November 7, 2001: Letters

College and alcohol


September 11, 2001

For the Record

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College and alcohol

I left my daughter at Princeton for her sophomore year and wish to share my thoughts on life at Princeton and its differences from days that alumni may recall. I can get as far as the As – academics, athletics, and alcohol.

The breadth of academic life at Princeton remains strong. One change is the depth of academic life, where a reduction in course load from five courses to four courses per semester has, in my opinion, reduced the time invested in academics. While older alumni had to take classes on Saturdays, there are today almost no lectures and few precepts on Fridays.

The second significant change is in grading. A 1998 faculty study showed that 83 percent of grades are As and Bs. The faculty said in that report that the effect is to flatten the grade curve and to reduce the value of quality academic work.

Athletics have changed dramatically at Princeton. The “walk-on” student athlete is rare today. Princeton has about 750 recruited varsity athletes plus some “walk-offs,” recruited athletes who choose not to play.

President Bowen’s The Game of Life documents the SAT gap, concentration of athletes in the bottom third of the class, and the extent to which Princeton has adopted a system in which athletes are a separate class of students. Perhaps the prevailing philosophy is that athletes are also students and will enjoy and be enriched by the exposure to academic life. That is doubtless true for some, but for those students recruited not as well-rounded people but as athletic slots in the “well-rounded class,” the academic program is intended to be secondary, and they may be given the Bs that devalue the academic program.

Alcohol, the third A, at Princeton today is not what you remember. It is not a keg at the club on Saturday night. It is omnipresent, drink until you’re sick on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday; strangely not Friday.

When President Shapiro removed kegs from certain university events some years ago he was not harking back to Prohibition but rather was reacting to a change in the nature and level of alcohol abuse on campus. What was once a Saturday party lubricant has become the common currency of the campus, the lingua franca of the predominant culture.

The largest single group in the “well-rounded class,” which the admission office aims for, is the 25 percent of the class who are recruited athletes with a primary expectation of playing sports and secondary interest in academics. It is my understanding that many use alcohol to pass time and as a means of interaction and common cultural communication.

I believe that the admission office reflects rather than creates the values of the university, and I assume also that these values evolve over time. The relationship between athletics, academics, and alcohol deserves continuing review.

Alan J. Schlesinger ’68 p’04
Newton, Mass.


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In reference to your article about teaching and technology (cover story, April 18): I have taught poetry in a networked classroom for several years and have found it highly illuminating to teach T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land using MOO-space (a multiuser, object-oriented hypertextual environment) for class discussion and student research and writing. Using this technology highlights the specifically hypertextual elements of Eliot’s poem and by implication literature more generally.

I now try to incorporate those general insights when I teach literature in more traditional environments, and so the material I teach has changed even without changing my syllabus one bit.

While McLuhan’s dictum “The medium is the message” may be a bit too extreme, it’s true that the medium affects the message profoundly.

To teach using new mediums without substantially revisiting the material of the course seems to be missing a great chance to advance understanding. To take best advantage of instructional technologies, both technology staff and faculty will need to understand them at fundamental levels.

At present, it appears that the tech support staff function in the same way as stage managers or lecture-hall techies — absent from the designing of the courses they help present.

But just as electronic sound amplification and image projection (among other innovations) changed not only the way teachers teach but the content of their courses, emerging electronic text technologies are sure to do the same.

I hope Princeton will put its considerable resources not just into developing online materials but into developing informed courses and teachers as well, especially those remaining in the classrooms on the stones-and-mortar campus, not just in the growing virtual one.

David Barndollar ’88
Austin, Tex.

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September 11, 2001

For many years I have proudly displayed an American flag on my vehicle license plate. On Saturday of the weekend following the tragedy in New York, I took my son to a large outdoor sports facility in West Calgary, where he was playing peewee football. Several individuals, at different times over the course of the day, approached me as I sat near my sedan, and, after spotting the “stars and stripes,” had this to say: “We are so very sorry for your loss.”

I was profoundly touched, and having suffered with all of America in the days past, I paused, and with pride recognized that this deep sentiment is universal within the boundaries of the civilized world. And then I wept. Canadians everywhere support this new and global challenge.

Dei Sub Numine Viget . . . and God Bless America!

Lorne R. Hill ’78
Cochrane, Alberta


After the events of September 11 and based on my own experience, I want to offer advice to a surviving parent raising a young child. I was born in 1940. In 1942, our home burned, and at that time, my father was a seaman in the Merchant Marine. Seven months later, his ship was torpedoed and sunk in the North Atlantic. All were lost.

Those were the circumstances, which my mother related to me gradually and without a lot of details from the time I was about five or six. She told me stories and events in the life of both my grandmother, who died shortly after the fire, and my father.

She told me that my father was brave. Certainly, a parent whose spouse died resisting the hijackers or serving in the uniformed services that responded will do the same. But all who died that day were brave — going to work every day to provide for a family and to contribute to our nation and society is an act of courage. Tell your child that.

My mother never expressed any feelings of anger or hatred, but, for some time after World War II, I did have such feelings for leaders who brought about such events. She always encouraged me to meet each person as an individual, not as a member of a group. In the middle of your feelings of anger, I urge you to prepare for your child’s similar feelings. Teach them not to indict a group for the acts of individuals.

Human loss as a result of deliberate, violent acts leaves behind, I believe, a special grief and sorrow, perhaps because the dead are seen as cheated. As your child grows and matures, the sense of loss may increase. I encourage you to talk about these feelings.

Finally, your child, in time and with experience, will appreciate the struggle in which you are now engaged. She or he will admire your courage, and may think of her or his care as a burden. Your child may not speak of this, not wanting to add to your sorrow.

Therefore, as my mother let me know in different words, tell your child that the blossoming, irrepressible, uproarious life barely contained in that little body not only made the effort necessary – it made it possible.

Robert B. Comizzoli *67 p’92
Belle Mead, N.J.



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For the Record

I am deeply grateful for the generous profile you presented of my career at Princeton (Class Notes, September 12), but I am embarrassed that you gave me too much credit. I did not found the Princeton Shakespeare Company. That was the work of Davis McCallum ’97, who created the whole enterprise as a freshman because he felt there was not enough Shakespeare at Princeton. It was he as a sophomore in my English 201 class who vamped me into acting again and gave a new direction to my activities at Princeton. I am profoundly grateful to him for finding a new business for an old duffer, but all credit is due to him.

Thomas P. Roche, Jr. *58
Murray Professor of English Literature.


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