The column itself, “Another four years,” would be harmless if it were not for the author and his role in the University. Obviously, William Potter ’68 is entitled to his own opinions, but, in order to serve effectively as a preceptor, it is paramount to possess a worldview that respects legitimate differences. His own words show how he perceives the opinions of his conservative students. “I will be cruelly blunt: Any student who supports Mr. Romney betrays the intelligence and common sense that earned him or her admission into Princeton,” he said. It is clear that Potter is unrepentant in deriding many of the students who he has taught. For this reason, he should recuse himself from serving as a preceptor in the future. No University action should be taken to ensure his lack of future academic involvement — as far as I know he did not break a single rule. Instead, he lapsed into insulting rhetoric and demonstrated an inability to engage in civilized conversation.
Every student who attends Princeton has a right to feel safe in expressing his or her own political views both in academic and social settings. That is not to say any perspective should be immune from criticism — far from it — but rather that mutual respect should be the common ground where opposing views meet. As an unapologetic conservative, to Potter I represent a slap in the face to the admission department, and that’s just fine. I welcome challenges to my beliefs and enjoy engaging people of other persuasions. But what most of my peers recognize is that there are virtues of civic engagement that can be realized only when participation and discourse are free of ad hominem attacks. I have been affirmed in this assumption by the push-back to Potter’s piece. For once, I was heartened by the comment section of an article on the ‘Prince’s website.
I have made much of the article’s tone, but there is problematic irony in the substance as well. Attacks on Mitt Romney’s inconsistent views and the Tea Party’s role in the Republican Party are legitimate; they are based in — wait for it — reasoned logic. However, by crudely writing off a significant minority of Princeton students as unintelligent, the author betrays his credibility to criticize Romney’s infamous 47-percent remarks. Potter would do well to note the fallout that can come from condescending to a demographic about which he knows very little. Romney unwittingly castigated a group including the elderly, service men and women and many others based on an ignorant perspective of America. By labeling conservatives on campus who support Romney as unworthy of admission to Princeton, he insults the likes of Professors Robert P. George and Harvey Rosen, soon to be Senator from Texas Ted Cruz ’92 and countless others whose time to shine has not yet come.
It seems that Potter and I agree on one thing: This election is one of, if not the most, important in recent history. Whoever wins will steer the country at a critical juncture. We’re not voting for one man over another but for the kind of country in which we want to live. Even beneath the presidential contest there are countless local races and ballot initiatives that will impact our communities. So, let me make the important point that the ’68 alumnus was unable to. There are vast opportunities, both through Princeton and independent of the University, to make a difference this November, and our fall break is a perfect time to take action. If after Princeton Halloween we land on different sides of a picket line or end up knocking on doors for opposing causes, that’s just fine in my book.
David Will is a sociology major from Chevy Chase, Md. He can be reached at email@example.com.