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April 6, 2005: Letters

Princetonians in the nationÉs business

Religion and tolerance

Checkbook milestones

Admission essays

Which is biased?

Academic concerns

Unwelcome in China

Supporting U.S. troops

Good news from Iran

A diverse faculty

More on ethics

Recalling F.W. Mote

Don’t alter ‘Going Back’

PAW Letter Box Online
PAW has expanded its Web site to include a feature called Letter Box, where many more letters than can fit in the print magazine are published. Please go to Letter Box to read and respond.

PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length, accuracy, clarity, and civility.
Our address: Princeton Alumni Weekly, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton, NJ 08542
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Feb. 23 issue Princetonians in the nation’s business

I fear that your Feb. 23 issue may give readers the impression that the world of commerce and industry is more exotic than it really is. You have scientific

and technical geniuses on the one hand, and a stunning outlier like Richard Branson on the other. Important as these types are to it, the world of business is quite a bit more accessible than you imply.

Although the University never puts it this way, a career in business can be every bit as human and “in the nation’s service” as one in teaching or government. Perhaps more Princetonians would consider this route if it got a more accurate airing in articles such as yours. Heaven knows, we need good people in business!

ROB SLOCUM ’71
Stamford, Conn.

 

In the Feb. 23 issue, Kathy Kiely ’77 wrote that Brian Binnie *78’s flight aboard SpaceShipOne last October made him only the second civilian space pilot in history. That statement raises two issues for the record keepers: Who is considered a civilian, and what is the minimum altitude that qualifies as space?

Traditionally, civilian means nonmilitary, and space is defined by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale as beginning at 100 km altitude, the same as that used under the Ansari X Prize competition rules.

Using those criteria, Binnie and his predecessor, Mike Melvill, may be the first two private (nongovernmental) space pilots in history, but they are not the first two civilian (nonmilitary) space pilots. That distinction actually belongs to Joseph Walker (who piloted an X-15 across the 100 km threshold twice in 1963) and Neil Armstrong (who first entered space as pilot of Gemini 8 in 1966), both of whom were civilians during their tenure with NASA.

WESLEY GO ’90
Highlands Ranch, Colo.

 

First of all, I must say that Ed Zschau ’61 (feature, Feb. 23) is my friend. He was my professor in the M.B.A. program at Stanford when he was a newly minted Ph.D., and my client when he ran a Silicon Valley company. I even stepped out of my lifelong support for Democrats to vote for him for the Senate, when he barely lost to Alan Cranston. A finer guy there never was.

But the reference to his singing in this article does not begin to do him justice. Back in the pre-PC days (the computer, not the correctness), graduate business students learned linear programming by hand. It was an arduous, boring, complicated mathematical task; one problem typically took several hours. There were many steps required, and they were hard to remember.

In stepped Ed, who had to teach us this rarefied stuff. He wrote a song, “Do the LP,” and in a performance that still is spoken of 38 years later, he taught us linear programming by singing how to do it. I do not exaggerate when I say it brought down the house, so much so that he reprised it at our graduation in 1968. This was truly one of the seminal events in anyone’s educational experience.

Bravissimo, Ed. You obviously still are wowing them. No surprise here.

JONATHAN S. HOLMAN ’66
San Francisco, Calif.

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Religion and tolerance

I was startled to read Professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. *97’s essay (Perspective, March 9) in which he criticizes Americans for inadequately understanding our complex religious history, but in which he seems to have overlooked the very complexities that challenge his thesis. Professor Glaude argues that Americans have sometimes neglected our tradition of “religious liberty and toleration,” and too easily fall back into “pernicious provinciality” that leads one to believe one’s own religion to be “true.” In particular, he contrasts the tolerant views of George Washington — who, he claims, “hoped that enlightened people eventually would shed such prejudices and be satisfied to practice their religion in private” — with efforts to “shore up our public morality” by appeal to religion, which he attributes alternatively to our “Puritan inheritance.”

