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July 16, 2008: Letters

The changing picture of financial aid

Going back: Reunions

More Goheen tales

Cultural insensitivity

Arming campus police

Princeton landscapes

ABD, not Ph.D.

Wheeler's importance

Serve with conscience

Earning their grades

Benefits of a year off

For the record

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CoverThe changing picture of financial aid

The May 14 PAW cover story raises an issue Princeton and our peer institutions must consider. Increases in the nominal tuition at the most heavily endowed colleges and universities drive up tuition elsewhere, thereby saddling many excellent students at other colleges with excessive debt.

The full tuition charged by Princeton and comparable universities sets the upper limit for tuition at many excellent but less affluent schools. We have traditionally viewed our tuition and financial-aid policies as a legitimate form of income redistribution, but this has an unintended consequence. Other colleges raise their tuition in tandem with ours. With less generous aid programs, their students are assuming increasing debt loads, often in the form of private, nonsubsidized loans. Such loans typically accrue interest while a student is in graduate school, postgraduate training, or public service.

I agree that families and students should invest in education (with two daughters in college, I am investing a good deal myself). However, I fear that the magnitude of student debt, and its impact, is underestimated by many of those who set tuition. As a cardiologist, I have the privilege of interacting with housestaff who recently have finished medical school. Their debts are often in excess of $200,000. Similar debt loads afflict students in other fields of graduate study. This seriously impacts student career choices. Students are compelled to seek high-paying jobs in order to get out of debt, regardless of their field of endeavor. Such debt also impairs young adults' ability to save for their retirement, and for their own children's education. By allowing student debt to explode over the last several decades, we may be laying the groundwork for a future debt crisis.

Princeton and her peers should not only continue our generous aid policies, but also take the lead in attenuating the ongoing rise in tuition. I am enormously proud of Princeton's aid policies. I have contributed to Annual Giving every year since my graduation, and intend to continue doing so. My hope is that Princeton and her peers, by restraining the rise in their tuition, might aid many fine students at other excellent, but less well-endowed, colleges. As we set our tuition and financial-aid policies, we should be cognizant of the impact of our actions on others.

Allentown, Pa.

Your article on "the recent spate of financial-aid improvements" ignores the significant role played by Davidson College. In March 2007, Davidson became the first liberal arts college in the country to replace loans with grants in all of its financial-aid packages. With an endowment roughly one-fifteenth that of Princeton's, Davidson's courageous decision is far more relevant to most schools. (Full disclosure: I am the proud father of Josh Tobin, Davidson College Class of 2010.)

Houston, Texas

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Going back: Reunions

Fiftieth Reunion, 2008

The clouds have parted — the P-rade will go on!
But not too swiftly. We wait and wait,
The fresh mud menacing our white bucks.
We are standing in front of Nassau Hall,
In the spot where we graduated 50 years ago.
"The old codgers have to go first," we chuckle,
As if we were still 20-year-olds, not
The old codgers we, too, must seem to many.

The Old Guard starts moving and we crowd
To watch: They are, in truth, older than we are.
Some are driven in golf carts, but many walk.
Walking is not easy for them, but walk they do.
The crowd breaks out in cheers, in chants —
"33, 38, 43" — and we all join in,
Saluting these old men in faded jackets
For coming back, for carrying on.

And now it's our turn to march,
The mighty Class of '58, 350 strong.
We stroll past Whig and Clio, waving
To the comfortable, familiar crowd.
But beyond Dod we seem to enter a new world.
The crowd is bigger, rowdier, younger:
It's the seniors, the new Princeton,
And it looks like America really looks —
As many women as men, almost as many
Brown and yellow faces as white ones —
So diverse, so different from us,
This bunch of mostly white old guys.

But they don't seem to see us that way.
They look at us with praise in their eyes.
They're cheering and chanting — "58, 58, 58."
They greet us with high-fives,
Thrust cold beers into our hands,
And we clink our way down the hill
Through a gauntlet of raised cans,
Sailing down the hill now,
With this energy, this hope,
This love, really, driving us on.

At the bottom of the hill, our pace slackens.
We walk through strange, surreal
Sprung up where our playing fields once were —
Still more changes to ponder!
But we end our march in a field after all,
In a new field, where the grass is
As perfect as the memory of this day.

