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We received an interesting piece of anonymous mail in the ASP office this week. Someone had clipped out an opinions piece by Erin Pflaumer that appeared in the Sept. 6 edition of the ASP. Her story, “Bounced: Upper Classmen forced off campus,” detailed the difficulties two students had in finding affordable housing after the University at Albany made a rather abrupt change in housing policies for upper classmen.

The clipping we received came with the following note written in the margin: “Where is the quote from an official @ UAlbany? Lots of student complaints. Need to present both sides of the story. This is only opinion if written by someone who lives there.”  It finished with a delightfully Trumpian coda: “Basic JRL!”

It is not usually worth responding to a piece of anonymous mail but this letter was different. It came to us in a State of New York interagency mail envelope, which means that its sender was almost certainly a member of our cherished UAlbany family. The public does not have access to these postage-free envelopes. I made few calls to the organization I suspect sent us the note but was met with strenuous, if self-conscious denials.

I would have appreciated the opportunity to discuss your criticisms in private and perhaps provide space within our pages to make your case. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to respond privately to a secret admirer so we’ll have to do it in public.

“Where is the quote from an official @ UAlbany?”

If you hadn’t noticed, this article appeared in the opinions section of the paper. While I agree that a piece is almost always made stronger by the presence of more quotes, they are not necessary in an opinions article. This article was about two students who were squeezed by a new university policy; it was not intended to be a venue for administrative spin.

“Lots of student complaints.”

We did not receive any complaints from students about this piece. If you did, why didn’t you share them with us? In all sincerity, we are always trying to get better. Your goals would have been far better served by sending us a stack of student gripes about the article than the piqued missive we received.

“Need to present both sides of the story.”

This is the other side of the story. While the university embarks on an offensive to improve retention and foster a larger sense of community among underclassmen (all noble goals), this is one of the unpleasant – the subjects of Erin’s article would argue unfair – side effects of that initiative.

“This is only opinion if written by someone who lives there.”

This was the most troubling line of the anonymous letter. First of all, there is that old saying about opinions. It’s stupid to suggest an opinion is only valid if the subject of the article has had a material effect on the author. It assumes the author is incapable of empathy.

The most troubling thing about this line is that you accidentally confessed to using the resources at your disposal to look up whether or not this author lives on campus. At best, it strikes me as a petty thing to do and at worst a prelude to some type of reprisal.

“Basic JRL”

In this newspaper we sign our names to the things we write. It’s a way of being honest and accountable. It’s so if we screw up, the aggrieved party knows who to contact. It’s “basic JRL.” Should you contact us again perhaps you’ll find the courage to do the same. 

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