Notebook - October 7, 1998


Princeton greets Class of 2002
Increased financial aid yields more students


The week after Labor Day the town of Princeton, still sleepy after a quiet summer, was rudely awakened by two storms. The first, a vicious northeaster, blew down trees and knocked out power in many parts of the borough. But it was the second storm, a tornado of new students that ripped through the town sucking up posters, toiletries, couches, CD's, and anything else that might fit in a dorm room, that truly ended the summer.

An unexpectedly high yield brought 1,172 new students to campus, just 41 students shy of the Princeton record for the largest entering class, which is held by this year's seniors. Many of the new students eased into campus life by participating in the Outdoor and Urban Action programs. Outdoor Action continued to be extremely popular, taking 603 first-year students on various hiking, canoeing, and rock climbing trips. Another 96 students joined Urban Action programs in Princeton, Trenton, and Philadelphia, where they worked in a soup kitchen, helped build houses for low-income families, and ran programs for children.

On Sunday, September 13, President Shapiro greeted the new members of the community during Opening Exercises in the University Chapel, noting that the Class of 2002 "probably had the highest level of academic achievement of any entering class in Princeton's history." In his address, entitled "Conversations," Shapiro spoke about the "special role that conversations can play in one's education." His definition of a conversation included both the literal meaning, and the intellectual exchange between individuals and "cultural artifacts" such as books, paintings, and music. Shapiro asserted that such conversations "demand openness to new ideas and a focused effort," but can "result in new worlds of understanding."



The percentage of those students who accepted Princeton's offer of admission rose from 65 percent last year to 70 percent this year. The high yield is at least partially the result of changes in the university's financial aid policy, which lowered the cost of a Princeton education for low and middle-income families. This year 43 percent of the freshman class will receive financial aid, compared to 38 percent of the Class of 2001. Under the new policy adopted by the trustees last January, the university eliminated all loans, substituting outright scholarships, for students of families with incomes below or near the national average of $40,000. And it significantly reduced the loan burden on a sliding scale for students from families with incomes between $40,000 and $57,500. Princeton also increased its scholarship budget for international students by roughly a third.

These changes were announced after the deadline for applications to the Class of 2002, but in time to affect those who accepted Princeton's offer of admission. The new financial-aid policy may have an even more dramatic effect on the Class of 2003, observed Provost Jeremiah P. Ostriker, the policy's principal author. Ostriker expects to see more applicants this year than last.

Because of the larger than expected entering class, some 25 upperclassmen are being housed temporarily in apartments until the last section of Scully, the new dormitory, is completed in mid-October, according to Adam Rockman, coordinator of undergraduate housing. Still, Ostriker emphasizes, a finite number of beds means that future Princeton classes will not continue to get larger. The university had space for a larger freshman class this year, he added, because the Class of 1998 was also large.


The Graduate College welcomed 494 new students, 36 percent of whom are female. Foreign nationals make up 44 percent of new graduate students. Among U.S. nationals, minorities make up 15.2 percent of new graduate students, down from 20 percent last year. According to David N. Redman, associate dean of academic affairs, the drop in minorities this year is due to fewer Latinos and Asian-Americans enrolling. Among U.S. nationals, 8 percent are Asian-American, 4 percent are African-American, and 3 percent are Latino. By area of study, 130 new degree students are in the natural sciences, 110 in engineering, 84 in public and international affairs, 76 in humanities, 65 in social sciences, and 29 in architecture. In all, 1,792 students are enrolled in the Graduate College. Classes started Thursday, September 17.

Nine join Board of Trustees


On September 18, nine new members joined the Board of Trustees for its first meeting of the new academic year. They are:

Janet M. Clarke '76 (charter trustee) is a managing director of Citibank in its global consumer business, where she is responsible for global database marketing. She is a graduate of the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School and is a cochair of Princeton's current five-year capital campaign.

Dr. Nancy J. Newman '78 (charter trustee) is a neuro-ophthalmologist at the Emory University School of Medicine, where she is researching Parkinson's disease and its treatment. Newman graduated from the Harvard Medical School. As a Princeton senior she received the M. Taylor Pyne Prize, the highest undergraduate honor.

John O. Wynne '67 (charter trustee) is the president and CEO of Landmark Communications, Inc., a media company that owns, among other properties, the Weather Channel. Wynne has a long-standing interest in promoting education and has served in leadership positions at the Tidewater Scholarship Foundation, which assists low-income high school students who want to attend college. He holds a law degree from the University of Virginia.