Coming from an associate professor of religion, this simplistically drawn portrait surprises and disappoints. There is no mention of Washington’s words in his Farewell Address of Sept. 19, 1796, ones that suggest that Washington hardly believed that religion could be kept “private” and divorced from morality: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. ... Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Similarly, while Puritans have long since become an easy target of denunciation for intolerance, I wonder if Professor Glaude would disagree with the following sentences from John Winthrop: “We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of each other’s necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce with each other in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality.” Above all, he urges his listeners to “walk humbly with our God.” This hardly sounds to my ears like “pernicious provinciality.”

What these brief remarks suggest from both “sides” of our purportedly “tolerant” and our allegedly “pernicious” tradition is that one cannot easily separate what one likes and dislikes from our “complex” religious history. It does no good to falsely reduce religious believers to a set of good guys and bad guys and then ask people to choose sides. Our religious tradition is truly complex, and one does it injustice artificially to separate the purported wheat from the supposed chaff. Indeed, one of the conclusions that our complex tradition suggests is that the very democratic values of “toleration” that Professor Glaude lauds might have as their ultimate source the public dimension of religion that he otherwise chides.

PATRICK J. DENEEN
Assistant Professor of Politics
Princeton University
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Checkbook milestones

I wish you had taken those “checkbook milestones” (Notebook, Feb. 23) back much further for the sake of some of us old codgers. If memory serves, the cost of room, board, and tuition when I started Princeton in 1958 was just around $3,000. That was then the approximate price of a new Buick Roadmaster — its top-of-the-line in those days. Now the figure stands at $40,000, which is approximately the price of the top-of-the-line Buick Park Avenue. (I checked this fact out on the Buick Web site.) So, when all is said and done, the cost of a year at Princeton has kept pace with the cost of the best new Buick for almost 50 years. Everyone seems to think that college costs have been going through the roof. If my memory of 1958 is correct, common wisdom can once again be shown as deficient. Is there any way of checking to find out?

C. THOMAS CORWIN ’62
Goldens Bridge, N.Y.

Editor’s note: According to Buick: A Complete History, the price of a four-door 1958 Roadmaster was $4,251. Tuition, room, and board for 1958—59 ranged from $2,020 to $2,280, depending on the type of room.

 

In the Feb. 23 issue of PAW we learn that tuition, room, and board will now top $40,000 per year. But even more shocking is the revelation (new to me) that part of a student’s tuition goes to fund the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center at Princeton. In my opinion, the University has no business supporting and funding such an organization. I wonder if the parents of present and future students are aware of the University’s involvement in this program. I would venture to speculate that if it were known, there would be a lot of parents who would feel that Princeton is not the right place for their son or daughter.

NICHOLAS GOTTEN JR. ’61, M.D.
Memphis, Tenn.
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Admission essays

I, for one, do not think it is a good thing that Princeton has started to accept the Common Application (Notebook, Feb. 23). Requiring applicants to go through the extra step of completing an unusual application serves to weed out those students who aren’t truly interested in attending Princeton. Is this such a bad thing? Though I hated writing those four small essays at the time, I am glad

I did, and I’m glad my classmates had to as well. In fact, answers to those essays served as a great conversation topic. The admission office’s job is tough enough as it is; there’s no sense in making it harder by eliminating a very useful tool in determining who really wants to be here.

BEN SCHAYE ’02
Chicago, Ill.
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Which is biased?

PAW of Feb. 23 reported under Lecture Circuit that Hafez Al-Mirazi, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera, spoke about Middle East coverage by American media since Sept. 11, 2001.

I find it ironic at best that a representative of Al Jazeera refers to American media as “biased” and that they “stopped being journalists and got too close to the subject, and that is not good.” I wonder whether there were any countervailing views expressed at the session at which Mr. Al-Mirazi spoke.

It is bizarre that Mr. Al-Mirazi claims that American media is biased when Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Middle East is not only biased but, at least until recently, gave coverage (I would say glorification) to heinous and unforgivable acts of terrorists. Indeed, at times it seemed that Al Jazeera was embedded with the terrorists. Al Jazeera’s coverage, as it has been reported to me, has been totally biased with respect to American and Western policies and actions in the Middle East.

