May 9, 2007: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters on its contents and topics related to Princeton University. We may edit them for length, accuracy, clarity, and civility; brevity is encouraged. Letters, articles, and photos submitted to PAW may be published or distributed in print, electronic, or other forms. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to publish all letters received. Write to PAW, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton, NJ 08542; send e-mail to email@example.com
Brava to Marcia DeSanctis ’82 for her piece, “The contender” (Perspective, April 4)! It is masterful! Besides being written beautifully, her essay is poignant, touching, insightful, accurate, and instructive. What Ms. DeSanctis described in 1980 in regard to bicker was no different, essentially, from what I experienced in 1956. I, too, wanted very much to go to Cap and Gown, but ended up in Tiger Inn with fellow “clean jocks.” Although the rejection, in itself, was not a “bitter pill” (I was sanguine about being in Tiger), the very fact that I could care about it was troubling to me. I, like Ms. DeSanctis, consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have had the experience of bicker, serious reflections on it over the course of decades having proved to be so valuable.
Judgments superficial like those inherent in bicker are contrary to all that should animate a great university. Hurrah for Ms. DeSanctis, who reminds us subtly that the greatest form of approval is esteem of self.
BERNARD ACKERMAN ’58
Thanks to our classmate, Marcia DeSanctis, for a moving and accurate essay about her bicker experience in “The contender.” Her experience is shared by other members of our class, although perhaps not in its particulars.
Last year I recommended Princeton to the son of a friend, and the subjects of elitism and anti-Semitism came up.
I assured the young applicant and his father that Princeton is a different place than it used to be.
Marcia begins her essay by saying that it had been a long time since she thought about the pain associated with her rejection by a selective eating club. It also has been a long time since I thought about any of these issues. But our approaching 25th reunion and her essay reminded me of both an aspect of Princeton and also some of the pains of growing up.
Our class was in the middle of changes that began with coeducation and a movement toward diversity sparked by the civil rights movement. And of course, the forced coeducation of Ivy, Cottage, and Tiger Inn due to the lawsuit by Sally Frank ’80 was a significant effect. But the continued presence of five selective clubs and bicker as usual is something I would have expected to fade away by now. And so the experience that Marcia had is still possible for undergraduates, including my friend’s son.
Except he chose Harvard instead.
DANIEL GOODMAN ’82
I welcome Thomas Breidenthal’s interesting discussion of the relationship between Princeton’s revivalist roots and assumptions about education today (feature, March 21). Unlike my other alma mater, Rutgers University, also a colonial college with religious roots, Princeton does not implicitly assume a contradiction between evangelical Christianity and intellectual life. However, Jonathan Edwards’ legacy is better represented in colleges such as the one at which I teach, where there is an intentional effort to integrate Christian faith and learning.
The “interfaith awakening” that Mr. Breidenthal celebrates undoubtedly enriches the superb educational experience that Princeton offers, but it is a stretch to suggest that Edwards would embrace it. For readers interested in the relationship between the Christian origins of American higher education and its later evolution, I heartily recommend George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University.
STEPHEN P. HOFFMANN *76
I’m surprised the letter-writers (letters, March 7; additional letters posted on the PAW Web site in Letterbox) denouncing Chaplain Khalid Latif’s response to Isaiah Cox ’94’s Muslim-baiting letter (Jan. 24) in PAW didn’t demand that he also answer other such reasonable and informative questions as “When did you stop beating your wife?” and “Why do you hate America?”
To allow dishonest critics and bigots to dictate the terms of debate with slanders and allegations dressed up as questions, and then to demand a response from a reasonable man, is silly and an insult to our intelligence. No response will satisfy a dishonest critic, much less a hardened bigot. If this is what passes for debate among Princeton alumni these days, it’s time for a few remedial courses.
ISAAC BOXX ’99
Recently the University Archives sent a letter to alumni whose senior theses we know are not present in the library. Unfortunately, before arriving in the Mudd Library’s secured stacks, theses could circulate. Over the years, several hundred disappeared, and now we hope to find copies to add to the collection. These are the known missing.
However, to paraphrase a famous alumnus, there are also the “unknown missing,” and they are my reason for writing. If any alumni are unable to find their senior theses in our online database (http://libweb5.princeton.edu/theses/theses.asp) while a copy is sitting on their shelves, we want to hear from you. This is especially true of engineering students who called their senior theses “independent work” and as such, for many years the departments did not send them to the library. For more information, please contact the Mudd Manuscript Library at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DANIEL J. LINKE
Predictably, Gaetano Cipriano ’78’s letter bemoaning the University’s LGBT Center (Jan. 24) has been met with name-calling (Letters, March 7). Mary Gallagher ’78 calls Cipriano “intolerant,” while Marina ’98 and Matthew ’00 Ferraro equate Cipriano with racists and slaveholders.