Donald G. Fisher (term trustee) is the founder, chairman, and former CEO of The Gap, Inc. He also has served on the advisory council to the U.S. Trade Representative since the Reagan administration. All three of Fisher's children graduated from Princeton, and he served as a term trustee from 1993 to 1997.

Peter B. Lewis '55 (term trustee) is the chairman, president, and CEO of The Progressive Corporation, which he transformed from a small insurance company into the nation's sixth-largest auto insurance carrier. Lewis is also a trustee of the Solomon M. Guggenheim Museum, the Cleveland Museum of the Arts, and The Aspen Institute.

Richard O. Scribner '58 (term trustee) is the managing director and co-chief compliance officer at Salomon Smith Barney. Before entering finance, Scribner received his LL.B. from Columbia and practiced law for several years. He has been chair of Princeton's National Annual Giving Committee since 1995.

The Rt. Rev. Frederick H. Borsch '57 (alumni trustee) is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, where he serves 150 congregations in six counties of southern California. After graduating from Princeton, Borsch received an M.A. from Oxford and a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham, before returning to Princeton as Dean of the Chapel.

Irvine O. Hockaday, Jr. '58 (alumni trustee) is president and CEO of Hallmark Cards, Inc. During his tenure there, numerous organizations have commended Hallmark as one of the nation's best employers. Hockaday holds a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.

Jeffrey S. Siegel '98 (alumni trustee) is currently working as the deputy finance director for Rush Holt, a Democratic nominee for Congress in New Jersey. In his senior year, Siegel was the president of the Undergraduate Student Government.

The three charter trustees will serve until 2008, while the term and alumni trustees will serve until 2002.

Faculty File: Who is Peter Singer?
Newly appointed professor draws criticism a year before his arrival

  • Three Books by Peter Singer




     As a philosopher specializing in bioethics, Peter Singer asks questions that most of us are afraid to answer: questions about subjects such as euthanasia, genetic engineering, and animal rights. His work often doesn't make him many friends. Over the course of his career he's had his glasses smashed by protesters in Germany, and he's been called a Nazi by some of his more fervent critics.

    But until Princeton hired Singer away from Monash University in Australia and appointed him the DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values, he was largely unknown to the Princeton community. With his appointment, however, which takes effect in July 1999, came a string of newspaper articles with titles such as "Princeton's new hire: Introductory Eugenics," and "Messenger of death at Princeton."

    Most of the articles focused on Singer's controversial assertion that some infants with severe disabilities should be killed. Singer's argument, explained in his books Practical Ethics, Should the Baby Live? and Rethinking Life and Death, asks from a variety of ethical views what society should do about infants who are born with crippling conditions such as severe forms of spina bifida. In Singer's opinion, it is far crueler to allow these children to die of neglect, as is the current practice in many countries, than to euthanize them. Rather than acknowledge the complexities of Singer's argument, however, most of the articles chose to instead paint him as a baby-killer.

    Recent reports on America's cynicism with the news media must be exaggerated, because many alumni and friends of Princeton took the stories at face value. The university received a flood of letters, many of which admitted that while the writers had never read Singer's work, they were still shocked that "once noble Prince-ton University," as one of them put it, would hire a "deranged, murderous, dangerously radical, maniac." One longtime university employee wrote to President Shapiro, "we were very upset after reading the article in the Trenton Times on Saturday. My daughter (she is also working here) called me up in tears over the article. To bring someone who does not have any respect for humanity or human life into our university is wrong."

    So why did Princeton hire Peter Singer? Last year, the DeCamp search committee, charged with finding a professor in bioethics to fill a long-standing gap in the faculty, chose Singer from a large group of qualified candidates. The committee, which consisted of philosopher Mark Johnston, political scientists George Kateb and Amy Gutmann, Woodrow Wilson School dean Michael Rothschild, molecular biologist Shirley Tilghman, and biologist Dan Rubenstein, was unanimous in its endorsement of Singer.

    On the basis of his scholarship, Singer is arguably the most qualified person in his field. He is the author or coauthor of more than two dozen books, and his book Animal Liberation is often credited with founding the modern animal rights movement. During the search, the committee received 19 letters of (often enthusiastic) recommendation from scholars around the globe, and when Singer agreed to come to Princeton, the committee viewed it as a major coup. Amy Gutmann, the current director of the Center for Human Values, says, "the academic community applauded the appointment in an area where it's usually very hard to get consensus."

