When I served in the leadership of the Alumni Council in the 1990s I wrote an article supporting PAW independence and justifying the use of class dues. It was, a survey showed, the best read article of the year. My basic theory is that PAW is to the University as an investment newsletter is to the funds it covers. Readers expect a generally positive report but they also trust it more, and are more interested in it, because it has independence.
Surely the University cannot claim it lacks the means to get its message out. The University has ample other means of direct communication with alumni. Email is the cheapest and most recent. If subscriptions to email notices are down, it is only because there are already too many of them. My guess is that the President’s Page at the front of PAW is much better read than those emails, especially given the fact that the current president is a talented writer.
As a lawyer who has represented news media organizations for more than 40 years, and been a class secretary and reader of PAW, I find it difficult to give much credence to the University’s fear of legal liability. Surely there is insurance. And, given its benign content, PAW is not a likely target. Has it ever been sued?
Princeton historically has operated on the theory that alumni control over aspects of their relationship with the University was a critical element in the unmatched enthusiasm Princeton alumni have for their university. Witness reunions, where all the university does is provide a physical location and security. Class dues provide a way to promote connections among the class and, of course, provide information to the secretary for class notes. Those notes are far more robust in PAW than they are in the alumni magazine for my law school’s university.
That theory that alumni control is a good thing has been tested in recent years by a variety of steps hostile to uniqueness, including the demotion of the Alumni Council so that it is now subordinate to what we used to call “development.” The claim that PAW should be treated like any other department is simply another way of saying Princeton wants to do it like everyone else. It is worth recalling that PAW used to be almost entirely independent and that it has only become a University department because the University wanted, for reasons I still do not understand, more control.
If the University wants to operate on the principle “let’s do it like everyone else,” then it can only expect the alumni to behave accordingly and show the same level of enthusiasm, or lack of it. That would not be a good thing.
The University should keep its “paws” off PAW.