September 26, 2007: Letters
Letter Box Online
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Remembering the (un)silent generation
I was reading the article about “The (Un)silent Generation” (feature, July 18) when I was surprised by the photograph on pages 26 and 27. The two unidentified Princeton students in it are my husband, Victor M. Regan ’60, on the right, and Robert Mendenhall ’60. Beginning on May 3, 1957, they kicked a soccer ball from Princeton to New York City and back for a distance of 100 miles round trip. In spite of some minor mishaps along the way — one ball was squashed by a truck, and their backpack was stolen as they snacked in Newark Airport — they completed the trip in 49 hours and fulfilled a pledge to raise $1,000 for St. Vincent’s Episcopal Mission in Galveston, Texas.
The story made several newspapers, including The New York Times and Newsday, and seeing the photo brought back some happy memories. I was dating Vic at the time, and my parents and I followed Vic and Bob back to Princeton in our car after they left the city.
Unfortunately, Bob died quite young. My husband died in January 2000.
MARY E. REGAN w’60
Editor’s note: Jim McGlathery ’58 added some details in an e-mail, noting that the Episcopal priest in Galveston “was attempting to buy a former bawdy house there to turn into an urban mission for black youth. The report was picked up by the University Press Club, of which I was president, and eagerly seized on by the media, the story line being, of course: ‘Princeton Students Kick Soccer Ball to New York and Back to Buy Whore House in Texas’.”
Your fascinating article on the Class of 1957 mentions Edward Said ’57, the distinguished Columbia University scholar and Palestinian activist who died in 2003. Said wrote about his Princeton years in his 1999 memoir Out of Place. He described Princeton in his day as “unpolitical, self-satisfied, and oblivious,” a “provincial, small-minded” school with a “poisonous social atmosphere” where “terrible things happened during Bicker.”
But two great professors changed his life: R.P. Blackmur, the literary critic, and Arthur Szathmary, the philosopher. His academic work as an undergraduate, he wrote, “formed the foundation of everything I have done as a scholar and a teacher.” And it was at Princeton that he did his first piece of political writing — a column in The Daily Princetonian about the 1956 Suez war “from the Arab point of view.”
JON WIENER ’66
Thank you for the article on the (un)silent generation. As it happens, there were two other members of the Class of ’57 who provided additional examples of involvement in a very significant event at Princeton. This was the April 1956 Alger Hiss speech at Whig-Clio, about which you published a mention (Under the Ivy, May 10, 2006, in PAW Online). The instigators of that speech were the late Bruce Bringgold ’57 and John Stennis ’57, president and vice president of Whig-Clio, of which I was the secretary. The three of us were called into the office of the assistant to President Dodds and shown tables piled high with letters protesting the speech and threatening to cancel contributions to Princeton. We decided nevertheless to have the speech (which was dull) and the University allowed it, though it produced much excitement and publicity.
Later the then-dean of the faculty, Jeremiah Finch, told me that it was the consensus of college administrators of the time that this occurrence was a major event in encouraging university leaders to permit student freedoms at a most critical stage in educational history.
The most recent article aroused much nostalgia for me. In the 1950s we had a diverse and interesting bunch at Princeton. Among the students were not only Ralph Schoenman ’57 and Hodding Carter ’57, alluded to in the article, but also Jack Danforth ’58, John Sawhill ’58, and Johnny Apple ’57. Among the professors with whom I had wonderful classes and small precepts were H.H. Wilson, Otto Butz, Eric Goldman, and Alpheus Mason.
W.A. PUSEY ’58
Having a daughter attending Oxford University gave me a firsthand experience of the four-year college system (although Oxford tends to be a three-year system) at the same time that my son was filling out college applications. So positive was my daughter’s experience that we considered Princeton’s two-year college system “better than nothing.”
As Anthony Grafton points out in Mark F. Bernstein ’83’s article (feature, July 18), both Oxford and Cambridge have had such a residential system since they were founded. My daughter, a member of Corpus Christi College Oxford, had experienced all of the positive outcomes stated in the article. I recall her arrival at Oxford: the car being met by a contingent of upperclassmen, dining with graduate students, organizing intramural competitions against other colleges. The upperclassmen befriended her and were there for support whenever she needed it. Naturally, this was a role she filled in her final years.
Change is never easy, and it is understandable that, as the article reports, “students are greeting the new colleges with guarded enthusiasm.” However, I am sorry that my son left in 2007 and did not have the option to be in a four-year college.
I guarantee that in a few years Princetonians will look back and, instead of reflecting on what the fuss was all about, wonder why they waited so long! I congratulate Princeton on this initiative and add: It’s not about the food!
