April 4, 2007: Letters
Letter Box Online
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I experienced firsthand the positive effects of racial diversity on my education. I remember, for example, the eye-opening perspectives on our jury system expressed by black students from the South in my “Anthropology of Law” class. And yet I am troubled by President William Bowen *58’s conclusion that “[t]he costs of race-sensitive admissions policies ... are well justified by the benefits” (cover story, Feb. 14). While admitted students certainly benefit from the diverse educational experience that Princeton provides, that pragmatic benefit comes at a great moral expense — the University’s abandonment of the principles of equality and color-blindness.
According to statistics published in The Daily Princetonian, during Bowen’s tenure, for the Class of 1980, 38 percent (226 of 595) of black applicants and just 19 percent (97 of 516) of Asian applicants were admitted. Ten years later, for the class of 1990, 33 percent (189 of 568) of black applicants and just 11 percent (181 of 1,585) of Asian applicants were admitted. It would serve us well to remember that Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, echoing the promise of the 14th Amendment, was that people would someday be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Even at the expense of some diversity, it might be worth trying to live by Dr. King’s principles.
E. RANDOL SCHOENBERG ’88
In the Feb. 14 issue of PAW, it was reported that the Princeton Class of 1971 “had only 14 or 15 African-Americans.” True: Less than 2 percent of the 818 male students who enrolled.
In July 1969, the Office of Admission Annual Report said that the Class of 1973, the first to admit both men and women as freshmen, had 325 applications from black students, with 121 admitted and 69 enrolled — about 7 percent of an enrolled class of 921.
Jerome Karabel says in his 20th-century history, The Chosen, that final black enrollment at Princeton in 1970 (the Class of 1974), with 103 enrolled black women and men, or 10.4 percent of the class, reached “the highest figure ever attained, before or since, among the Big Three institutions.”
JOHN OSANDER ’57
Editor’s note: Osander was director of admission from 1966 to 1971.
What William Bowen fails to understand is that not all racial diversities are created equal. Like cholesterol, there is a good variety of racial diversity and a bad variety, and a diversity artificially created through racial preferences is clearly in the latter category.
The great tragedy of our current preference regime in college admissions is that it destroys much of the advantages of the good racial diversity by substituting affirmative-action diversity in its place. College-bound, black high school graduates are systematically ratcheted upward into institutions one, two, or three levels of selectivity beyond where they would have been placed were they Asian or white. Schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale accept many black students who, in the absence of racial preferences, would have wound up at schools like Tufts, Lehigh, and Rutgers, thus depriving the student body at these somewhat less selective institutions of the benefit of the healthy kind of (meritocratic) diversity. And since no school wants to be without its 7 percent or 8 percent black representation (lest they be labeled racist or opposed to civil rights), these second- and third-tier schools must raid the institutions directly beneath them on the selectivity scale, thus destroying the good diversity that these more moderately competitive schools would like to create.
The net result of this mismatching is that the typical Asian or white student at most competitive college campuses in America is substantially better qualified and more accomplished academically than the typical black student. (See, for example, data on the SAT gap in Bowen and Bok's The Shape of the River and thernstrom and Thernstrom's America in Black and White.) The very logic of the affirmative-action system guarantees this result. As a consequence, black students suspect (often correctly) that they may be looked down upon as academically inferior by their higher-achieving white and Asian peers, while whites and Asians are often resentful of a system that has kept some of their much more qualified white and Asian high school friends out of institutions that accept less qualified black applicants. Interracial friendships and understandings — the supposed goal of affirmative-action diversity — are not likely to be struck in such an environment. If you doubt this, just look into the self-segregated cafeterias and social clubs at almost any mixed-race college campus today.
The one exception here — the one place where real cross-racial friendships often do develop on college campuses — is among the recruited athletes. Such friendships flourish, however, for the very reason that the coaches do not practice affirmative action in the makeup of their teams but follow a strict color-blind, meritocratic principle. Just imagine how the social dynamics would change if being white counted as a huge plus-factor in deciding who makes the basketball team, or being black counted as a similarly large plus-factor for recruitment to the swimming and lacrosse teams! The lesson here is simple: As in sports, so in academics, if you want cross-racial friendships and understandings to develop, accent talent and ability — and disregard race.
