Executive Privilege

This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review carried columnist Eric Heyl’s editorial “CMU burns in satire hell once again” in response to readme’s article “Carnegie Mellon Builds New Hauschwitz Dormitory.”

While readme was the primary target of the editorial, Heyl also took aim at our campus community as a whole: “The CMU community’s collective memory about producing such tasteless material seems abysmally short.” (Heyl refers to The Tartan’s atrocious 2004 April Fools issue, called The Natrat, which included both racist and misogynistic material.)

The assertion that our community has forgotten the lessons of The Natrat reveals that Heyl’s familiarity with the Carnegie Mellon community is dismally shallow.

Heyl’s perspective is important, however, because it represents that of the average, uninformed outsider, who — understandably — thinks less of our community for having read the “New Hauschwitz” article.

The “New Hauschwitz” article is dramatically insensitive. My stomach turned as I thought about my great-grandfather, an Italian anti-Nazi activist in 1930s Germany, who died in a concentration camp.

That being said, readme’s recent editorial decision does not reflect the sensibilities or the culture of the Carnegie Mellon community — the decision to publish the “New Hauschwitz” article involved just a few people.
This community carries forward the lessons of The Natrat, the Shabazz affair, the Abunima-Finklestein lectures, and other campus controversies in the way we approach violations of our standards. That approach is to heal and to learn.

Our community has been deliberate in fostering a robust dialogue about sensitive issues like race and sexuality, especially for matriculating students. I can see how this has come to fruition since new first-years arrived this year: an ever-improving Orientation; opportunities to develop as leaders in the Emerging Leaders program and Syzygy conference; and new student-created groups, such as CMU Fusion, that aim to help students become involved with the diversity of our community.

As we’ve faced numerous controversies in the past few years, one thing has remained constant: Carnegie Mellon affirms that its students should remain unrestricted in their endeavors.

Just as the University upholds the faculty’s academic freedom in the interest of intellectual growth and the creation of new knowledge, Carnegie Mellon allows its students to act as the autonomous adults that we are.
Occasional controversy is the risk we accept in return for great freedom.

Now it is readme’s charge to learn and grow from its recent misstep, just as it was The Tartan’s responsibility to recover from the Natrat incident. And the community will help readme succeed, just as it helped The Tartan succeed.

The only challenge readme faces is making the choice to part from its rocky history. But I have much confidence. In the wake of his recent blunder, readme editor Chris Kier made the admirable move of apologizing openly to the community. It should be noted that he submitted the apology to The Tartan for publication well before Eric Heyl’s counterproductive article hit the stands. Kier seems poised to take this chance to part ways with the destructive editors of readme’s past, and create a smart, sensible, and purposeful publication.

I have every confidence that our community will continue on its path to becoming a stronger, more inclusive community. I only hope that observers of our community — such as Eric Heyl — won’t overlook this as they pass judgment.