NANCY C. BILDERBECK p’07
It seems to me that the legendary Robert Darnton was given the shortest of shrifts in the two sentences recently allotted to his departure from the University (Notebook, July 18).
Professor Darnton’s well-known and formidable “History 350, History of France, 1685–1800” was just a sliver of his stunning range of scholarship over nearly four decades at Princeton. As much anthropologist as historian, early on he taught with Clifford Geertz of the Institute for Advanced Study a course they called “History of Mentalities.” This angle had developed from Professor Darnton’s Oxford days and his three years at Harvard in its select Society of Fellows into his fascination with “history from below,” the study of the structure of entire societies — particularly at the bottom of the ladder, not of just the royals, knaves, intellectuals, political and military leaders, and other history-makers.
Moving right along, he created out of whole cloth another field of study now known as the history of the book, broadly defined, and he lectured and wrote extensively about this arcane subject. At the University, Professor Darnton was not only the Shelby Cullom Davis ’30 Professor of European History but also the director of the Center for the Study of Books and Media.
Awards of every sort have tumbled upon Professor Darnton: a MacArthur Fellowship; Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest government award; honorary degrees from three great French universities; president of the American Historical Association, to name just a few. He has long been a contributor to The New York Review of Books, his work covering a dazzling array of subject matter.
Professor Darnton’s selection, effective July 1, as Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the Harvard University Library was a bright feather in Princeton’s cap. The 80 libraries there with their 16 million volumes stand, along with the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library, of which he is a trustee, as far and away the greatest in this country. Harvard’s president-elect described Professor Darnton as “one of the most distinguished historians working today,” and marveled at the range of his scholarship.
Looking at the bright side, it is scholars of this magnitude who make us all proud to be Princetonians.
HENRY R. LORD ’60
I was thrilled to read about the freshman seminar co-taught by professors Cornel West *80 and Robert George (cover story, June 6). One of my best classes at Princeton was a freshman seminar on Dante’s Inferno, with Bob Hollander ’55.
One of my other top classes was “Constitutional Interpretation” with Professor George, taught in a Socratic method that allowed for open dissension by the students that further clarified the positions of each, and forced the student to analyze his position more deeply. His class was education at its best and highest.
Professor George’s continuing popularity among the students also highlights the fact that he is somewhat of a lone voice at Princeton. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have more joint classes that allowed students to see top minds discuss their opposing opinions? Princeton should bring in more in the vein of Professor George. Our students’ education would be greatly enhanced, as would Princeton’s reputation.
NIALL FAGAN ’03
I take exception to Fred Ebert ’80’s mocking dismissal of animal welfare as a “meaningless charity” unworthy of inclusion among a list of issues that count (letters, July 18). The recent dogfighting case involving Michael Vick has raised the public’s consciousness regarding the issue of animal cruelty, which not only demeans all of us as a society but, as research has clearly shown, often is linked to other forms of criminal behavior, especially abusive treatment of human animals.
While respecting Mr. Ebert’s right to his point of view, I regard the Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer as both more credible and more compelling in stating that “compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.” I also am drawn to the words of another humanitarian, Mahatma Gandhi, who once said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals.”
It seems to me that our greatness as a nation will increasingly be in jeopardy if others regard “little fuzzy animals” with as little respect as Mr. Ebert apparently does. I also believe that those of us who focus efforts on improving the welfare of animals are, in fact, addressing a “societal ill of import.”
RITCHIE GEISEL ’67
In her 2007 Commencement address, President Tilghman extols the “free market system that has made U.S. higher education the envy of the world” (President’s Page, July 18).
The essence of any market system is that the consumer/payer — not the provider — decides both the value and the mechanism for gauging the value of a commodity or service (e.g., delivery of education). Yet President Tilghman applauds the “call for a significant increase in federal ... financial aid” and at the same time criticizes the Department of Education for “impos[ing] external measures of student learning.” Less elegantly put, her message to the taxpayers of America is, “Just send the money; we’ll decide the best way to use it.” This kind of conflated economic logic could easily be mistaken for arrogance.
President Tilghman would be well advised to consult faculty with economics backgrounds before making similar pronouncements in the future.
GEORGE REBOVICH p’98
Patrick Swearingen ’84’s letter (July 18) on Guantánamo makes me nostalgic. His comments recall nothing so much as Nixon and Agnew who, 40 years ago, instead of focusing on the Vietnam mess, spent their energy condemning protestors and obsessing about “negative coverage in the media.” This is perhaps not coincidence, as Donald Rumsfeld ’54, a member of Nixon’s cabinet, was the architect of so many of our failed policies in Iraq.
