October 11, 2000

From the Editor

One of the first questions we asked our returning undergraduate intern and writers this fall was: "What do you think of Frist?" PAW's staff toured the under-construction campus center last spring, and frankly we were impressed by its sheer size and its scope. In its 185,000 square feet, it boasts three different dining options (including an actual bar), a movie theater, pool tables, and lots of hanging-out space, complete with wide-screen TVs and surround-sound audio systems. Compared to the old "student center," which claimed some neat atmosphere and not much else, it's something of a palace. We were curious to hear what the students thought.

"It seems pretty good," they responded. "We'll really miss Chancellor Green, though."

We've been talking a lot about change here at PAW lately, for obvious reasons, and I had to chuckle at this latest evidence that no change, no matter how drastic an improvement, comes easily. When I started at PAW eight months ago, an alumnus e-mailed me a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson. It hangs on my bulletin board now: "Indeed, that which [my successors] attend is but a fallen university; it has doubtless some remains of good, for human institutions decline by gradual stages; but decline, in spite of all seeming embellishments, it does; and what perhaps is more singular, began to do so when I ceased to be a student. Thus, by odd chance, I had the very last of the very best of alma mater; the same thing I hear...had previously happened to my father; and if they are good and do not die, something not at all unsimilar will be found in time to have befallen my successors of today."

It's certainly something for Princeton to celebrate that, like the alumni of Stevenson's mythical college, each successive generation believes that the university was at its best when they were in attendance. But of course, Stevenson's tongue-in-cheek anecdote also helps put resistance to change in perspective. When Frist director Paul Breitman gave us our tour last May, we asked him about the mild student furor over the closing of Chancellor Green. He smiled and said, "In four years, no one will remember Chancellor Green."

It's impossible to say whether Frist will accomplish all that it's supposed to - probably not, as the administration is hoping for nothing less than a transformation of the campus environment into a more cohesive, inclusive community - but there's no doubt that Frist will eventually change Princeton life in many ways. Even with those changes, though, it's more than likely that students post-Frist, too, will believe they got the very last of the very best of alma mater.