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November 3, 2004: Letters

Reflecting on Rumsfeld

P-rade protocol

Monturiol not resurrected

Greek life defended

Grade debate goes on

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Reflecting on Rumsfeld

For many years, we have admired Donald Rumsfeld ’54 as a distinguished, self-made man. He came to Princeton without the connections to the nation’s elite and the financial support enjoyed by most of his peers in those years. He studied and wrestled hard here, became a Navy flier, and quickly established himself in positions of leadership in the nation’s legislative and executive branches. What better role model for Princeton students?

How sad, then, to see this man now as the pivotal member of a “gang that could not shoot straight,” as conservative columnist and Princetonian George Will *68 recently described the White House’s and Pentagon’s management of Iraq’s occupation.

At the core of Secretary Rumsfeld’s errors, many observers on both sides of the political aisle believe, is his stubborn resistance to staffing the occupation of Iraq adequately. It seems to be an inborn stubbornness, to which Mark Bernstein ’83 alludes as well in his recent article on the secretary (Feature, Oct. 6).

Although former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger’s report on Abu Ghraib delicately dances around Secretary Rumsfeld’s role in that prison scandal, he does report that the command of General Sanchez was so “under-resourced” that not enough attention could be paid to operations at that and other prisons in Iraq. The resulting damage to America’s image in the world is incalculable.

Last November, a number of newspapers, including the Financial Times and the New York Times, reported that hundreds and possibly thousands of Saddam Hussein’s ammunition dumps —many of them known to U.S. troops —had been left unguarded during most of 2003, for want of troops to take on that important task. America’s enemies in Iraq could help themselves at these dumps like customers in a supermarket without a check-out counter. What secretary of defense could possibly expose his troops to such a danger, not even to dwell upon the fact that American soldiers still die over there in unarmored Humvees?

We can appreciate that many of the secretary’s friends will take umbrage at these remarks. With a son (Mark ’01) who already has served two tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq, however, we are not that quick to overlook these management gaffes. The “gang that cannot shoot straight” has cost our family too many sleepless nights.

Uwe E. Reinhardt
James Madison Professor of Political Economy, Woodrow Wilson School

May Cheng Reinhardt
Princeton, N.J.


There’s a very important lesson that Donald Rumsfeld ’54 didn’t learn at Princeton: If you intimidate subordinates they will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to know. Why has the American military leadership in Iraq failed to request the number of troops necessary to subdue the insurgents? Because Secretary Rumsfeld effectively preempted such “unnecessary” requests by taking a firm public position to the contrary prior to the outset of hostilities. As a result, young Americans have died needlessly in Iraq, and will continue to do so.

C. Thomas Corwin ’62
Princeton, N.J.


How clever to run an article just four weeks before the election that uses the prism of nostalgia and “early” character divination to burnish the reputation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ’54! I had no idea Rummy was such a great guy. This certainly changes my view of him as the arrogant architect of a failed war strategy and violator of the Geneva Convention.

Jeff Wells ’84
Washington, D.C.


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P-rade protocol

I, too, am distressed, as is Conover English ’34 (Letters, Sept. 15), by the increasingly frivolous, undisciplined, and lengthy P-rades. I say, “This foolishness must stop!” Certainly children have no place at a P-rade — nor do babies, teens, dogs, pigs, chickens, or bunnies of any sort. Marchers who cannot keep the proper pace, including the injured and handicapped, should be required to furnish and ride in their own carts.

Anyone who fails to reach the assigned checkpoints in the allotted times should be pulled aside by wardens, forced to undress, and complete 10 push-ups for each minute of tardiness. The miscreants will then be rounded up, dressed in scarlet tiger outfits with tails between their legs, and forced to simulate the Death March on Bataan — ending at the Chapel, where they will be flogged and made to atone for their dalliance.

John Baker ’61
Atlanta, Ga.
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Monturiol not resurrected

With respect to your recent article about Barcelonan inventor Narcis Monturiol (Reading Room, Sept. 15): Matthew Stewart ’85 may well have written about Monturiol, but “resurrect” him he most assuredly did not.

There is an entire chapter devoted to the life and work of Monturiol in Barcelona, art critic Robert Hughes’ magisterial history of the city, its civilization, and its people. Nor was Monturiol, as your article implies, the prime mover of Barcelona’s late-19th-century “renaissance.” He shares that honor with a variety of men (and, yes, they all were men) whom Hughes writes about — not the least of whom were the poets/churchmen Balmes and Verdaguer as well as several writers, professors, and publicists who helped establish the first Catalan-language newspapers and book publishers as well as the poetry contest known as the “jocs florals,” i.e., “flower games,” in which prizes were annually given for the best poem written in Catalan.

