Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Greensboro News & Record on University of North Carolina students violating COVID-19 protocols while celebrating a win against Duke University in Men's Basketball:
That’s a passion for fans round here whose blood runs powder blue.
And “Go to hell, Carolina,” for those who prefer a darker shade of the same hue.
Testy backyard neighbors UNC and Duke are barely more than the range of a JJ Redick 3-pointer down the road from one another.
So each school likes nothing better than to stick it to the other in the greatest rivalry in college basketball.
On Saturday night at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, Carolina stuck it to the Blue Devils in a close one, 91-87.
But you already know that.
You also already know that this is usually as good an excuse as any to celebrate en masse on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. But, in light of COVID-19, this basketball season is far from usual.
And yet students poured anyway onto the main drag in this small city that still fancies itself a village, most of them maskless.
They knew better.
COVID precautions are as front-and-center in Chapel Hill as they are on most campuses. Everyone knows to mask up, spread out, avoid big crowds.
None of which most of those revelers did Saturday night.
Not wearing a mask, in particular, “flies on the face of our pandemic community standards,” UNC faculty chair Mimi Chapman told The News & Observer of Raleigh.
In other words, COVID-19, which has claimed 10,000 souls in North Carolina, is a life-or-death proposition for many of us.
But a college basketball game is not. Not even Carolina-Duke.
We’re tempted to cut these college students some slack for being, well, college students.
After all, neither Duke nor Carolina fans were able to see the game in person.
When the Tar Heels and Blue Devils typically play in Durham, the Cameron Crazies traditionally pack that steamy tinderbox to its rafters, armed with painted bodies and faces and clever schemes to harass opponents.
But not Saturday night. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels waged war in a mostly empty house with piped-in music and crowd noise.
Then there is the broader college experience that these students are missing because of the virus.
Imagine yourself in their shoes, mandated to cover your face and keep your distance, and above all else, to not party.
And remember who you were at that age, in the fuzzy Twilight Zone between adulthood and adolescence, when you were equally prone to do both incredibly smart and dumb things.
Yet college students at UNC and elsewhere should know by now that their poor choices when it comes to COVID affect not only themselves, but their classmates and professors and the broader community.
Certainly, the super spreader event they may have spawned Saturday night qualifies as a horrible choice.
University officials rightly appear to be taking this very seriously, as are some schoolmates of the students who spilled into the street that night around a bonfire.
More than 300 student-conduct complaints have been filed, which could result in expulsion.
This is not surprising. Many UNC students have policed each other during the pandemic by reporting violations and often documenting them with video footage.
They know the stakes and take them seriously. Hundreds of students and university employees have tested positive for the virus since Jan. 1.
But the story doesn’t end there.
The campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, now reports that a video shows two Carolina players, Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe, among others, violating COVID protocols by attending a party Saturday night where no one appeared to be wearing a mask.
Not long afterward, Monday night’s game with Miami was postponed.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga cited the footage of the maskless, partying Carolina players. He didn’t want his own players to be placed in a position to catch the virus, he said.
“Our president (Julio) Frenk is adamant that student-athletes are allowed to compete, but they’ve got to stay safe, social distance,” Larranaga told the Herald.
Naturally, some Carolina fans took to Twitter to castigate … The Daily Tar Heel ... for reporting the story.
“Why would you do this to your own players?” one tweeted.
“Why don’t you expose State or Duke and not your own program,” tweeted another.
And another: “I’m so happy for you and your big scoop. I’m sure you feel like you just released the Pentagon Papers. Congrats.”
No, it’s not the Pentagon Papers, but it’s a newsworthy story all the same that affects more than the players at that party.
If it had not been revealed, those players, if they do turn out to have been infected, could have spread the virus to others.
Finally, it’s worth noting that a number of the negative tweeters were well beyond college age.
Which reminds us: When it comes to COVID-19, those UNC revelers on Franklin Street aren’t the only ones who still have some growing up to do.
The Winston-Salem Journal on raising unemployment benefits:
Gov. Roy Cooper is taking an expansive and beneficial stand for working North Carolinians in his proposed 2021-22 budget, unveiled last week. Among other proposals, it seeks to increase unemployment benefits for working people who find themselves trapped by the effects of, say, a recession — or a pandemic.
“Even before the pandemic, North Carolina had some of the shortest and stingiest unemployment benefits in the country,” Cooper said last week. “Now is the time to fix this and provide a real safety net.”
While 44 states provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, North Carolinians are only eligible for up to 12 weeks of regular state benefits (16 weeks right now because of a sliding scale put into a 2013 law). That ties us with Florida for the lowest benefits in the country.
That’s nothing to brag about.
Cooper wants the state to return to 26 weeks, and he’d like to raise the weekly maximum benefit from $350 to $500.
