June 8, 2005: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
I really enjoyed the article concerning Jesse Karmazin ’07 (feature, April 20) overcoming his difficulties on the heavyweight crew. Having stroked the heavyweight crew during my years at Princeton, I can empathize with the grueling nature of the sport. To add his “disability” (although Jesse doesn’t see it that way) to learning to compete at this level seems incredible.
However, I disagree with the author’s statement [that Karmazin is] “the first athlete with a disability to row for Princeton.” Oral Miller, Class of 1955, was blind and still rowed for our heavyweight crew. The rigger fastened a small strip of wood to the handle so Oral could feel when the oar was “squared up” and ready to enter the water. Oral, like Jesse, overcame this additional challenge.
ROBERT H. COLLIER ’55
I believe there should be one correction to Brett Tomlinson’s excellent article on Jesse Karmazin ’07 going out for crew.
In the July-October 1945 semester, the rowing sport was reborn after a World War II hiatus. Among the tryouts was a student with an artificial leg. This Princetonian took his leg off before entering the shell and thus rowed with only one leg. I have forgotten his name. Neither he nor I made the crew that fall. For background, there were only about 600 civilian undergraduates on campus, 300 of them freshmen (below draft age).
Maybe someone can come forward and identify this individual.
RICHARD D. YOUNG ’46
Editor’s note: With help from classmate Jeff Penfield ’49, Michael DeCamp ’49 was able to identify the rower: Thomas Spoehr ’47, who rowed in the summer program in 1945 before moving on to the varsity swimming team. According to his memorial (he died in 2002), Spoehr had lost his leg at age 10.
I read with much interest President Tilghman’s discussion (President’s Page, April 20) of the often-conflicting relationship between efforts to protect freedom of expression and those to establish a community of mutual respect. I have vivid memories of being bombarded with images, usually in one of Princeton’s famed humor and satirical publications, that could easily fall into the category of hate speech. In the name of jest, these images routinely targeted select groups, namely, African-Americans, Jews, and women. President Tilghman rightly claims in citing Dean Kathleen Deignan that “bad speech is best dealt with by better speech.”
Underlying this statement, however, is the assumption that those who are on the receiving end of bad speech have both the power and platform to retaliate with better speech. History, however, suggests otherwise.
Students who find themselves the targets of bad speech often already feel alienated. Being constantly bombarded with bad speech does not incite them to speak out; instead, it further silences them. In these instances, freedom of speech does not serve its intended purpose, namely, to invite dispute and stimulate public discourse, as Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas contended. Those who engage in bad speech are effectively protected and given free rein, while those who are most traumatized by the speech remain vulnerable and unprotected.
Aware of the dangers involved in limiting free speech, I propose, as do legal scholars including Charles R. Lawrence III, Mari Matsuda, and Richard Delgado, that we not ignore the history of racism and prejudice that has created uneven playing grounds for free speech.
Sensitive to this history and to the fact that it often prevents members of select groups from speaking out against bad speech, the University ought to make greater efforts to provide forums for these students to feel comfortable enough to speak back, thereby somewhat leveling the playing field. Alternatively, the University could draft a narrowly defined hate clause, prohibiting certain clearly offensive forms of speech, for the greater goal of maintaining a community of mutual respect.
SHENA ELRINGTON ’04
Much as President Tilghman is to be applauded for defending academic free speech, her comments on the limits placed on this right at Princeton are troubling. First of all, she says that ideas are to be explored in an “open-minded and dispassionate manner.” This sounds perfectly reasonable, but that is precisely what bothers me. Where, in the president’s scheme of a university, is there room for passion — the passion for ideas, the passion for discovery, the passion for truth? Shouldn’t one of Princeton’s primary responsibilities be to foster and sustain these rare, but essential, qualities?
Secondly, President Tilghman finds that “patently false” notions should not be dignified by a formal airing within the University. This would be a prudent principle if one could only say with surety — and unanimity — what constitutes a “false” idea. But, clearly, this is not the case. While we might all agree that the moon is not made of cheese, consensus on many other matters cannot be so easily taken for granted. So, rather than embrace self-evident “truths” and dismiss equally self-evident “falsehoods,” it seems to me that universities should retain a healthy skepticism about all propositions, subjecting them equally to impartial, rigid scrutiny. In this way the pursuit of truth is advanced.
