February 13, 2008: Letters
Letter Box Online
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Mercifully, Merrell Noden ’78’s worrying “Admission Obsession” (feature, Dec. 12) tells only part of the story. Overall, the recent bulge in applications is a boon to American higher education.
I’ve been converted to this view by my experience as both a parent and an educator. Two years ago my oldest daughter and her friends — all smart, accomplished, interesting, self-motivated kids at the very top of their class at one of the best public high schools in the country — were turned away in droves from the nation’s most competitive colleges and universities. Those accepted at such schools (including my daughter at Princeton) largely were legacies.
A tragedy? Hardly. Students who a generation ago would have attended Ivy League schools are thriving at regionally known, private liberal arts colleges and universities and the impressive Midwestern state universities. They study with professors trained at the best graduate schools, participate in honors programs, receive merit scholarships and study grants, and — at small schools — conduct exciting research with faculty undistracted by graduate students.
In this new setting, obsessing over the perfect résumé is pointless. With our second daughter, we haven’t just dialed back the “college angst” — we’re actually exerting ourselves in the opposite direction. Don’t overdo AP classes, we told her. Leave time to do other things you love.
And she is. She has applied to great schools, including highly selective ones. She’ll get into some of them. Wherever she goes, she’ll make a great contribution, she’ll get a wonderful education, and she’ll flourish. And that, in the end, is the point.
CRISTINA L.H. TRAINA ’83
Regarding Merrell Noden’s article, “Admission Obsession,” may I question whether the current high-stakes college admissions are not making us a nation of poseurs? Should we not take the advice of Polonius to Hamlet to heart: “To thine own self be true”?
My wife and I have a 4.0-average granddaughter graduating in June. We have not suggested for her any Ivies nor major state universities, such as the University of Michigan, from which we both hold graduate degrees.
We are happy that she will be attending college locally in southern Ohio at either of the universities of Cincinnati or Dayton, at both of which she has full-pay four-year scholarships.
We were most offended by the coach quoted as advising kids against working for student newspapers, because such a time-consuming activity is a “huge time suck with too little bang for the buck.” As a lawyer and lifelong writer, I believe that high school journalism made my life, followed by editing and writing for the Prince. Why are we concerned with the “grouping” of the student’s activities on the application, rather than what freely chosen activities best develop the young person?
We try to teach our grandchildren to define realistic directions for their lives and to develop the perseverance toreach their goals. We urge them to become self-reliant, get trained early in a higher-paying job, and work and save to finance, as far as possible, their professional education, rather than to rely fully on financial aid granted by others or loans inevitably paid back later.
FREDERICK W. FRALEY III ’54
Before the Dec. 12 issue of PAW (Notebook), I am not sure many alumni were aware of the impending project at Firestone Library, which has caused some concern on campus this autumn. Our main library, for which such a plan has been in the works for quite some time now, is now about to be renovated. Various individuals (particularly humanists, and most particularly the most humanistic among us, classicists) have been expressing their concerns about the unfolding plans.
My sense of the situation is one of a “consumer” of Firestone’s goods over the last 57 years. While I am not so silly as to be upset by the prospect of any change at all, I, too, am concerned lest the new Firestone involve the sacrifice of space devoted to open stacks and the collection of actual books to the needs of joint activities and virtual libraries.
My image of a great library (and Firestone is a great library, pound-for-pound, as the chroniclers of pugilism used to say, one of the greatest libraries in the world) does not include much space devoted to conversation. Libraries are, and should be, places where one can escape from talk, where silence and solitary adventure reign. I am sure that Karin Trainer, our librarian, and my colleagues and their students nearly all agree with that view, and thus trust them all to make sure that Firestone will only become a still-stronger element in Princeton’s institutional excellence.
A further observation: I have good credentials as a humanist who saw the light early about the importance of the computer even to our fields of study and work. It was as early as 1982 that I began to work on the first of three “computer projects” that I have directed. There are few humanists who have been actively involved in this new activity as long as I. Nonetheless, the notion that digitized collections can replace the costly acquisition and maintenance of books, manuscripts, and periodicals is a dubious one, and will be so at least for quite some time to come.
ROBERT HOLLANDER ’55
Edward Groth III ’66 (letters, Dec. 12) points out that the puzzle Archimedes was trying to solve was not “buoyancy,” but rather, how to measure the volume of an irregularly shaped object. The other part of the legend, which he did not state, is that the monarch was concerned whether the crown that was made for him by a goldsmith actually contained as much solid gold as the goldsmith claimed. As I recall the legend, with the volume of the crown and the weight of the crown, Archimedes was able to determine that the monarch had been cheated.
BRUCE N. BAKER ’53
Thanks very much for the illuminating article on Sen. Barack Obama’s Chicago support group (feature, Oct. 10): Prince- ton alumni in the nation’s service for sure. I never thought I’d see such an article in PAW. For me, Sen. Obama is the most inspiring presidential candidate since JFK, for whom I did some volunteer work in 1960 while living
in Cambridge as a Harvard graduate student.
BOB BARTH ’56
It was interesting to note the opinions concerning the design of Whitman College that you quoted in the Nov. 21 PAW (Editor’s letter). As a fairly frequent user of the Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center at MIT, I can certainly attest to the interesting and fun nature of the building. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine using it 50 or 100 years from now, while clearly Whitman has been designed for a truly long life. MIT’s response to the Stata building has been to sue Gehry for design flaws.
RICHARD C. LANZA ’59
While Samuel Sewall was commendably early in his questioning of slavery (“Mining Family History,” Books and Arts, Dec. 12), Eve LaPlante ’80 is mistaken in crediting him with writing “... America’s first abolitionist argument.”
Francis (Franz) Daniel Pastorius and other members of Germantown (Pa.) Monthly Meeting issued a minute decrying the practice of slavery on Feb. 18, 1688, which was then sent on to Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting on April 4, 1688, thence to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (then held in Burling-ton, N.J.) where it was deemed on July 5, 1688, “not to be so proper for this Meeting to give a Positive Judgment in the case ...”
George Keith, the surveyor-general who surveyed the line separating East Jersey from West Jersey in 1686, published the well-known tract An Exhortation & Caution to Friends concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes. This was “given forth” by Philadelphia Monthly Meeting on Aug. 13, 1693.
These two pieces, predating Sewall by as much as a dozen years, followed English works such as Thomas Tryon’s 1684 The Planter’s Speech to His Neighbours and Country-Men of Pennsylvania, East and West Jersey that had a focus on the moral underpinnings of the colonies. Given the nascent state of printing and publication in the colonies in the 17th century, it should be acknowledged that American thinking of the era didn’t always originate in America.
That Sewall’s views on slavery were not the first such thoughts aired in the Americas in no way reduces the impressive scale and scope of his personal transformation.
TAD LAFOUNTAIN ’72
In a Dec. 12 article about a class that was co-taught by Professor Uwe Reinhardt and visiting professor and former senator Bill Frist ’74, a quote from a student misrepresented Reinhardt’s views on drug-company profits. He has said in the class that while drug-company profits as a percent of sales revenue are high, that is a meaningless measure; these profits do not drive health-care costs because they make up only 1.2 percent of total national heath-care spending. More-over, Reinhardt has said, pharmaceutical companies must invest heavily in a protracted and risky process of research and development to bring each successful drug to market — an investment that must be recovered through drug prices.
Laurance Rockefeller ’32 was the grandson and not the son of oilman John D. Rockefeller, as was reported incorrectly in his profile in the Jan. 23 issue. He was the son of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr.