September 11, 2002: Letters

Internet admissions

Perfection’s price

West’s return

Talkin’ baseball

Snapshot hot!


2002’s future

For the Record

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Internet admissions

I write in reference to the New York Times article on July 26, 2002, titled “Princeton Pries Into Web Site for Yale Applicants.” (See Notebook, page 14.)

As a Princeton alumnus, it is an understatement to say that I was dismayed and humiliated by the actions of admission officials who have apparently found it more valuable to pry into the confidential information of Yale applicants rather than spend their time carefully and thoughtfully evaluating the credentials of those hard-working high school students who decided to apply to Princeton as an institution they believed to be at the forefront of education.

To add to my frustration is the thought that law enforcement officials will now have to expend valuable resources investigating Princeton personnel rather than pursuing more important concerns.

I hope that Princeton’s significant misstep, which belies any signs of good judgment or ethical consideration, is in no way representative of its student body, present or former.

Aaron M. Rubin ’94
New York, N.Y.


On July 27, 2002, I read in the Newark Star-Ledger that Princeton admission officers had hacked into Yale’s admission Web site as an “experiment.” This behavior, if it occurred, is certainly juvenile and possibly much worse. It demonstrates a serious lack of judgment in people with a prominent role in determining the nature of the university.

On October 10, 2001, PAW carried my letter expressing concern about the lack of response to a letter of recommendation by me to the admission office. Through other sources (I still have not received a response) I learned that the official excuse for not acknowledging recommendation letters is that there are too many of them.

Perhaps if Princeton’s admission office would spend more time on its files rather than Yale’s, these letters could be acknowledged. Or maybe the letters should be sent to Yale?

Robert C. Lang, Jr. ’70
Warren, N.J.


It would be tragic to see the career of Director of Admission Stephen LeMenager demolished if his hacking of the Yale files truly stemmed from an effort to test their security.

Of course, he should have let Yale know he planned to do just that, but who among us has not made a dumb move with good intentions?

Brad Bradford ’44
Highland Park, Ill.


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Perfection’s price

Reading your cover story on Lillian Pierce (June 5), I found my admiration for this young woman’s dazzling gifts increasingly mixed with deep alarm. She seems to have spent most of her Prince-ton career in acute pain and exhaustion. While I’m glad that she was so honest about the physical and emotional price of her accomplishments — and grateful to her parents for saying, “We wouldn’t recommend her experience to anyone” — I also wish that PAW had done more to acknowledge the very real dangers of such a “pursuit of perfection.”

Pierce is a self-described work addict, and work addiction is as dangerous as any other kind. I’ve known several people like her. Two of them, including one of my Princeton classmates, are now dead of suicide. They killed themselves because they believed they weren’t meeting their own standards, standards to which no reasonable person — and certainly not their devastated families and friends — would ever have held them.

Campus suicide is on the rise across the country, and perfectionism is often a contributing factor. As a college professor, I tell my overachieving students to learn to relax; very often, I’ve referred these individuals to our campus counseling center. If any of my students ever told me that they were trying to achieve perfect scores on my exams to keep me from feeling inadequate, I’d be appalled. Lillian, I assure you, professors don’t feel like failures if a student gets 97 on an exam instead of 100.

A truly perfect life includes perspective, and adequate sleep, and the ability to take time off. Happiness is every bit as important as brilliance. I salute Lillian Pierce’s impressive roster of awards, but I also fervently hope that other Princeton students won’t believe that they have to be “about to disintegrate from exhaustion” to be considered successful.

Susan Palwick ’82
Reno, Nev.


Having just returned from a wonderful 20th reunion with many healthy and happy classmates, I was horrified to read your story on Lillian Pierce ’02. A beautiful mind indeed, Ms. Pierce may find that her life as a mathematician does not have a Hollywood ending. Princeton needs to help students, no matter how brilliant, develop healthy, well-balanced work habits. With all respect, 20th reuners do not recall who was valedictorian. They remember the individuals with whom they broke bread, knocked down a pint, and shared a laugh.