Hopefully, the session was more balanced than Al Jazeera is or than Mr. Al-Mirazi suggests. Surely it is the role of the University to present a full spectrum of views and ideas such that the community of scholars — faculty and students alike — might find its own sense of truth in an increasingly complex world.

BRUCE RAMER ’55
Los Angeles, Calif.
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Academic concerns

I read with interest the letter of C. Webster Wheelock ’60 *67 (Feb. 23).

I do, however, disagree with several of his conclusions. It seems a false paradox to claim that students’ listing of academic concerns as both their most and least liked aspects of the Princeton experience means that they are confused by the survey’s questions or are necessarily signaling a desire for less academic work. Casting about for a rebuttal, I think back to my thesis, which was without a doubt one of the most rewarding things I did in college. Trying to remember it without the rosy glow that passing time lends such things, however, I can also say that it was without a doubt the most stressful and agonizing task I attempted in college. A thing can be both liked and disliked, sometimes even at the same time, without indicating confusion.

Does the faculty have greater perspective about workload and useful distribution requirements than the students? Almost certainly. Should the students sit passively by and not issue a peep, no matter what the faculty decides? I would be disappointed if they did. A university depends on the vibrancy and voice of its student body. It was, after all, student involvement that had at least some hand in changing some of the more repugnant aspects of bicker in the ’60s as well as in paving the way for women to be admitted to the University. To take exception to students airing their concerns and to prefer them keeping complacently quiet suggest a desire for a docile Princeton that goes against what I hope most of the older graduates, with their greater perspective, would think is the right thing.

MIGUEL PIZARRO ’96
Hamden, Conn.
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Unwelcome in China

I was dismayed to learn that Professor Perry Link is not welcome in China (Perspective, Feb. 9). Having spent many years working in Beijing, however, I did not find this surprising. China’s rulers always distinguish ruthlessly between friends of the regime and its critics. What was surprising was Princeton’s effective complicity in this affront to academic freedom. The Chinese government is exceedingly adept at co-opting critics and splitting the ranks of perceived enemies. President Tilghman had the opportunity to take a stand in favor of honesty and the free exchange of scholars. I am disappointed and ashamed that she declined to do so.

STEPHEN MARKSCHEID ’76
Wilmette, Ill.
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Supporting U.S. troops

My husband, Capt. Kyle Button (West Point ’01), just came home from Iraq after an almost 13-month deployment. I know this war has been controversial, and I have read the debate in PAW with interest. With all the debate and the mostly negative news coverage of events in Iraq, I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see a human interest piece in our publication (cover story, Feb. 9) about the sacrifices our fellow Princetonians and Americans are making by volunteering to serve our country in the armed forces. Regardless of your political feelings or stance on the war, it is so important to support our troops and the families who stand behind them.

During this past year, while Kyle has flown Blackhawk helicopters on countless missions around Iraq, I have stayed at our home in Germany, supporting him with letters and packages, staying busy teaching at our elementary school, and enjoying living abroad. I was so lucky and am eternally grateful for the support of my family and friends, especially my Princeton classmates, who cheered us on throughout the year. I even had classmates make the trip to Europe at various times during the year to travel with me and keep me company, making the year pass that much more quickly.

Kyle and I are so looking forward to returning to Princeton in May for my fifth reunion to see our friends who were such great sources of support this year and to thank them all in person. While Kyle is home safely with me now, there are still thousands of soldiers working hard in the Middle East. I encourage you all to continue to support our troops and their families who voluntarily make selfless sacrifices for our country every day they wear the uniform.

ASHLEY FAY BUTTON ’00
Ansbach, Germany
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Good news from Iran

It was a pleasant surprise to read of the Library of Congress delegation under Jim Billington ’50 visiting Iran (Class Notes, Jan. 26). In a time of increasing political tension with Iran, it is heartening to see a civilized exercise like this take place. Hats off to our librarian.

