Column: Front-page editorials are rare, but this one was necessary

Editor-in-chief Jane Wester

The front-page editorial is journalism’s equivalent of an upside-down flag. It’s a symbol of distress.

Like an upside-down flag, it signals that we have momentarily ignored our usual principles — respect for national symbols in the flag’s case or respect for the usual primacy of straight news on the front page in this case — because we believe that our community as we know it is at risk if we do not speak out.

I also want to explain, as I have before, the authorship of today’s front-page piece and who I speak for when I say “we.” Today’s editorial is the opinion of The Daily Tar Heel’s independent editorial board. The newsroom — the city, state, university, sports and arts reporters who normally write everything you see on the front page — had no review of or input in the piece. The only overlap between the newsroom and the editorial board is my role, and it’s one I don’t take lightly.

So, we, the members of the editorial board, are distressed and concerned for UNC’s future. Without freedom for its researchers and professors to pursue what is good, true and beautiful, our University will become a shell of itself.

Top rankings for UNC’s various programs mean little if administrators can’t be transparent about sexual assault, which affects the personal well-being of every student on campus and their ability to do well in class.

We demand that University officials speak clearly to us, their constituents, and stop acting like a business bound by profit to focus only on its next quarter report.

On a personal note, I graduate in 19 days, and at one point, this space was going to be my farewell column. I tried to scratch out some advice for students who have years left here, and I came back to the same philosophy that underlies today’s editorial: Demand more from UNC.

Demanding more often means criticizing an institution you love, and I have loved UNC my whole life. After four years of actually experiencing this place, I only love it more. The most reassuring experience I’ve had this year was when I got to hear a group of students not affiliated with the DTH describe what they think students should contribute to the University.

What came up over and over again was the word “challenge.” Challenge UNC. Challenge the administration. Call on this school to be better, to reach the ideal we all believe it can be. The ideas frequently discussed in the DTH’s editorial board meetings are hardly limited to our small group.

I am proud that UNC is a public school that high schoolers from across the state can still reach. If I had to choose one thing I’ve learned from and loved the most here, it would be the socioeconomic diversity of the student body. UNC deserves its number-one ranking in that area. Accessibility, which administrators often cite as the reason for their intense focus on money, does matter.

But accessibility is more than just a low flat price. Accessibility means answering to all the citizens of the state, not just to their representatives in the legislature. It means the availability of explanations and data beyond what’s published on the Carolina Commitment website. It means that once students from marginalized backgrounds all over the state get to Chapel Hill, they will be able to stay because the University will support them.

I hope you’ll read today’s front page as I do — not as a gesture of disrespect to the University, but as a gesture of deep respect for its principles, for its ongoing potential to become what we believe it can be.

I’m proud of everything we published on the front page today, and in 19 days, I’ll be immeasurably proud to graduate from the school famously called “the university of the people.”

I trust UNC’s current and future students, faculty and staff to keep fighting to make sure that label rings true.

If you want to talk to the editorial board about the editorial, please join us at Linda’s Bar and Grill at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Thanks for reading.

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