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July 6, 2005: Letters

To our readers: This is PAW’s final issue of the 2004—05 academic year. Our next issue will be Sept. 14.

Dr. Cotton’s medicine

Debating free speech

Clubs and community: Alumni respond

David Botstein, teacher

For the record

PAW Letter Box Online
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Dr. CottonDr. Cotton’s medicine

Thank you for the May 11 article on Dr. Henry Cotton’s attempts to cure mental illness in the 1920s by eradicating possible sources of focal sepsis. My pleasure in seeing this area addressed in PAW, however, was tempered by what I considered an unfairly critical tone to the piece.

One needs to know a little background about focal sepsis. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia is credited for coming up with the theory in 1819. William Hunter of England began to apply it in 1901. In rheumatology, the application of this theory to treat rheumatoid arthritis was widespread. In 1985, E.G. Bywaters wrote that the theory of focal sepsis “led to an unparalleled campaign of extirpation all over the world: The rheumatoid patient was enthusiastically shorn of his tonsils and adenoids and all of his teeth. With the rise of elective surgery, effective anesthesia, and Sir William Arbuthnot Lane [a London surgeon known for his aggressiveness and technical skills], sinuses, gallbladders, appendices, and sometimes colons were removed or short-circuited. The arthritis remained.” Bywaters wrote that focal sepsis as an explanation for rheumatoid arthritis finally died out around 1981.

In September 2003, a leading arthritis journal reported how modern techniques were used to analyze the cells in the tonsils and the inflamed joints of a 28-year-old patient with tonsillitis and rheumatoid arthritis. The tonsil cells were exactly the same as the cells in the joints causing rheumatoid arthritis. The report’s conclusion: “This finding suggests the possible involvement of chronic focal infection in refractory RA.”

On the day I was preparing this letter, the New York Times ran an article titled, “Can You Catch Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?” Although psychiatry is not my specialty, if I read the summary correctly, I think it states that focal sepsis might be the cause of OCD.

Associate Medical Director
National Rehabilitation Hospital
Washington, D.C.


I worked at Trenton (State) Psychiatric Hospital for 15 years before retiring recently, and know that Dr. Cotton’s legacy within the hospital has been mixed. Staff are aware of the things documented in the PAW article, but he also is understood to have made some positive changes in therapies provided by the hospital. Further, following Dr. Cotton’s death his wife established a fund to award the “Cotton Award For Kindness” annually to the most deserving employees, an honor that continued for decades.

For a number of years I have been teaching in the Princeton University psychology department, where I take students for tours and patient interaction at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. Among the topics discussed is Dr. Cotton and his procedures.

Princeton, N.J.

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Debating free speech

I have three comments on the article and discussion with Harvey Silverglate ’64 (A Moment With, May 11). I was pleased to see that someone had the courage to criticize political correctness of universities and the “repression of speech by the left against the right.” I also was pleased to see that PAW had the courage to print this article and Dr. Silverglate’s point: “Universities, including Princeton, are these little islands unto themselves of totalitarianism in a sea of liberty and free speech” — a point that many of us have been fully aware of.

Will Princeton University take Dr. Silverglate’s discussion of “free speech and intellectual diversity” to heart? Or will it continue to ignore this most important issue?

Winnetka, Ill.


In an act of subterfuge characteristic of those sympathetic with the right, Harvey Silverglate, in his argument for the unilateral deployment of his construal of free speech, neglects to mention the inherent problem at the heart of the free speech debate. Namely, that as Frederick Schauer observes in his book Free Speech: A Philosophical Inquiry, there are inherent inequities in the worth of free speech. I think — and hope — Mr. Silverglate would concede that there are social inequities that render some speech more valuable than others.

As a member of one of those disadvantaged groups to which Mr. Silverglate makes reference, I face the dilemma of seeing the force with which certain members of our society are able to speak, to the exclusion frequently of the voices that possess less social and political capital in our society. As a teacher at Columbia College and the University of Chicago, I am always struck by the unmediated credence frequently given, for example, to my male students versus the females.

This dynamic in classrooms is well-documented and in our discussions of free speech, it is important not to neglect it. The question that Mr. Silverglate and those of his ilk seemingly fail to ask is: “Free” for whom, with the liberty to say what?

Chicago, Ill.
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Clubs and community: Alumni respond

Editor’s note: Click here for an expanded selection of letters, including some that were published June 8 and July 6 in PAW, on the role of eating clubs in building a true community at Princeton.


Regarding the club system and the article by Richard Just ’01 (feature, May 11): Over the 125 years that they’ve existed, Princeton’s eating clubs have changed, evolved, and adapted to the changing tastes and mores of their primary constituency, Princeton’s undergraduate body. Today, some are still selective (bicker) in their admission policies, and most are not. Much of their governance is in the hands of undergraduate members. Why can’t we trust the undergraduates to decide for themselves how the system works? The arrival of fraternities and sororities on campus and the establishment of residential colleges — both of which occurred after my time at Princeton — arguably deserve more scrutiny, and perhaps obloquy, as potentially negative factors on social life at Princeton. My own club experience was a happy one, and my associations and friendships with clubmates have been immensely rewarding to me in the many years since.

