A response to Peter Benson

An open letter to the Anthropology professor

| Staff Columnist

Dear Professor,

In a recent forum concerning the coming change in tobacco policy hosted by Controversy ’N’ Coffee on Thursday, Sept. 24, I had the pleasure of hearing your perspective alongside those of two other University professors. In presenting your position, you made the claim that the University served as the “parent” of attending students. You went on to state that in order to fulfill this parental role, the University should take a stronger role in regulating the individual health decisions of each student. I was most disheartened by this comment, and I regret to inform you that the assertion is inaccurate, misguided and evil.  You went on to refer to smokers as “diseased,” but the real disease here is not my pastime, but rather your ideology, which lowers every student in this University to the state of a peon incapable of making his own decisions correctly. Unfortunately, not even an army of Purell dispensers can erase this diseased worldview from existence. I advise that you take a lesson in the basic economic concept of a voluntary exchange prior to making such claims about our status.

Washington University is an institution that provides a service: education. Because it would be inefficient for me to teach myself, I am willing to compensate the University in exchange for this service. In doing so, the University and I both acknowledged that we have rights and that we must provide an equal value to one another when entering this contract. As a free adult, it would be irrational for me to consent to such an arrangement that would transform me into the University’s minion.

To support your claim that the University should take an active role in our personal health decisions, you cited the doctrine of in loco parentis. Because universities primarily consist of adults over the age of 18, this doctrine is irrelevant and rarely applied as law. The necessity of in loco parentis for a middle school teacher simply is not present for a university dealing with a mature student population, especially in the case of Washington University students, who were selected from among the brightest in the nation.

It must be recognized that we, the students of Washington University, already have parents. In most cases, they raised us, cared for us, loved us, comforted us, protected us and supported us in our endeavors. For these reasons, they are given a special claim on our lives and a voice in the decisions we make for ourselves. The University, on the other hand, provided none of these aforementioned aids in our childhood. To state that the University is on the same level as these individuals who dedicated their lives to improving ours is insulting to parents everywhere and demeans the critical service which they provide to the development of our society.

I remind you, Professor Benson, that we children are your customers. Many of us work very hard to provide you with a platform on which you can advocate our regulation. You are most fortunate that you are employed by a university, for in any other firm, blatantly insulting the competency of your customers often leads to summary dismissal.

We come to Washington University as adults. We make our own decisions. We determine our own values. We work to achieve our own goals as we see fit. We are not the children of the University that we voluntarily pay for a service. We are not pawns in your vision for a perfect society.

You should be ashamed of reducing every student in this community to the status of a helpless child. You should be ashamed of bastardizing the solemn relation of each person to his true parents. And I believe that you should apologize for this insulting comment if you wish to remain, in the eyes of your students, a professor of good standing and high moral character.

In liberty,
Philip Christofanelli

Philip is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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