Letter to the Editor: November 27th, 2012
As a former ‘Prince’ opinion editor, I read President Tilghman’s letter in yesterday’s paper with interest. When she was first named Princeton’s president, I interviewed then-professor Tilghman in her biology lab and was immediately impressed. For her enlightened and patient leadership of this great institution, we all owe her a great debt of gratitude.
But when she writes that “anonymous debate is no debate at all,” I find myself forced to disagree. Managing anonymity is hard, but banning it would be a mistake. Before the ‘Prince’ had anonymous comments — indeed, before it had a website — it embraced a measure of anonymity through its unsigned staff editorials. I am glad it still does. Reinvigorating these was a major focus for my classmates and me (the paper’s 2003 board) because we knew that no single author could do alone what the paper can as a whole. Unsigned editorials are, at their best, a unique and powerful voice for the campus community.
Unnamed sources in news stories, likewise, play a critical role in public debates on campus and across the world. The Supreme Court may not be infallible, but it was correct to hold in 1995 that anonymity is an “honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent ... [and] a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”
The Honor Code bans students from lying about who wrote what. It does not stop them from speaking anonymously outside the classroom nor require them to claim authorship for everything they say. It does not, in short, require students always to “own their words,” as President Tilghman suggests.
A campus without anonymity would be, in at least some important ways, a worse campus. As the ‘Prince’ reported last week, an anonymous Facebook page (now “Tiger Compliments”) has brought smiles and warmed hearts across campus by giving shy people a new and easier way to say nice things about each other. The desire to be or seem cool can sometimes leave Princeton with an empathy deficit, and harnessing anonymity to unlock kindness is a wonderful thing for all concerned.
I don’t claim to know what the paper’s anonymous comment policy should be. But I’m glad to see the ‘Prince’ think through the best approaches to anonymity — both online and off.
David Robinson ’04