October 24, 2001: Letters

President Tilghman

The wondrous blue dial

Boy Scouts

Princeton of yore

Lax Laud

For the Record

PAW Letter Box Online
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President Tilghman

I don’t know Shirley Tilghman, and I am not qualified to judge whether she was a good choice for university president. However, Stephen Dartt ’72’s reasons for why Tilghman was a bad choice for president are groundless and disturbing (Letters, September 12).

First, Dartt says he’s distressed in part because “a female president is out of place with the lengthy male traditions of the university.” By saying so, Dartt by implication endorses such traditions and so must also believe that any black, Jewish, Muslim, Asian, Catholic and/or non-agrarian president would similarly be out of place, thereby greatly reducing the pool of candidates.

Second, Dartt bemoans the fact that Tilghman is not an American and wasn’t educated in the U.S. Egads – those crazy Canadians! What this has to do with running an American university Dartt never makes clear (President Shapiro seemed to figure it out).

Third, Dartt says that Tilghman “cannot ever fully comprehend the student experience at Princeton,” one of the “essential . . . qualifications of a Princeton University president.” What is the “student experience at Princeton” anyway? I doubt that my own experience was very much like Dartt’s, or, for that matter, most of the folks in my freshman year Holder Hall entryway. I suspect that Tilghman – after teaching at Princeton for 15 years and having an undergraduate for a daughter – is a lot more in touch with today’s campus than the vast majority of alumni.

Fourth, Dartt questions the ethics of both Tilghman and the presidential search committee because Tilghman

initially was a member of the committee. If a group of administrators, professors, alumni, and students who presumably care deeply about the university believe that the woman sitting across the table may be best suited for the job (and arrived at that conclusion without her knowledge), not asking her to be a candidate would be a violation of their duties to the university, not the other way around.

The most problematic aspect of Dartt’s letter, however, is his statement that “I know of many graduates of Princeton who are much more qualified than [Tilghman] is.” If so, I hope that Dartt forwarded their names to the search committee when it was formed. If he didn’t, it’s the rest of the Princeton family that should be distressed.

Brett T. Goodman ’90

Verona, N.J.


President Tilghman has the spirit and loyalty of a true Princetonian. However, some have expressed concern that she cannot comprehend the student experience at Princeton since she attended college elsewhere. As a former student of hers, please let me reassure you that she is a special case. She knows exactly where we are coming from as if she had been there herself. She always takes time to get to know students personally and is warm and approachable. She welcomes questions after lectures. Her office door is open to teach, or advise. And she really listens. You will find her in the labs with the students, advising student activities, leading roundtable discussions in Rocky or Wilson, and advising upperclassmen while eating dinner at faculty appreciation night. She inspires students, and they love, respect, and trust her. The students need these qualities in a president. I am proud to be from Princeton, a university devoted to undergraduate education. President Tilghman is a natural choice. She has more than proven her worth. Clearly, she is the best person for the job. Princeton should be congratulated on its choice of Shirley Tilghman as president.

Naomi I. Hayashi ’97
New York, N.Y.


I increasingly have been irritated by the letters to PAW suggesting that President Tilghman is in some way flawed by virtue of not being a Princetonian.

Obviously, anyone who is not a Princetonian is flawed in some subtle and difficult-to-describe way. But then, anyone who is a Princetonian is pretty fundamentally flawed also — just ask the spouse of any alumnus or alumna!

Let’s get serious. Any Princetonian old enough to be a serious candidate for President Tilghman’s job is at least 20 years beyond graduation, and more likely 30. Who is going to know more about the Princeton of today: some long-ago grad who has been to a few reunions and remembers the Princeton of his or her youth, or a distinguished 15-year faculty member with a child in attendance? The answer is pitifully obvious.

Bravo to Bob Rawson ’66 and his search committee! Shirley Tilghman sounds like an extraordinary person, and I, no doubt among the vast majority of Princetonians, am thrilled to have alma mater in her hands.

Jonathan S. Holman ’66
San Francisco, Calif.


I do not know Shirley Tilghman from Adam, but I have read of her devotion to her students and her passion for Princeton. This, her profile in the university community, and her international reputation as a molecular biologist would seem to qualify her as leader of a great research university, particularly one that stresses the education of undergraduates. I am thus bemused by recent letters in the PAW that impeach her credentials.

Yes, President Tilghman did not go to Princeton, and is Canadian to boot. Who cares? This university was founded by six Yalies and a Harvard man. At least two of our presidents were (egad!) born in Scotland.

Yes, President Tilghman was originally (gadzooks!) on the search committee. So what? Dick Cheney actually ran the Republican search for a vice presidential candidate, and look where he wound up. Does that undermine his bona fides?

