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Monday, April 25, 2005

why Cambridge Common? (a note from the Editor)

Seeing as how many email lists have been bombarded today with advertisements for our fine little online community today, I thought I’'d step out of my commentary role and into my big floppy editor hat to say hello and explain a little about what’s going on here. I started on this train of thought last week when the four of us (myself and three Associate Editors) started writing daily. In that post, I noted that I wanted the blog to straddle a middle ground between email list conversations and the aspiring professionalism of the Crimson. I want to expand on those thoughts for a moment, to talk about what we're hoping to do here in the context of campus dialogue.

Let's be honest, campus-wide dialogue is essentially a monologue. No campus publication has the readership or the legitimacy to make any sort of challenge to the hegemony that the Crimson currently has over campus political discourse. Now, I'm not saying that Cambridge Common will do that. It won't. There's no way we could build up that kind of readership and institutional credibility. Not to mention the fact that the Crimson usually does a pretty good job. BUT, there are a few things we can do.(more in expanded post)

First, we can offer a space in which the very issues that the Crimson and the rest of us talk about can be discussed all across campus. If there were some sort of email list for this, maybe this wouldn't be necessary. But at this point, those email lists are limited to specific communities, so the perspectives are not varied or representative on any one list. Hopefully, Cambridge Common will get a more varied readership and set of perspectives. The reason this is important is that, at this point, the campus conversation is only happening in isolated communities or in the Ed Board office. Eight people deciding what the rest of us will know and think is not democratic, even if they are eight good people (which they are).

Second, I hope to provide a different take on campus politics. The internal politics of so many of our communities, whether it's the UC, the progressive community, the conservative community, whatever, are not known or understood. The forces that shape our school are summed up in a post election article (with the exception of the UC). There is a lot going on that people don't know about, that people deserve to know about. We can't get you that perspective on everything, we can only do what we know. But we hope this will cue others to do the same for things they know about.

Finally, we need a deeper conversation on campus. Part of our problem is the opinion aristocracy that I mentioned. Part of the problem is the disconnected dialogue that happens in each community separately. But part of the problem is a simple unwillingness to engage in some campus issues more intensely. The Curricular Review is going to redefine Harvard College and universities all over the world. Where's student opinion on this? Where's student dialogue other than "I hate the core" and "finals before Christmas"? We're smarter than that. We need to discuss forms of education, whether or not Harvard should have a fundamental philosophy of pedagogy, endorse a set of knowledge that it expects every graduate to have, restructure tenure and teaching requirements. This is important stuff that requires a conversation, not a declaration of truth from the Administration, the Crimson OR the UC.

I understand that a lot of people don't think that campus politics is relevant to them. They'll be leaving in a few years, what do they care how the curriculum is redesigned? They're not activists, what do they care what's going on with HSF and the Dems? Without being too self-important, we can't forget where we are. Harvard matters, the forms of our communities shape important people. The educational experience speaks to fundamental American values of education. That's why things like Larrygate get so much press: because Harvard matters. We can think that's obnoxious and elitist (it kind of is), but it's true.

Anyway, this Common won't always be that earnest. Sometimes things will just be funny or interesting (or unfunny and unintesting, I'm crossing my fingers). Sometimes we'll just fight about national politics. In any event, I hope you'll come back, join the conversation, throw in your comments and think about some of this.

Have a great Monday,

The Editor


At 11:41 AM, Blogger Jamal Sprucewood said...

And by between an email list and pseudo-professionalism Golis means that we editorialize AND pop packing bubbles at the same time. In pajamas, natch.

(See other posts and comments below).


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