STUART HIBBEN ’48
Dulles, Va.
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A diverse faculty

In response to Macauley Peterson ’01’s letter of Feb. 9, I would like to question his position on not asking prospective faculty and staff for their political affiliation. Hasn’t Princeton stood for diversity? Don’t we determine prospective students’ and employees’ gender, race, and nationality in order to get a balanced and meaningful cross-section? Shouldn’t certain areas of study like politics, religion, economics, sociology, and others look for an evenhandedness in their areas of teaching and study? If we don’t want an all-male school, why would we want uniform, homogeneous, undiversified thinking by our faculty and administration on these vital areas of thought as evidenced by the statistics?

FRED HOLZWEISS ’54
Englewood, Fla.
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More on ethics

cluster of studentsFull disclosure compels me to admit that I am one of the “morally traditionalist Princeton alumni who won’t shed a tear” at the cutting back of Professor Peter Singer’s time on campus (feature, Jan. 26). I am shedding a tear, however — not to mention seeing red and feeling queasy — at his travesty of a field trip to the neonatal ICU of Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Is he not concerned with the suffering of parents who, fervently hoping their premature infants will live and thrive, encounter a cluster of students around an isolette taking notes and (if the caption is to be taken at face value) discussing the advisability of withdrawing life support? I marvel that the hospital allows it. Perhaps if this stunt were covered in the body of the article, I would know what the students can possibly gain from such a lapse in compassion. As it is, I am left only with two pictures, worth a thousand more heartbreaking words than the captions that describe them.

VERA VAUGHAN HOUGH ’92 s’92
Little Silver, N.J.

 

Christopher Shea ’91, near the end of his article on Peter Singer, writes: “There remains something inescapably paradoxical about Singer’s presence at Princeton.” Indeed there is, but “paradoxical” would not be the right word to describe Singer and his views.

Paraplegic Harriet McBryde Johnson, quoted earlier in Shea’s article, does use the right word when she states that there is something “horrifying” in his view on the killing of disabled infants, in seeing “lives like mine as avoidable mistakes.” Just so.

Once the principle is established that human life can be destroyed for whatever medical and social reasons the state deems “admirable,” a line has been crossed. The door is wide open and the targets can change. As doctor-novelist Walker Percy observed in 1988: “It does not take a prophet to predict what will happen next, or if not next, sooner or later. It is not difficult to imagine an electorate or a court 10 years, 50 years from now, who would favor getting rid of useless old people, retarded children, anti-social blacks, illegal Hispanics, gypsies, Jews …”

I believe that Singer is a deeply deluded man, a man who is in utter flight from the consequences of his views – consequences that follow inevitably when human life is not considered sacred.

KENNETH A. STIER JR. ’50
Great Neck, N.Y.

 

I was very pleased to see your special issue on ethics, and to learn that there are now several ways for Princeton students to be exposed to ethics during the course of their studies. I’ve often been amazed that I could get a Princeton A.B. (politics, ’73), a Columbia M.S. in journalism, and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago without ever having to take an ethics course or really having the issue come up in my course work.

I seem to spend a great deal of time in court these days, reporting on the trials of various corporate executives and Wall Street big shots who have crossed the line not only into the land of the unethical but into the realm of the illegal. Even more disturbing is the wide range of unethical behavior I see on the part of people in business, government, and the professions, including my own, who conclude that if it is not illegal it must be OK. Some, I’m afraid, even went to Princeton!

SCOTT GURVEY ’73
New York, N.Y.

 

I have just finished reading the articles in “Exploring Ethics” and find them fascinating. In “Doing the Right Thing,” there was a scenario attributed to postdoc fellow Joshua Greene in which he asks persons to imagine the driver of a shiny new BMW car coming upon a seriously injured man by the side of the road, covered with blood and in danger of losing a leg. The problem or ethical dilemma is posed by the likelihood that if the driver took the man in his car, he would risk ruining the fine leather upholstery. Greene suggests that most would find it repugnant to leave the man.

Then in juxtaposition, he posed another scenario. This one involves a letter in the mail from a reputable organization asking for a cash donation to promote its supposedly compassionate work. Is it OK to toss the letter, he asks, or should the recipient respond with the same sense or urgency as the driver would (probably) respond to the man by the roadside? He goes on to say that, according to Professor Singer (and evidently he agrees), these scenarios are equivalent, the only difference being prox-imity to the person or persons in need.

