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30 Minutes with the Prez

EN: Do you feel that Carleton is too politically correct? How, if at all, does political correctness affect how you do your job?

SP: It doesn’t affect how I do my job. I do my job. I do what’s right for the institution.

But are we too politically correct?

I don’t hear that people feel cowed to say what they believe on campus. If that’s true, I guess I would like to know. There should be room on campus for the broadest variety of viewpoints. There should be room for the extreme radical left to the extreme reactionary right. That doesn’t mean someone is going to convince people on the other side that they are right, but we ought to have the ability to engage in serious thoughtful dialogue about it.

And you better come with your best game. If you think that you’re right and you’re taking an extreme left or an extreme right position then, that’s great, but you better be prepared to defend that position and hopefully listen to the counter arguments, even if they may not ultimately persuade you.

EN: Burton or LDC? Where would you rather eat? What’s your favorite meal you’ve eaten in the dining hall?

SP: So, in a very politically-careful, not politically-correct answer, I’m going to cut and choose on this. I think I have liked Burton better for breakfast and LDC better for lunch, usually. I like the pizza better in Burton.

My favorite food? We don’t really get to eat good Pan-Asian food, but they are trying hard. Stir-fry, Asian stuff is my favorite.

Also, why is there not just a classic Italian restaurant in Northfield? Where you can get chicken parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs?

DH: If you were a student, where would you want to live?

SP: I like living in Nutting house. I’ve got the best on-campus housing that there is.

I really like the townhouses, so that’s probably where I’d want to live. Although there are some rooms in Sevy that are really very quite elegant and classy. But if I were a senior, I think I’d go townhouses.

EN: Do you think you would’ve liked being a student at Carleton? How does Carleton compare to your alma maters, Princeton and Harvard?

SP: I would’ve absolutely loved being a student at Carleton. Here’s the biggest difference. So you know, I went to Princeton, and I have much more loyalty to Princeton than to Harvard. That’s my undergraduate school. Harvard—a transactional arrangement. I paid my tuition, I got my degree, but Princeton is the place I feel loyalty to.

I had a lot of fun at Princeton. But when I graduated, I didn’t have any faculty members who I was really close to. I think one of the things we do great here is that students and faculty really work to form bonds, and my college experience was a little bit impoverished by the fact that I didn’t have those relationships. I regret that looking back.

Something else that’s really great here–that makes me think I would have been very happy had I been smart enough to go to Carleton at the time–you can do more than one extracurricular activity here.

At Princeton, if you were on the Daily Princetonian that was the only thing you did. It was a much more pre-professionalized kind of thing, so it was harder to be a dilettante, and I was more of a dilettante in terms of other things. I played intramural sports, I played JV lacrosse for a year, I was in an eating club (which is a much healthier co-ed version of fraternities and sororities). There are a bunch of things I did in college, but I didn’t pick one thing.

DH: You obviously spend a lot of time in the office, devoted to the school, working hard for all of us. But we’re curious about what you do on your time off. EN: How do you kick back?

SP: My friends would say I’m not real good at kicking back. I’m more the intense, type-A driven person. But I love to read, I love to go on hikes and to bike around this area, I love hockey—I’m obsessed with hockey goalies. This is where the broomball playing comes from. So right now I’m really happy because The Stanley cup playoffs are on, so every night there’s a really important hockey match that I can watch. My life is easy compared to what is facing goalies on a power play.

I like to travel. My wife and I like to do that a lot, with our kids.

EN: Where do you like to go?

SP: Everywhere. Taken a lot family trips to Europe and in the last couple years, South America. I’ve done a little bit of work with the Catholic University in Santiago. I’ve been to Chilé twice in the last year and a half, and have this like growing fascination with all things Chilean. In fact, my wife and I are teaching ourselves Spanish. We’re at the very beginning. I can say things like, you know, ‘los hombres cocinan arróz.’

DH: When I was walking in here, up the stairs of Laird, I saw the Divestment group leaving after visiting your office hours. What advice would you have for them, as students pushing for Divestment?

SP: First, it is fantastic. Never lose the idealism that you want to use your energy and precedent and knowledge of environmental dangers and crises to make this world a better and more sustainable and more moral place.

That’s a precious piece of energy; don’t lose it. You should be idealistic when you’re a college student. You should be an idealist all your life, but especially when you’re a college student.

Second thing I would say is, I think that we have a process on campus where we take up issues of social responsible investing. I think that process has worked well in the past and that it is still available and working itself out in appropriate ways on campus and, you know, avail yourself of that process.

That doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that one should avail oneself of; certainly, dialogue with faculty and trustees and people like me, it’s great. So I was perfectly pleased—this is the second or third conversation in one form or another I’ve had with the group that’s now called DivestCarleton.

Third, I do think there are some complicated tactical but more importantly, political and moral questions that you gotta wrestle with when you look at this set of issues.

One is the historical thing, which is that Carleton as an institution has been a college that has been very reluctant to put itself into an overtly political argument. And so, taking positions on particular pieces of legislation and taking positions on, you know, ‘should the United States do x or y’ policy that isn’t about something involving education—Carleton hasn’t done that.

I think it would be really interesting to see over time whether or not among–not just this community but colleges and universities more generally, and the world as a whole–there will be a moral consensus that the best way to save the planet is to divest from oil companies. Does that actually accomplish the goal that you are trying to do, or is there a different goal? And will there be a moral consensus, not just a political pressure, that that is the most moral thing to do?

That will be very interesting to see in the coming years. We had a conversation about all kind of things, about moral arguments and political arguments and tactical arguments and operational arguments and from my perspective, it was a really good and illuminating conversation. I learned stuff, and I hope they did too.

DH: Is there a topic or initiative on campus you wish Carleton students were paying more attention to?

SP: Yeah, absolutely. I will say three things.

One is that we’re trying really hard to raise the profile of the career center and alumni involvement in the career center… I’m really confident in the quality of the team that we have there and I like the work we’re doing, but I want to make sure that students also are engaged and believe that Carleton is committed to helping you get launched into the world in the right way. That’s a big one.

Second, I’ve had really interesting conversations over the past couple of years with IFSA and some other student groups about financial aid, and I would say that I hope students continue to follow those debates. We just passed a budget that increases the amount of money that we put into financial aid, and that also changes a rule that we used to have that we couldn’t increase the financial aid budget by more than what tuition and fees were going up by every year.

We’ve unyoked those two things, which will let us, if we want to, put even more money into financial aid. I think this whole issue of giving need-based aid, and trying to keep this place affordable for kids from low-income but also middle-income kids, is a really important issue and I would urge Carleton students to continue to pay attention to that.

Third, maybe the broadest issue, but it may be partly in my mind because of the good conversation I had with the DivestCarleton group, is about involvement—direct-student involvement—as activists and actors in the political process.

I sometimes worry that your generation… I grew up in Watergate, in the mid 70s, and it was a time when everybody was incredibly cynical about government. But there was also this incredible sense that we can kind of, take government back and make government responsible to the people and there would be Sunshine laws and crusading journalists were heroes and there was this–willingness to engage in the direct electoral-political process, to influence what congressman and senators would do and get people who you liked elected.

I worry that there’s not as much of that on our campus. And I’ve worried about it a lot at different schools I’ve been at, that generationally there is less willingness to engage in the political process, more skepticism that it matters.

And it matters a lot because those are levers of power and influence that somebody is going to control, and I would like Carls involved in articulating their values and goals and aspirations more directly. I’d love to see more Carleton kids run for Congress, I’d love to see more alumni sitting in the United States Senate. So go forth and do this. At least be the Pulitzer Prize winning crusading journalists that you’re learning to be.

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