Although we applaud the effort to increase political awareness on campus through the placement of The New York Times in campus common rooms, we doubt that this action will have a significant impact on a problem that finds its roots in student apathy. Students who are interested in politics and world events already have easy access to a variety of news sources, including The New York Times, both in the library and on the Internet. Those students who are uninterested in such issues are unlikely to read the news at all.
The dissemination of information is not the problem; rather, it is the culture of student complacency surrounding political issues that prevents meaningful political activity on campus. With this issue in mind, we urge College Council to reconsider its policy, as stated in the bylaws, of not funding political advocacy organizations.
College Council does not want to be put in the position of necessarily funding any political advocacy organization that forms on campus. It recognizes that if it grants money to one political candidate, it might have to grant money to all candidates or appear to be making a partisan decision.
This policy is seen as preventing divisiveness on campus. But politics are divisive by their very nature. By not agreeing to fund political advocacy groups, it seems that the Williams community is headed in the general direction of even greater complacency.
The increased political discourse that College Council seeks to avoid is, in fact, exactly what it should be supporting. Political activism is a staple of college life. From the civil rights movement to Tiananmen Square, college students have traditionally taken on the role of progressive political advocates.
The decision to not let College Council funds be used to “contribute to political campaigns [and] external political organizations” hinders political activism. It is a regressive move that will not only add to the apathy already endemic to Williams, but also institutionalize it.
Under the revised funding regime, those interested in a diverse array of fields, from water polo to poetry, can rightfully pursue their interests. However, students interested in promoting political awareness through advocacy of a particular candidate or a particular issue cannot do so, simply because their interest might make someone feel uncomfortable, by challenging their beliefs.
“Uncomfortable learning” is a pillar of the Williams educational philosophy. If one graduates from Williams with out having his or her political beliefs challenged, or without a comprehensive understanding of difficult global issues, we are failing to deliver the elite education that Williams claims to offer. Political awareness must be an intricate part of one’s Williams experience.
Increased dialogue and greater awareness of political issues can only come about when students are granted the freedom to express their views and share them with the rest of the community. Around $8000 was spent to bring The New York Times to campus common rooms. For the same price, College Council could grant $400, the amount requested by Ephs for Bill Bradley, to twenty political advocacy organizations. These organizations would do far more to increase campus political activism than a newspaper, arriving once a week, ever could.
College Council may feel that political advocacy organizations can find alternate sources of funding. While certain groups might be able to do so, there are no guarantees that the decision-making process in other funding sources such as the Political Science department or the President’s Office will be any less subjective than that of College Council. We would prefer to see College Council provide money in such a way that political decisions are avoided; the alternative is for professors or administrators to decide which candidates are worthy of support. By shifting responsibility away from itself, College Council removes the one potential option for objective funding of political advocacy groups.