Aha, but she is (gasp!) a woman. How dare those trustees! What do they think this is, the 21st century? Sheer outrage! Next thing you know, we’ll have a woman as national security adviser, and the pope will be Polish.

I expect such churlishness to pour forth from that generation of aging, conservative, hopelessly cantankerous alumni to which I most shamelessly belong. That some of your writers are young enough to be my children startles me. Can’t they suppress their peckishness until they can at least blame it on their gout?

Perhaps the onset of senility has clouded my judgment, but I do not merely accept Shirley Tilghman’s ascension to the presidency — I embrace it. When she arrived at Princeton more than 15 years ago, President Tilghman did not just join our university, but wrapped herself up in it with gusto. That makes her Princetonian enough for this old Tiger. A locomotive for her, and one for the horse she rode in on.

J. Regan Kerney ’68
Lawrenceville, N.J.

In response to Stephen R. Dartt’s letter: Next thing you know we’ll be wanting the vote!

Helen Levy *98
Chicago, Ill.


In response to the letters of Peter Moyers ’00 and Steven M. Warshawsky ’90 regarding the trustees’ selection of a president lacking the Princeton undergraduate experience, I would like to point out that Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman could not have attended Princeton as an undergraduate.

Princeton admitted its first class of women in 1969 and graduated this class in 1973. President Tilghman received her undergraduate degree in 1968, missing Princeton’s first class of women by five years.

In order to select an alumna who is at least 50 years old, the trustees have a pool of exactly 166 women to choose from. While Moyers’s critique may be valid at some point in the future, as it stands now it merely negates the fact that for 220 years Princeton was a largely homogeneous, all-male university.

Moyers is right, Princeton’s undergraduate experience is indeed unique, but it is important to remember that it has only been in the last 30 of its more than 250 years as a university that women have been allowed this Princeton experience.

Teresa Méndez ’00
New York, N.Y.


I was a student at Princeton during the “lengthy male traditions of the University.”

Those traditions are now history along with many other traditions of which we are justifiably proud. But that is not the Princeton of 2001.

I applaud the committee’s decision and wish our new president many years of success in guiding my university to even greater heights.

Arthur Strasburger ’61
Littleton, Colo.


I applaud the selection of Shirley Tilghman as president. Yes, I am pleased that after only three decades of coeducation a woman is accepted as the face that represents the university. But I am even more pleased that, for the first time, Princeton has selected a scientist to be its president. To me that indicates a recognition of the important place of the sciences in the fabric of Princeton. Tilghman knows firsthand what it takes to maintain a world-class research institution. And I have no doubt she will be able to apply her scientific problem-solving to the questions that Princeton will confront in the years ahead.

Caroline Kilbourne Stahle ’85
Laurel, Md.


I applaud Princeton for daring to choose a president who does not fit the mold of so many who preceded her. Shirley Tilghman’s gender, her birthplace, and her lack of a Princeton degree will not hinder her performance; in fact, they may even be assets. However, one aspect of her profile does trouble me to some degree. I hesitate to speak of it, since the issue is so intensely personal. Probably, it is an issue that the search committee could not have broached ethically. Nevertheless, I have reservations about the naming of an atheist to the presidency of Princeton University.

I confess that I have no knowledge of the religious leanings of recent Princeton presidents. However, religion has always been an important aspect of university life. The issue goes beyond Princeton’s beautiful University Chapel, its Department of Religion, and its proximity to a great seminary. Our university was created by Presbyterians who believed that education was foundational in understanding God’s Word and interpreting His call to the faithful. Of course, during the last 254 years, Princeton has moved gloriously beyond its initial mission: It has grown to welcome students, faculty, and staff of every religion, and it has evolved into our nation’s greatest educational institution. Nevertheless, issues of faith are just as important today as they ever were.

The moral and ethical issues raised by recent scientific advances — most notably in biology and genetics — have led many people to re-examine their faith. It is absolutely essential that religious people at Princeton continue to feel supported as they wrestle with these issues. President Tilghman’s intelligence, curiosity, and “people skills” lead me to believe that she recognizes this. I expect her conduct as president to reflect a sensitivity to religious issues and respect for all communities of faith. In the aftermath of the Peter Singer controversy, this will be of the greatest importance.

I have never met Dr. Tilghman, but I owe her my trust during these early stages, as she seeks to establish a course for Princeton during her first year on the job. Many readers of PAW will likely believe my concerns to be unfounded. I hope (and pray) that they are.

John Gagosian ’91
Greenbelt, Md.


