The Manhattan Mercury, June 28

K-State’s football team is on strike, and the university administration is in an extremely difficult spot, all thanks to a manipulative and self-serving sophomore.

We at The Mercury commend those football players for their courage, while we strongly encourage university officials to stand by the principles that have guided the institution from the beginning. That’s the way through a tough moment.

The main principle is this: People have a fundamental right to say whatever they want to say, however stupid it might be. That’s the root of academic exchange, and that’s what a university is about. It also happens to be a bedrock principle of the country.

The university’s problem right now was created by a comment on Twitter by a sophomore named Jaden McNeil. He’s the guy behind a right-wing campus organization, and he tweeted last week an inflammatory comment: “Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!”

Mr. Floyd was, of course, the unarmed black man strangled to death by a white Minneapolis cop who kneeled on his neck for eight minutes, forty-six seconds.

Young Mr. McNeil made that obnoxious comment presumably to draw attention to himself and the beliefs he wants to promote, and it worked like a dream for him. Everybody else in this story is playing right into his hands, in that sense. He understands (or he has stumbled into) the way to manipulate social media, traditional media and the university’s rules.

The thing is, he didn’t commit a crime, and he didn’t violate any meaningful university rule. He said something obnoxious and dumb. But people absolutely have to have the right to do exactly that in America, or else freedom of speech means nothing. It’s exactly when speech really bothers you that it most needs protection.

This whole situation was amped up dramatically Saturday afternoon when the entire football team said it wouldn’t play unless its demands on this subject were met. Essentially, the football team is on strike over this. Earlier, a half-dozen athletes — including women’s basketball player Chrissy Carr and men’s player DaJuan Gordon — said the same thing.

We should remember that the demands of black student-athletes here are driven by legitimate emotions, created by the legacy of racism in the country.

We should listen to their concerns and support their right to speak out and protest. And salute these student-athletes for caring enough to take action. They are getting involved and trying to change the world for the better, and we can’t really ask any more of our young people.

It’s unclear exactly what would meet the players’ requirements. Their written statement demands that the university “put a policy in place that allows a student to be dismissed for displaying openly racist, threatening or disrespectful actions toward a student or groups of students.”

We can probably assume that the group’s basic motivation is to enable the university to kick out a person who makes a statement like the one made by the provocative sophomore.

We just can’t support that. We understand the motivation. But advocates on one side of a debate need to always remember that the roles could be reversed. What if the rules allowed the university to kick out protesters?

We’re confident the university will find some way to impose some appropriate consequences on Mr. McNeil. What we hope is that university leaders will use this as a way to teach about — and therefore strengthen — their commitment to the free exchange of ideas that represents the heart of any university. The football players and other athletes can learn from this, and everybody can come out better for it.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, June 29

It doesn’t take much to see that the Kansas Department of Labor is a mess, a hot mess, in fact.

IT failures with the state’s unemployment system during the current national pandemic with massive unemployment have exposed an already aged and overworked system to other issues and caused massive delays preventing Kansans from receiving benefits they are entitled to and desperately need.

Then, of course, there are the duplicate payments for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation that were made and then that June 10 clawback which was made without Gov. Laura Kelly’s consent. It ultimately caused Labor Secretary Delia Garcia to have to resign.

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to point out the flaws and issues, but we’re sure these were not done out of sheer incompetence or intentional malice.

With Garcia’s departure, it’s now time to hit reset on this embattled department.

Getting this situation turned around won’t be simple. The many problems this department faces are the result of years of neglect by previous governors. As a result, we can’t hold Gov. Kelly culpable for those failures entirely. There’s no band-aid. No quick fix.

Nevertheless, fixing it is the responsibility of our state’s chief executive. We’re going to need a top-down solution. It seems there’s yet another mess Gov. Sam Brownback made that you’ll be asked to clean up.

We don’t have time to waste, however. Find a labor secretary who is up for the task. Kansans are depending on those benefits now more than ever. This needs to be your administration’s top priority, and we’re going to need to see linear progress quickly.

Kelly already placed her deputy chief of staff, Ryan Wright, into the interim role while she searches for a replacement and also announced she will bring in specialists to investigate improvements to the state’s unemployment insurance program. So far that all seems fairly top-down.

We wish Wright the best of luck in the meantime. Do whatever you can to help shore up the problems in the department.

Whomever Kelly picks to lead this department in the long term will need to be step up to the challenge head on. We hope she finds someone who is knowledgeable and understanding and also strategic and prompt.

This state’s next secretary of labor will need to be given the latitude to overhaul the department on a quick turnaround. That job won’t be for the faint of heart. Too many Kansans rely on the department to just give the appointment to anyone.


The Lawrence Journal-World, June 28

There are a lot of mixed messages nationally on the subject of COVID-19 testing.

On one hand, you have the country’s “testing czar” and other top health officials telling Congress last week that testing is the key to battling the disease and that we need to test as many people as possible.

On the other hand, you have President Donald Trump telling a rally that he believes we ought to slow down the rate of testing so that we end up with fewer positive cases. (Wouldn’t it be easier to just ban the use of the word “COVID,” and then we would have none? The president must be losing it if he hasn’t thought of that.) Aides said he was just kidding about reducing testing, only to have the president declare he doesn’t kid.

The good news is, Douglas County doesn’t have to wait for Bizarro World to right itself. The county can take charge of its own testing destiny. That realization struck some county residents when the county said it is expecting to receive $21 million to $24 million of federal funding for coronavirus relief. That type of money seemingly would eliminate the financial barriers that existed for mass testing in the county.

But other barriers may still exist. It was surprising to read some of the generally negative thoughts of county health experts last Sunday when the Journal-World reported on whether there were any local plans to do broader testing programs of the general public, which have happened in places like Johnson County and in many locations in Missouri.

There is no need to be overly critical of those health leaders and their views on the subject currently. Douglas County has been well served by excellent service from our health department thus far. But hopefully local experts will continue to give thought on how to greatly increase testing in the county. There would seem to be several benefits:

• It is true testing won’t give you complete confidence you don’t have the disease. You could get it the day after you get the test, or maybe it was still incubating in you at the time of the test. Regardless, a negative test does give you better information to work with as you live your life. A negative test essentially provides reasonable confidence that you did not catch the disease through any the contacts you made 14 days or more before your test. (The upper limit of COVID’s incubation period is thought to be 14 days.) That knowledge eliminated likely hundreds of contacts. It leaves you considering hopefully a far smaller number of contacts you’ve had since that time. We play the odds in this world, and good information helps you calculate them. If you feel like you have to visit a high-risk person — maybe a parent or grandparent — the odds would tell you to go right after your negative test result rather than weeks later.

• Finding every person with the disease really matters because it can spread exponentially. Countries that have had the best success in fighting this have placed a high priority on finding every last case. You can’t do that without much greater testing.

• Not everyone is going to act as responsibly as health officials would hope. Social distancing, mask wearing and avoiding unnecessary contacts are still the best ways to combat this disease. But some people are going to go out when it really isn’t necessary. Some of those people will have the disease and not know it. Numbers go up, like they are doing in Douglas County. Hopefully, if people know they have the disease, they actually will change their behavior. For that to happen, more testing is needed.

Douglas County certainly shouldn’t be spending all of its $21 million to $24 million in federal funds on testing. There are many needs for that money. But hopefully, area leaders will give much thought to how much they should spend to create a significantly more aggressive testing program in the county.

For months the White House was roundly criticized for not having an adequate testing program in place for the country. Douglas County doesn’t have the power to change that national situation, but it has an ability to improve its own. Let’s together figure out how to do so.