Jesse Levine

Jesse Levine
University of Michigan graduate; President, Michigan Student Assembly, 2005-06; future attorney

Tottered on: 9 June 2006
Temperature: 66 F
Ceiling: partly sunny
Ground: cut grass
Wind: SSW at 5 mph


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TT with HD: Jesse Levine


HD: Hop on. And if you don't mind, I'm just going to go ahead and get the picture out of the way, is that okay with you?

JL: Sure.

HD: ... do you want to look any happier?

JL: This is about as happy as ... a typical smile ...

HD: ... maybe as happy as you can look under the circumstances?

JL: Oh, no, no.

HD: But you've had a long day, I get the impression.

JL: I have, yeah.

HD: So what are you doing this summer exactly?

JL: I am in Ann Arbor taking the LSAT. So I've just been studying, really.

HD: Okay, shall we get this [teeter totter] actually going?

JL: Let's do it.

HD: So you're studying full time for the LSAT?

JL: Yeah. I graduated in May and now I'm just studying.

HD: Did you get anything good as a graduation gift?

JL: That's a good question. I don't know, I don't think I did. But I'm not much of a gift guy.

HD: You're hard to buy for?

JL: I guess.

HD: Is that because you're really really picky about stuff?

JL: No, I wouldn't say that I'm picky. I would say that I'm content with my life. And I don't need too much to be happy.

HD: Ah, so people who know you, they know that you're basically content and know that there isn't anything in particular that you're craving.

JL: Right, I think that's probably right. I like movies. Sometimes people will get me some DVD's.

HD: Or maybe like a movie pass would be a good gift.

JL: Yeah, or songs on iTunes.

HD: Do they have a gift card program, I suppose they do?

JL: They do.

HD: So what is on your most frequently played list for your iPod then?

JL: I like Ben Folds. I like The Killers. I like Mike Jones. I like Kanye West. So I'd say like a blend of hip hop and alternative.

HD: So you said you graduated, which means that the whole Student Assembly episode is behind you?

JL: I'm done.

HD: Has the election been settled for sure? All the dust is completely settled? Nobody went to jail?

JL: Yeah, all of the dust has settled, all of the ...

HD: ... someone almost went to jail, right?

JL: I don't think that's actually true. I think it was kind of blown out of proportion. That's the best way to put it. I don't know all the details, but it seems like the website didn't even actually go down. And I'm not sure what type of penalty there even would be, if such an action were to be successful.

HD: This was not even the voting website, was it?

JL: No, it was political party website.

HD: So this was not the mechanism by which the voting was taking place, so if the party website went down, it would not have affected the elections from a material point of view?

JL: It could have had an effect if it did go down, because often political parties will direct voters to their individual websites, which then have a link to the voting website. So it could have had an effect if it did happen, but it didn't happen.

HD: But a link from a party's website that would send you to the polling website, that couldn't be constructed in such a way as to pre-fill voting options, could it?

JL: No, no. Just because they're visiting the website doesn't mean that they're definitely voting for a certain party either. So I don't know. I don't like to see people cheating, I don't even like to see the perception of people cheating. I stayed out of the election ...

HD: ... yeah, my sense was that you held yourself somewhat aloof and out of the fray. In fact, there was some minor controversy about whether you had somehow implicitly endorsed a party and therefore a whole set of election regulations needed to be applied. I don't know.

JL: Campus politics is strange sometimes. I really tried to stay out of the election process for the last two semesters, because I felt that in my role, it was more appropriate for me to stress the importance of working on policy and getting accomplishments done.

HD: So what would you point to in the way of policy or accomplishments in your tenure, something you'd put on the resume as, Here's what I accomplished, I didn't just hold the office? I assume that the lease ordinance would be on the list.

JL: Yeah, I think that was probably my top accomplishment. I was really proud of seeing that ordinance go through. It was also a really good sign that students and city council can work together on proposals that at least have the potential to make students' lives better.

HD: I watched that council meeting on television and one of the speakers was a landlord, who I thought was particularly eloquent, and don't know the historical facts of what he was saying, but his complaint was essentially that the solution was decided on before all the people who could have been a part of the solution were all at the table. So the landlords were included to see if they had a response to the language of the ordinance, and at that point they were included. But at the point where you identify a problem, that students are being taken advantage of or there's a perception of it, at that point, I guess ideally you want to see all the affected parties invited to the table. And his contention was that, Hey, you left us out, and all we get to do is respond to the proposed ordinance language, but we weren't a part of building a solution.

JL: Yeah, I would say that that characterization is not correct.

HD: So just not historically accurate then?

