April 4, 2001: Notebook

Faculty File: Sculpting the arts

An estate tax repeal: What it would mean for Princeton’s coffers

On View at Princeton

Presenting Prospect

Faculty, administrators attend workshop on gender inequality : Eight institutions meet to discuss possible solutions

Clubs use wristbands to curb underage drinking A study by Harvard's School of Public Health indicates effectiveness of policy

Bioethics conference discusses reproductive technology

In Brief

Talks on Campus

Faculty File:
Sculpting the arts

Visual has a special meaning for James Seawright, director of the Program in Visual Arts for 29 years. His sculptures are dynamic, using technology – often electronically controlled moving parts – and changing lights.

When he was growing up in Greenwood, Mississippi, the only sculpture in town was the Confederate monument. An article in Life magazine in 1958 about sculptors using industrial materials for their work opened his eyes.

“It touched a nerve,” says Seawright, who had spent much time tinkering and working on mechanical hobbies. As a naval engineering officer on a ship stationed in Norfolk, he had access to the machine shop, where he began working on sculpture.

After the Navy, he enrolled in the Art Students League in New York and studied traditional sculpture under the artist José de Creeft. By 1966, he had his first New York one-man show at the Stable Gallery, and his work was featured in its own Life magazine piece. Hundreds of shows have followed, and his work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim and Whitney Museums.
When he first came to Princeton to teach in 1969, the Visual Arts faculty consisted of two other people, a potter and a painter. Now there are 22, most short-term and part-time, which allows the widest possible diversity.

Enrollment in the program is limited, and far more students apply than are accepted. “A student who wants to take ceramics has one chance in 14 of getting in,” Seawright says. “In photography it’s one in seven.”

Seawright will step down as director in June but continue to teach sculpture. “The thing I’m most excited about is the upcoming renovation of the building at 185 Nassau Street,” he says. “It will mean new studios for students in the attic.”

By Ann Waldron

Return to Notebook Main Menu

An estate tax repeal
What it would mean for Princeton’s coffers

As Congress considers scrapping the estate tax, charitable organizations across the country — including colleges and universities — are quietly wondering whether they will experience a slump in donations as donors begin to feel less tax pressure from the federal government.

The estate tax has come under increasing fire from anti-tax advocates who argue that it forces too many family businesses and farms to liquidate their assets upon the death of the founder, even when extensive tax planning is undertaken ahead of time. In recent years, congressional Republicans — backed by a potent coalition of pro-business and taxpayer groups — have pushed for a full repeal of what they’ve taken to calling the “death tax.”

With the inauguration of George W. Bush, the odds of a repeal have increased markedly. But congressional Democrats continue to oppose a full repeal, preferring more modest legislation that makes it easier for active businesses to avoid the tax. The subject of both sides’ rhetoric is a tiny slice of the American population. But because these people tend to make large charitable donations, they occupy a disproportionately big place in the minds of university administrators.

For persons who die in 2001, the estate tax will be levied only if the deceased’s assets exceed $675,000, a level that will rise to $1 million by 2006. (Holdings passed to a surviving spouse are tax-exempt.) According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington think tank, in 1997 only about 43,000 deceased individuals — 2 percent of the people who died that year — paid any estate tax at all. Moreover, the biggest 2,400 of those estates — those with assets exceeding $5 million — paid nearly half of the nation’s estate tax bill.

Because the estate tax fully exempts charitable contributions, donors in the highest bracket can save $550 in taxes for every $1,000 they give to charities — a powerful incentive to give. Moreover, many wealthy individuals give generously to charities while they’re still alive in order to reduce the size of their taxable estate. A U.S. Treasury study estimated that a repeal of the estate tax, without the creation of other tax incentives to foster charitable giving, could reduce donations by $4 billion a year.

Those are the kind of numbers that make development officers toss and turn at night. So is Princeton worried? The answer, based on interviews with administrators, is yes and no.

“In our experience, the tax code is not the prime motivator, but it certainly has an impact on what people do, and when,” says Robert Durkee ’69, the university’s vice president for public affairs. “It really does make a difference for a donor to give something to their favorite charity instead of to the U.S. Treasury.”