Richard A. Bazarian ’82
Falmouth Foreside, Maine


What price success? I was appalled to read the profile of valedictorian and Rhodes Scholar Lillian Pierce ’02 and the toll her achievements took on her. Ultimately there seems as much to mourn over as there is to celebrate.

Victoria McElhaney Benedict ’91
Atlanta, Ga.


There is no mention in the article of anyone at Princeton, apart from the infirmary staff, attempting to help a young woman who was, by her own admission, “addicted to working,” “disconnected from people,” and even uncomfortable being around her own family members. Princeton has always had its share of multitalented overachievers, but I think it’s an embarrassment that no one at the school seems to have attempted to save Pierce from the damage she was doing to herself, both mentally and physically, damage that could very well come back to haunt her later in life — Rhodes scholarship or not.

Derek Finkle ’90
Toronto, Ont.


Having experienced four years of college with Lillian, I know that she is a warm, dynamic, and enthusiastic person who is fun to be with. Even with her busy schedule, she takes time to listen to others and is a great friend. Her work ethic is what has helped her achieve so much. If at times she did work too hard, she has learned from those experiences to take the time to relax.

I am thankful for Lillian’s honesty in the article, for acknowledging that her accomplishments did not come easily. I do not know a single person at Princeton who did not work hard, who did not experience all-nighters, hand cramps from writing too much, or that dazed, disconnected feeling that comes from staring at a computer for too long. If at first students didn’t know how to balance their lives, then it is to be hoped they will learn from their own experiences and from others.

Lillian’s honesty can teach us to take advantage of opportunities to work hard, but not too hard, to enrich our lives with knowledge, and most important, to appreciate strong relationships with family and friends.

Ewina Fung ’02
San Diego, Calif.


Most Princeton students work hard. I remember weeks where I slept two hours a night for days on end, eating a sandwich a day in order to cram, or finish a project, or whatever. When the going gets tough, students stop eating and sleeping — you know you did it too. What drives us to do that? Deadlines and the desire to do a good job. The drive behind Lillian is thirst for knowledge, and that is constant and can’t be faulted. She has plenty of friends, hangs out, and goes to formals, etc., just like everyone else. She isn’t anorexic: We are in the same eating club, and she eats chicken and pizza and pasta just like everyone else. But she is also particularly driven and particularly brilliant, not quite like everyone else.

Lisa Hsu ’02
San Diego, Calif.

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West’s return

I was angered to read the baseless objections to Cornel West *80’s recent appointment at Princeton. Obviously none of the writers has ever taken a class with Dr. West. He is, above all, a brilliant humanist and a dedicated teacher who is committed to the life of the mind and who instills the same commitment in his students. I had the privilege of working with Dr. West and the other excellent members of the religious studies department while a doctoral candidate in the early 1990s. Today, I envy Princeton’s undergraduates and graduate students for what they have been given in Cornel West: an inspired teacher and gifted scholar who brings out the very best in his students.

Yvonne Chireau *94
Professor of religious studies, Swarthmore College


In Howard M. Stoner ’54’s letter to the editor regarding Professor Cornel West (June 5), he charges that West “spouts sociobabble without saying a single thing of substance.” Isn’t it curious that Professor West’s record of citations by the nation’s scholars in peer-reviewed academic journals (no newspaper and magazine articles included) ranks higher than all but three of the 17 of Harvard’s most distinguished group of so-called University Professors? In addition, among the nation’s tens of thousands of black scholars, West’s citation count ranks second only to Professor William Julius Wilson of Harvard.

Theodore Cross
Princeton, N.J.


I was befuddled by the letters critical of Cornel West. Some object to his release of a spoken-word CD; but as the late Stephen Jay Gould confessed to the New York Times Magazine recently, he had been engaged in choral music for quite some time with no objection from Harvard. Stephen Carter of Yale, Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, and Todd Gitlin of Columbia all have written novels, which could be deemed a diversion from their academic work but, to my knowledge, no such charge has emerged from the administrations of their universities.