JL: Yeah, from the beginning, there were at least two major public fora in which students, and community members, and landlords, anyone, was really welcome to come and express their views. And throughout the process, I know that members of the council worked specifically with landlords to hammer out a compromise. I mean the actual legislation that passed in the end was a compromise between landlords and students. And it's also important to note that the university has a board called Campus Neighbors. Campus Neighbors brings together students, landlords, and the university. Landlords and students have had a dialogue about this issue through that venue as well.

HD: Besides this collaboration between council and students on the lease ordinance, any other accomplishments you'd point to?

JL: I convinced the Board of Regents to hire a new housing attorney in Student Legal Services to provide more counseling.

HD: Has that position been filled at this point?

JL: It has.

HD: Have you met the person?

JL: I have, she's great. Her name is Stephanie Chang. She's charged with analyzing some of the systematic problems that Ann Arbor students face in the housing market and finding solutions to them. Whether they be through legal solutions or through the legislative process. So she'll be doing a lot of research.

HD: So if a student is leasing a place from a landlord and a landlord is behaving unreasonably, this is a person ...

JL: ... she can be an advocate for that student.

HD: I found in my experience when I was a grad student at Indiana University that something very useful was the simple crafting of a stern letter from Student Legal Services to the landlord saying: Dave has the right to enjoy his leased premises without disturbance ... I don't remember exactly, it was some sort of legalistic language. But it basically just brought the landlord totally under control and didn't have a bit of trouble from him the rest of my time there.

JL: Exactly. I think ideally solutions can be found outside of court.

HD: I think there is a good place for stern letters in this world.

JL: I think you're right! I think you're right.

HD: A lot can be accomplished just with a stern letter from an attorney. So you want to become an attorney?

JL: I do.

HD: So you don't see getting a law degree as the necessary resume credential to do something else more exciting like running for office ...

JL: ... I think that having a law degree will give me the flexibility to work in government or in private practice.

HD: Is there any particular kind of law that you've already zeroed in on at this point?

JL: I'm interested in real-estate and housing law from a lot of the work I've done on campus. But I also have passions for improving the environment and a lot of other policy.

HD: So you're studying full time for the LSAT? How many hours a day are you putting into this?

JL: Probably about four hours. So maybe studying part time that's a better way to put it! [laugh]

HD: [laugh] Yeah, I was expecting to hear something along the lines of eight to ten hours.

JL: No, I would say, four to six hours a day.

HD: So are you taking some sort of Kaplan-esque kind of course?

JL: I'm taking a class called Test Masters. We actually just finished the class yesterday.

HD: Today's practice exam was run through them?

JL: I actually did it on my own, but I got the materials from them.

HD: Have you scored your practice exam yet?

JL: No, I haven't scored it yet. I have to do that after this.

HD: Do you have a particular goal score in mind?

JL: Yeah, I'm hoping for somewhere in the 160's.

HD: That means nothing to me, I have to say. What's the range?

JL: I'm aiming for somewhere between the 85th and 94th percentile.

HD: Okay, that I can comprehend. Is there a particular institution that you absolutely would like to get into?

JL: I have a range of schools I'm looking at and ...

HD: ... including the U of M?

JL: Sure, sure. But a lot is going to depend on my score on the exam.

HD: Is there a score below which you'd say, Oh, it's not even worth applying to the U of M?

JL: I don't know, I'd probably put in an application to U of M regardless of my score.

HD: Well, just to help you out, I made up an LSAT question for you. This is based on a 1996 item. They may have changed the test format since then for all I know. And speaking of test format, do they not do computer adaptive testing for LSAT?

JL: Yeah, they don't do that. I think that's the GRE.

HD: Oh, well. Three hours is what it takes then?

JL: Yeah, plus they have a writing section, which is un-graded, so it's like three and a half.

HD: So the writing sample that you create is sent to the law schools along with your test scores ...

JL: Exactly.

HD: Alright, so here's the item I developed based on an actual item I found online.

JL: Okay.

HD: Children who get sick from riding a teeter totter will often develop a strong dislike for the child they were riding the teeter totter with, whether or not that child caused the sickness.

JL: Okay.

HD: This phenomenon explains why some children are especially likely to develop strong aversions to some other people. Which one of the following, if true, provides the strongest support for the explanation? Got it?

JL: Okay.

HD: A: Children are more likely than adults to ride teeter totters with people they don't like.

JL: Okay.

HD: B: Children are less likely than adults to see a connection between their happiness and their teeter tottering partner.

JL: Okay.

HD: C: Children tend to be more sensitive to ill-tempered teeter tottering partners and become sick more often than adults do. D: Children typically recover more slowly than adults do from sickness caused by teeter tottering.

JL: More quickly or slowly?

HD: More slowly.

JL: Okay.

HD: And E: Children are more likely than are adults to refuse to associate with unfamiliar people.

JL: Okay. Now I'd have to look back at the question ...

HD: ... yeah, I realize I've put you at a severe disadvantage compared to an actual ...

