May 14, 2003: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
It is always a pleasure to hear or read Anthony Grafton (cover story, March 12), one of Princetons greatest treasures, but I do want to pick two nits with him. He refers to the minute salaries offered by Woodrow Wilson to the first preceptor guys. These were in the range $1,400 to $2,000. Since in my first full-time teaching job in an independent school in Manhattan in 1956 my salary was $2,500, and since my starting salary as an instructor at a major American university located in that borough in 1958 was $3,800, I would be forced to conclude that Wilson and Princeton had been almost generous by the financial measurements of the day.
Later, Grafton speaks of Wilsons horror at the intellectual level sponsored by the eating clubs and concludes: Then as now, the social system set limits to what even the most charismatic preceptors could accomplish. It has become nearly an article of faith for the professoriate to blame the clubs when, for whatever reason, we find students less committed to the intellectual life than we would like. While I now find the notion of bicker preposterous, I do not require such a view in others in order to enjoy their company. And I would like to say that, after 43 years of teaching at Princeton and many a meal with students in their eating clubs on Prospect Street, their level of civility and interest in things of the mind are both a great deal more observable than easy cynicism on the part of those who do not know these organizations would warrant.
Robert Hollander 55
I read with great pleasure Professor Anthony Graftons history of the preceptorial system.
One important aspect of the preceptorial system, which I can see more clearly in retrospect, is that of small-group dynamics. While I experienced a number of precepts as intellectually stimulating, there was an inherent atmosphere of competition as students vied with each other to make a point or an impression. What was missing, as I see it now, was a recognition that we were all scared young men who needed to know we were acceptable not on the basis of our performance, but with the understanding of our common humanity. It would have been helpful to spend a little time sharing something about our personal lives and where each of us was coming from before plunging into across-the-table gymnastics.
In my teaching today I look at a classroom as a place of socialization as well as intellectualization, of feeling as well as thought. I hope some of this sensitivity is practiced in Princetons precepts today.
Ben Tousley 71
After reading Professor Anthony Graftons excellent article, I remembered a ditty my father, Lamb Heyniger 16, sang to us when we were small children. This one went:
Heres to those preceptor guys
Fifty stiffs to make us wise
Easy work and lots of pay
And work the students night and day
Away, away with fife and drum
Here they come, rum-a-dum-dum
Looking as if theyd been off on a bum
The Faculty of Princeton College Oh!
Lambert Nick Heyniger 53
The line between public and private institutions of learning has become blurred by the flow of taxpayer money to private institutions (A Moment With Marta Tienda, March 12). Therefore we are told that private institutions are governed by the same rules regarding race as public institutions. Private universities should be allowed to increase diversity however they wish, answering only to a universitys board of trustees, unlike public institutions, which should never pit one racial group against another.
Top 10-percent plans and similar efforts increase economic, sociological, and racial diversity without practicing racial discrimination. To the rejected nonblack or non-Hispanic applicant who just might be from a working-class background, affirmative action is just as discriminatory as the Jim Crow laws of time past. Let us move forward toward a race-blind society.
Kerry H. Brown 74
Your article The Meaning of Language, by Elisabeth Robertson Kennedy 95 (Perspective, March 12), beautifully illustrates the value of a Princeton education in helping people to see beyond the all-black, all-white perspective we Americans so often bring to our world-views. She deserves the highest kind of commendation for her efforts to teach Hebrew to Arab Christians, a minority in almost all Middle Eastern countries.
Herbert R. Spencer 49
With respect to the letter from Christopher Beha 02, in which he takes exception to honoring Dean Hargadon, I would like to offer a different perspective (Letters, March 12).
The Princeton I attended, from August 1957 to June 1962, not only had no women undergraduates, but the number of black and Hispanic students was exceedingly small. As I recall, no one had any aspirations about having the student body even remotely have representative groupings or cultures of this country. I only knew slightly two black students.
From reading PAW, I learn of the various achievements of some very assorted, remarkable students and faculty. In athletics, I watched last May the mens and womens lacrosse teams in the national finals. I was impressed by the teams efforts, the students backgrounds, and how seemingly varied groups exhibited team cohesion. If Princeton aspires to be in the nations service, it is reasonable to aim for a heterogeneous Princeton.
Dean Hargadon deserves credit for helping achieve the student bodies the University has had. One lapse or oversight cannot erase such a record. Who would have done even half as well?
I think Baccalaureate honors are well deserved.