Gerald Horne ’70
Chapel Hill, N.C.


I had only one class with Professor West later in my Princeton career, Religion and Its Modern Critics, and immediately regretted not taking more of his courses. Whether or not one agrees with his sociopolitical agenda, there is no arguing that West is a phenomenal speaker, both in what he says and how he says it. He was one of very few professors whose lectures didn’t require mega-doses of caffeine in order to stay awake, even after a good night on Prospect Street.

If West does have an ego to match his talent, he would be neither the first nor the last academic big name with this problem, at Princeton or elsewhere. And by the way, aren’t big names what elite universities are all about? How many students choose Princeton in large part because of its big-name cachet? Let’s get real, folks: We’re all in on the same game, aren’t we? So why not let Princeton and West get on with it?

Eddie Nguyen ’92
Houston, Tex.


I was struck by Conrad Schuessler’s letter (April 27) claiming that Cornel West’s comparison of Harvard President Lawrence Summers to Ariel Sharon is “anti-Semitic” and “perpetrates racial hatred.”

Try as I might, I have difficulty making sense of this. It seems to imply either that Ariel Sharon so embodies qualities essential to Judaism that any criticism of him constitutes anti-Semitism (an idea which I, as a Jew, find horrifying); or the exact opposite, that Ariel Sharon has done such extraordinarily evil things that to compare another Jew to him represents an anti-Semitic slur. If Mr. Schuessler really feels this passionately about Ariel Sharon, he might have better expressed himself by joining Professor West and others (I among them) when we participated in Jewish-led civil disobedience to protest Sharon’s policies. At the very least, Mr. Schuessler should commend Professor West for putting his body on the line to support those who believe that Sharon’s actions violate the values and principles of the Jewish faith.

Incidentally, I had the privilege of passing a wonderful seven hours or so in a holding cell with Professor West. If the quality of the conversation and learning that I experienced that day is any indication of his abilities as a teacher, I envy those Princeton students who will have the opportunity to study with him during the coming years!

Zack Winestine ’81
New York, N.Y.


I am envious of Princeton’s current student body’s opportunity to learn from Professor West. Critical thinking and controversy is the cornerstone of the advancement of society. Simply stated: If not at a university, then where? I am proud to know that Princeton stands true to its mission in providing a home for this type of thought.

Laurence F. Audenaerd *00
Alexandria, Va.

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Talkin’ baseball

I enjoyed the From the Editor thumbnail sketch of Princeton baseball history (June 5), especially the photo of Woody Rutter throwing out the first ball in June 1947. On that ’47 reunion day, I believe that Bob Wolcott pitched a 1—0 win over Yale. And my best memory (?) is that I drove onto the field in the P-rade in an Army surplus jeep with about 20 classmates hanging on.

Without in any way belittling Ed Donovan’s many successes, I would like to mention that you left out a historic baseball season — that of 1945, when Charlie Caldwell, more widely known for his football teams, coached us Tigers to the Eastern intercollegiate baseball championship.

Moose Joline ’47
Duxbury, Mass.


You overlooked what was one of the most storied three-year eras of Princeton baseball. The 1949—51 teams won two Eastern League championships and tied one. The 1951 team was recognized in the April 19, 2000, issue of PAW. In a follow-up letter, published in the June 7 issue, I indicated that the strong pitching staff of Brightman, Churigi, Reichel, and Sisler pitched us to the Eastern League championship and then on to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. This was the only Princeton team to achieve that honor. Emerson Dickman was our coach in those three seasons. Eddie Donovan took over in 1952. Finally, the picture of the crowd at the Alumni Day game at Reunions in 1947 was a poignant reminder of what fun it was for the players to play Yale in front of such an enthusiastic audience.

Jack Reydel ’51
Blue Bell, Pa.


