On the Campus - December 15, 1999
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No water, no A-plus, lots of Singer
What Princeton students will remember from the fall of 1999

by Katherine Zoepf '00

Iwonder how long you have to be out of school before you stop feeling that the real beginning of each year is September, not January. The cooler weather makes the blood course faster as you buy books and classes get going. The colors of the leaves start to stand out sharply against the gray Gothic. It's a pleasure to stroll along Princeton's bluestone paths, kicking leaves and watching the squirrels scurry about.

By December, though, radiator pipes shudder through dorm walls at night, and leaving one's room for that first class of the day becomes a chilly ordeal. As I head home for winter break, I leave with these cameo memories of campus, memories that many Princeton students might have in common.

Unwashed masses

During the first week of classes, Princeton found itself unexpectedly in the path of Hurricane Floyd. After the rain stopped, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman declared a state of emergency because of widespread flooding that ruined homes and businesses, including that of the local water company. Princeton students, along with the surrounding community, were asked to conserve water. E-mails, voicemails, and signs on bathroom doors warned students against the various infections that they could catch by drinking from the possibly contaminated water supply. Swimmers and water polo players were bused away for practices, and, most demoralizing of all, a prohibition on showers lasted four days.

During those four days, anyone looking particularly sleek of hair or smooth of skin came under immediate suspicion of violating the shower ban. Cattiness warred with dignified moral superiority and generally won out. "I bet she's still showering," was a common grumble.

The Prince's editorial page rushed to the aid of the grubby majority with severe criticisms of the "careless revelers" who sloshed around in hot tubs at lawn parties and callously washed their laundry, when there were hospitals to the south with no water at all. "Through the rest of this odoriferous week as we skip showers, forego flushing, and wish for water, we must work together and remember that we can't all be free riders."

It was cold as water

With the Frist Campus Center in the works at Palmer Hall, and Blair Arch completely impassable because of reconstruction work, building projects on campus are now a fact of life. But just what was all that lumber and scaffolding doing in the Woodrow Wilson School fountain? Well, theater, as it turns out. Using an ingenious set rising from the depths of the knee-deep pool, the Princeton Shakespeare Company performed Otello around the fountain's central scultpure, which was turned off for the performances. As the weather had just started to turn really cold, the audience shivered in sympathy when Othello and Iago fought in the water during the third act.

Singer even at supper

The media hoopla surrounding controversial bioethicist Peter Singer's arrival this fall couldn't fail to make an impression on most of us. Whether it was the hecklers and picketers outside the gates, or the man praying day after day in front of Nassau Hall, the protesters became part of daily life for a while, making Singer's ideas the stock of dinner table conversation.

I'm in Singer's seminar this fall, and though I wasn't surprised by the number of questions I was asked on the subject, I was taken aback by the sorts of questions. Everyone seemed to want to know, not what he said in class, but what he was like. Most of us, because we were Princeton students, had already been put in the position of discussing and, by extension, of defending, Singer's appointment. If many of us hadn't read his books, no matter: the ideas they touched on were already starting to be considered common property. But what was he like? A beady-eyed madman? Most people seemed disappointed at the quiet, dignified person I described.

Wherefore are thou, A+

The tempest-in-a-teapot award for the semester goes to this story, greeted with much fanfare by the education sections of national newspapers, and with snickers from students. The A+, as it turns out, is not gone, but merely replaced by the newfangled A* or "A with Distinction," which will have a value equal to the A in grade-point average computations, and by a requirement that professors write accompanying explanations of why such a distinction was given. A blow dealt to grade inflation? Most students wondered who was getting all those A+'s in the first place.

Katherine Zoepf '00 is copresident of the Press Club.

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