. This year, 50 applications were received for 11 open positions. "We had a very outstanding applicant pool this year," Elting says. "We did feel that [Baker] was very qualified and wanted to give him another seat on the senate" representing continuing education students.

Baker wants the senate to hold another selection process mediated by an objective third party and wants an apology published in the student newspaper. But this doesn't seem likely.

"The 11 senators we appointed were absolutely the top," Elting says. "I feel like the process was very fair and there would be no reason to redo it."

But in a recent e-mail to Anthony, Baker offers a reason: "In the very near future, the face of higher education will change. You will see more and more students, like me, returning to the classroom to create a better life for themselves. You, right now, are setting the tone for the type of reception they will receive. Do the right thing."

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