Commentary: PSSA, poli-sci dept. could learn from Free Culture

A few months ago, as head of the Political Science Student Association (PSSA), I had a pretty ambitious idea: I wanted to host a series of events on campus celebrating the concepts of Free Culture, which includes the idea that copyright laws should be balanced in order to give people more freedom to build on existing creative works without being legally penalized. (Remember DJ Danger Mouse’s creation of the Grey Album, which resulted in cease-and-desist orders from the record company EMI.) I first mentioned my idea to a few of the political science professors. They knew about Free Culture, and they were thrilled. But the leaders of the PSSA couldn’t understand what Free Culture had to do with political science. They argued it was too esoteric or advanced, and that we should focus on issues that all students at Northeastern can appreciate, like keg registration. I couldn’t believe it. The PSSA leadership was committed to holding receptions for honorary societies and bringing such tremendous bastions of intellect like Al Sharpton and Joe Wilson to our school, so I left, and I started looking for other partners in bringing some events to our school.

University Libraries was more than happy to sponsor the Free Culture Forum, which will take place tomorrow, in 450 Dodge Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The law school and many of its student groups showed interest, as did the Music ‘ Entertainment Industry Student Association, the music industry department and the communication studies department. They all couldn’t understand why the political science department couldn’t fully get behind this. Then, yesterday, I finally figured it out. I received an e-mail from Professor John Portz, the chair of that department and someone I’ve come to know over my past two years here. The political science department was advertising a debate on March 21 between the College Republicans and the College Democrats, a debate I had tried several times to organize over the past few months, with an exception: The debate I envisioned would include more than just two parties.

Political science at Northeastern isn’t about exploring the new, or tearing down the status quo, and that’s where the conflict originates from – Free Culture begs us to look at things differently. Free Culture, the student movement, seeks to establish a thriving public domain that anyone can openly contribute to, access and participate in.

My department wasn’t actively trying to prevent this in any conscious way. I’m rather sure Portz did not wake up one morning and decide he wanted to oppose copyright reform or the sharing of ideas, though perhaps he did. As he saw, as EMI saw and as I saw, single people are discouraged from making decisions for everyone in our society. When they do, or when they try to discourage others, a vibrant and lively community exists for the rejection of those edicts and disapprovals.

– Christopher Budnick is a sophomore English and political science double major.

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