The issue is neither media coverage nor the bravery of our armed forces, to which Swearingen also alludes. The issue is whether Guantánamo Bay is legal — and whether it protects American interests. Apart from the fact that the “out of sight, out of mind” prison of Guantánamo Bay set the stage for the abuses at Abu Ghraib (Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who commanded Guantánamo, helped set up Abu Ghraib), the European Union, the United Nations, and an increasing number of U.S. military officers (perhaps most notably Col. Stephen E. Abraham, a top intelligence officer at Guantánamo) condemn the prison as at odds with the most basic American traditions.
The Supreme Court, itself no hotbed of liberal activism, has ruled that the Guantánamo commissions were both unauthorized by federal law and unnecessary from a military standpoint. As former secretary of state Colin Powell has observed, Guantánamo is a blight on our reputation, it does not solve the ongoing and increasing problem of terrorism, and it should be closed.
Torture and unlawful detention only feed the roots of terrorism, and serve neither victims nor survivors of Sept. 11, nor Americans anywhere. Plaudits for the Princetonians who seek to represent Guantánamo detainees.
JOHN G.H. OAKES ’83
I was appalled to learn, through your July 18 issue, that Princeton has conferred an honorary doctor of humanities degree upon former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.
To the boxing ring, Ali brought the style of arrogant self-promotion and “trash talk” from which the sport never recovered. Withal, he cruelly and needlessly protracted the beatings of opponents such as Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell, in order to taunt them over what he considered personal slights. This is a humanitarian?
To the world podium that his pugilistic fame afforded, Ali brought the rantings of his Black Muslim faith, whose leaders have called for strict segregation and said that white people are “devils.” Had his refusal of military induction been accompanied by a willingness to serve in a noncombative role or to endure incarceration for his purported principles, then his stance might have held weight — instead, he relied upon a high-priced legal team to keep him out on appeal until he was cleared through the same legal system that he decried as racist. As in the case of some other honorary degrees, I suspect that the selection committee had scant actual knowledge of Ali’s statements, conduct, or affiliations.
I also suspect that this degree was one way for the University to ensure the cheap appearance at Commencement of a celebrity-jock; toward that continued objective, I propose that next year we confer a doctorate of animal husbandry upon NFL quarterback Michael Vick.
T. JAMES BINDER ’77
The attack on Jim Baker ’52 was scurrilous and dishonest (letters, June 6; Letterbox posting, July 22). I would suggest that the motivation of his critics was displeasure at his role as secretary of state in U.S. policy in the Mideast. The contrived issue of admission policy of Ivy Club 50 years ago is all too transparent and absurd; it says far more about the malevolent intent of his detractors. Baker needs no defenders, but decency and fairness always do!
The mantle of hypocrisy is burdensome, and I would hope that some introspection would lead those critics to a more honest position. Those who object to selectivity at Princeton are people whose careers and lives have been enhanced by association with a prestigious institution, which achieved its high rank by the very means they deride. That smallness of mind is indicative of their lingering proletarian prejudices.
JOHN A. LAGRUA ’52
Affirmative action in favor of black students by Princeton’s admission office (letters June 6, July 18) is a blatant violation of the 14th Amendment and hopefully will cease with the Class of 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5–4 decision, with Justice Thomas in the majority, ruled that “discriminating among individual students based on race by relying upon racial classifications in making school assignments” is unlawful. Granted, the cases before the court were specifically brought by white parents of schoolchildren in the Seattle and Louisville school districts who had been denied admission to local schools because of the color of their skin. How many otherwise highly qualified white, Asian, and Latino students were denied admission to Prince-ton in the classes of 2010 and 2011?
Princeton’s experiment in social diversity, and by the way ending the early-admission plan, still is subject to the results for the success/failure of the Classes of 2010 and 2011. Nevertheless, its effect on the Prospect Avenue eating clubs, number of dropouts, suspensions, and violations of the Honor Code in these two classes still is in question. I urge the University’s registrar to quantify these numbers for PAW and alumni/ae and most certainly study the effects of the presumed benefits of students in racially balanced classrooms. Chief Justice Roberts, in his decision, wrote most poignantly: “[T]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” I urge Princeton to adopt a truly color-blind admission policy for the Class of 2012.
HENRY R. WHITEHOUSE II ’54
In a memorial published in the July 18 issue, the name of Siobhán Marie Kilfeather *89 was misspelled.
In a photo caption of 1972 reuners in the Reunions 2007 section of the July 18 issue, Jono Peters was misidentified as Max Maizels.