Weekly Bulletin
May 22, 2000
Vol. 89, No. 28
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Page one news and features
Art from gender viewpoint
Hydrogen: was lost, is found
Proposal may improve hazardous waste cleanup
Shapiro honored for leadership on ethical issues

Faculty to advise on Wythes recommendations
Professors instruct Teachers as Scholars
Students are advised to "Flee youthful lusts"
100 Treasures from the Collections of the PU Library
Alumni Learning

Physics major wins Churchill Scholarship
Faculty become emeriti

Nassau Notes


Gateways to alumni learning: Princeton in person, in print, on tape and on-line


Alumni College in Costa Rica (January 2000) was led by Paul Sigmund, professor of politics, and Andrew Dobson, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. (Photo by Paula Bryant)


By Harold T. Shapiro

Princeton works hard to establish and maintain close ties with alumni, to keep them informed about the University and, as an increasingly important goal, to provide them with access to a variety of educational resources.

The University has a distinctive tradition of considering alumni to be "learners" as well as "graduates," a tradition that has been substantially enhanced in recent years through lectures by Princeton faculty at alumni events on campus or in regional associations, home-study programs, alumni colleges here and abroad, audio and video cassettes of faculty lectures, and, increasingly, "on-line" courses, webcasts and other offerings that make use of information technology.

The popularity of lectures and symposia at Alumni Day and Reunions testifies to alumni interest in the rich educational resources that Princeton can provide. Alumni regional associations regularly invite faculty to speak about their teaching and research. For many years we have offered alumni colleges on campus and throughout the world on a wide variety of topics. These have the multiple benefits of presenting learning opportunities and introducing alumni to faculty and their research and scholarship.

Alumni colleges in July and August this year will offer topics as diverse as the literary heritage of Ireland and England and the geology and biology of Montana. This summer we are planning an alumni college on campus that will take advantage of the opera festival at McCarter Theatre -- as well as the addition of our newest dormitory, airconditioned Scully Hall.

More recently, we have begun to experiment with course formats that make greater use of information technology and the internet to extend the availability of alumni education and offer more possibilities for interaction and discussion. The Alumni Studies program provides alumni with taped lectures and readings they can pursue at home and includes access to e-mail discussion groups.

In addition, participants may come to campus for a two or three-day lecture and precept series. This spring, Professor of English John Fleming is leading a program on The Spirit and the Flesh: Twelve Centuries of English Religious Poetry. During the March on-campus component of the program, about 40 alumni, parents and friends participated in precepts on Milton's Paradise Lost and a tour of the iconography of the Chapel windows led by Professor Fleming.

Vanguard among universities

Princeton is in the vanguard among universities with respect to on-line course offerings for alumni. These courses usually consist of three to six lectures and provide for monitored e-mail discussions and on-line precepts. The program began three years ago with Professor Norman Itzkowitz's course on the history of conflict in the Balkans, called The Demonization of the Other. It continued with Professor John Pinto's Walks in Rome, which used CD-ROM technology to create a graphic-rich experience; almost 900 alumni have registered for that course. This spring Professor Jeffrey Herbst offered a minicourse on Nelson Mandela, and in the fall Professor James Gould will offer a course on animal behavior.

I want to stress that none of these courses or any that we are contemplating are "for credit" for a degree here or elsewhere. They are for personal enrichment, and this seems to match the interests of our alumni.

90 percent of alumni own computers

In a recent survey of approximately 900 graduate and undergraduate alumni from classes spanning the 1940s to the 1990s, 82 percent of undergraduate alumni and 78 percent of graduate alumni ranked personal enrichment as the chief reason they pursue such courses. This survey suggests that alumni are interested in a broad range of programs, from on-line courses and audiotaped lectures to alumni studies programs and alumni colleges.

Educational offerings that include an on-line component or that use technology in other ways to deliver a portion of the course material (videotapes, for example) seem to be expanding the reach of these programs to younger alumni. While alumni from classes in the 1940s to the 1960s have been the predominant participants in alumni colleges, the Alumni Studies program, which delivers information electronically or through technology with the option of a short visit to campus, is drawing more alumni from the 1970s. On-line courses and webcasts draw alumni from all decades, with the heaviest concentration in the 1980s and 1990s.

We learned from the alumni survey that well over 90 percent of them own computers, and nearly all the computer owners have access to the internet and use e-mail. We wish to take advantage of the growing technological capabilities of our alumni. The trustee long-range planning committee, the Wythes Committee, urged the University to develop as expeditiously as possible initiatives that can more fully extend the use of new technology in our educational programs to benefit our students and also our alumni.

Discussions with Stanford, Yale

We have recently entered into discussions with Stanford and Yale universities about establishing a nonprofit consortium that would develop distance learning and internet-based educational programs in the arts and sciences. Initial discussions have focused on continuing education for our alumni, but this effort and all our attempts to take advantage of new technology benefit not just one sector of the University community but students, faculty and alumni alike. We know that faculty who have developed alumni on-line programs use these experiences to improve courses for our students. For example, Professor Pinto has incorporated material developed for his alumni on-line program, Walks in Rome, into his undergraduate course on Rome and was inspired to develop a freshman seminar on technology and art history. And, of course, the pedagogical use that faculty make of new technology in their undergraduate and graduate courses helps enliven alumni programs.

I hope you will explore the on-line offerings accessible through the Alumni Council's web page and take advantage of this learning gateway (


President's Pages are a regular feature of the Princeton Alumni Weekly; Selected President's Pages also appear in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin.