October 19, 2005: Letters
Letter Box Online
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I’m shocked — shocked, I tell you! Over three decades of nonstop Ivory Tower, bleeding-heart liberalism at Princeton, and no less than the Class of 2005 salutatorian opts to partake of the most fundamentally important way a Princetonian can be “in the nation’s service” (Perspective, Sept. 14). That is, he willingly puts his body “out at the tip of the sword.” Good for Graham E. Phillips; he actually “gets it”! The prayers, thanks, and well wishes from those of us who also “got it” go with him.
H. PHILIP BRANDT II ’60
In the Sept. 14 editor’s letter, you relate that salutatorian Graham Phillips’ graduation address in Latin “sent ripples of laughter through the rows of graduates seated in front of Nassau Hall.” As almost everyone reading this magazine should know, the graduates laugh at the appropriate places because they are given special graduation programs with a copy of the address (in Latin) that is marked with cues and appropriate responses, i.e., laugh, moan, etc. It is an embarrassing and repellent piece of theater that the graduates take part in out of coercion.
And speaking of repellent, can we all please stop pretending that war is moral? Mr. Phillips’ essay is worth reading, but to call it “thoughtful” in your editor’s note implicitly supports his decision to follow up his Princeton education by becoming a professional at killing human beings. Tanks are not designed to build hospitals or promote democracy. Indeed, as I’m sure Mr. Phillips knows, few things are less democratic than a tank. Dulce bellum inexpertis, Mr. Phillips.
MATTHEW FERRARO ’00
How proud I am of Graham Phillips! How many of our pampered young people would have the “guts” to join the Army right out of an Ivy League educational experience? Regardless of your views on the situation in Iraq, you have to respect a young man committed enough to serve his country voluntarily in a time of danger. If he survives, and we must pray he will, he will return a stronger, more mature, and richer man than many who chose to take the easier life offered them in the corporate market.
WIL BRITTEN ’45
The story of Professor Jan T. Gross’ book on the massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland, in 1941 (feature, Sept. 14) is painful to consider. Poles raised on the legitimate idea of Polish martyrdom at the hands of more powerful neighbors, Poland the “Christ of the Nations,” unfortunately suffer under a nationalism that has destroyed their ability to understand the martyrdom of others, particularly of the Jews who lived among them for at least 600 years.
Poles suffered a great deal during Nazi occupation, but it was less Polish opposition to anti-Semitism than the Nazi disdain for the Poles that disallowed massive Polish collaboration with the Nazis. In fact, Poles were, despite their sufferings, somewhat consoled that the Nazis at least were eliminating their Jewish problem. This is a terrible but accurate judgment on Polish anti-Semitism.
My Jewish grandmother was forced from her home in the Gubernia of Grodno by Polish soldiers in 1921, whose attitude toward Jews, Belorussians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians was murderously hostile. But I should perhaps be grateful. Had she and my father not been forced to leave for America they would all have been killed 20 years later by the Nazis, and I would not be writing this letter.
It is not easy being German or Polish or Jewish.
NORMAN RAVITCH *92
It is nice to see the University celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Woodrow Wilson School (Notebook, Sept. 14). But as the school looks ahead to another half-century or so, does it make sense to invite as its major speaker the author of a foreign policy that a plurality of Americans (according to all polls) has come to regard as failed? Is inviting Condoleezza Rice meant to signal that Princeton believes that America’s actions of the last four years in foreign affairs have furthered the national interest (or that Abu Ghraib is OK)? What, exactly, is the University’s intended message?
JAMES C. WARREN JR. ’49
Regarding the article “Policy on faith groups reversed” (Notebook, Sept. 14), one must be concerned that the underlying purpose of a Princeton education might be severely compromised by formal recognition and implied encouragement of campus groups of similar established ideology. Certainly the last thing serious students should have to contend with is the suggested “sweeping spiritual transformation.”
As a great world center of learning, the University has primary responsibility to provide all the tools with which to build (and perhaps change) young minds in the free advancement of knowledge. It must encourage unbiased open minds of reason and discourage closed minds of emotion. Tendency toward group segregation in any manner, especially in faith and belief, is not conducive to the open pursuit of learning.
JOHN F. BRINSTER ’43
A knee-jerk response from supporters of Israel (as defined by its current borders) is to assert that anyone advocating a Palestinian state, or separate states of Palestine and Israel, or a single secular state — with Jews, Muslims, Christians, and nonbelievers as citizens by choice — is advocating “the destruction of Israel.” David Schechter ’80 (Letters, Sept. 14) is one of many who take this view — on campuses, in the media, and among the general public, both in the United States and in Israel.
But one can’t have it both ways. Israel could be forever a “Jewish state,” forever in conflict with its neighbors. Or it could become a nation honoring and celebrating the heritage of all the “People of the Book,” and all those who seek support for democracy and peace in all the land from the Jordan to the sea, and from the Golan to Gaza.
Princeton would show intellectual and political leadership by encouraging study and discussion of the fate and future of both “Israel” and “Palestine.” Professor Rashid Khalidi has made significant scholarly contributions in this field. He is no “pseudo-academic.” To oppose his appointment to the Princeton faculty because he doesn’t agree with partisans of Israel (as it is presently defined) is intellectually indefensible and politically stupid. “Princeton in the nation’s service” should not entail being “politically correct,” or committed to only one interpretation of many-sided issues such as this.