Alexander M. Williamson 61 *62
Christopher Beha wrote Dean Hargadons office embarrassed the University community on a national level. . . . It did, but only because Princetons administration bent to fashion over a concern of the month (electronic privacy) and threw its admission people to the wolves instead of standing up and fighting for them. Had President Tilghman noted that devices and systems operate as well as they do because the people who develop and repair them routinely do forbidden things in the process, a lot of us would have cheered.
Charles W. McCutchen 50
Who among us has led a perfect life? Heres a man who has been a superb dean of admission for 15 years, whose subordinates exercised poor judgment, and who did what he could to rectify their mistake. Is our new policy in this community of scholars to be one strike and youre out?
Armin Rosencranz 58
Christopher Behas letter expresses my feelings exactly. The handling of that matter was truly disgraceful and an affront to the concept of honor. President Tilghmans continued behavior is inexcusable. She obviously does not reflect what Mr. Beha and I thought Princeton taught us.
Jackson N. Huddleston Jr. 60
Christopher Behas logic is flawed and so are his conclusions. His arguments rest on the following: 1) Dean Hargadons involvement in the problems at the admission office represents an ethical lapse; and 2) Baccalaureate speakers cannot be people who have had an ethical lapse. It turns out that both his premises are wrong.
First, it seems obvious to me that Dean Hargadons error in the admission office affair was a lapse of judgment, not of ethics. I know that there has been much debate on the subject, but the notion that Dean Hargadon knowingly did something wrong to provide himself with such marginal benefit is just silly. His offense was an error in judgment, plain and simple.
Second, even supposing that Dean Hargadons error qualified as an ethical lapse, Behas standard for Baccalaureate speakers is ridiculous and wholly unsupported by historical evidence. For example, many Baccalaureate speakers are career politicians, who suffer ethical lapses regularly. In the interest of civility, I will refrain from listing some of the ethical failings of specific recent Baccalaureate speakers. I say that compared to these people, Dean Hargadons many years of selfless service to the University make him entirely overqualified in the ethics department.
Finally, I would like to say that when I graduated in 1997, Dean Hargadon spoke to our class on Class Day. His speech was thoughtful and touching, and moved some members of our class to tears. To this day, I remember some of his moral insights, and I do my best to live by them. Mr. Behas emotional response to Dean Hargadons pending Baccalaureate speech is self-righteous indignation. My emotional response is jealousy the Class of 2003 is lucky indeed.
Christian Hicks 97
Reading that Peter Bell *64 received the James Madison Medal for his work with CARE brought home memories (Notebook, March 26). I am probably one of the few Princeton graduates to have been on the receiving end of CAREs largesse.
When my wife and I were in India, working at a small tuberculosis hospital in the Himalayas, out of the blue we received a goodly number of CARE packages. We still do not know how our hospital was selected for them, but did not question why. I remember three items that were included: multipurpose food (which looked like oatmeal), large cans of Wisconsin cheddar cheese, and cans of fruit (peaches, as I recall). Enclosed with each package was the name of an individual donor. The fruit was easy to use and soon disappeared. The multipurpose food we used to feed patients and the local village of professional beggars. Our Indian patients did not like the cheese, but our Tibetans (all refugees) did. So they stuffed themselves. Incidentally, it tasted wonderful.
My wife, Barbara, wrote each donor, thanking them. A couple of them later sent $25 donations, which then was the cost of care for a patient for a month.
We think a lot of CARE and congratulate Peter Bell on his well-earned honor. We should all take away from this article the maxim Make the world less miserable. Mr. Bell has.
Forrest C. Eggleston 42
Vast wealth and a transplant surgeons résumé may qualify a man for many things, including leadership in the Senate and the family name on what used to be Palmer Physics Lab. There was everything but a corporate crest adorning the blazer as Bill Frist 74 stepped to the microphone on Alumni Day (Notebook, March 26), talked down to his fellow alums, and gave us a rehashed political pile of hokum. I do not have a diploma from Frist U. We are not a corporate entity.
Mike Parish 65
Argelio Dumenigos hagiographic piece on Bill Frist, the Senates new majority leader (Notebook, March 26), omits a crucial aspect of Frists record: his firm and unreasoned opposition to abortion. To appease far-right members of his constituency, Frist has voted to deny access to abortions for women in the military, to cut aid to international family planning programs, to block access to emergency contraception, and to oppose fetal tissue and cloning research. He also supports worthless abstinence-only sex education programs.