Let’s look at Princeton baseball’s achievements from a team approach: Five EIBL or Ivy League Championships (’85, ’91, ’96, ’00, and ’01). Seven consecutive Gehrig Division Championships since the inception of division play (’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, ’00, ’01, and ’02). Five College NCAA World Series Regional Appearances (’85, ’91, ’96, ’00 and ’01). In the past 20 years, more than 20 Princeton graduates have signed professional baseball contracts, and although they did not all reach the major league level, many distinguished themselves in professional baseball. Some of them continue to work in the front office and administration of Major League Baseball.

Tom O’Connell, coach 1982—97
Scott Bradley, coach 1998—present

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Snapshot hot!

Thank you from the bottom of my Princeton-educated feminine heart for publishing the “Pulling together” Snapshot in the July 3 PAW.

Words cannot convey the gratitude I felt after reading that these pre-coeducation alumni from the Class of 1947 had invited members of the women’s crew to row with them. Thank you, gentlemen.

Diana Foster-Jones ’72
Earlysville, Va.

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Rem Myers ’37 says that “the purpose of college is education; no reason why this should not include alcohol” (Letters, June 5). While alcohol may not be incompatible with education, its abuse does adversely affect the quality of the educational environment.

In the wake of an automobile accident in March 1987, I was assigned my freshman year to a first-floor dorm room in Blair Hall East with a nearby handicapped-accessible bathroom. I am fortunate to have made a strong recovery by the time I got to Princeton, because the facilities served me little.

Every night of each weekend, binge-drunken students returned to fill the sink and toilet with vomit, to block them up, to cause them to overflow, or quite often simply to destroy them. I have no idea what Princeton spent to replace the porcelain and mirrors in that one bathroom alone. I do know it was hardly the only bathroom that saw such abuse.

As a nondrinking student, I failed to see why my education or the education of any student had to be compromised to fit the habits of the bingers. I applaud Brian Muegge ’05’s proposal for alcohol-free housing, and only regret that it comes 15 years too late for me to take advantage of.

R. Craig Harman ’91
Vienna, Va.

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2002’s future

Thanks to Abhi Raghunathan ’02 for a firsthand account of how external events sometimes do intrude on the insulated haven of college life (On The Campus, June 5). It resonated in many ways with my own college-era experiences in the 1970s, when the utter confidence in the potential of our generation was permanently replaced with questions, questions, questions.

The dot-bomb and 9/11 certainly must be equally if not more jarring to the current student generation, especially those just entering college in 2001 and 2002, and I wonder how they will respond to these contextual developments. I’ve heard a few anecdotal whisperings that suggest hope: There may be less emphasis on salary and more on meaning and value in employment among the aughts. I’m crossing my fingers.

One epiphany from Raghunathan’s column particularly struck me: “A Princeton diploma is no longer a guarantee of a happy ending to our lives” — well, it never really was in the first place, was it? The paper certification guarantees nothing without the effort and care one actually puts into living thereafter. No free passes here, never were. I guess each generation has to learn this anew.

Dan Krimm ’78
Yonkers, N.Y.


I am disturbed by the tenor of Abhi Raghunathan ’02’s column. I would like him to compare the plight of the Class of 2002 with the plight of the Class of 1943. After Pearl Harbor, most members of 1943 were either in ROTC or were going to be drafted, as I was. What choice of jobs did we have? I am sure that we were not thinking about working on Wall Street and making a lot of money. Paradise lost?

Henry C. Lind ’43
Locust Grove, Va.

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For the Record

On page 21 of the May 15 issue, the building identified as Patton Hall should have been identified as Wright Hall. The southern wing of the building, not visible in the photo, remains known as Patton Hall.

Due to a printer’s error, a photo on page 21 of the July 3 issue carried an incorrect caption. The photograph showed Andrew Kossow *02 receiving his hood for a master’s of architecture.

In the July 3 Notebook, we misstated the name of the president under whom the Forrestal campus was begun. It was President Dodds, not President Goheen.

We regret the errors.

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