Fight Fire with Fire

Arthur Miller once said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” The Phillipian is no exception. We are fortunate to have The Phillipian, and at this momentous changing of the guard, I am reminded of how grateful I am for its availability as an apparently uncensored forum for debate. But still (sigh, as always) I have my reservations. By reputation and in school literature, the paper is a medium for voicing opinion. In actuality, the student-run paper is treated as an exclusively student-wielded weapon. Arguably, The Phillipian is the only acceptable vehicle through which students may voice frustration, aggression, anxiety, and complaints against the administration and faculty. It is perhaps the only wholly student-organized activity that packages both thorough deliberation and preservation of words. It’s taken more seriously than supposedly “open” oral forums because contributors have time to carefully construct their phrasings, which they know will be recorded for posterity. There are no heat-of-the-moment or didn’t-think-that-would-come-back-to-bite-me-in-the-tuch excuses. This apparently unique function of liberating student anxieties has become the paper’s raison d’etre. The paper is treated as first and foremost a weapon, a student weapon, and a treacherous weapon at that. As a newspaper, it should be a source of dialogue, discourse, and debate. It should not be a foregone conclusion that the writings the paper contains represent one side of the student-administrative rift. Apparently taking the stance that the newspaper is a student weapon and not a forum for debate, the administration retaliates to offensive public speech not with more public speech but with personal intimidation. Fighting fire with water, administrators replace persuasion with suppression. Last week, at the apparent request of various PA administrators, I was personally advised that if I continue “pissing people off,” “people” won’t “respect” me. I was counseled that if I continue “pissing people off,” “people” won’t “like” me. I was warned that if I continue “pissing people off,” “somewhere down the line it could catch up with” me. Well, let me tell you, hell hath no fury like an op-ed writer warned. In an all-school e-mail sent out last week, Acting Head of School Rebecca Sykes “ask[ed] all members of the community to recognize that there are many points of view to hear and consider.” Mrs. Sykes’s e-mail beseeched the community to respect varying opinions on national issues. I ask the administrators that, just as you implored our parents in your “spring break” letter, you too are “consistent” with your messages. Respect free speech on community as well as national issues. Remember that free speech includes speech that may conflict with your own agenda. Administrators, respect the free speech which you recommend so highly by responding publicly to statements with which you take issue. Make use of the paper: it should be a school talking to itself. I encourage the administration and faculty to write more letters to the editor. To my knowledge, The Phillipian has never turned away a letter because it was critical of statements made in the newspaper, the newspaper’s writers, or even the newspaper itself. I also encourage faculty and administrators to write unsolicited articles for The Phillipian. Last year History Chair Victor Henningsen submitted a column on the Department’s new History 310 long/short paper policy. While the piece was not actually a proposal still open for debate but an announcement/justification of a decision, it did help prevent a spread of misinformation and laid out the Department’s reasons for its actions. With this week’s Phillipian board change, we have a clean slate, an opportunity to drop the us v. them baggage. In the tension that exists between the students and the administration, the newspaper is not the students’ weapon and disciplinary strong-arming is not the administration’s right. If anything, treat the paper as a battlefield and not a battle cry.