Apparently, in this modern age of free speech, freedom of belief, tolerance, and diversity, it is nevertheless taboo to dare to voice opposition to homosexual practices. This intolerance — and thus hypocrisy — of the “tolerance” gang is bad enough. Worse still is that Princeton graduates resort to ad hominem invectives instead of reasoned argumentation. Sure, it is easier to label an opponent than to confront that person’s underlying assumptions in a logical fashion. But shouldn’t we expect more from alumni of Old Nassau?
WALTER M. WEBER ’81
I was pleased to read the article on “Treasures in Princeton’s Attic” (cover story, March 21). Perhaps some of the departed members of Fitzgerald’s Class of 1917 (including my late father, “Spike” Spencer) could have been called upon to identify those keys!
I would like to add a postscript to the article. In 1995, at my class’s 50th reunion, I donated letters to my grandfather from Woodrow Wilson, written while Wilson was president of the college, to the Mudd Manuscript Library. My grandfather was concerned about certain matters involving students, and since I did not have his letters to Wilson that prompted these replies, I do not know what they concerned in detail. But there is an amusing aftermath to the bequest. Some months later I received a nice note from the University librarian, thanking me for “your gift of letters to you from Woodrow Wilson”! Since I am named for my grandfather, this was a plausible mistake, but I have long regretted my loss of status as Princeton’s oldest alumnus, Class of 1879.
WILLIAM SPENCER ’45
How unfortunate (but all too predictable) that the Jan. 24 feature on John Waterbury ’61 and the American University of Beirut should be subjected to the standard charges of insufficiently demonizing Hezbollah and not paying proper tribute to the great U.S.-Israel axis (Letters, March 21). It is so rare these days to see a piece on the Middle East that describes the situation as it is, without the blinders of hysteria, panic-mongering, and nationalist rhetoric. (Ironically, the story is about that other great rarity, a positive and constructive American presence in the Middle East.)
Thank you to PAW for resisting the pervasive media filters and publishing this eminently sane and balanced piece. Bullying smear tactics and chest-thumping have no place in PAW. Nor, I must add, are they becoming in a Princeton graduate.
RAMSAY HARIK ’85
In his March 7 letter, Professor Yigong Shi asserts that the article “Rules of engagement” (feature, Jan. 24) “failed to give adequate coverage from the Chinese side” and “may have reinforced the misunderstanding and unrealistic expectations of China by the American public” — which he says holds “an extremely biased view of China” given by the American media. There are some problems with Shi’s assertions.
First, Shi mistakenly equates China with the current government of China.
Second, he accuses the U.S. media of being biased about China. It is fair to ask, in Shi’s view, whether there is a scientific measure of what an unbiased view of China (or any other country) would be.
Third, Shi points us to China’s “extreme diversity” and the recent great changes that it has made. But he seems to forget that the United States is one of the most diverse societies in the world, and democracy plays a critical role for it to be just, peaceful, and prosperous.
Fourth, without offering any specific reason, Shi states: “There is no doubt in my mind that democracy in the U.S. style simply does not work in China.” He also writes that the American public has “unrealistic expectations of China” in terms of promoting human rights and democracy. It is not clear what Shi’s true belief really is, as he identifies himself as one of “us,” the American public, who consider freedom of speech and democracy as universal values of mankind.
Like Professor Shi, I spent the first 26 years of my life in China, participated in the pro-democracy demonstration in 1989, and came to the United States afterward. However, I was thankful to the U.S. media for truthfully reporting what was happening during this tragic time because the Chinese people didn’t have (and still don’t have) the right to know exactly what had happened in their country.
I admire greatly the American taste for truth and freedom and believe the Chinese people have the same desire in their hearts. I don’t think that U.S.-style democracy is somehow against Chinese blood and won’t work for the Chinese.
I think the fundamental issue is neither how China is viewed by the West nor the mutual understanding between China and the West, as Shi suggests. It is whether the Chinese people recognize and have the will to pursue freedom of speech and democracy, while enduring the hardship of overcoming tyranny both outside and inside our hearts. I hope that American universities like Princeton will provide the help needed by the Chinese people.