    Kateb, who chaired the search committee, argues that despite the media's portrayal of Singer, he is actually one of the most humane thinkers in philosophy. As an example, Kateb points to Singer's article "Famine, Affluence and Morality." "It was the most eye-opening article I've ever read," he says. "Its premise is very simple. He argues that we owe one another a little more than we think we do. He argues that we ought to give a little bit of ourselves to help prevent human misery."

    In fact, Singer is concerned enough about suffering that he donated all the proceeds from his book Practical Ethics to the British overseas aid organization, Oxfam. And, it was this same concern about human misery that led him to the subject of euthanasia in the first place. "I don't like unnecessary suffering," Singer says, "and I became aware of the practice of allowing severely disabled infants to die by neglect, which I thought was the worst of all worlds -- just completely inhumane." He began to ask difficult questions, such as what society should do about a baby born without a brain, and immediately discovered that some of his answers were making him a pariah.

    "The tragedy here," Kateb says of Singer, "is that in almost all cases, those who are enraged have not read his writing, or only know his work through small selections that other people have made for them." Kateb believes one of the reasons Singer has attracted so much negative attention is that he's very easy to quote out of context. "He doesn't try to hide his arguments behind academic jargon," Kateb says. "He says what he means in plain English."

    In an era of sound-bite politics, that tendency leaves Singer wide open to often ignorant and hyperbolic attack. Terry Golway of The New York Observer briefly quoted Singer, then used the quote to suggest that Singer would want to euthanize Franklin Roosevelt and Christopher Reeve -- despite an entire section in chapter seven of Practical Ethics where Singer argues, "[we should] treat the rule against involuntary euthanasia, as, for all practical purposes, absolute." Abuses like this are why Gutmann regards the sensational articles and columns as completely irresponsible. "Sensationalism shouldn't exist on this topic," she argues. "Something as difficult as euthanasia needs careful, clear argument and acknowledgment of the facts, not simplistic, headline-grabbing stories."

    Both Gutmann and Kateb acknowledge that many legitimate criticisms can be made of Singer's work. Many of Singer's arguments rely on utilitarianism, which remains a highly controversial philosophy, and Singer makes many assumptions in his books that are wide open to challenge. Singer himself welcomes debate over his ideas. "The role of the philosopher is to get people to challenge beliefs and to think critically about them," he says. "You want people to challenge you and challenge themselves to discover a consistent set of moral views." What bothers Singer most about the way the press has treated him is that, "when reporters misquote me or distort my views, some people won't look any further."

    In fact, the recent articles and columns about Singer raise the question of whether the mainstream media can ever conduct a debate on a serious issue without either grossly simplifying or misrepresenting difficult work. And once a scholar is slandered, how should the academic community respond? Gutmann, who has faced exactly this challenge in recent weeks, says, "These attacks are hard to answer, because they're so off-base. Just having to say that he's not a Nazi makes me feel like I'm being dragged into the mud."

    Kateb is even more vehement in his defense of the appointment. He maintains that even though the columnists who criticize Singer may be too intellectually lazy to read him, we ought to hold members of the Princeton community to a higher standard. "I may not always agree with Peter Singer," Kateb says, "but he is a hard-working, subtle, humane, moral philosopher, and Princeton should have the guts to defend him. We should insist that those who accuse him read what he has written, and read it extensively."

    In the meantime, Singer will continue to write and teach in the relative peace of Melbourne, Australia, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He does seem slightly mystified about why he is in the headlines while many of his colleagues work in relative obscurity. "I didn't have a choice about being controversial," he says. "Everything just blew up." Still, Singer is willing to put up with controversy if it means that more people are engaging with his ideas. As he says with just a hint of regret, "I guess it's better to be criticized than ignored."

    -- Wes Tooke '98

    Three Books by Peter Singer


    Animal Liberation (1975, 1990) The book that many people credit with founding the modern animal rights movement. Singer argues that to discount the sufferings of animals, simply because they are not members of our species, is a prejudice akin to racism or sexism.


    Practical Ethics (1979, 1993) A wide-ranging book that applies ethics and morality to practical issues. Singer writes about, among other subjects, equality, taking life from both humans and animals, poverty, and the environment.


    Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement (1998) In his most recent work, Singer examines how it is possible for one activist to make a difference in the world.