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As we stand in the shadow of a war with Iraq, most members of the Harvard community have held their peace. Those in positions to ignite a campus-wide debate have, on the whole, kept silent and allowed the University to descend into an apathetic lull. Yet this impending threat warrants that some authority figure on campus build up the courage to broach this issue and engage students in a discussion about the oncoming conflict.
Last week, Sean and Judy Palfrey, the Adams House masters, did just this. Wanting to inform their House of why they attended a peace rally in San Francisco earlier this month, the Palfreys sent an e-mail to all Adamsians explaining how they thought President Bush was acting rashly, without regard for international law or for the dangers a cornered Saddam Hussein might pose. Their e-mail urged all members of the Adams House community to engage with this burning issue.
Too often, masters disengage from the intellectual life of their house to ensure that no one is offended by their comments. Yet by sending this e-mail, the Palfreys were fulfilling their duty as House masters and members of a university community. They crafted a delicately worded e-mail that initiated debate and were not preaching or proselytizing. Their own viewpoint was secondary to the goal of encouraging their students to engage with the issue. We hope other masters are as brave as the Palfreys, publicly presenting their opinions on such a potentially divisive issue to stimulate debate in each House community.
While some have complained that it was inappropriate for the Palfreys to send their e-mail to all Adams House residents, as opposed to just those subscribed to Adams-Schmooze, the house open-list, these criticisms are unfounded. It is precisely to stimulate intellectual life that masters should have the ability to send e-mails to all members of the House. Besides, the Palfreys are also famous for keeping up a lively dialogue with Adams House residents, sending frequent House-wide e-mails inviting students to teas or congratulating them on finishing finals. This particular House-wide e-mail, therefore, was not out of the ordinary.
Although their message did not immediately spark a raging debate, it also did not fall on deaf ears. It will hopefully not only encourage other masters who have been thinking of broaching such important topics with their students, but also act as a wake up call for those masters who have been disengaged from the intellectual debates in their Houses.
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