Letter to the Editor: Speak Your Mind, and Your Name

in News

MAXWELL COHEN
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR AT SAIS WASHINGTON

Dear Editors,

I’ve got something juicy to tell you. It’s a controversial opinion though. I really shouldn’t be saying it, at least not publicly. But I’ll tell you what, let’s make a deal. You can publish it, but only if you don’t quote me. Agreed? Okay, good, here goes: “Students should go on the record when speaking to The SAIS Observer!”

In the most recent issue of The Observer, two students were quoted anonymously regarding David Miliband being named this year’s graduation speaker. In discussions with The Observer editorial staff, I have heard that very few students were willing to express an opinion on the record, especially a negative one.

But the trend towards anonymity extends to non-controversial topics as well. Students have been quoted off the record giving totally anodyne opinions about SAIS career treks and last year’s government shutdown. SAISers are an opinionated bunch. What gives?

Perhaps SAIS students are copying behavior they see in the wider news media. Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times public editor, wrote that journalists are granting anonymity to sources gratuitously and that it is “time to pull in the reins.”

More likely, students are terrified that anything they say can be pulled up on Google by a potential employer. After all, the interviewer for your dream job just might turn out to be best friends with David Miliband.

Yet SAIS students will, by and large, enter careers where they are expected to speak and write publicly. Many of us will be analyzing world affairs, writing reports, briefing world leaders or even becoming world leaders ourselves! We will be expected to offer our opinions candidly and publicly, without the shield of anonymity.

Consider offering opinions to The SAIS Observer as an opportunity to practice public speaking, to stand behind your ideas and yes, to be held accountable.