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Coffee with Spectator Editor-in-Chief Pratik Chougule '08

Pratik Chougule '08 isn't afraid of making his voice heard on what is often regarded as one of the nation's most liberal campuses. A native of East Greenwich, Chougule is editor-in-chief of the conservative Brown Spectator, the vice president of the College Republicans and the former state chair of the College Republicans Federation of Rhode Island. He recently sat down with The Herald for a cup of coffee (vanilla cream-flavored) to talk about the Spectator, his political views and career aspirations.

Herald: First, I guess the most obvious question is: How would you describe your political views?

Chougule: I say I'm pretty conservative, definitely by Brown standards. I think I've always been conservative. On foreign policy, I consider myself to be a neoconservative. I'm pretty socially conservative.

Growing up, was there anything that influenced your politics?

Yeah, it sounds crazy, but I really remember the first Gulf War a lot. I remember my family was really into CNN at the time - everyone was. At the time, my uncle actually wrote a children's book on the Gulf War to try to explain the war to me - I was only five at the time. The book he wrote was "Don't Steal My Blocks," and he basically portrayed Saddam (Hussein) as a bully on the playground stealing toys from Kuwait and essentially Saudi Arabia. He drew this figure of America being the figure that liberates Kuwait from Iraq. I guess that image of America as force of freedom in the world - I've always retained that.

So you grew up in a pretty conservative family?

No, my parents are actually very apolitical. They've gotten more interested in it now because of me, but it was never a really political environment. I think my parents are sort of conservative in their approach in their life, but they're not political.

You live in one of the most Democratic states in the nation, and Brown is considered to be a very liberal school. Has that been tough for you?

No, it really hasn't. I heard all kinds of horror stories about Brown before coming here. ... I've never felt oppressed or afraid to voice my opinions. I think, like in any situation, you can either act like a victim or get your ideas out there.

No one has ever given you a hard time about it?

Not really. Obviously, people have challenged me on my views, which I think is great. I think it would also drive me crazy to be a liberal at Brown. I can't imagine being in an environment where everyone basically agrees with me. I feel that I have been really been forced to think about my views in a way that probably a lot of people at Brown don't.

Do you think Brown is doing enough to promote intellectual and political diversity?

Yes and no. I think President Simmons has done a great job to make Brown a more tolerant environment. On one hand, you have the faculty at Brown, which is overwhelmingly leftist - same with the administration. You have these programs like the Third World Center and groups like the Queer Alliance, which really get away with all kinds of things that they shouldn't be.

At the same time ... with my experience, I've never felt like I've been shot down or anything. The thing I would hate would be for this intellectual diversity thing to become an affirmative action on the right. I just think that would defeat the purpose of it. So it's always a tough balancing act. I think Brown could do more, but as I said, I don't want this intellectual diversity thing to become right-wing (affirmative action).

What do you think Brown should do?

The biggest problem I would identify is a cultural one. I think there is some relativist culture and it pervades academics, it pervades the social environment here. This notion that there aren't any objective standards to truth, and there aren't more accepted standards of behavior that people should live up to - I think that culture needs to change. I think if you look at student life here, the type of drinking and debauchery that you see is really not healthy. I think Brown ought to be a little more proactive in enforcing basic decency on campus.

In the academic world, I think more of a focus on traditional, classical learning would be a good thing. Maybe emphasizing traditional canon literature, maybe American history, talk about the founders and the great ideas of the West. In the humanities, I found there's way too much emphasis on race, class and gender. Some professors at Brown believe that the world could be explained on those three grounds, and I don't think that's right.

Two years ago, Chris McAuliffe '05, the former president of the Brown Republicans, told The Herald that most of the Brown Republicans were libertarians. Do you agree with that assessment?

Yes, I found that to be a really big problem, and it goes back to this relativist attitude on campus. I mean, that's essentially what libertarianism is, just the idea that unfettered freedom is an end in itself, and I've always had a problem with that. ... I think that freedom isn't always a good in itself. I mean, we value freedom as end to other means and when - yeah, unfettered freedom leads to bad things happening.

You were instrumental in bringing the Brown Spectator back to campus. What was the motivation for that?

The Spectator has been around in the late 1980s and early 1990s and came back in 2000 and fell apart again. I just think it's really important to have this forum for sort of libertarian views on campus.

How do you think the Spectator is doing right now?

I think there's always room for improvement. ... I'm really happy with it. ... I've been happy with the way other groups on campus have reached out to the Spectator. Scott Warren ('09) of the Darfur Action Network, Democracy Matters wrote something, and I think it's becoming a needed forum for debate on campus.

All right, let's shift this back to you. After Brown, what would you like to do?

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, I think that America today is an empire on a global stage. I think definitely people of our generation have pretty concrete choices to make. We can either deny America's unique role in the world or we can embrace it as a force for democracy and human rights in the world. I would like to do something in foreign policy, something in foreign policy to see that America plays the type of political leadership role it should.

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