Russell Nieli *79
A comment on “A sampler of new courses in the spring catalog” (Notebook, Feb. 14): In discussing the new course, ENG 211 (“Knowing Innocence”), your article quotes Professor Danson as saying “a paradox lies at the heart of the concept of innocence ... It’s a state which defines who we are by what nevermore can be.” This apparent “double-bind” is, I suggest, a false one, based on a temporal and externalized interpretation of “loss of innocence.” The course appears to leave out the critically important areas of spirituality (as distinguished from theology) and depth psychology. By and large, the literature of spiritual realization — particularly that of the East — takes a very different stance on “loss of innocence.” Innocence is still present, always present, even now, indeed never lost — it is one’s fundamental state, one’s ground of being. It is, at root, neither lost somehow by the passage of time, nor caused by some tragic external event, whether mundane (a bad childhood) or supernatural (being kicked out of Eden). Innocence is, rather, the result of unconsciously dissociating from one’s fundamental state. Spiritual realization consciously restores one to that always already-present depth. “Knowing innocence” — yes, that’s impossible! But realizing a state of innocence (through a spiritual process that involves transcendence of the knower) is not.
CHRIS TONG ’78
In reply to eight letters in the Feb. 14 issue of PAW, let me state at the outset: The crucial issue is to establish the main cause of current warming: Is it natural or human-caused? This question can be answered only by refined observations (see below).
Ric Merritt ’74 and Nicholas Howe ’93 argue a nonexistent “scientific consensus” on anthropogenic global warming — ignoring the deep split in the climate community. Regardless, science does not operate by voting — unlike politics. Drift of continents is a classic case: Just one crucial observation was enough to overthrow the reigning paradigm; the pioneer was Princeton geologist Harry Hess *32.
Mr. Merritt also makes a common error of logic in citing retreating glaciers. This confuses consequence of warming with cause. Any kind of warming will melt ice. Glaciers always have receded and grown in response to natural climate cycles. The sea level has risen steadily by 400 feet since the peak of the last ice age, 18,000 years ago, and will continue to rise until the next ice age. Another common error is confusing correlation and causation. There was no “close correlation” between CO2 and temperature during much of the past century, when climate cooled while CO2 levels rose.
David Grossman ’98 and Christopher Milly ’78 quote from the summary of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) report but fail to note that the summary distorts the actual findings of the report (see Fig. 5.4G, which documents the obvious disagreement between greenhouse models and actual observations).
Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert is a member of a small group of global warming activists that publishes a rather aggressive blog. He labels me a “professional” climate skeptic and — using a less-than-reliable secondary source — implies that I am somehow “tied” to organizations supported by ExxonMobil. Such allegations border on libel and simply show that he has no good scientific arguments. The observed discrepancy between measured and calculated trends with altitude (see the CCSP report) clearly indicates lack of effectiveness of rising CO2. This “inconvenient truth” is blamed on a “data problem” — which will surprise the many scientists who produced the four independent analyses of both balloon and satellite data used in the CCSP report.
I agree with Kevin Raeder ’86 on many action items. But increasing energy efficiency makes economic sense irrespective of any climate considerations. I therefore stand by my original claim that available evidence shows human influence on global climate change to be of minor importance — contrary to the conclusion of the UN science panel (IPCC) that the human contribution to current warming is “very likely.” I don’t believe there exists a global-warming problem to be “solved.” Equally, concerns about “saving the climate” are sadly misplaced.
S. FRED SINGER *48
Editor’s note: An expanded version of this letter and an essay Singer wrote for Le Monde can be found in Letterbox.
I was first annoyed and eventually alarmed at PAW’s bias toward reporting global warming as anthropogenic (man-made). Upon reflection I realize that PAW is only reflecting the University’s beliefs (President Tilghman, et al.), which are unfortunately politically correct these days but not necessarily scientifically accurate.
I hope that PAW will publish an in-depth review of S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery’s book Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, which makes a very strong case through more than 500 references that the Earth has been through warming and cooling cycles of roughly 1,500-year duration for hundreds of thousands of years. These cycles occurred long before man became a significant contributor of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and certainly raise serious doubts about our responsibility and the validity of the popular greenhouse gas theory.
Although global warming certainly will create climate change, as it continually has, there is evidence that it may not be all that bad. The last major warming period was the medieval warming (900 A.D. to 1300 A.D.), which was warmer than present-day temperatures. During this period Europe’s population rose by roughly 50 percent, implying good weather and increased food production.
