Caleb’s Corner: An editor’s perspective in defense of The Review

Caleb Headshot Xander Opiyo/THE REVIEW
Editor in Chief Caleb Owens.

Editor in Chief

Among the more regrettable evenings of my time in college was a dinner at Vita Nova last semester featuring Maggie Haberman, a New York Times reporter, hosted by the Biden Institute. The Review, I was told, was not originally invited (think about that for a moment), but we managed to snag several tickets.

I showed up, not entirely knowing what to expect, and by far the most underdressed. I found myself in a room stocked with members of the university’s highest echelon, humming with administrators and Student Government Association (SGA) representatives. It was a quintessentially bourgeois gathering, and I stood among the attendees — hardly those members of the public to benefit from listening to a journalist speak — in awkward observation and utter discomfort.

But disingenuous cocktail chatter aside, most discomfiting were the interactions between students and administrators. I stood by, wincing and biting my tongue, as SGA representatives showered administrators with flattery, and as administrators returned the favor. With the innocent, servile tone of any good boy or girl, these students appeased their elders, their desperation for a subsequent invite all too apparent.

I left early.

It was there that I began to fully understand the nature of the administration’s relationship with our student “leaders.” It’s one in which student leaders, those with at least theoretical power to solve some problems, get sugared up with dinners at Vita Nova. One where young, malleable minds are conditioned to see only the favorable side of things through exclusive access to exclusive events. It’s all done to ensure that these suited servants don’t stir any trouble, a strategy that one can hardly blame the administration for deploying.

In a letter published by The Review last week, two of them — the current and former presidents of SGA — all but confirmed my findings.

The article, written by two “outsiders” — a term that seems in few ways applicable to an SGA president, and entirely contrary to the vantage that they claim throughout the piece — critiqued recent items that The Review has published about the university.

Several weeks ago, our editorial board found it odd that the Board of Trustees does not allow for public comment at its rare, poorly advertised conference room meetings, and took issue with the Board’s activity. (In calling the Board “untrustable,” we even spared it reminders of its power plant antics several years ago and its membership loss this summer.) The other complaints concerned my column from two weeks ago, when I found the university’s fluffy, self-deceiving marketing campaign no longer bearable and took to writing about it.

These two prominent (theoretically at least, although I don’t mean to overstate their influence) students, in their “defense of the administration,” claim that these editorials are unfair. For one, they accuse The Review of amnesia, unable to remember how bad things were “prior to Nancy Targett.” I will only say that, for the most part, no undergraduate students at this university remember anything prior to Nancy Targett, as the current senior class entered during Targett’s interim presidency.

In fact, considering that one author is a graduate student and the other is a fifth-year senior, it’s quite possible that these are two of the only students around who can remember anything prior to Targett.

Disputing our claims about the administration and Board, Peterson and Criscenzo cite their own personal involvement with administrative affairs, such as the provost and vice president of student life searches, and discuss how the university has been so considerate as to listen to two students. Our editorial did, in fact, mention SGA’s involvement in these matters, noting that we simply consider SGA an inadequate student voice.

For an institution that one year ago could not truthfully call itself democratic (and was audacious enough to consider continuing to be un-democratic), one that has done nothing substantive in recent history aside from updating its website (unless you include attending Vita Nova dinners and the suited role play that occurs in Perkins once a month), this does not seem to be a stretch.

And yet, these two argue that we ought to urge students to reach out to their SGA representatives with concerns for the Board. For reasons that should be self-evident, our editorial encouraged students to take their demands directly to the Board, rather than to SGA.

They also include the following claim, one that continues to perplex me:

“At the same time, student athletes, who have felt neglected in the past, finally feel heard, which often goes unacknowledged by The Review.”

If anybody can detect the inferential link between this statement and the rest of the article, please enlighten me. Moreover, I find it a bit odd that the only minority students mentioned in the letter are — from a body of black, hispanic, Asian American, LGBTQ+ and Jewish students, those who often have to fight for a mere university response to the fear they routinely face — the ever-marginalized student athletes of our university. But I suppose that, so long as our student athletes are okay, the administration is doing an excellent job.

It’s also worth considering that we write near-weekly profiles on student athletes.

Most amusingly, they mentioned my absence from the “Counsel” of Student Leaders (CoSL) ― at the risk of pedantry, I remind them that the formal title is “Cabinet” — meeting in October. For this I offer no apology, having lost track of time in the thrill of a natural deduction proof, while also tasked with producing a newspaper for the following day.

For the record, if we’re going to go this route, I did not see any SGA representatives present at this Monday’s CoSL meeting.

My biggest issue with the piece, however, and the only real reason I’m responding to it, is that it casts doubt upon The Review’s credibility. By citing two opinion pieces — one representing the majority opinion of the staff, the other representing only my personal views — as well as my absence from a meeting, the article called into question our “integrity” and “credibility” as a publication.

I have no tolerance for such a claim. This publication, both under my leadership and that of my predecessors, has consistently maintained the highest standards of journalistic integrity. We have demonstrated a commitment to ethical journalism and factuality, and, to the extent that the university allows, balanced reporting. Our editors and reporters work tirelessly each week to produce brilliant work that conforms to AP standards and is rigorously fact-checked.

Unlike the student “government” — a null organization that, as my watchful eye has gleaned over the past two years, exists only to help students boost resumes, egos and make connections — we do stuff for the student body, holding the university accountable in the interests of students, staff and faculty. Unlike SGA, we do our job.

Every. Damn. Week.

Moreover, what appears on our opinion — keyword “opinion” — page, should not, even if controversial or unorthodox, be used to undermine our integrity as a publication (a tactic drawn from our dear President Trump, if I dare say so).

And in this regard, it seems that our student leaders are the ones with amnesia (or a simple failure to read the very paper they critique). They are correct in that the majority of our staff cannot remember anything prior to Nancy Targett — most of us have only the Assanis years to draw upon. And even still, our criticism is rooted in extensive evidence-based reporting, far from “overblown cynicism.”

You can find an example here. And here. And here. And here.. And here. And here. And here. And here. The list goes on.

But rest assured, student body. Always know that, when the university faces well-deserved criticism, your loyal student leaders will come running to the administration’s defense, even if their election campaigns promise that they’ll do otherwise.

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