November 22, 2000


Faculty file: Existential enigmas

Princeton's return on investment high: Nassau Capital folded back into Princo

Millstone Bypass

Campus center dedicated: Alumni return for weekend of celebration

On view

In Brief

Faculty file
Existential enigmas

"Russian literature," says Ellen Chances *72, "asks all the big questions: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? How can one live an ethical life? Why is there suffering in the world?

"These are the questions I find compelling."

Professor Chances, a specialist in Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet literature and culture, earned her Ph.D. at Princeton in Slavic languages. Intense, energetic, and expressive, she is also a published poet, essayist, short-story writer, and film critic. The varied aspects of her creative self are inseparable, she says, from her scholarly identity: "Teaching Russian literature takes on new dimensions from the other writing I do," she says, "and living in the workshop of these Russian writers inspires my own writing." It is impossible, she believes, "to divorce scholarship from writing, from teaching, from the issues we must all face in our own lives."

Lecturing on Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Gogol, Lermontov, Pushkin, or Tolstoy, she conveys a sense of their work as "organic." Most literary works, she points out, "are the result of interdependent connections - connections within the work itself, connections to the writer, to his or her life, to history." She urges her students to "search with the authors, to inquire, along with them, into the meaning of life."

Chances's fascination with existential enigmas guides her current research: She continues to study contemporary novelist Andrei Bitov, "who is in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but deals with our 21st-century world." (Her book, Andrei Bitov: The Ecology of Inspiration [Cambridge University Press, 1993] was the first book in any language on Bitov.) She is also preparing a book on "the ethical dimensions of contemporary Russian cinema."

By Caroline Moseley


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Princeton's return on investment high
Nassau Capital folded back into Princo

Princeton's $8.4-billion endowment earned a striking 35.5 percent return on investment for the fiscal year ended June 30, nearly five times as much as the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

Many major university endowments posted enviable results. Among the 18 largest reporting their numbers to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Princeton ranked ninth. Duke led with a 58.8 percent return; Harvard earned 32.2 percent, Yale 41 percent, and Dartmouth 46 percent.

The Chronicle attributed the results to "the exceptional performance of venture capital," which benefited from a hot market in initial public offerings. Venture capital certainly stoked Princeton's returns. These investments grew more than 200 percent last year and have averaged 82.5 percent annually over five years.

Given this performance, it may seem surprising that Princeton is now changing how it manages venture capital and other "private equity" investments like leveraged buyouts. Since 1995, these investments - totaling $1.6 billion, or one-fifth of the endowment's current value - have been controlled by Nassau Capital, a partnership started by Randall Hack '69. In May, a committee headed by trustee John H. Scully '66 completed a year-long review of Nassau Capital's performance and its relationship with the Princeton University Investment Co. (Princo), which oversees the university's investments for the trustees.

Scully, managing director of SPO Partners & Co., a California merchant bank, says the committee found that Nassau Capital had performed "extraordinarily well," creating a "gold standard" private-equity portfolio "second to none." In the future, however, the committee saw potential for conflicts between Princo and Nassau Capital that could be "quite troubling."

For example, if the trustees took a bearish view of the investment environment in the decade ahead, Princo might batten down the hatches by becoming more conservative. Meanwhile, Nassau Capital might see the world more bullishly and press ahead with new investment risks.

Under the old structure, there was no "grand arbiter," in Scully's words, for resolving such conflicts. And the people running the two organizations, who now work hand-in-glove to harmonize their policies, will inevitably change with time, making coordination potentially more difficult.

As a result, the trustees decided to "repatriate" $1.3 billion from Nassau Capital, bringing these investments back under Princo's control. The assets involved were all invested in private-equity funds run by outside managers. Meanwhile, Princeton has given Nassau Capital, which Hack and cofounder John Quigley will continue to operate, an additional $100 million to invest in private companies directly. It now has stakes in 39 companies with a cost basis of some $300 million.

By Allan Demaree '58

Allan Demaree is a former executive editor of Forbes magazine.


Endowment performance of wealthiest 10 Universities

Institution          2000                1999                2000
                             value*              value*            return

Harvard             $19.20              $14.26              32.2%

U. of Texas        $10.00                $8.13            16.5%

Yale                     $10.10              $7.20            41.0%

Princeton          $8.40                   $6.47            35.5%

Stanford               n/a                    $6.01                n/a

Emory                  n/a                     $4.48               n/a

U. of California  $5.06                  $4.32             14.7%

M.I.T.                     n/a                    $4.29                n/a

Washington U. $4.30                   $3.76              n/a

Texas A&M       $4.48                    $3.75            27.2%

* in billions Source: The Chronicle of higher education

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Millstone Bypass

The New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) released on October 17 its environmental assessment (EA) of the Millstone Bypass, a reconfiguration of Washington Road designed to alleviate congestion on Route 1. The next step is a public hearing and public comment. The Federal Highway Administration will review the EA and the public comment and will decide if more evaluation needs to be done. If not, then the final design process can begin. With no significant hurdles to overcome, construction could start in 2004. The new road, as planned, will swing from Harrison Street and Route 1, cross university property as it heads toward Lake Carnegie, and meet up with Washington Road close to the lake. The elm allée on the current Washington Road would remain open and provide an entrance to Route 1, but without a traffic signal. The new configuration would eliminate three signals on Route 1 and ease traffic on both Route 1 and Washington Road, said DOT officials. University administrators support the plan, saying it also allows for the effective utilization of university lands for future educational endeavors. University administrators and consultants are now reviewing the EA. For releases, maps, and enhanced photos of the proposed alignment, go to dot/roads/rt1/penn_neck/.