Let’s not impose potentially disastrous economic sanctions based on scientifically unsupported theories and incomplete computer models.
WILLIAM C. RIDGWAY ’57
Cheers to Robert Cowen ’61, whose Feb. 14 letter correctly points out what I, too, feel to be a pro-military, pro-Bush/Cheney administration slant in many recent profiles that have appeared in the magazine. By all means PAW should make quite clear its commitment not to take sides politically, and immediately seek out those alumni who have been active in our commitment to peace and opposition to a criminal war. Such activities, whether through politics, journalism, or teaching, surely place us “in the nation’s service” at least as honorably as those who have helped destabilize the Middle East while ignoring many of the lessons of history they should have learned as undergraduates. After all, were our illustrious alumni James A. Baker III ’52 and Donald Rumsfeld ’54 truly acting “in the nation’s service” when they, respectively, helped steal the 2000 election and made a mess of Iraq and our military?
On a related note, in the same issue I read with astonishment the Class of 1981’s passing reference to the election of one of their own as governor of New York as an afterthought to a mention of an unsuccessful state senate candidate in Ohio! It made me wonder what Eliot Spitzer (full disclosure: I attended prep school at Horace Mann in New York with both Eliot and his brother, Dan Spitzer ’79) would have to do to earn some appropriate kudos from his classmates! One also wonders whether Gov. Spitzer would have taken the same back seat had he been a conservative Republican instead of an honorable, reform-minded Democrat.
PAUL M. SCHACKMAN ’78
I was delighted to read of the opening of an LGBT student center at Princeton (Notebook, Nov. 8). I have had many reasons lately to be proud of what my alma mater is doing in meeting students’ educational and social needs, and this is one! As coordinator for an LGBT Justice Initiative in our church (Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, Pa.), I have come to know and admire many LGBT people. Although things are improving, slowly, there is still a great deal of prejudice with which LGBT folk have to live. To provide those who are discriminated against as a matter of course in our society with a “welcoming place” where they can relax and be themselves is the mark of a compassionate, rational university. Kudos to President Tilghman for her welcoming response!
I was heartened by the Jan. 24 letter of Judith E. Schaeffer ’74 applauding the establishment of the center, and saddened by the letter in the same issue from Gaetano P. Cipriano ’78. Mr. Cipriano called the conduct of those I know to be good citizens (and followers of Jesus’ injunction to “love thy neighbor as thyself”) morally wrong because in the privacy of each other they do, like the rest of us, that which comes naturally to themselves as acts of love.
Morality does not lie in hewing to the dogmatic codes of particular sects or religions, but rather in perceiving and following the injunctions common to humanity, religious or otherwise as, for instance, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Compassion, love, honesty, truth, respect for your fellows — such as these are the elements of morality. President Tilghman was embodying them when she recognized the need for the LGBT Center.
ALAN D. FRANKLIN ’43
I can’t draw all the names from your picture of the mid-1970s Tiger crew (From the Archives, Feb. 14), but several remain unforgettable, seeing as they spent way too much time in my dorm rooms. For example, the woman at back row, center, in the Fair Isle sweater is Katie Carpenter ’79. It was from her I learned of Fair Isle sweaters, an occasion as momentous as learning to tie a bow tie. To her left (our right) is David Michaelis ’79. David had written a draft of a Triangle Show with the best title ever heard: “A Cracker as Big as the Ritz.” When neither that nor his Tiger humor got him anywhere, he turned serious, and is now the eminent, award-winning biographer of the Wyeth family (among others). To his left is Margaret Emory. She is Class of 1979, lived next-door to me in Princeton Inn her freshman and my sophomore year, and had a great singing voice.
The hidden mystery man? That would be Jonathan Bumas ’78, my roommate and the genius behind the Tiger in those days — S.J. Perelman, Ralph Steadman, and Jonathan Swift wrapped within a neurasthenic Queens demeanor and accent. Everyone else is familiar to me. But I can’t remember any of them ever telling a joke.
RANDALL ROTHENBERG ’78
Editor’s note: Katie Carpenter wrote in to identify, among others, Nancy Curtin ’79, who is pictured standing, third from left. Terry Power ’77 identified Ted Kirby ’77, standing, second from right, and Dalton Delan ’76, seated at right. Power also said Mike Kelly ’77, not Bumas, is the student behind the “R.” George Buell ’79 also wrote in to identify Michaelis.