Stewart’s book very likely expands upon Hughes’ book, and should be of interest to Catalanophiles such as me. The plaudits for resurrection, however, belong strictly to Hughes.

Michael Freedberg ’62
Salem, Mass.
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Greek life defended

So, Dean Deignan and President Tilghman think that Greek-letter organizations “prematurely narrow” students’ “circles of acquaintances and experiences” (Notebook, Oct. 20). Did incoming students and their parents also receive admonitions about joining Princeton’s athletic teams, singing groups, and religious or political organizations?

Freshmen, what a relief it must be to know that the University has claimed the sole right to narrow those circles for you by assigning you to a residential college!

As an alumna of both Princeton and Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity, I’d like to disabuse our current administration of such notions. Belonging to a Greek-letter organization does not remove you from the Princeton experience — it can involve you more fully in it. Far from narrowing their members’ social circles, fraternities and sororities offer the chance for friendship and support from members of all four undergraduate classes, all residential colleges, all departments of academic study, every imaginable creative and athletic discipline, as well as varied ethnicities, religions, and political beliefs. I would argue that there is no other organization on campus that brings its members as much opportunity to experience the diversity of Princeton as a fraternity or sorority.

It’s fine with Dean Deignan that Susie Freshman join a singing group that will consume her for four years in a tight-knit, exclusive, single-focus, and incredibly small group of women, but the dean will proactively encourage her not to even research a sorority because she’ll be “limiting” her Princeton experience? (Let’s ignore the fact that most fraternities and sororities have multi-faceted membership programs that encompass academic success, community service, personal development, and leadership training as well as scholarships and grants.)

Had I allowed Princeton to decide for me that Kappa Alpha Theta was “too narrow” a social circle, I would not have met one of my best friends. We’re not in the same graduating class. She’s Jewish, I’m Catholic. She was an engineer; I studied art history. She lived in Butler, and I in Mathey. Theta is the only thing that brought us together at Princeton, and my life then and now would be less without having her in it. Nor would I have met the amazing women, from undergrads to octogenarians, who have taught me, challenged me, supported me, and become cherished friends through my volunteer work in the leadership of Kappa Alpha Theta since graduation.

The Princeton I know and admire was not in the business of saving students from their own decisions. It makes me sad to think that is where it seems to be now. I encourage Dean Deignan and President Tilghman to educate themselves about the national and international Greek-letter organizations represented at Princeton and to involve Princeton sorority alumnae and fraternity alumni in their research and discussions. They will be surprised at our numbers and at the high regard we have for our organizations.

I, for one, will be supporting Theta with more dollars than I send to Princeton. I’d rather support an organization that strives to empower its members, not make decisions for them.

Jane Shepherd Dick ’91
Palo Alto, Calif.

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Grade debate goes on

I hope the debate on this subject continues until genuine merit prevails.

Alex Rosenfeld ’03’s letter (Sept. 15) boils down to, “If all the academic and institutional worlds have gone mad, Princeton had better go mad, too!” That’s his only defense of an artificial grading system that should have been corrected long ago.

Thomas B. Roberts ’75 makes a convincing (if incomplete) case for “anonymous grading for exams.” This is something that clearly deserves some study and might provide a big part of the solution to this dilemma.

But Laurence C. Day ’55 furnishes the most persuasive (and ethical) answer: “For Princeton to pander to the graduate schools by inflating grades makes a mockery of the curve, which should be restored to its rightful shape in the academic galaxy.”

Dean Malkiel has pointed the way to restoring sanity to scoring; let’s follow it.

Nelson Runger ’53
Yardley, Pa.


I very much like Dr. Brock *93’s Spinal Tap suggestion (Letters, Sept. 15): “Whoa, dude, this kid’s GPA goes to 5!”

Set the grading curve, as he says, to give a “nontrivial standard deviation.” Then peg the median to match the mean of the median GPAs of our peer institutions numerically. So, if the other Ivies have a median grade of 3.7, so do we; ours just tops out well above 4. That answers some of the other writers’ objections about hiring and admitting people who merely compare numbers (which wouldn’t be any lower for students above the median GPA), while solving the grade compression problem. At least, until Harvard decides its top grade is a 9.

Rick Mott ’73
Ringoes, N.J.
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