The Public Editor: Endorsing a candidate

An editorial entitled “Endorsement for Election Candidate” in the third issue of Trinity News informed the reader that the paper does not intend to endorse a candidate for the election of a new Provost in April on the grounds that “ such a practice is now anachronistic, and in conflict with our aim of impartiality.”

I agree with the decision not to endorse a candidate, but not the reasoning behind it. The worthy goal of impartiality should not prevent the paper from making a judgement in the editorial form. And, in practice, it does not: the Editor, or a proxy appointed by her, routinely appraises current events and arrives at a conclusion. Indeed, the other editorial in that issue criticised the ability of the Students’ Union to communicate their message, and concluded, “at this current time, we cannot afford to be represented by an organisation that allows us to be ignored.”

Once sound reasoning is given, the ethical standing of this paper’s future reportage on that issue is not in any way imperiled. I have no doubt that the paper will continue to cover the Students’ Union without bias. Likewise, an endorsement of a candidate for Provost would not indicate that they would be treated any more favorably in our pages than a competitor, should they win the election.

In my opinion, the only reason not to endorse is that a recommendation from Trinity News would have little impact on the election results. The Provost is not elected by our primary audience, the student body, but by full-time academic staff that meet certain criteria and those who attend Board and Council meetings. And yet, both current and future students will be greatly affected by the outcome. The Provost’s term of office is ten years, and in that time they will exert great influence over major decisions, from how College is funded to where that budget is spent.

I believe that as students do not have a voice in this election, this paper has a special role in letting them know how each candidate would make key decisions. Profiles, even excellent ones like that of Professor Jane Ohlmeyer in the last issue, are of limited value because this is a case where personality matters less than policy.

I propose a short survey, to be sent to each candidate as they declare, which would enable readers to learn what we can expect from any new Provost. As to its content, I suspect there are a few questions we all want answers to (in one hundred words or less per response):

1. Do you see free education, supported by the registration fee, as a sustainable method of funding undergraduate study at Trinity? If not, what do you propose?
2. Do you agree that the current library opening hours are unsatisfactory?
3. Do you foresee partnerships with other universities inside or outside Ireland as an important part of the future of this university? What experience do you have that would enable you to bring about such an alliance?
4. Name one decision made by the current Provost that you would have made differently.

Perhaps readers might suggest a few additional questions they would like to see added to the questionnaire via email.

By publishing this simple piece of research, Trinity News would be providing a valuable service to the students of this institution. Possibly, the responses could also be given a page on the website, where readers could compare the various submissions. Far more than an endorsement, this would fulfill the paper’s stated purpose of informing the student body about matters which concern it.

By Cillian Murphy [email protected]