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Jonathan Topaz '12: SDS' golden opportunity

A quick piece of advice to the new Class of 2013: be wary of the Corporation Crazies.

Hardly a week goes by without an opinions columnist up in arms about the evil Corporation, largely comprised of Brown alumni, that administers our school. You see, the Corporation is an exclusive governing body that does not allow students into their closed meetings. It is made up of individuals who, while devoting hours upon hours of their time to our institution for zero monetary compensation, seek to destroy the school based on their petty self-interest.

Over the past many years, they have repeatedly proven their disregard for student concerns and boasted their arch conservatism by increasing international student financial aid by over 25 percent, voting in the first African-American President in the Ivy League and, in 2007, adopting students' suggestions for an aggressive sustainable energy policy that received an A- grade from the College Sustainability Report Card. And, unconfirmed reports suggest that the Corporation is prepared to hold so-called "death panels" in preparation for this fall's possible swine flu outbreak.

Brown's Students for a Democratic Society often lead the charge against the Corporation through intellectually stimulating methods such as attempting to break into Corporation meetings and flouting numerous school disciplinary codes for the opportunity to yell at Corporation members up close. One SDS member who had such an opportunity was quoted as asking (quite loudly), "At what point do you realize that maybe Brown isn't a progressive place?" Presumably, we will realize it only when the Corporation rids Brown of among the most liberal education philosophies in the United States — an open curriculum that was, of course, designed by students.

So maybe this is the year that SDS and the other Corporation haters in the Brown community can broaden their horizons a bit. The original SDS, a fixture of the New Left movement developed in the mid-1960s, was extraordinarily influential in dictating a national conversation on civil rights, nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War. Since the Corporation has time and time again expressed its liberal sensibilities in making informed decisions, and since it reflects poorly on Brown that our focus is so firmly placed on our own, privileged community, it might be time for SDS to direct its righteous rage towards something more worthwhile.

What SDS should turn its focus to is the escalating conflict in Afghanistan, which is quickly spiraling out of control. At the risk of sounding trite, it might be possible that the Vietnam War is less comparable with Iraq than Afghanistan.  In both cases, a Democratic president with a robust domestic agenda has greatly escalated American presence in a country's internal conflict. In both cases, it is apparent that our enemy is ill-defined, and that the American people are poorly informed as to our strategy and goal.

At this turning point in the war, Americans still have the perception that Afghanistan is "the right war," the appropriate response to fighting global terrorism in a post-Sept. 11 world, and that our renewed presence there is key in combating al-Qaida and terror worldwide.

Unfortunately, that is not our goal. The increase in troops last spring does not signify a continuation of the battle against al-Qaida and global terrorism but a concerted effort to combat the sectarian violence caused by insurgents. As we have seen this summer, the heart of al-Qaida does not exist in Afghanistan but mostly on the Afghan-Pakistani border and in Pakistan. Additionally, largely due to United States negligence, al-Qaida has expanded and regrouped elsewhere in places such as Yemen. The costly battles in Helmand province — which featured days of very bloody fighting — showcased the U.S. army fighting the Taliban and other isolated local terrorist groups. Our direction has shifted from combating terrorism to nation building and counter-insurgency, missions that are hardly worth taxpayer dollars and soldiers' lives.

We also continue to stick out our necks for Afghan President Karzai, whose government has proven to be corrupt and ineffective. If there is anything that the Afghan elections this summer — which were presumably wrought with fraud — have proven, it is that democracy still remains a foreign concept even to those in charge in Afghanistan.

The Obama solution is nation-building there instead of nation-protecting here, making sure that our perverted version of democracy is carried out in foreign countries that do not understand the word. Surely Students for a Democratic Society can understand that extricating ourself from a hopeless conflict is a more important goal than whining about Brown's governing body.

SDS has an opportunity to represent its national chapter well and lead Brown's charge against the Afghanistan occupation. It is time to stop lodging complaints and fabricating conflict with the Corporation, which is largely comprised of the same, liberal Brown alums that we will soon be. It is far too costly to focus on our petty internal problems while President Obama leads our military down the familiar path of failed empire. 

Jonathan Topaz '12 is from New York City. He can be reached at


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