CHARLTON R. PRICE ’48
Charles T. Tychsen ’43 (Letters, Sept. 14) seems outraged that 41 percent of the Class of 2009 could be from minority backgrounds, while (according to him) only about 28 percent of the American populace is black, Hispanic, or Asian. The message of his question — “What were the mean SAT scores for the ethnic groups?” — is clear: Minority students are neither as smart nor as highly qualified as prospective white students.
For the record, Mr. Tychsen, I’m white, and my SAT scores weren’t nearly as strong as those of many of my Princeton friends whose skin color, in your view, would have immediately disqualified them for enrollment in our University. I, for one, am glad that the admission office actually bothers to check out the SAT scores, as well as all of the other qualifications a student displays, rather than basing the decision on hateful views of racial superiority.
W. REED DYER ’94
Surely Mark Bernstein ’83 knows that Miss Porter’s School is not in Greenwich, Conn. His article about a fellow Ancient being a musher (cover story, Sept. 14) was fascinating. What a remarkable family the Moderows are. It was a great story, marred only by putting our school in the wrong town.
EMILY P. RIDGWAY w’29
Editor’s note: Miss Porter’s School is in Farmington, Conn.
In his letter (Sept. 14) about Princeton’s effort to admit more low-income students, Gary Feulner ’69 professes surprise at the “shameful” statistic that only 14 percent of the student body comes from households with an income below the national median.
If you consider a random population of 100 U.S. 18-year-olds, recent statistics say that perhaps 25 of them will have dropped out of high school. The dropouts come overwhelmingly from poor families. Of the 75 members of our population who complete high school, the statistics are that less than 65 percent (or about 48) will go on to college. Here again, the majority of those who choose to go directly into the workforce will come from low-income households. So our original sample of 100, split evenly by income, is now down to 48 college-bound seniors, of whom probably less than 25 percent come from the lower half of the income spectrum.
Nationwide, some 40 percent of college students are enrolled in community colleges. Here again, one might reasonably assume that the majority of these are from low-income households. I don’t know the statistic for the percentage of freshmen entering four-year colleges nationwide who come from households with an income below the national median, but I suspect it’s a lot closer to 14 percent than 50 percent. And given the academic challenges faced by students from lower-income school districts, one would expect the percentage of college applicants who meet the minimum admission requirements of the nation’s most selective schools to be even smaller.
So, yes, 14 percent might well be a reasonable guess. If that statistic is a source of shame, it’s not the fault of the University’s admission office.
THOMAS C. DALEY ’75
I believe that the advertisements in PAW send the wrong message about the goals of a Princeton education. For example, in the Sept. 14 issue, in the midst of the Katrina horrors, there are advertisements on the inside front page of PAW for BMW (“There’s something to be said for delayed gratification”) and on the rear cover for Bentley (“The Continental Flying Spur. Pure sophistication”). Just what are we trying to advertise about Princeton? That we are trying to take credit for what Marie Antoinette did not actually say — “Let them eat cake?” Or that we are defining our education by plutocratic goals? We really ought to have an advertising policy that is more in keeping with the spirit of Dei sub numine viget — not “winner takes all.”
KIM J. MASTERS ’68
A few years ago, Princeton honored one of its most distinguished presidents — the Scotsman John Witherspoon — by placing a grand statue on a plinth directly across from the entrance to the University chapel. But Princeton’s debt to Scotland and the Scots in fact predated Witherspoon’s accession to the presidency in 1768.
When the Presbyterian Synod of New York decided in 1746 that it was necessary to establish an educational institution to train new ministers, funding was a major issue. Britain, and Scotland in particular, were quickly identified as likely sources of financial support and two emissaries were dispatched on a fund-raising mission. Scotland provided them with their principal success. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland agreed to a collection being made “at all the church doors in Scotland,” and the very substantial sum of £3,200 was raised. This was the money that paid for the building of the magnificent Nassau Hall — designed by another Scot, Robert Smith of Philadelphia. However, the first five presidents of old Nassau died too early to get the new college fully up and running. Witherspoon changed all that, transforming the struggling college he took over into a major player in the educational, religious, and political life of America.
In the early decades of the 19th century, the college became increasingly caught up in controversies over how far the educational experience it offered should remain strictly in line with traditional, orthodox Calvinist assumptions. The result was a period of stagnation and even decline. It was in these problematical circumstances that Princeton turned once again to Scotland for an answer to its problems. In 1868, exactly 100 years after the arrival of John Witherspoon, the college trustees appointed James McCosh, another Scottish clergyman and scholar, to the presidency. And exactly as Witherspoon had done, McCosh revived and transformed the college during the 20 years of his incumbency. It was under its second Scottish president that Princeton began to recover its original status as a national academic institution while also beginning to take the shape it retains today.
Princeton’s massive debt to Scotland and its two Scottish presidents is abundantly clear. It is above all to Witherspoon and McCosh that Princeton owes its lofty standing in the educational hierarchy of the United States. The campus’s new statue of Witherspoon is a fitting tribute. Still more appropriate would be the establishment of a course of study within the University focusing on the intellectual and cultural traditions of the country that produced him, and of which he is such an outstanding exemplar. In the American academy today, Irish studies flourish; despite the putative existence of 20 million Americans of Scottish descent, Scottish studies hardly exist.
What better time to create a new School of Scottish Studies? And where better to establish it than at the Princeton of John Witherspoon and James McCosh?
ANDREW HOOK *60