April 7, 2004: Notebook
The Woodrow Wilson School has begun to rebuild its international relations faculty with the recent hiring of two professors, G. John Ikenberry and Thomas Christensen. Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 says she hopes that their addition will help draw other top scholars to the school.
Since taking over as dean in September 2002, Slaughter has made international relations the focus for much of her faculty recruiting, targeting some of the field’s most respected names. In recent years, the W.W.S. had lost several top professors to retirement, including Robert Gilpin, who studied international economics, Soviet specialist Richard Ullman, and Richard Falk, who specialized in international relations and law. Michael Doyle, an international relations theorist and former assistant secretary-general of the U.N., left to teach at Columbia.
To replace such distinguished names, Slaughter has approached several noted professors working at peer universities. “The principal challenge is to convince established scholars who are very well treated by their home institutions that the time has come to make a change,” she says, “and that Princeton is the place to be.” Slaughter hopes to announce two more senior hires in international relations this spring, and possibly a third in comparative politics. In her own research specialty, international law, Slaughter hopes to recruit another senior professor.
Christensen, an expert on China and national security who began teaching at the University last fall, left his post at M.I.T., drawn partly by the opportunity to teach undergraduates. He sees an exciting future at the Wilson School, with a dynamic faculty. “In particular, the hiring of John Ikenberry has created some positive noises outside of the University about where we’re headed,” he says.
Ikenberry, a professor at Georgetown and author of After Victory (2000), has written about how powerful nations have wielded their might, both historically and today. An assistant professor at Princeton from 1984 to 1992, he will return to the University next fall and pursue research interests ranging from global governance to American foreign policy and East Asian security policy. “He is the rare scholar who studies both international security and international political economy, who can adopt a national, regional, or global perspective on specific issues,” Slaughter says.
The University has seen burgeoning interest in all things international, from security, policy, and political economy to global environmental and health issues (particularly H.I.V./AIDS). While building international relations is a priority, Slaughter says, “We must also
recognize that many of our students’ interests are best served by our courses in international development, health policy, and environmental policy. The school has long been strong in these areas.”
Religion professor Cornel West *80 joined seven other professors and guests to discuss Mel Gilbson’s “The Passion of the Christ” before an overflow crowd March 2. West disputed the filmmaker’s claim that the movie is nonfiction, and said that any adaptation of the Gospels is “both history remembered and prophecy historicized.” Members of the panel included, from left, Steven Tepper, associate director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Jeffrey Stout *76, professor of religion, Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence,
William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, West, David Elcott of the American Jewish Committee, and John Gager, professor of religion. Dean of Religious Life Thomas Breidenthal, not shown, moderated the talk. To hear the discussion, go to www.princeton.edu/WebMedia/special/.
Intrigued by video games and the field of study that has sprung up around them, Dexter Palmer *01 and Roger Bellin, a graduate student in English, organized the first conference on the topic at an Ivy League school, March 6 at Princeton.
Presenters spoke on such topics as the musical influences of Atari games, the lexicon of video-game criticism, and combat in a video-game context.
The audience at the conference, which was called “Form, Culture, and Video-Game Criticism,” consisted mainly of young people, video-game enthusiasts, and academics who were interested in video games as literature.
Drinking while pregnant
Everyone has seen the signs in restaurants and bars cautioning pregnant women not to drink alcohol because of risks to their unborn children. But in a new study, sociology professor Elizabeth Armstrong *93 has found that there is little medical evidence behind these warnings.
Armstrong lays out her findings in a book, Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsi-bility: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Diagnosis of Moral Disorder, published last fall by Johns Hopkins. She says that policymakers view alcohol and pregnancy through a lens of poverty, gender, and race, turning drinking during pregnancy into a matter of morality. Women who drink heavily during pregnancy drank heavily before pregnancy, says Armstrong, and it is the underlying problems causing those women to drink to excess that need to be addressed.