There are a few more sentences about the way in which our brains may be wired, but I am amazed that these two scenarios would even be compared. My ethics may be a bit rusty and too much influenced by religious training to see these things from a purely scientific point of view, as Mr. Greene seems to be doing. The man by the side of the road is remarkably like the traveler from Jerusalem to Jericho in the Gospels. Whatever one may think of Jesus’ ethic, the Samaritan who came along was apparently the only one on the road who was in a position to help. So, it would seem, is the driver in the BMW scenario. This driver was the only one who was in a position to help.

The letter from the charitable organization soliciting funds for victims far away is an entirely different matter. Many people, probably tens of thousands, are receiving the same letter, so the chance of response from at least a few is very great. We don’t know the urgency of the medical need, and there are a host of other unknowns in the letter appeal. The answer to this hypothetical set of scenarios seems obvious. You help the man by the roadside; you consider the letter appeal in the light of many other charitable choices. “How Princeton students learn to think about right and wrong” is certainly important, and I am glad the University is addressing the issue (and glad that PAW chose to highlight this theme). Still, I am puzzled that this whole subject could be addressed in such cool objectivity with almost no reference to the Judeo-Christian religious heritage of our nation, our culture, and the University as an important ingredient.

NED PIERSON ’51
Holland, Mich.
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Recalling F.W. Mote

This letter is prompted by the death [Feb. 10] of my thesis adviser, Professor F.W. Mote.

The sole reason I came to the East Asian studies department was to study with Fritz Mote. But when I arrived, he wasn’t there. The rhythm of his inevitable and frequent sabbaticals, though frustrating for his students, only seemed to enhance the luster of his stewardship.

Professor Mote’s classes and seminars, whether dealing with Chinese cosmology or the bibliography of the T’u-mu Incident of the Ming (it certainly looms a lot larger in my mind than it does in scholarship, thanks to him), demonstrated that only command of the pointillism of historic detail afforded the scholar rights when it came to commenting on its sweep. That he enjoyed reflecting on great swaths of history meant only that he had a depth of insight affording him the right to do so. Yet he was the first to admit the shortcomings of his own observations, often humbling, by example, the grand pronouncements of his students in Jones Hall.

Right alongside the rigor of his scholarship was legendary hospitality. It was a treat to be invited to the Motes of McCosh Circle. In a wooden home inspired by understated Japanese architecture, he was thrilled to highlight the artistic pyrotechnics of his wife, whose cooking, painting, ceramics, and smile bestowed upon their lucky guests a sense of cosmic warmth, clearly reflecting a shared sense of attention to homespun detail.

The dramas attending my generals and dissertation over the years should have come as no surprise. From the get-go, when I proposed writing on a problematic and complex Ming figure, Professor Mote made it patently clear that what needed his attention were my scholarly shortcomings, rather than my hyperactive imagination. In essence, what I liked least jumped the queue in his lights.

The last time I was in touch with the Motes was at Christmas, when they sent my young daughters a card. On it were photographs of fox cubs in their garden, superbly photographed by Mrs. Mote. The children were most taken with the animals and the note Fritz (he urged me to call him by his first name, though I could never bring myself to say it — only write it) penned on the inside. Then, once the topic of foxes had been exhausted, one of my girls asked who Fritz was. In a heartbeat, I responded, “Teacher.” Their looks clearly registered disbelief. How could their father ever have been a student? With Fritz Mote in my world, I had always expected to remain one.

PETER RUPERT LIGHTE *81
London, England
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Don’t alter ‘Going Back’

I can’t believe one of my classmates, James C. Davis ’52 (Letters, Feb. 9), actually wants to change the words to “Going Back”!

When a guy says, “she’s my one and only,” he doesn’t mean there are no other women in the world! He clearly means there are no other women for him. ’Nuf said!

DONAVIN A. BAUMGARTNER JR. ’52
Naples, Fla.
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