New York, N.Y.


Unless I’m missing something, Princeton’s club life, and life generally, encourage — even teach — networking. That’s obsolete? I think not.

Northeast Harbor, Maine


Since the 1890s there have been eating clubs at Princeton, primarily for juniors and seniors. The participation of these student classes has varied between 85 percent and 50 percent, depending largely upon the current social theory or fad on campus. But clearly the eating club food service and social system, in spite of the occasional claims of individual dissatisfaction, have served Princeton remarkably well. I estimate that at least three-quarters of all undergraduate alumni/ae have been members of eating clubs.

Eating club membership has changed majorly from a relatively exclusive “old boy” bonding of the early 20th century to a largely open admission system in place for more than the past two decades.

The description of today’s eating clubs seems to imply that they are relatively isolated entities. How about intramural athletics at Princeton, a recreational sports league that mixes various clubs with each other, with graduate student teams, and others? How about the parties and social events in which two or three clubs collaborate? How about the daily meal exchange program for club members and non-club members? How about the dispersion of “dates” from all four classes at club parties? And how about the special cultural/language dining tables that mix people from all over the campus? Club activities are hardly isolated from the college world.

Let’s consider the numbers. The average eating club currently has about 175 members, although there are wide swings in popularity from club to club and year to year. Within any club there is a roughly 50 percent turnover each year as seniors graduate and sophomores join. That offers a member the possibility of getting to know, learn from, and develop a long-term bond with about 300 schoolmates, a reasonable objective considering the competing calls of academics, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Is a student going to have greater ease in getting to really know 400 to 500 or more in a homogenized residential college community?

Richard Just makes the statement that the eating club system “is now blocking, rather than facilitating, the most challenging, educational, and important social capital available to students today.” How are they “blocking,” since the eating clubs are independent voluntary associations chosen and run by their members? Although the residential college system has been in place for a few years already, the eating club system is alive and well. Are the student participants telling us something?

I offer these challenges to Richard Just’s article on the basis of my 20 years of fund-raising experience between 1983 and 2003 for nine of the eating clubs. During that period, I helped to raise more than $6 million, often achieving up to 50 percent alumni participation. The alumni/ae supported their eating clubs because they had good times there, and because they developed friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

Don’t sell the eating clubs short. They are an integral and vital part of the Princeton experience.

New Hope, Pa.


I was truly astonished to read that Princeton still doesn’t offer adequate alternative dining facilities to juniors and seniors. By failing to do so, the University has continued a situation in which informed potential applicants had to either be prepared to tolerate the club system or be reconciled to having to forage for their meals during their upperclass years. This didn’t give the clubs a veto over admissions, but it certainly must have weeded out some applicants who did not want a campus that was dominated by clubs.

Apparently, many others enrolled despite their misgivings. That’s why the survey reported on the President’s Page (May 11) establishes that a large majority of the present juniors and seniors want an alternative dining system. Based on that survey, it would appear that even the planned four-year “colleges” will not offer facilities that are anywhere near adequate to meet the demand.

In the last 50 years, Princeton has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campus construction projects. It has also raised tuition fees to breathtaking new heights. But it still has not addressed the desires of a substantial segment of its customers, the student body, for a dignified alternative to club-based dining.

No business would be proud of a record like this. Princeton shouldn’t be, either.

Phoenix, Ariz.

Editor’s note: Click here for an expanded selection of letters, including some that were published June 8 and July 6 in PAW, on the role of eating clubs in building a true community at Princeton.
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David Botstein, teacher

I enjoyed reading the article on “David Botstein’s New Biology” (cover story, April 20). I was lucky enough to experience Dr. Botstein’s inspired teaching as a graduate student at MIT, where he was not only the director of the biology Ph.D. program, but a teacher in two of the three required first-year courses. At MIT he trained a generation of biological scientists, most of whom are now very successful researchers and teachers.

However, my introduction to David had me wondering what kind of relationship we were going to have for the next few years. At the first meeting of one of our courses, he gave a short speech on how important it was for us to speak up, think independently, and not be intimidated by our classmates. David (who graduated from Harvard) made a particular point of telling us not to doubt our ideas “just because some know-it-all from Princeton sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.” At the end of this prologue, we were asked to identify ourselves. I didn’t have much choice except to say, “I guess I must be that guy from Princeton.” After that laugh at my expense, the rest of the class turned out to be a fantastic experience.

Now that I am myself a professor, I often give my new students a speech similar to Dr. Botstein’s. Of course, I never use the “know-it-all from Princeton” as my straw man; instead it’s “that guy from Harvard who loves to hear himself talk.” Every year a few of our new graduate students come from Princeton, and they are usually among our best.

Professor, Harvard Medical School
Boston, Mass.
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For the record

In our June 8 feature, “Ten who serve,” the river that Naomi Schalit ’79 visited to check for eagles or mergansers was the Kennebec. The name of the river was reported incorrectly.
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