Fetal alcohol syndrome was defined as a syndrome in 1973, and Armstrong’s initial encounter with it came when, as an M.P.A. student at the Woodrow Wilson School, she read Michael Dorris’s 1989 book, The Broken Cord, which describes the severe developmental disabilities sustained by Dorris’s adopted child, who was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome.
“When I read this book,” says Armstrong, who earned her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, “it provoked a lot of questions. Dorris has very strong opinions about women who drink during pregnancy — that it’s a morally abominable act that shouldn’t be tolerated. But my questions were, how do we know something is a fact? How does knowledge come to be established, particularly in medicine? And how does that piece of medical knowledge, with all the uncertainty around it, get translated into the wider social realm?”
Armstrong is quick to stress that she is not arguing that fetal alcohol syndrome doesn’t exist, or that women should drink with abandon during pregnancy. “What I do try to point out is that we have evidence to suggest that women who are severe chronic alcoholics, who drink throughout their pregnancies, have babies who are affected in various ways. We don’t have very good epidemiological evidence that so-called moderate, social, or light drinking during pregnancy affects the child in any way.”
In her research Armstrong read all the medical literature published on the syndrome from its first appearances in medical journals. She saw that anecdotal evidence was often accepted as medical evidence, which results in policy being made on quicksand. “I argue in the book that, in fact, the medical knowledge around fetal alcohol syndrome and the risks of drinking during pregnancy is not as concrete as we think. There are a lot of gaps in our understanding of fetal alcohol syndrome. We don’t have a clear understanding of the epidemiology of the syndrome. We don’t have a clear understanding of its etiology; we’re not even sure that alcohol is what causes fetal alcohol syndrome or if it’s alcohol in concert with other risk factors — possibly a genetic component, possibly environmental components.”
Armstrong says that basing public policy — including such things as warning labels on wine bottles — on less-than-solid medical knowledge results in a skewed public awareness of the dangers of alcohol. “It’s very interesting that we tend to focus on fetal alcohol syndrome as the thing to be worried about. Just look at the warning label: The number-one thing is you shouldn’t drink during pregnancy, and number two is don’t operate heavy machinery, and the third is that it may cause problems with your own health. In terms of social cost and social morbidity, those warnings should be inverted.
“Part of the way those things are framed or thought about in our society really has to do with gender,” says Armstrong. “It has to do with notions of what women should and shouldn’t do — that women’s reproductive role should be their primary role, that women need somehow to be held accountable for birth outcomes. I argue that we as a society need to think more about why certain women are not able to have optimal birth outcomes.”
The Middletown, Connecticut, school board is considering removing Woodrow Wilson 1879’s name from the town’s middle school because of his views on race, according to a March 10 article in the Hartford Courant. Two local high school students proposed a name change last year, noting that Wilson voted against a racial equality clause in the charter of the League of Nations and did not admit black students while president of Princeton. Board members in favor of keeping the name say Wilson’s accomplishments outweigh his transgressions.
Jon Stewart, comedian and host of the The Daily Show, will be this year’s Class Day speaker. In making the selection, senior class president Eli Goldsmith wrote of the comedian: “Jon Stewart has been regarded as the sociocomedic voice of our generation.” Stewart grew up in nearby Lawrence Township, and his brother, Larry Leibowitz, is a member of the Class of 1982.
Eleven teams of student entrepreneurs competed for $10,000 February 21 during the sixth annual Princeton Business Plan Contest, sponsored by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. Proximities L.L.C., the brainchild of John Norair ’04, Melissa Chen ’05, and Phillip Wei ’05, was awarded the $5,000 first prize by a panel of nine venture capitalists and industry experts. The fledgling company has developed a patent-pending wristband that will enable instant payment, access control, and customer-database automation at large public venues like resorts, nightclubs, and Nascar races. Other business ideas included a new type of digital audio compression, a portable luggage-carrying device, an international fashion firm, a medical-software company, and an organic-food restaurant.