JL: ... but I think it's either C or D.

HD: Yeah, that's what I would have gone with. It might be C. To tell you the truth, I didn't look up the correct answer to the question I based it on. And really, the correct answer might have changed when I modified it. The original had to do with food.

JL: 'A' for effort, though! I like how you've infused teeter tottering into the LSAT. I think the LSAT could use some more teeter tottering.

HD: I think the LSAT, if not teeter tottering, could probably use some more playfulness. A great degree of acknowledgement that, Hey, you know, this is all a big a game, really.

JL: Although I will say that there is some playfulness in the exam.

HD: Really?!

JL: Yeah, in an odd way. I will just find myself just laughing at how obscure some of the questions are. It's really ridiculous.

HD: Can you think of a specific example?

JL: There was a question about whether it was a good policy to give plastic surgery to prison inmates as an incentive for good behavior.

HD: So this was an essay prompt?

JL: An essay prompt, yeah.

HD: I guess my first question would be: Who's paying?

JL: I think the state. It was really really odd.

HD: So did you weigh in for or against plastic surgery for prisoners?

JL: You know, the more I think about it, it wasn't an essay prompt. It was, I think from logical reasoning, which is a kind of question similar to the question that you had, and I think it was a bad policy.

HD: So what else is on your mind besides the LSAT's? When is the big date?

JL: Monday.

HD: This coming Monday?

JL: Yeah.

HD: You know, there was a guy from Eastern, who had his teacher certification exams coming up the day following his teeter totter ride, and he passed.

JL: Well that's good to know!

HD: So I do hope you'll let me know how the LSAT's come out so that I can affirm that the teeter totter brings good luck.

JL: I actually wanted to get in my meeting with you before the exam, because I wanted to have good karma before the exam. Because I couldn't leave town without talking to you!

HD: So after you finish the LSAT's you're headed back to ...?

JL: Actually I got a job with the Democratic Party in Minnesota.

HD: So you're going to be working out of the Twin Cities?

JL: I'm starting in St. Paul. And I'm not sure where I'm going to be after that.

HD: So what are you going to do if you discover you like that job so well that you don't really want to start law school? You ever considered that?

JL: I guess anything's possible. But I really want to go to law school.

HD: So what are you going to be doing for the Democrats?

JL: I'm going to be working on the coordinated campaign. So I'll be working on the senate campaign and probably a congressional race, too.

HD: Was that a name you just mentioned, the word before 'campaign'?

JL: Coordinated? That means that the most local races are in coordination with the federal races.

HD: That just shows how much I know about it, because I was thinking 'coordinated', hmm, that's an odd name for a candidate. [Ed. note: non-sequitur follows] You know I was thinking that my goal would be for the teeter totter to replace the scales of justice as the symbol for the legal profession.

JL: I like that. That'd be kind of cool.

HD: Anything else on your mind? Anything you wanted to make sure that you got on the record that people knew you did when you were student assembly president?

JL: There were some other things I worked on besides the housing stuff. I also had a concert, which a lot of students liked. Some people complained about it.

HD: This was ...

JL: ... Ludacris.

HD: Right, this was the one I guess people complained because it lost a bunch of money?

JL: One point that I guess was lost in the whole debate was: concerts cost money.

HD: Historically have concerts that the student government has put on, have they finished in the black?

JL: Most concerts on college campuses do not make money. That's kind of rarity.

HD: So you went to the concert?

JL: I did, I did.

HD: I noticed, though, that Ludacris didn't make your list of tunes rotating in your iPod.

JL: No, not right now. I like him, but he's not in the cycle right now.

HD: So did you actually meet him?

JL: I did.

HD: And was a function of being the guy who set it up?

JL: I was not the only guy, but I was one of the guys.

HD: So what were the mechanics of that? Did you deal directly with 'his people' as they say?

JL: No, it was really a collaborative effort between student organizations and the university. And the university did much of the negotiating. Although they negotiated on our behalf.

HD: So the university has staff people who know how to do that?

JL: Right.

HD: So they said, Okay, Jesse, show up at this time and you get to meet him?

JL: Well, it was more like I was in the right place at the right time. It was more of a chance meeting.

HD: I've been trying to figure out how in the world to get Elvis Costello onto my teeter totter, because he's coming to town, you know, next week sometime. The best suggestion I've heard so far is just to find out what hotel he's staying at and then just stalk him.

JL: [laugh] That could work. It could backfire. You never know.

HD: My challenge is that it's not just meeting him. I've got to get him all the way to my backyard.

JL: Or you could try to transplant the teeter totter. A temporary teeter totter.

HD: I've contemplated designing and constructing a mobile teeter totter. But I think that would remove a bit of the mystique.

JL: I hear you.

HD: Listen, thank you very much for coming over.

JL: Thank you!