November 21, 2007: Letters

Arnold Guyot’s legacy

‘Green’ questions

One side of Vietnam

Access to opportunity

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Arnold GuyotArnold Guyot’s legacy

I am grateful to PAW editor Marilyn H. Marks *86 for drawing attention (From the Editor, Oct. 10) to the recent exhibit in the Frist Campus Center commemorating the Swiss-American geohistorian Arnold Guyot (1807–1884), who served as the first Blair Professor of Physical Geography and Geology at Princeton.

The committee that prepared this exhibit appreciated the dual needs of being as selective yet as complete as possible in our coverage of Professor Guyot’s life and legacy. What might be construed as a racial bias in Guyot’s Earth and Man (1849) proves, as Marks noted, “troubling reading” a century and a half later. However, to avoid the historiographical blunder of judging the past in terms of the present, Guyot’s ethnographic views are best understood within the context of the Swiss, German, French, and American societies that each contributed toward shaping his thinking. PAW readers might find the issue helpfully addressed in William R. Stanton’s now-classic The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes Toward Race in America, 1815–59.

In addition to being the bicentenary of Guyot’s birth, 2007 also represents the bicentenary of significant movements toward the abolition of slavery. During the era of Manifest Destiny, Guyot believed that the United States was destined to be the historical spot in which the perfection of humankind would become fully realized. Yet such fulfillment was not possible, Guyot contended, until the abominable, ungodly practice of slavery was abolished completely within this country. Although his voice is not one readily recalled among a litany of leading abolitionists, nor was this aspect of his life covered in the current exhibit, these views of Guyot, espoused both in writing and in the classroom, were also an important part of his Princeton legacy.  

Associate Professor of Humanities and Science, Technology, and Society
Pennsylvania State University

Editor’s note: Wilson is a 2007–08 Princeton University library research grant recipient, through which he is preparing a biography of Guyot, and a member of Princeton’s Arnold Guyot Bicentennial Exhibit Committee.

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‘Green’ questions

President Tilghman and Professor Michael Oppenheimer spoke of Princeton as a national standard-setter at the Oct. 3 Princeton town meeting in New York. I thought of their comments as I read the Oct. 10 issue of PAW.

That issue quoted Meg Whitman ’77 on dedicating Whitman College: “If you put something in the ground, you have to take a very long view — what will be necessary 50 to 100 years from now. You can’t build what is the standard for today; you must build a standard for tomorrow.”

President Tilghman must have been thinking of a standard for tomorrow when she told the town meeting that 51 percent of the new freshman class receives financial assistance, that it is in grants instead of loans, and that until last year Princeton was the only university in the country offering aid in that form. What better long-term investment?

Professor Oppenheimer described global warming and its causes and, coincidentally, the PAW cover story (“A Greener World ... A Greener Princeton”) surveyed the faculty’s research on climate change.

They left me wondering how “green” the campus is now. Has energy efficiency improved in the older stone and brick lecture halls, administration buildings, labs, gyms, and dorms, in Nassau Hall, and even in air-conditioned Whitman College?

Keeping Princeton in mind as a standard-setter for the long term, how would contributors respond if Princeton committed openly to setting the national standard in energy efficiency? Would the energy efficiencies’ benefits be catalysts for others? PAW reported that “the University already takes advantage of underground temperatures to heat and cool graduate student housing. ... When the system came on line a few years ago, its energy-efficiency was so remarkable that University accountants called the utility company to make sure they were reading the correct meters.”

If those utility savings in graduate student housing are any indicator, how much more financial assistance could the University provide in the long term if, in the short term, it reconfigured all of its structures to be energy-efficient and carbon-neutral?

New York, N.Y.


The professors highlighted in “A Greener World ... A Greener Princeton” are to be commended for their achievements. As a two-time hybrid-car owner, vegetable grower, and voluntary recycler, I have some right to express heresy:

1. Global warming is not so simple, and it is not so conclusively largely human-made (see the BBC’s “The Great Global Warming Swindle”).

2. Global-warming alarmists consistently ignore the potential cost, such as inadequate power grids and slower economic growth, not to mention the futility of restraining our carbon output while developing countries boom.