Even that is low, but it might pay the rent and cover groceries.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of a pandemic that has devastated our economy, eliminating many jobs permanently — and taken a toll on our collective mental health — the upside should be obvious. Raising unemployment benefits would provide peace of mind for a great many North Carolinians who are eager to return to some semblance of normalcy, but have to wait on investors and business owners to get things rolling. That can only be done when the pandemic is safely behind us.
North Carolina should be able to meet this challenge.
State unemployment claims have gone up and down during the pandemic, but the unemployment rate remains high in the Triad — 6.2% at the end of 2020, twice as high as at the end of 2019.
Some 17.8 million Americans remain on some form of unemployment assistance, according to Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com.
The $908 billion federal stimulus package signed into law by President Trump last year helped, but it’s not enough. As Congress wrestles with passing President Biden’s relief package, it would be nice to know that we could turn to state authorities to help state residents.
Unemployment benefits came in handy during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, when millions of American jobs disappeared overnight. Many, while struggling and waiting for the economy to recover, were still able to keep their heads above water — and hang onto their homes — thanks to their benefits.
But then, even with no jobs available, Republican legislators began complaining about “lazy people” who “didn’t want to work.” It’s a view of working people that seemed cynical and insulting.
With a super-majority in the legislature, Republicans reduced benefits in 2013 to the current level.
Everyone appreciates a day off now and then. But most working Americans, especially North Carolinians, want to work — and they want to do so safely and for a fair, sustaining salary. But when that work is scarce, when the rubber-band economy snaps back against them, they deserve to have their earned benefits kick in to help.
And when their work might endanger their lives, they deserve to be able to protect their families and wait out the storm. That’s entirely reasonable.
All legislators should support Cooper’s efforts to restore better benefits. They should also help by promoting safety measures that might bring an end to this pandemic more quickly — and help protect those who have no choice but to take the risk of going out in public to earn their daily bread.
Another way to incentivize work is to make sure it always pays an adequate salary — a subject for another day.
But Cooper’s proposal is a move in the right direction.
The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on UNC's Board of Governors and the Silent Sam monument deal:
Here’s a dirty little secret that’s not much of a secret: Some of what you read from business and other leaders isn’t written by the person who takes credit for it. That company-wide note from your CEO or press release from your member of Congress? They quite possibly were crafted by communications professionals before being reviewed and revised by the “author.” It’s a common practice and not unethical, so long as the authors sign off on the words attributed to them.
So it was with a December 2019 op-ed written for the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer by five members of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors — Jim Holmes, Darrell Allison, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho. (Allison and Rucho are no longer on the board.) In the op-ed, the authors explained how and why they reached a deal to pay $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans to take UNC’s controversial Silent Sam statue off campus and display it elsewhere.
“We reached an agreement with the SCV,” wrote the authors, who explained the details and process. “We remain convinced that our approach offered a lawful and lasting path that ensures the monument never returns to campus,” they concluded.
That op-ed was a lie. A settlement reached between the UNC system and UNC-CH’s student-run newspaper revealed this week that the five board members never worked with each other on a Silent Sam deal, which actually was negotiated and executed by lawyers behind closed doors.
The group of five also didn’t write the 2019 op-ed, which was crafted by now-former UNC System Vice President for Communications Earl Whipple. In a deposition given as part of the Daily Tar Heel lawsuit, Whipple said he had no knowledge of the group of five having any meetings regarding Silent Sam. He also said those five members did not present the $2.5 million deal to the board, as the op-ed said they did.
There should be no confusion about this. UNC and its Board of Governors lied to the public and allowed that falsehood to remain the narrative surrounding the Silent Sam deal. The five board members, by allowing their names on false content, also lied. It was violation of trust and a betrayal of the standards the university holds for itself, its faculty and its students.
It was, however, consistent with the secrecy that shrouded the Silent Sam deal. How intent was UNC to avoid the public’s glare? As part of the negotiations, the board agreed to pay SCV an extra $74,999 not to display flags and banners on university campuses. Under state law, any payment over $75,000 would need the review of state Attorney General Josh Stein.
As often happens, the secrecy led to unexamined incompetence. Last February, Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour nullified the Silent Sam settlement because the SCV lacked standing to bring its lawsuit in the first place. It was an embarrassing episode that might have been avoided if the public were given a chance to review and comment.
Instead, details were forced into daylight, thanks largely to the reporting and persistence of the Daily Tar Heel staff. Perhaps UNC could take some of those millions saved from the canceled deal and make a contribution to the independent student newspaper, which has operated in the best tradition of shedding light on public officials acting privately.
As for the five op-ed authors? They should ask themselves who they thought they were serving by feeding the public a false Silent Sam narrative. They also should soul-search on whether they’re truly committed to the public service their positions demand. At the least, they should deliver an apology accompanied by a full explanation of their participation in the op-ed and the Silent Sam deal. This time, they might want to be more careful with their words.