Outside help funds more issues of the Brown Spectator

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Those who attended the Parents Weekend keynote lecture given by Robert F. Kennedy on Oct. 20 likely saw Brown Spectator staff members handing out copies of the journal’s most recent issue. The cover story, written by Sean Quigley ’10, is titled “Robert F. Kennedy, Jr: Another Joke from the Kennedy Family.”

Buoyed in part by a financial contribution from the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity, students behind the Spectator are taking various steps to increase its on-campus presence this semester. Brown’s conservative and libertarian publication used to come out only a few times each semester. This semester has already seen three issues, and two more are in the works, according to Pratik Chougule ’08, the journal’s editor-in-chief.

The Foundation for Intellectual Diversity, an organization started by five recent Brown alums, is “committed to the promotion of underrepresented ideas” at the University and other schools in southern New England, according to its Web site. The foundation raises money from alums that is then donated to help fund publications, lectures and other on-campus activities, Chougule said.

Helping to fund the Spectator is the main way the foundation has made its presence known at Brown. The publication also receives $2,000 from the Collegiate Network, a group that funds conservative alternative student newspapers and magazines, Chougule said. This is only enough money to pay for about one issue. The rest of the funding comes from the foundation, he said.

Since the Spectator does not receive any funding from the University, the contribution of the foundation is key. “It’s a great help,” Chougule said. “It’s a source of money coming directly to us with very few strings attached.”

The process of trying to get funding from the University proved “tortuous, unsuccessful and insufficient,” said Travis Rowley ’02, the director of finance for the foundation. “That’s why we created the foundation, a monetary body to give (the Spectator) unlimited scope and unlimited issues,” he said.

Gains for the SpectatorRowley said the Spectator has grown at a pace that neither he nor other members of the foundation’s board expected.

“We are really happy with all the people that are getting involved, the quality of the writing and the editing and with the number of issues that they are able to put out,” said Rowley, who is also the author of “Out of Ivy: How a Liberal Ivy Created a Committed Conservative,” a book released earlier this year that focuses on Brown’s political climate. In his book, Rowley criticizes what he perceives to be an oppressive liberal majority that silenced debate during his years at the University.

According to Rowley, the Spectator’s role is to compete with these dominant ideas and encourage intellectual diversity.

“Everything is so one-sided,” he said. “We need to create an outlet for people to express ideas.”

Quigley also emphasized the need for greater debate on campus. “The worst thing that can happen is that people become complacent,” he said. “We want everyone to know that Brown’s ideology isn’t homogenous.”

Quigley and others who are involved with the Spectator view encouragement of debate as the primary goal of the publication. Chougule said the Spectator provides an important forum in which diversity of opinion can be promoted on a predominantly liberal campus.

While most of the Spectator’s writers identify as conservative or libertarian, there is a great range of opinion within that group, he said.

“That’s what makes the Spectator so attractive,” Chougule said. “There is a vast range of viewpoints represented and a curiosity that you don’t find on the left at Brown.”

That diversity of opinion, however, is not always reflected in the articles the Spectator publishes, according to Lindsey Meyers ’09, a senior editor at the Spectator and assistant arts and culture editor at The Herald. Writers whose opinions differ from those usually presented in the Spectator may hesitate to write for it. “We don’t get all the different views because some people shy away from writing for (the Spectator),” she said.

This may point to a larger problem at the University, she said. “For how political Brown seems to be, there is not very much debate of ideologies. The liberal aspect is so strong that students don’t engage in debates.”

Response from readersStudent response to the Spectator has been positive, Chougule said. The Spectator has been well received by students because the campus is ready to have new ideas and perspectives presented, he said.

Criticism of the Spectator doesn’t tend to focus on ideology but instead refers to the tone or the arguments made in some of the articles, Chougule said.

Quigley said he has been criticized for writing articles that are too “vicious” and “incendiary.” However, he thinks that this kind of writing is fundamental to the Spectator’s goals. Quigley said he has also been told his style of argumentation resembles that of a “meat-eater shoving meat under a vegetarian’s nose and wondering why he gets upset.”

“We have to grab people with rhetoric first,” Quigley said, emphasizing how important it is that readers know Spectator writers are not simply trying to be “non-conformist” or that conservatism is a fad.

“Negativity is essential to any kind of democracy in order to discredit the current structure,” he added.

But the effectiveness of inflammatory rhetoric is not evident to everyone. Will Pasley ’07 has been a frequent reader of the publication for the last few years even though he disagrees with most of its ideas, he said. While he said he appreciates the “different viewpoint” presented by the journal, he finds it to be “steeped in conservative rhetoric.”

“I try to look for the interesting things that they might have to say,” Pasley said. But “the way they phrase their ideas throws a lot of people off and actually inhibits debate,” he added. “A lot of people read it and write it off as crazy.”

Still, Pasley said he is glad the Spectator exists. “I like having my ideas challenged,” he said. “It forces me to support my own ideas better.”

Changes to campus climateRowley said the University’s political climate has improved in recent years.

“I criticized (the campus) so harshly that I should praise it when it’s doing well,” he said. “It’s in a much better position than it was five years ago.”

Rowley remembers that when he began to work with Chougule in 2005, “Pratik said, ‘We need to get away from the mantra that Brown is an intolerant place. It’s pretty good right now,'” he said.

Quigley said that while he likes “Out of Ivy,” Rowley’s description of an overzealous liberal majority hasn’t matched his experience during his first semester at the University. “No one is shouting down speakers anymore,” Quigley said.

This does not make the goals of the Spectator or the foundation any less legitimate, according to Rowley.

“We’re going to institutionalize conservatism so students always feel welcome to express those ideas,” he said. “We hope (the Spectator) pulls Brown to a healthy middle rather than the far left that it is known for.”

Both Quigley and Rowley noted that a great deal of debate goes on even among conservative and libertarian students at the University on every issue from same-sex marriage to affirmative action. The blogs on the Spectator’s Web site provide a forum for sometimes heated argument, Quigley said.

This is a part of a “healthy dialogue,” Rowley said. “There are disagreements among conservative writers. That’s what keeps them fair-minded.”

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