Hoping to make a dent in the pro-repeal juggernaut in Washington, Durkee has been working with several interest groups to make the university’s case before Congress. Durkee has been working most closely with the Ad-Hoc Tax Group, a collection of 40-odd colleges and universities that are concerned about the repeal effort.

“You try the best you can to make sure as many members of Congress are thinking about this and are focusing on the potential impact,” Durkee says. “It’s important for them to hear the other side of the story.”

Despite such concerns, Van Zandt Williams ’65, the university’s vice president for development, is not yet in crisis mode. “I’d have to say we are not terribly concerned,” Williams says. “The reason is that charitable intent is not really a tax-related issue. People were making gifts and bequests long before there was an estate tax, and I have very little doubt that people will continue to do so if it ever goes away.”

Williams says that a repeal would most directly affect planned giving — a strategy by which donors set up trusts with the university while they are still alive. Planned-giving donors typically transfer a portion of their assets to the university. During the donor’s lifetime, the university will return the investment income to the donor. But because the assets themselves are fully held by the university, they are exempt from estate and capital gains taxes.

“While planned giving will obviously have implications if there is an estate-tax repeal, the setup has other features,” Williams says. “There’s the satisfaction of knowing the deed is done while you’re still alive, and the convenience of knowing that your assets are being managed in a complex investment world.” Williams adds that many donors today do not wish to leave excessively large estates to their children, fearing it could be a disincentive to work.

While Princeton would be in much the same boat as other colleges if a repeal passed, it has some slight advantages, Williams says. The most important is the high level of alumni loyalty. Compared to the national average, Princeton alumni are somewhat more likely to leave assets to the university in their wills.

So what should alumni do? Williams urges doing nothing until the ink from President Bush’s signature is dry, since “the devil will be in the details.” And if a full repeal does pass? “The first thing to do is celebrate,” he says. “The second is to call your friends in the development office to see how much fun you can have with all this money.”

By Louis Jacobson ’92

Louis Jacobson covers lobbying for the National Journal in Washington, D.C.

Return to Notebook Main Menu

On View at Princeton

A selection of dramatic panoramic photographs taken from 1868—75 in Athens by the French photographer Félix Bonfils are on display at Firestone Library.

Shown here, top, is a view of a crenellated wall made from debris, probably from the Byzantine era. Below is the Propylaia, begun in 435 B.C., which was the monumental entrance to the Acropolis.

Bonfils’s images are part of the collection donated in 1921 by Rudolf Ernst Brünnow, a professor of Semitic philology.

Also on display is a 14-foot-wide view of Athens that was digitally “stitched” together from three different Bonfils photographs; that image is also available at www.princeton.edu/~rbsc/bonfils/main.html. The exhibition runs through October.

Return to Notebook Main Menu

Presenting Prospect

What if the street you knew — the stately old mansions, each with its own roofline, its own lawn, its own walkway, and its own fence —was changed somehow to something new, different, yet still familiar?

A refashioned — but familiar — street is exactly what a new student group at Princeton, aptly titled Prospect(s), has in mind.

The group, composed of a half-dozen art and archaeology majors, sponsored a contest, open to anyone on campus, to reconceptualize the “Street” itself. People were urged to rethink the space from Washington Road to Stevenson Hall and submit proposals to a jury, composed of undergraduates, administrators, professional architects, and university trustees.

“Sometimes the street needs to reconsider itself,” said Steve Caputo ’01, who thought up the contest last summer. “With 500 new students, a new residential college, and the Frist Campus Center, it’s a good time to think about what the Street is going to be.”
In the end, Prospect(s) will publish a catalog of outstanding entries, mount an exhibition in Frist, and, with the help of several campus administrators and institutional centers from the Woodrow Wilson School to the Third World Center, award $5,000 in prizes.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to share their vision with the administration,” said Janet Dickerson, university vice president for student life. “We’re doing a lot of talking and planning about how different quadrants of the university will be used in the future.” Dickerson added that the university does not currently have any plans to alter the social structure of the street.