Class poet
York Harbor, Maine


I'm writing in response to a 2008 Reunions forum, "Immigration: To Legalize or Criminalize?" The question restated: "There are 12 million people living and working illegally in the United States. What do we do with them?"   

Our ability to work out a practical solution with benefits to all appears to be hamstrung by prejudice and misconceptions. Many people believe that illegal aliens don't pay taxes or for the education of their children. Illegal aliens pay rent that property owners use to pay the real estate taxes that pay for schools. A disproportionate percentage of their income is spent on sales taxes. The majority of their employers deduct and pay their Social Security taxes based on the false Social Security numbers provided. The federal government gets the money that is not collectible by the illegal alien's family.

When there is general agreement that the illegal system functions better than the legal system, new checks and balances come into play. We suddenly cater to a system of selective legal enforcement known as the squealer system. Employers become more vulnerable to the jealousies of their employees and competitors. Everyone is in danger of becoming criminalized, not just the foreigners.

The question is, "What kind of society do we want to live in?" A society where hardworking, productive people are turned into criminals? Where the federal government collects, while the local and state governments pay the bills for the legally uninsurable? Where only the very rich can afford to be legal? Where we Americans cannot find and hire people legally? A society that caters to prejudice more than reality, practicality, and our own ideals? This is not the democratic American ideal I grew up with.  

If the government charged $500 per person for legalization, it would be an income to the government of $6 billion, which could be used for administrative costs and social services, as opposed to having other resources tied up in "maintaining databases," criminal prosecutions, detentions, prisons, etc. Six billion dollars circulating in the national economy translates into about $48 billion in economic activity.

On the human side we would convert 12 million fearful, struggling, often-abused human beings into grateful, patriotic, law-abiding citizens with a faith in the society and system in which we also believe.

Chula Vista, Calif.

I agree with my classmate Jeff Gordinier '88 on the role of Reunions as a motivator (Perspective, May 14). However, I would broaden his definition of the "Princeton family" to include local residents, who also have high expectations of the student body. The most explicit example of this phenomenon I've encountered is the talkative taxi driver I met when I returned to campus for my 15th reunion. After assuring me that I couldn't possibly be old enough for the 15th, he proceeded to engage me in the following exchange:

Driver: So, are you married?
ML: No.
Driver: Kids?
ML: No, not yet.
Driver: Well, at least you've made your first million, right?
Luckily, at that point we arrived at the main entrance to campus.

New York, N.Y.
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More Goheen tales

From reading "Memories of a leader who mastered the art of listening" (feature, May 14), I can see my most memorable experience of President Robert Goheen '40 *48 was right in character.

In early 1970 I founded a town/gown group called Princeton Ecology Action. True to the tenor of the times, we developed three "demands" that I took directly to ever-accessible President Goheen. We "demanded":

1. Close and allow us to reclaim a road that was eroding into Carnegie Lake; 2. Designate as a wild, natural area an area near faculty housing that was slated to be cleared for sports fields; and 3. Form a committee to plan a multidisciplinary ecology program.

In fact he did listen, and then, disarmingly, agreed immediately. For me this was psychological judo. With nothing to push against, I looked back at myself in chagrin at my unnecessarily demanding attitude. That and his measured response to the sit-ins at the Institute for Defense Analyses, which I also participated in, won my everlasting admiration.

President Goheen was an extraordinary soul in the right place at the right time.

Darby, Mont.

In the fall of 1952, I joined the Princeton admission staff under Bill Edwards '36. Joe Bolster '52 and I were the only staffers. A few years later,

Bob Goheen invited me to spend a couple of hours daily helping him with the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program — from 4 until 6 p.m., five days a week. And thereby hangs my tale.

Around that time, I was invited to move to the University of Pittsburgh as that institution's first director of admission. I asked Bob for his advice and he encouraged me to accept the offer — in part because it would allow me to finish a Ph.D. in English, which I had begun six years earlier at Yale. Then came Bob's further response: "If I'm not promoted pretty soon (from assistant professor of classics), I'm going to start looking, too." About a year later, Bob was "promoted" — to president!

I've always been grateful to Bob — not only for his advice, but for the example he set. I did finish the doctorate and went on to be president of two small colleges, one private and one public.

