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This Monday, Ryan Chavez ’19 penned an article in The Daily Princetonian about the Whig-Clio Senate Debate press policy. He argued that because press cannot record debates or publish direct quotes, the Senate debates are somehow both illiberal, having abrogated a right to journalistic freedom, and uninformative, having limited the scope of awareness with respect to these debates.

Both of these criticisms are unfounded. Far from illiberal, the closed-press policy we maintain actively preserves and enables free speech on campus that otherwise might never occur. As the president of the Senate, I’m writing to clear up what it is we do at the Senate Debates and why we do it.

To be clear, the Whig-Clio press policy allows for reporting on the debates, their subjects, and the types of discussions had during the debates — we even let press interview participants and speakers after the event is over. We simply do not allow recordings and direct quotes from the debates. The idea that the debates aren’t transparent or that something insidious might be happening under the nose of campus media is ludicrous: if you were looking for some far-fetched secret society, you missed it by about two rankings down the US News college lists. The debates, by construction, are open to the public. We even had community members at our last debate.

But a press policy that allows for involuntary direct quotation would demolish any and all pedagogical value the debates currently confer. The debates are not a place where only experienced debaters gather to intellectually self-satisfy, but a place where people unaffiliated with Whig-Clio regularly participate, speak, argue, and learn about debating and political discourse. This means that, in the process of experimenting within the forum, people often say things that are conjectural and that they might not hold as their own beliefs. Developing skills in argumentation and advocacy nearly always involves arguing for a side you don’t believe in. It’s easy to take such things out of context and thereby vilify those who simply wanted to enter and be a part of the sphere of political discourse. In this respect, an open-press policy would chill discourse and prevent students unaffiliated with Whig-Clio from joining in these debates.

The upshot is this: the purpose of our debates is not to recite op-eds for each other. Their purpose is to inform those who come, while maintaining an environment that is amenable to true discourse, which requires participation. Discourse not heard may be diminished in value, but discourse monopolized by a few experienced people isn’t discourse at all.

Sinan Ozbay is a sophomore from Princeton, NJ. He can be reached at sozbay@princeton.edu. The sentiments expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society, of which Ozbay is the President of the Senate. 

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