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Campus center dedicated
Alumni return for weekend of celebration

"Rejoice" was the word for the weekend of October 20. For the duration of the Anniversary Campaign for Princeton, which raised $1.14 billion, the slogan was "With One Accord," and development officers have been waiting for five years to finish the phrase from the song "Old Nassau."

And rejoice they did, with three days of activities for the 1,500 alumni, donors, and friends of Princeton who attended. On Thursday, Wallace Hall, the new social sciences building, was dedicated, as was the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. On Friday, the Frist Campus Center was dedicated, followed by a luncheon on the grassy sward between the center and Guyot Hall and a dinner that night in a decorated Jadwin Gym. (Unfortunately, a number of people became ill after the dinner, complaining of flu-like symptoms, but food service personnel were not at fault, said Don Robasser, university sanitarian, who said it might have been a viral or bacterial infection.)

In between dedications and dinners the university hosted numerous lectures and panels, drawing on luminaries from the alumni ranks and faculty to speak.

The Frist center, designed by Robert Venturi '47 *50, brings to fruition the century-long desire of successive presidents to have a central place for university members to congregate.

At the dedication of the campus center, U.S. Senator William H. Frist '74, whose family - in particular his brother, physician Thomas F. Frist, Jr. p'91, p'93 - provided a $25 million gift for the center, spoke, as did his brother. Both expressed pleasure in being able to create the building. Thomas Frist singled out President Shapiro for his fire and passion, and Venturi and Thomas H. Wright '62, vice president of the university, for their good stewardship.

Tucked in on the third floor of the center is the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, paid for by publisher Harold W. McGraw, Jr. '40, who said on Friday that the center was founded on a simple principle: Good teaching can and needs to be learned, and good learning can and needs to be taught. The teaching and learning center will be a laboratory for new ideas across departments and disciplines.

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On view

This Alexander Calder sculpture, Model for Five Disks: One Empty, given by the artist in honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr. '22, is part of an exhibit at the Art Museum called Material Language: Small-Scale Sculpture After 1950. The exhibit is being shown in complement with the large-scale sculptures on campus, notably Richard Serra's The Hedgehog and the Fox, which is located near Princeton Stadium. The show ends December 30.

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In Brief

The university received last month $15 million from BP and $5 million from Ford Motor Company to fund research in greenhouse warming. This is the largest corporate gift in Princeton's history, and will fund the Carbon Mitigation Initiative. The principal researchers, Stephen Pacala, professor in ecology and evolutionary biology, and Robert Socolow, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will investigate several technologies for capturing the carbon in fossil fuels and sequestering it in underground formations.

On October 20, the Class of 1942 presented to Librarian Karen Trainer a copy of its book The Princeton Class of 1942 During World War II: The Individual Stories. On hand for the presentation were, from left, Damon Carter '42, Charlie Blackmar '42, Trainer, and Jack Guthrie '42.

The Best of PAW, an anthology of articles taken from the Princeton Alumni Weekly, is available. Edited by former PAW editor Jim Merritt '66, the book illuminates the history of Princeton through the eyes of journalists and contributors to PAW. For ordering information, please phone 609-258-2107. An interview with Merritt and the book's table of contents are online at

When Professor John Fleming was asked by editors at Maxim magazine to work with them on an editorial, he had no idea that accepting the offer would mean posing as a model for the September issue. Fleming, a medievalist in the university's English department, had never heard of Maxim before being asked to participate in its "Rebellious Behavior" photo series. The series, which juxtaposes gothic (punk) fashion and Gothic architecture, opens with Fleming sitting in an East Pyne classroom. Dressed in a wool suit, cashmere vest, silk bow tie, and platinum-wire glasses, the "professor" is in sharp contrast with the "students," three black-clad youths sporting tattoos and piercings. "I suppose that was their theory of what a professor looks like," said Fleming, "though I've never seen any professor dressed in clothes like that." In looking for a faculty member to portray the quintessential Ivy League professor, Maxim called Fleming on the recommendation of its editor-in-chief, Keith Blanchard '88, who had taken Fleming's Chaucer course. The shoot took two hours, much of which was spent in changing from outfit to outfit. As for the results, Fleming was pleased. "It's given me tremendous cachet with my children, who can now see their square old dad featured in a sex magazine." For a lighter look at Fleming's modeling career, go to

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