Dr. Natalicio, what does UTEP stand for?
Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
Dear Dr. Diana Natalicio,
What does UTEP stand for? Academics or athletics? Students at large or student athletes? Morals or money? Student development or athletic success? In recent days, the answers to these questions have become unclear. It is critical these questions be addressed in an open forum, where all students' voices are heard.
Last week, two student athletes were caught in an alleged drug-related incident when the odor of marijuana was reported to the campus police and where narcotic paraphernalia was found. So far, the punishments for these violations have only been "indefinite suspensions" from their athletic team even though in an interview Jan. 25 after practice, head coach Keitha Adams admitted "the two players that were involved in the situation were suspended." UTEP Athletics and university officials have hidden the cause of their suspension under the general and vague excuse of "violation of team rules."
We published an article on the incident in the Jan. 24 issue of The Prospector. As expected, it caused quite a bit of controversy around the university and the city of El Paso. It created a media buzz, but due to the university's obvious efforts to hide the story, we were the only media outlet to confirm the story and publish it.
The method we used to uncover the story were sources that live in Miner Village, key witnesses to the actions of the two athletes and the response of the university police. One of our sources was fired for his role in uncovering the events of that night. This upstanding and outstanding student, who felt it was his obligation to report the commonly known, yet publicly unspoken drug-related problems at the student residential areas, was terminated from his duties as a student employee.
Instead of being rewarded for his courage to speak the truth about this major issue that is affecting students living on campus, his reward was termination. Yet so far, the two athletes have yet to receive anything but a slap on the wrist.
If two students not affiliated with UTEP Athletics were caught in the same situation, would they receive the same slap-on-the-wrist punishment? Would university officials have punished the student who released the information?
The night we started contacting UTEP Athletics and other university officials for information on the allegations, we were met with a brick wall. We are by no means saying that the public information officers did not do their jobs by fulfilling our request to get interviews (well for the most part), most of them were very helpful throughout the long night and day we worked on breaking the story.
But surprisingly, university officials were the ones who tried to block us from publishing the story more than the university's public relations' personnel. A university employee even accused us of working on the story only because the subjects were student athletes. Whether the athletes or university officials like it or not, student athletes are public figures and their actions are chronicled every day in the media. That is the reason why most, if not all, universities have a separate PR department to handle just sports.
One of the best advantages of being the student newspaper is that we are on campus, so we develop sources in almost every department at the university. Our students work in various offices around campus, live in student housing and have many different majors so we are spread out throughout the campus. And when it comes to a story like this, sources at Miner Village are not hard to come by, although many did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation. Most local media outlets do not truly have this advantage, which is why they were blocked by university officials from getting the story.
Throughout our reporting and the reaction the day following the publication of the story, university officials seemed more concerned about hiding the story than about the increase of drug-related incidents in student residential areas.
Did UTEP officials not learn from the Penn State situation? Hiding the truth will only come back to haunt you. Although, it seems that honesty is not always the best policy considering the outcome of one of our sources.
This is where the questions at the start of this letter come in. As a university, which is more important: academics or athletics? Should athletes be held to the same standard as the general population of students? While there is no doubt UTEP Athletics brings a large amount of money into the university, is that more important than producing students with strong morals? Should athletic accomplishments outshine the development of students who will represent UTEP once they graduate and enter the work force?
What kind of students is this university producing?
In your 2011 State of the University address, you stated "Today, we strive to be the university that our students have every right to expect: a university that creates a broad range of educational opportunities for all residents of this region; an institution that fully engages all its students in a collective quest for excellence in all that we do; a university whose graduates are extraordinarily well-prepared to compete successfully with their peers from institutions across the U.S….indeed across the globe."
We here at The Prospector, truly believe you mean that, but Dr. Natalicio, we write you this letter to ask if the people who work under you do as well?
The Prospector Editorial Staff