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The wondrous blue dial

I was thrilled to see the gorgeous photo of the Rittenhouse orrery in the September 12 issue (Editor’s Letter). As an undergraduate astrophysics major during the early ’70s, I used to pass this wondrous blue dial every day on the way to my basement cubicle in Peyton Hall. In researching my new book, Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, I discovered that the orrery is even more of a mechanical marvel than PAW’s brief description allowed. Its scaled-down “planets” move in elliptical orbits, shaped and oriented to one another just like the real ones. Surrounding the orrery’s face is a driven (now motorized) brass ring engraved with celestial coordinates, such that the progress of each planet against the heavens can be read directly. The ring rotates one degree every 72 years to correct the coordinate readings for the slow gyration of the Earth’s axis. The Rittenhouse orrery is a mechanical time machine: Turn a winch and you will see how the planets were arrayed up to 5,000 years in the past or the future. Historical eclipses and eclipses yet to come can be observed and their dates recorded.

David Rittenhouse had intended the orrery for the University of Pennsylvania (then the College of Philadelphia), but sold it instead to Princeton (College of New Jersey) when Princeton president John Witherspoon arrived with cash in hand. A second orrery was built and delivered in short order to Philadelphia, where it now resides in the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library. The genius of David Rittenhouse is alluded to in Joel Barlow’s 1787 epic poem “The Vision of Columbus”:

He marks what laws th’eccentric wand’rers bind, Copies Creation in his forming mind, And bids, beneath his hand, in semblance rise, With mimic orbs, the labours of the skies.

Alan W. Hirshfeld ’73
Newton, Mass.
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Boy Scouts

Since it appears from David Harten’s letter (September 12) that the Boy Scouts may need a new champion in the Princeton community, I guess I will step up and try my humble best.

The Boy Scouts of America simply adhere to traditional — and still widely held — principles and attempt to live by them. The acceptance of the traditional morality is part of the scouting package; you may take the package, or you may leave it.

The Boy Scouts of America are not seeking to exclude the homosexual community from society at large; nor are they trying to prevent homosexuals from being homosexual. The homosexual community, in contrast, is trying to invade the Boy Scouts and bend them to their will. Failing that, they are persecuting the Boy Scouts and trying to remove them from the public sphere entirely. Of the two groups, the homosexuals are showing true intolerance; the Boy Scouts wish simply to be left alone.

John F. Fay *84
Mary Esther, Fla.

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Princeton of yore

Princeton of yore

I enjoyed immensely “Paradise Regained,” by Hugh O’Bleary (Inky Dinky Do, PAW Online), but it made it clear to me how much I had missed. I was at Princeton as an undergraduate and later as a graduate student. I was not a club member and had to eat out. None of the places mentioned so nostalgically in the column existed when I was on campus from 1960—67. I well recall that, after living on Student Center hamburgers for some time, I looked afield. The decision was made the night I noted that the cook was chasing the grease back into the hamburger — presumably so that the customer would get his money’s worth.

There was one restaurant on Nassau Street somewhat to the east of the Engineering quad. Another real landmark place was the “Balt,” now deceased, across the street from Nassau Hall. The walls and floor were entirely covered with white tile. It looked like the men’s room in the YMCA. It was fondly known as the “Vault.”

There was another not-great place with a cute name like the Dutch Mill. A really good place was the Annex, which is still there, but it was too expensive for my budget. That was pretty much it, except for expensive places that were beyond my consideration. They were mainly for New York City expatriates.

One later establishment, which I gather has now become a landmark for the engineering students, is a hoagie joint on Nassau Street. It is since my time. I plan to look for it during my next visit to Princeton, which will probably be my 40th reunion next year.

It has occurred to me that, during all those years in Princeton, I never rode the dinky. I think I will do so during my next visit — whenever that may be.

Bob Woods ’62 *67
Albuquerque, N.M.

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Lax Laud

Officiating a lacrosse game is a tough job, because there is so much to watch for. As a result, incidental violations such as crease invasions, thumbing, and warding off are frequently overlooked. I have talked to officials who claim they can barely see the crease and would be very reluctant to call warding off. Hardly any of them call thumbing. Be this as it may, in the epic Princeton-

Syracuse game for the national title, there appeared to be at least two crease violations resulting in Syracuse goals. In particular, the tying goal which sent the game into overtime was one of them; other fans and officials seem to agree

on this. In any case, all’s well that ends

well with a little extra drama, since Princeton won with one of coach Tierney’s specialties — overtime.

William W. Stevenson ’50
Charlottesville, Va.

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For the Record

The high school in Winnipeg that President Tilghman attended was Kelvin, not Kelbin. The school was named after the scientist Lord Kelvin. PAW regrets the error.

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