Finally, President Tilghman stresses her concern about the “emotional distress” that intemperate, insensitive, and outright hostile speech can have on others. This, too, is all well and good — up to a point. That point is reached when fear of offending others — or of the repercussions for doing so — stifles honest criticism.
Here an important distinction has to be made between the view that is articulated and the intent behind it. It is not wrong — or reprehensible — to question, say, the relative aptitudes of male and female scientists, but it is wrong to do so for the purpose of maligning the capabilities of either sex or of preventing men or women from attaining their full potential. To deter students or faculty from voicing opinions that might inadvertently cause discomfort or even pain engenders a self-censoring atmosphere in which feelings trump ideas — ironically, just the opposite of President Tilghman’s “dispassionate” ideal.
JOHN V.H. DIPPEL ’68
It might seem hard to find fault with President Tilghman’s articulate defense of free speech. Hard, yes, but on a point or two her ankles require nipping. She rightly commends the University’s Rights, Rules, Responsibilities guidelines that “attach great value to freedom of expression,” but she couples the praise with a demand for “mutual respect” — a consideration that can deprive free speech of its needed oxygen.
Unaware of the irony, she quotes approvingly from Justice Douglas that “a function of free speech is to invite dispute ... [and stir] people to anger.” Exactly right — and such healthful anger is often stirred by offensive speech. In fact, being offended is the condition of genuine free speech, and a university is the perfect arena for such no-holds-barred collisions of ideas. Yet our president, ever the conciliator, starts cherry-picking degrees of offense; she rules off-limits such “deeply prejudicial beliefs” as Holocaust denial.
Offensive? Yes, but as both scientist and president, Professor Tilghman should be doubly observant of J.S. Mill’s dictum: “The beliefs we have the most warrant for have no safeguard upon which to rest but a standing invitation to the world to prove them unfounded. [We should neglect] nothing that could give truth the chance of reaching us.”
When our president forbids speech that “inflicts emotional distress,” she short-circuits that opportunity. A university community’s natural and noble longing for civility must, it seems to me, defer to a greater good — the opportunity to confront and refute offensive positions. Such positions can range from the extreme and easily refuted (Holocaust denial), to the slightly less loony (creationism), to the more sensible, like challenging the value of affirmative action or offering a genetic explanation for the low proportion of women in science. But no: In all too many academic groves, political correctness (an undue regard for a wide range of victims’ sensibilities) wields the flit gun of intolerance.
A healthful antidote to Dr. Tilghman’s over-solicitousness was voiced recently by her colleague, President Richard H. Brodhead of Duke: “When universities get in the business of suppressing speech, however vile, it lends credence to the notion that it is a legitimate function of the university to suppress speech. A notion is thereby validated that then can be activated on another occasion — perhaps to suppress our own dissent or unpopular expression.”
JAMIE SPENCER ’66
While Richard Just ’01 provides a compelling argument (feature, May 11) for why eating clubs create “homogeneous groups from a heterogeneous student body,” I strongly disagree with his implication that eating clubs lessen diversity in the average Princeton student’s group of friends. In fact, I believe that the eating club experience enhances “bridging social capital.”
During my first two years of Princeton, I made many friends and acquaintances through my residential college, classes, and extracurricular activities. All of these friends had different interests outside of how I knew them, and so we were all drawn to different “stereotypical” eating clubs. It was through venues such as meal exchanges or evening social events that I was introduced to people I normally would not have met if I had stayed in a four-year residential college. In addition, I would note that stereotypes are, of course, only broad generalizations. For example, though I joined the “engineers’ club,” more than half of the close friends I made there were A.B. students. Finally, the sheer number of members in each eating club makes it nearly impossible not to meet new people after joining.
Eating clubs are not only a Princeton tradition, they are an important avenue for bridging social capital.
C. JEANNE LINDSAY ’03
Editor’s note: Please see the next issue of PAW (July 6) and PAW online for more letters on the eating clubs.
Oh dreaded (and delicious) irony. Can it be that the first All-Ivy Drag Competition (and we ain’t talkin’ cars here, folks) was held April 16 on the south lawn of the Frist Campus Center (Notebook, May 11)? The Bill Frist ’74 Campus Center?