Jeffrey Shallit 79
I have great respect and admiration for Princeton professors, but I had no idea they could accomplish what is reported in PAW (Notebook, March 12). Imagine the Universitys scientists being the first ones to travel a million miles into space! I refer to the second sentence of your article, Big Bang in the bag, which reads: In June 2001, NASA launched a satellite that was built with input from Princeton scientists one million miles into space . . .
On second thought, instead of praising the scientists, perhaps we should call upon Princetons Department of English for some basic instruction in syntax.
Jeremy T. Medina 64
I was about to enjoy Professor Anthony Graftons extensive feast on Woodrow Wilson and the preceptorial system.
But first I had to nibble on a distasteful crumb Marilyn Marks *86s From the Editor column (March 12). She claims that Wilsons language in defining his goals both rankles and impresses her.
For the life of me, aside from Wilsons usual noble parochialism about the colleges national mission, I cant find anything in it that rankles. Oh, maybe its the emphasis on men and manliness. If so, here we have a particularly telling instance of what education philosopher Howard Gardner terms presentism. Thats his term for a refusal or inability to divorce oneself from todays standards, customs, and values in order to appreciate more accurately the ways of life, values, and vocabulary of an earlier era.
One of the habits of mind I most prize from my (admittedly Pleistocene) Princeton education is critical thinking. At its heart lies precisely this ability to see another age, fairly and nonjudgmentally, on its own terms.
Jamie Spencer 66
I just received a mailing urging me to donate to Annual Giving. I also receive frequent letters from my class and from various other University bodies, all asking me to give money to Princeton. I would like to know why, with an endowment of more than $8 billion, the largest endowment per student of any university in the country, Princeton needs to keep hitting its alumni up for more? When there are so many people starving in the world, so many dying for lack of basic medical care, so many American children living in poverty, so many local schools closing arts and music programs for lack of funds, the Universitys boundless appetite for cash seems more than ever like naked greed.
Christine Mann 80
Thanks for the article on Professor Edward Felten (cover story, February 26), who is fighting for the right to do research that is constrained by laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. This is an important fight, but the battle over the D.M.C.A. and other proposed digital copyright legislation relates to a broader issue: the balance of rights to intellectual property between creators and the general public, and how the Internet threatens that balance.
The real issue concerns a set of consumers rights to use content that is collectively and conveniently called fair use, ranging from the right to quote from an article in order to criticize it to the right to make a copy of a music CD on ones computer. The problem is that theres no a priori definition of fair use its decided by judges and juries on a case-by-case basis. This makes it impossible to design a system that can decide which uses are fair and therefore which uses it will allow.
Instead, both the laws under consideration and the digital media products we buy represent someones opinion on which kinds of uses should be allowed and which should not. That someone typically is either a large media company executive or a product designer for a consumer electronics or software firm not a member of the general public. Media companies will always favor interpretations of fair use that restrict what consumers can do and induce them to buy more copies of media products, while technology vendors will always favor interpretations that allow them to make their products at the lowest possible costs.
Writers, musicians, and other creators should be compensated for their works, and media piracy is justly illegal. But it seems to me that we need a Ralph Nader 55 for the Internet age, in addition to Professor Felten, to help go to bat for consumers interests in this area.
Bill Rosenblatt 83
It was a shame to see in a PAW article about the University Chapel the suggestion that the architect of Princetons Gothic chapel, Ralph Adams Cram, would have celebrated the turning of the chapel into a U.N.-style religious hall.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Even a cursory reading of his book The Catholic Church and Art or his introduction to Henry Adamss classic Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres would reveal a passionate enthusiast who never would have considered a smorgasbord approach to religion or architecture or anything else for that matter as anything but a road to irrelevancy.
What Cram celebrated in his life and work was a unique architectural expression and the unique spiritual impulse that besouled it. He considered the Middle Ages the greatest epoch of Christian civilization, singularly united and at one with itself. His consuming passion for the times is underscored when he writes: To live for a day in a world that built Chartres Cathedral would be to share in its gaiety and light-heartedness, its youthful ardor and abounding action, its childlike simplicity and frankness, its normal and healthy all-embracing devotion.
Kenneth A. Stier Jr. 54
Our story about alumni who have run for public office and lost (feature, April 9), misstated the amount of personal funds spent by Chris Ratliff 86 on his campaign. He spent close to $28,000. PAW regrets the error.