With a high-tech Web site, which laid out the ground rules at www.princeton.edu/~rethink, Prospect(s) is careful not to call it an architectural contest. “It’s more of an idea competition about spaces and how spaces are used and defined,” said Caputo.

By Annie Ruderman ‘01

Return to Notebook Main Menu

Faculty, administrators attend workshop on gender inequality
Eight institutions meet to discuss possible solutions

It has long been recognized by educators and administrators alike that women are underrepresented in the sciences, but not until the 1999 publication of a report on the status of women faculty at M.I.T. has much attention been paid to the underlying gender biases beneath the numbers. “It’s a very subtle form of inequity that accumulates over time,” explained Professor of Electrical Engineering Ruby Lee.

In February, Lee accompanied President Shapiro, Dean of the Faculty Joseph Taylor, Professor of Psychology Joan Girgus, and Professor of Molecular Biology Shirley Tilghman to M.I.T., where they attended a workshop on the state of women in science and engineering. The workshop, organized by M.I.T.’s president, Charles M. Vest, and sponsored by the Ford Foundation, brought together faculty members and top administrators from seven other major universities: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, the University of California, and the California Institute of Technology.

During an eight-hour period of brainstorming and deliberation, the participants reflected on four major questions concerning gender inequalities: “What are the successful or unsuccessful strategies [our universities] have pursued?” “What are the systematic causes of the problems we face?” “What new actions could each institution take?” and “What might we do collectively?” In the end, the group issued a 184-word statement outlining three major goals to be pursued by each institution.

Unanimously, they pledged to establish (1) equity in numbers, creating “a faculty whose diversity reflects that of the students we educate”; (2) equity in opportunity, guaranteeing “full participation by women faculty”; and (3) equity in treatment, “fostering an environment in which individuals with family responsibilities are not disadvantaged.”

“Overall, it was an interesting, stimulating, successful meeting,” said Lee. “A lot was accomplished.”

To measure progress, the workshop participants decided to reconvene in a year, at which time they will share the specific steps they’ve taken as well as any overall advances they’ve made. Joseph Taylor, dean of Princeton’s faculty, feels that Princeton is starting out the process on a good footing. Previous internal reviews of tenure appointments have shown no gender biases, though Taylor does admit that low numbers are a major concern. Additionally, the Princeton review committee will investigate whether gender biases exist in everything from how leadership positions are filled to how first-author citations are granted.

While the workshop fostered a sense of enthusiasm and hope for the future, it also brought to light the difficulties in detecting and eliminating gender biases. As Lee said, “We know that it will take time for 250-year-old institutions to change their practices.”

By Andrew Shtulman ’01

Return to Notebook Main Menu

Clubs use wristbands to curb underage drinking
A study by Harvard’s School of Public Health indicates effectiveness of policy

As part of the 1999 Reunions, the Alumni Council introduced a universal wristband security system to better monitor access to Reunions headquarters and thus access to alcoholic beverages. Two years later, the eating clubs are following suit with a similar policy. Colored wristbands, rather than hand stamps, will now be used at the Street to distinguish legal drinkers from those under 21.

The move to adopt an inter-club wristband policy comes less than a month after bicker and initiations-related activities sent 11 students to the hospital for severe intoxication and alcohol-related injuries. In the wake of these hospitalizations and subsequent investigations by the Princeton Borough Police, the eating clubs looked to find better ways of regulating alcohol distribution and consumption. The idea to use wristbands came as a suggestion from Inter-Club Council (ICC) adviser Alice Teti ’00, who had read about the effectiveness of such a policy in a recent study by the Harvard University School of Public Health.

It is hoped that wristbands will prove more efficient than hand stamps, because wristbands are highly visible and not easily forged, and also because they can be standardized from club to club. Indeed, every club on the Street will use the same color wristband on a given night. As ICC president Dan Winn ’01 explained, “All clubs are behind this. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Though the weekend of March 8—10 was supposed to be a trial run of the new policy, the wristbands had not yet arrived, leaving clubs to resort to hand stamps instead.