3. Why have the environmentalists abandoned zero population growth? Decreased population growth through enforcing immigration laws is off the table due to political pressures of the left. Since we have the highest per-capita energy consumption by far, wouldn’t it make sense to have less “capita”?

4. If carbon emissions are so bad, why isn’t nuclear power embraced now until more exotic and expensive alternatives prove realistic?

Finally, we should all be alarmed as the evangelists of “green power” predict ever more disasters if we do not surrender our freedom and prosperity to their control. Fear is the best motivator, isn’t it?

Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post and Thomas Friedman of The New York Times both have advocated a gas-tax increase, which will discourage consumption and provide funds for the grants and boondoggles. A direct tax will be embraced, won’t it, if the public so strongly believes in global warming? Or will Joe Lunchbucket and Mary Middle Class start questioning the precautionary principle when they see immediate costs, rather than the larger hidden ones down the road?

St. Petersburg, Fla.
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One side of Vietnam

Princeton had Dean Gordon before the unwashed had Jane Fonda, but I still found “Good Morning, Vietnam” (feature, Sept. 26) troubling. I hope I am not the only alumnus who takes issue with the “liberation” of Saigon, or the unchallenged assertion that Ameri-can POWs were “treated very well.” Anyone who believes the American military “weakened” and lost the war needs to read Mark Woodruff’s Unheralded Victory. Saigon was “liberated” two years after the departure of American ground forces, betrayed by the same elements in the United States who today try to arrange our defeat in Iraq.

The article doesn’t provide a complete description of the course, or its length, dwelling mostly on its field-trip aspects and “feel-goodism.” But it strikes me as being a fatally defective, one-sided treatment of a complex subject, with intellectual cards being dealt from a stacked deck. What are the chances of a balanced treatment when the faculty consists of North Vietnamese communists and a State Department (motto: “Yield firmly”) rep whose career highlight was making nice with Hanoi after the war?

If blatant lies go unchallenged, from where will the truth come? Isn’t there, in the expert host/ignorant guest arrangement, a disabling home-field advantage? Were there no American military veterans available to present their perspective? How many 300-level Princeton history courses build on community service and useless dabbling in an impenetrable language? Do other Princeton courses praise the “indomitable determination” of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Sung, or Osama?

I’m sure the students found it interesting, and fun, but it strikes me as intellectually embarrassing and a gross misuse of educational dollars. I hope sequels are not being negotiated with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

U.S. Marine Corps, retired
Franklin, W.Va.
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Access to opportunity

In response to the letter titled “Color-blind admissions” in the Sept. 26 issue: When I hear people with little experience in college admissions use the words “highly qualified,” “equally qualified,” and “more qualified” to explain their positions on affirmative action, I want to ask them, “What exactly do those words mean to you?” Does “more qualified” mean higher test scores, stronger GPAs, and more extracurricular activities? I was an admission officer for Princeton in the mid-1990s, and I recruited Latino students in the Central Valley in California who didn’t have summer internships because they spent the summer picking strawberries to supplement the family income. I met students in inner-city neighborhoods who had lower SAT scores because they could not afford calculators. I knew of a student from Harlem who could not be admitted to the engineering program because her school didn’t offer any math beyond Algebra 2. Her SAT score was 150 points below the average for Princeton admissions, but her teachers said she was the best student they ever had. 

To boil the affirmative-action debate down to race is to miss the point. What affirmative action really does is give students who have access to many fewer educational opportunities the chance to be competitive with students who, through no merit of their own, happen to grow up with the tutors, test-prep coaches, college-admission counselors, free time, financial resources, stable learning environment, and parental encouragement it takes to build a “highly qualified” résumé these days.

Minority students are not teaching tools. You don’t admit them just to have a racially balanced classroom. You admit them because this country and the world would be better off with more minorities with strong educations, leadership skills, and access to the opportunities a place like Princeton provides. Princeton’s motto is “In the nation’s service.” One of the best ways to serve the nation is to give opportunities to people who can lead the communities that need them most. 

Charlotte, N.C.
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