Let’s see ... would that be he, the Tennessean, video diagnosin’, filibuster bustin’, justice jumpin’, faith testifyin’, Constitution crashin’, grand moral pooh-bah of the fundamentalist wing of the Republican right? Drag kings and queens on his campus’ south lawn?
This ought to be fun. Let the cultural wars begin. And let’s see if the good doctor will amend his limited sense of freedom of speech and civil liberties to include a little eyeliner and mascara.
STU NUNNERY ’71
As a member of both the Class of 1969 and the last AFROTC class at Princeton, I take great exception to the recent initiative to deprive Princeton students of the opportunity to participate in Army ROTC on campus (In Brief, page 16]. This initiative to abolish the Army ROTC presence is a disgrace to the memory of Princeton graduates killed in action or who senselessly died at the World Trade Center towers.
For 36 years I have served in the Air Force and the Department of Defense. The Defense Department policy banning open acknowledgment of homosexuality is based upon military necessity and unit cohesion. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is the best that can be expected. If the students who started this initiative choose not to serve their country in uniform, that is their right. But who are they to tell others that they cannot participate in ROTC?
Alexis deTocqueville cautioned that if the elites of a country are not willing to serve and if need be die for their country, that country’s existence may be doomed. Princeton University claims an elite status. But if Princeton graduates cannot militarily lead their country in wartime, the country will be worse off because of their non-service. We saw the proof of this in Vietnam. Had we had more Princeton undergraduates and other elites (like in World War II), the U.S. military in Vietnam would have had perhaps more effective, balanced leadership.
Finally, what happened to “Princeton in the nation’s service”? Have the moral fiber and ethical compass of Princeton undergraduates become so eroded that we have lost sight of the grand mission and even military tradition of Princeton? I hope not, since eliminating ROTC on campus is both counterproductive and counterintuitive to our core values as Americans.
JOHN F.H. SCHENK ’69
This adds to the letter of Col. H. Avery Chenoweth ’50 (March 23). I believe your readers should know of the late Lt. Gen. Joe Fegan ’43 of the U.S. Marine Corps — three wars, two silver stars, three purple hearts. He is likely the University’s most decorated veteran.
BOB CARPENTER ’43
I am saddened to hear that at least one alumnus does not support diversity on Princeton’s campus. Nicholas Gotten ’61 is horrified to find that the University will soon have a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center (Letters, April 6). He thinks that this might dissuade students from coming. What he may not know is that virtually all of Princeton’s peer institutions have similar centers or positions. If future students choose to attend a small religious school with lesser academics solely based on the fact that Princeton has an LGBT center, that’s their choice.
In addition, there are other similar centers for other minority groups. The University already supports the Women’s Center, the International Center, and the Carl A. Fields Center (formerly the Third World Center). LGBT students need and deserve support at least as much as women, international students, and racial minorities — possibly more, considering they more frequently have to deal with open hostility such as this letter.
BETSY SMITH ’03
When I arrived at Princeton, I had no vocabulary to describe who I was and what I was feeling. For my entire time at Princeton, I was totally unaware of anything that might even remotely have been considered a gay community.
Being gay today is still not easy. While gay people are far more visible than we were half a century ago, at a personal level we each have to deal with often-hostile feelings about homosexuality in society, in our families, and even in ourselves.
I am pleased that men and women at Princeton today have at least the opportunity to be a part of a safe and supportive LGBT community. They need not be alone. They need not hide from others ... or from themselves.
CHARLES L. IHLENFELD ’59
In the picture (From the Archives, March 23), the good-looking man on the right is my father, Frederick C. (Ted) Prior ’47. At left in the photo is William (Billy) Netto ’51. My father had traveled to Princeton with Mr. Netto from West Palm Beach, Fla., where both men lived. My dad was returning for his senior year (having been away from school for a year to serve in the Marines), while Billy Netto was entering his freshman year. We do not know the identity of the man in the middle.
JENNIFER PRIOR BROWN ’83
As part of its centenary celebration, the Princeton University Press hosted a May 4 reception at its offices and will co-host a reception June 17 at the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses in Philadelphia. Dates for the events were reported incorrectly in Notebook May 11.