By Andrew Shtulman ‘01

Return to Notebook Main Menu

Bioethics conference discusses reproductive technology

Each year the Student Bioethics Forum hosts a spring conference to discuss a particular matter of bioethical importance. This spring’s conference on “The Ethics and Politics of Reproductive Technology” took place February 23 and 24, covering such issues as surrogate parenting, egg and sperm donation, in-vitro fertilization, and the controversies surrounding infertility.

Valerie Gutmann ’01, copresident of the Bioethics Forum, said the conference theme was picked for its pressing impact both academically and commercially. “We’re trying to push the envelope here so as to get students thinking about this important issue,” she said. “Our goal was to increase both awareness and discussion.”

To accomplish this task, the Bioethics Forum invited a number of distinguished guests to serve as panelists, including Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania; Ruth Mackelin, senior consultant to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission; and Harriet S. Rabb, chief general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services — not to mention Princeton’s own molecular biology professor Lee Silver and bioethics professor Peter Singer. Panelists participated in a total of five discussions, all of which were free and open to the public.

The conference’s keynote lecture, entitled “Selling Your Body: Egg Donation on College Campuses and Surrogacy,” was delivered by Professor Mackelin. In her address, she discussed the current state of egg donations from biological, economic, and political viewpoints. Drawing on a number of ethical arguments, she concluded that although no one in particular is likely to be harmed by egg donations, “the commodification of gametes promotes the idea that everything in our society is for sale; one just has to name the price.”

Conference participants were later given the chance to discuss Mackelin’s ideas in special breakout sessions, open only to the 150 official student registrants — the majority of whom were selected from outside the university.

Founded in 1995, the Princeton Bioethics Forum is both the oldest student-led bioethics forum in the country and the only undergraduate organization to publish a bioethics journal.

By Andrew Shtulman ’01

For more information on the Bioethics Forum, visit the group’s Web site at http://www.princeton.edu/~bioethic.

Return to Notebook Main Menu

In Brief

In response to issues raised by the campus activist group Workers’ Rights Organizing Committee (WROC), the university has proposed two steps with regard to its low-wage workers. Beginning immediately, the status of all casual workers will be assessed, and a number of them will be converted to regular employee status and receive full benefits; and a thorough re-examination by the Priorities Committee of the wage levels for two categories of workers will begin. The complete statement by Richard Spies *72, vice president for finance and administration, is available online at www.princeton.edu/pr/reports /WROC/WROCspies.htm.

David Tannenbaum ’01, a philosophy major from Great Neck, New York, won the David M. Sachs Class of 1960 scholarship. The award provides tuition and expenses for two years while he studies economic and social history at Oxford University. Tannenbaum, one of the founders of WROC, has been involved in numerous areas on campus, including an anti-sweatshop campaign, the Princeton Progressive Review, the Daily Princetonian, the Honor Code Committee, and the university’s high school debate and forensic tournament.

At least two Princetonians had films in the Oscar race. One Day Crossing, written by Christina Lazaridi ’92, was nominated in the category Short Film — Live Action. In the category for Documentary — Feature, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport was nominated; the film’s associate producer is Alicia Dwyer ’92.

Return to Notebook Main Menu

Talks on Campus

On February 8, Ann Elizabeth Mayer, an assistant professor of legal studies at Penn’s Wharton School, gave a lecture called “Transcending the Local: A Global Framework for Assessing Muslim Women’s Rights.”

Michael McCurry ’76, CEO of Grassroots.com and former White House press
secretary, spoke on February 21 on “All News, All the Time: Reflections on America’s Political Information System.”

Bill Rentschler ’49, editor and writer, delivered a talk called “The Loss of Freedom — Yours and Mine” on March 1.

Derek Bok, chairman of Common Cause and former president of Harvard, gave a lecture titled “Setting New Jersey’s Campaign Reform Agenda in 2001” on March 8.
On March 8, Claude Steele, chair of the psychology department at Stanford, delivered a talk, “How Stereotypes Can Shape Intellectual Performance and Identity.”

Recent conferences on campus included one on Cold War intelligence sponsored by the CIA, in which policymakers, intelligence officials, and scholars examined newly declassified information related to the agency’s analysis of the Soviet Union.

Return to Notebook Main Menu