Over the course of the last two quarters, I have had the opportunity, and the burden, of experiencing Stanford’s student life from the perspective of both a journalist and a politician. Though I had the same goals in doing both, I have realized there is a fundamental disagreement between the two on the importance of truth, a split as present at Stanford as in society at large. Yet despite the universality of this truism, I believe we can find our own unique solution to the problem.
I joined the Review because of an abiding belief in strong student debate and this paper’s role in creating a dialectic of views, the value of which my predecessors have inveighed upon. As I took over as Editor-in-Chief, several campus issues loomed large in my mind: Stanford traditions and a social scene hampered by administration restrictions, embarrassment at a student government that wasted its time on international politics, a desire to make the University administration less opaque to students. Our motto is Fiat Lux, which I felt meshed perfectly with these goals.
I also ended up casting my hat into the ring in the ASSU elections, for much the same reasons, hoping to carry my fight for these things into the next year as a strong student advocate. I did not see any incongruity between the two. Indeed, many see the role of a paper like the Review to be engaged not merely in journalism, but in activist journalism – using our voice, and the exposition of biases and inefficiencies in the university, to effect change. Yet there remained a fundamental gap between my journalistic and political endeavors.
Journalism traffics in information. Whether for the tawdry toilet humor of the Chappie or the insightful analysis of The Review, you pick up a paper for its informational content. The journalist abhors secrecy, not merely because it is the absence of information, but because it usually signals the existence of information particularly worth uncovering.
Politics, to some extent justifiably, entails a measure of secrecy. The politician is the consummate pragmatist. In order to bring about meaningful policies and changes, I have to work with administrators, and place in the background the shrill anti-administration rhetoric and dismissiveness of many students who voted for me. Similarly, to coordinate ASSU policies and work, I need to cooperate closely with the ASSU Executive and the SOCC members of the Senate, regardless of the views of this paper. Not that I could have it any differently: there is nothing like close day-to-day interaction to take the ideological edge off of your relationships. Moreover, my journalistic truth-impulse ends up taking a back seat to the pragmatic desire to effect policies, which requires backroom negotiating and keeping secrets, again the journalist’s foil.
What follows is a second dialectic, as important as the right-left dialectic in which the Review has so actively participated, a journalist-politician dialectic. We seek neither the garishness of full journalistic exposure nor the shroud of secrecy, but a happy medium.
A Political Union
To this point, I have given you a relatively un-insightful account of how different elements of the polity might interact in a society. Yet the undergraduates at Stanford form a quite exceptional polity – all of its citizens are 18 to 22-year old mostly smart and hard-working Anglophones, and there are only 6500 of them. They present the possibility of a degree of familiarity and collegiality more customary of the public life of a small country. I wrote at the beginning of this volume of the Review’s role in creating a marketplace of ideas, but I would now like to go further.
Stanford needs a political union, an organizing hub for student debate, discussion, and discourse. Yale and Oxford have political unions that organize student debates and bring speakers to campus, but we can go further. An ideal political union will unify under the rubric of a marketplace of ideas student debates, on-campus speakers, questioning of administrators, student government forums, literary discussion circles, protest marches, back and forth repartees on the pages of publications and blogs, and more.
Political does not refer to politics in the narrow sense, but to the cares of the polity. The role of athletics in admissions or a discussion of University alcohol policies are as much cares of the polity as the 2008 Presidential elections. A political union is not a physical place, but a concept. The Speakers Bureau, ASSU, Daily, Review, Progressive, Roosevelt Institution, Debate society, Democrats, Republicans, Students for Choice and Life, and many others already play many of the individual parts of a student union.
What remains is for these many groups to commit themselves to the common project of grappling with difficult questions together. With a mentality to this end, who knows what might be possible. Certainly, mutatis mutandis, the Stanford Review will play a prominent role.
Editor in Chief