February 23, 2005: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
‘Exploring Ethics’: Alumni respond
Congratulations on your Jan. 26 PAW and its treatment of ethics issues. It was great to see such substantive, thought-provoking and informative content.
One thing I noticed was that several of the articles mentioned a general decline in standards of ethical conduct, citing corporate and government abuses. However, little was said of similar ethical lapses in the academic and journalistic fields (or the reactions of some prominent institutions to excuse such lapses). Scholars and journalists have a special responsibility for maintaining ethical integrity, in part because they often presume to play a self-appointed role with regard to these standards and their failures. If public discussions of ethics fail to include other institutions of trust, it is no wonder that people are increasingly cynical about the integrity and trustworthiness of our core institutions.
JERRY RAYMOND ’73
I cannot remember the last time PAW provided such a wealth of substantive material related to a single theme or issue. I look forward to more of the same.
PETER B. DUBLIN ’63
The survey on ethical issues (“What Are They Thinking?”) was well-intentioned but fatally flawed because it is not random. The totally voluntary and instinctively self-serving answers that came back from the survey give a picture of ethical well-being that cannot be confirmed through the objective medium of a random selection.
There is a huge difference in the conclusions your readers can draw from what you have published and what any statistics professor would counsel you they should have drawn if the survey were done in a disciplined fashion. What you have is a survey of “good” people giving “good” answers and others, who may have less motivation for obvious reasons, not answering at all. You may not justify the effort by saying the survey is “a glimpse into the views of recent graduates.” It is not.
JAMES L. NEFF ’53
This issue on ethics is a good one for increasing renewals of class dues. I’ve been fudging since 1996, in and out of employment, explaining to myself (after the seasonal solicitation letter and those polite, eager telephone volunteers) that the $35 in class dues is “better spent on classroom supplies” or “needed by my nephew for his education” ... when I (and you?) know that I actually spend it on dinner out with my wife. Professor Peter Singer’s profile and the fine work by author Christopher Shea ’91 helped distill competing ways of analyzing our interaction with the world — and the issue made me realize that I owe my class “some” back dues (please don’t do the math). I just cut a check for this year; it’s headed to the class treasurer.
STEVE McCREA-CONGER ’81 k’24 k’09 k’48
There is food for thought in a PAW issue which on its cover highlights “how students learn about doing the right thing” but reports (in Notebook) that on the replies from 2,500 students regarding their Princeton experience, “academic issues” such as workload and distribution requirements “topped the list of what students liked least.” Inasmuch as these same students claimed that among what they liked best was “the academic experience,” one must infer either that they were confused by the questions or that they were signaling a desire for less academic work and for less of being directed in the choice of underclass courses.
From the perspective of some of us older graduates, who had a 25 percent greater course load than nowadays, semesters longer by several weeks of actual class time, and proportionally greater distribution requirements, it would be the “right thing” for today’s students to accept their workloads as being justified by their primary purpose in being on campus. Further, since they applied to a liberal arts institution to begin with, they might pause to consider the value of breadth in their courses during freshman and sophomore years. Modestly to leave it up to the faculty to determine the guidelines under distribution requirements would also, I believe, be the right thing.
C. WEBSTER WHEELOCK ’60 *67 p’93