A Fountainhead

It was a Monday, October 18th of 2021 to be exact. After a semi-boring day of attending history lectures and a twenty-five minute run along the usual route for my LFIT jogging class, I made my usual walk from campus to my apartment. Carrying a heavy, textbook-laden backpack and two empty water bottles that I had depleted of life following my run, my tired, parched self planned to make a necessary pit stop at the Old Well. However, as I imagined the temporary relief I would receive from the lukewarm, yet refreshing water fountain, I suddenly received a text from a friend who turned out to be a bringer of bad news. The bad news in question: the Old Well’s water fountain faucet was gone.

Immediately, and simultaneously lamenting the fact that I would have to make my way back to my apartment feeling slightly dehydrated, my mind raced with who the culprits may be. As the University had not sent any communique stating that the Old Well would be closed nor was the fountain capped like it was during the first stage of the pandemic, the only realistic explanation was that it was an act of vandalism. Could it be a disgruntled Miami fan looking for revenge after Hurricanes QB Tyler Van Dyke threw a final second interception to seal the game for Carolina Football? Or maybe, a drunken fellow Tar Heel decided to have a laugh and stole it to satisfy their alcohol-fueled sense of humor? Nevertheless, whoever was responsible for the disappearance of the Old Well’s water fountain faucet is insignificant when taking into account the University’s response.

Judging by the response of any reasonable person, the correct University response would be to simply replace the stolen faucet with a new one. Water fountain heads are not expensive, if looking from the standards of a multi-billion dollar University, as they are on average about forty dollars. Easily, the University could have ordered the replacement part and sent a maintenance worker out to quickly alleviate the issue. However, that is not what happened. Instead, from the time I am writing this in mid-January, the Old Well simply remains a short pipe sticking up in the water fountain basin. You can still press the button and water will emerge, though it is impossible and somewhat unsanitary to drink from. Also, no cap has been placed on the pipe, leaving the fountain open to the elements. So, with this information, University officials decided to take one of two roads. The first road, being unlikely, was they decided to close the Old Well without telling anyone and without capping it. Or, the most likely option, was that the incompetence of our school officials allows UNC’s most symbolically important structure to remain useless.

I understand that it is hard to get riled up by a water fountain. Yet, the Old Well does not remain the school administration’s only or largest failing. Horrible on-campus mental health resources for students, deterioration of building facades, with the most notable being Alumni Hall whose entrance stands damaged and unsafe for public use, the massive pain-in-the-behind that is registering for classes on ConnectCarolina, etc. Also, in news that made headlines over the summer, the bungled offered tenure to New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones in which school officials stonewalled on if the controversial writer and activist would be allowed a tenured professorship at the Hussman School of Journalism. The controversy had a unique impact on campus politics by emboldening both her conservative critics and her progrerssive supporters. Either way, the entire episode was an embarrassment from multiple angles and ended with Hannah-Jones’ understandable decision to accept a position at Howard University instead.

Today, as the Old Well remains without a fountain, the University has slowly lost its credibility as one of America’s top institutes of higher learning. As us students pay around ten thousand dollars in tuition and other expenses each year, we should demand better. Now, a bi-partisan group of students must come forward to force the administration’s hand in a positive direction, all with the expressed goal of cleaning up the student government and holding the administration accountable for their failures. Hopefully, the missing water fountain in the Old Well will become a fountainhead for much needed change and reform on campus. If not, UNC risks further deterioration, both in its buildings and the morale of its students.

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