Last April, Brown University’s Undergraduate Finance Board told student-run publications on campus that it could no longer afford to pay for their printing expenses, citing a tightened budget and a greater demand for funding from other student groups. The decision was announced abruptly, catching many organizations by surprise – but it was not at all unreasonable. “Printing costs take up a significant portion of our allocation,” the UFB wrote in an email, “and it isn’t a sustainable practice for the Student Activities Fund.” Money is not a renewable resource, and the UFB has the right to hold to account the organizations that rely on its funds. But last semester’s budgetary hoopla does introduce an interesting set of questions: What constitutes “a sustainable practice” for UFB? What constitutes a practice that is worthwhile and meaningful for the broader community? And, in this fraught moment – when all the established rules of American politics seem to have turned upside down – what purpose do student-run publications serve?
It is true that printing is expensive and environmentally unfriendly. As such, it would be wise for campus publications to think deeply about their printing habits and consider migrating to digital platforms as a partial substitute for their print material. But a narrow emphasis on fiscal considerations fails to address why schools have and support student-run publications in the first place. Obviously, we don’t pay for campus publications because it is the financially optimal choice.
Admittedly, the reasons for supporting these groups are not immediately practical, but they are far more important than the exigencies of balanced budgets. In broad terms, we pay for student-run publications because self-expression and deliberative discourse – inked onto real pages you can touch, flip through, and wave around angrily at a rally – are the lifeblood of a community committed to rigorous scholarship and intellectual courage. We pay for them because that sacred duty of citizenship – of writing op-eds and poetry and fiction, whatever it takes to transform emotion into organized action – is something that must be inculcated and nurtured in citizens, starting in college. And we pay for them because republics are tricky things to keep afloat, and a vibrant press is our best chance at training young people to be responsible stewards of our political system, of the aspirations and ideals that we – as a people – hold dear.
I, for one, have derived a tremendous amount of satisfaction from the publications found scattered around campus. The Brown Political Review was actually the first publication that ever bothered to publish what I had to say. Though it does not receive funding from UFB, it is nonetheless representative of the indispensability of student-run publications. Thanks to the Brown Political Review, I got the chance to express myself in a public setting, under the careful guidance of my peers, and to transform my own thoughts into a real product. Every student, on every campus, should have access to experiences like these.
Of course, I do have some reservations about my earlier contributions to the Brown Political Review. For example, many of the views I once entertained as a freshman “staff writer” no longer apply to me. In two years, I’ve learned that reality is more nuanced than my 1500-word polemics, and that it is impossible to have a sincere discussion about reality without carving out room in my own “writing” – if that word even applies – for that nuance. In retrospect, I wish that my contributions to this publication hadn’t been, for the most part, ill-conceived. I wish that I hadn’t bothered to defend absurd positions, like abolishing NATO – the one institution on this planet that deters Russia from ravaging Europe and resurrecting Soviet-style totalitarianism – or adopting a foreign policy that appeases Iran – which continues to support Bashar al-Assad’s barbaric crackdowns in Syria and is responsible for orchestrating brutal attacks on innocent civilians and American servicemen. But I am so thankful that I got the chance to entertain those thoughts and argue those opinions in this publication. After all, you don’t really figure out how terrible an outfit looks, or how awfully it fits you, until you try it on and walk around in it. And that, I suppose, is what campus publications are for: encouraging students to figure out what makes sense to them, and what doesn’t.
Above all, though, I’m thankful that there remains a community of students on this campus – and on campuses across the country – who care about politics and government and all the things that we so easily take for granted. Campus publications like the Brown Political Review may not be perfect, and may not bear the highest return-on-investment for those in charge of disbursing a finite amount of money for student activities. However, in indulging the imperfect ideas and impulses of its members, and in affording room for sincere reflection and thoughtful debate in a time when we could really do with a lot more of both, this publication – and all the others so lovingly crafted by our fellow students – does a priceless service to our school.
Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19 is a former staff writer for BPR’s Culture section