Like all of you at Princeton, I'll miss him.

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Editor's note: Additional remembrances of Robert Goheen '40 *48 can be found at PAW Online, click here.
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Cultural insensitivity

In a June 11 letter to PAW, criticizing an article about Randall Kennedy '77, the Rev. George A. Bates '76 cites other individuals who in his mind better exemplify "courage and compassion" and stand up for "truth." If Rev. Bates is interested in truth, two of the people he cites, Louis Farrakhan and Lenora Fulani, are individuals who have made numerous hateful and disparaging remarks about Judaism and the Jewish community. For the Rev. Bates to cite these individuals in the same list as Martin Luther King Jr., Nicholas Katzenbach '43, and Medgar Evers is to lack any understanding of historical perspective and shows a significant lack of cultural sensitivity. Rev. Bates accuses Kennedy of running interference for the right-wing conservative agenda. If Rev. Bates cites Farrakhan and Fulani in an approving manner, who is he running interference for?

Marlton, N.J.
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Arming campus police

I guess creating your own armed militia (Notebook, May 14) would go nicely with other constitutional issues addressed on campus. Why not outsource? Get the local constabulary to hire additional officers and then rent them back. They would be of service on and off campus, and the officers would actually know each other.

Lancaster, Pa.
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CoverPrinceton landscapes

The June 11 cover and article on Beatrix Farrand and Princeton's landscaping are terrific!

As a graduate alumnus, I particularly appreciate the coverage of the Graduate College. The cedars of Lebanon picture really hits the bull's-eye.

Woodside, N.Y.
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ABD, not Ph.D.

I enjoyed Hilary Parker '01's article on alums who pursued Ph.D.s, only to give up on academia (feature, May 14). As one of the many people with ABD ("all but dissertation") qualifications,

I can tell you that not finishing my Ph.D. in computer science was the best career and life decision I ever made. I just couldn't get excited about getting papers accepted to journals, and there were hundreds of candidates vying for each tenure-track faculty opening.

So I ran off to New York City to marry my girlfriend, and I found my own way into management consulting. I'm doing what I love and have never looked back. I'm sure there are thousands of Princetonians with similar stories to tell.

New York, N.Y.
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Wheeler's importance

I think it is sad that you gave such short shrift to the passing of Professor John Wheeler. You considered the news worth 90 words on the bottom of page 19 (Notebook, May 14); in contrast, The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph (London) published lengthy obituaries.

I remember Wheeler better than any other teacher at Princeton. He radiated such belief in the importance of what he was teaching that, if you couldn't keep up with him, you knew you were definitely missing something. His excitement regarding new discoveries in physics was profound and inspiring. Moreover, his lab demonstrations — carried out with the help of Harold Waage, his "Igor" — were often more terrifying than anything Professor Hubert Alyea '24 *28 concocted.

You should reconsider his importance and do something more for his memory.

Lewistown, Pa.

Editor's note: John Wheeler's death also was noted in the editor's letter of the May 14 issue. A reminiscence by a former student of Wheeler's, Cheuk-Yin Wong '61 *66, can be found at PAW Online at
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Serve with conscience

Regarding the selection of Donald Rumsfeld '54 to the list of "most influential alumni":

While I share Thomas F. Schiavoni '72's dismay (Letters, April 2) at Mr. Rumsfeld's policies and consider them both a political and a moral disaster, I don't feel that they disqualify him from the list. Princeton has long been a community of people who, on the whole (to use Henry David Thoreau's words) "serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions ... are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God." If Rumsfeld has "serve[d] the devil," it only makes the list more representative of Princeton's influence.

When I was a student, I don't recall the idea of "moral distinctions" ever coming up, nor the question of whether our choices might have a negative impact on the world. Princeton focused us on doing what was successful by the dominant standards of our nation, and only a few malcontents questioned whether the dominant standards were evil or might lead us to disaster in the long term.

I've wondered what Princeton would be like if we decided that to be "in the nation's service" meant to "serve the state with [our] consciences also." Surely a lot less wealthy, both because the powerful would be less inclined to support an institution that criticized their policies, and because it would have far fewer rich alumni.

Its alumni and professors would be invited less frequently to supply sound bites or to address the movers and shakers of the land, because who wants to listen to people who don't even know which side their bread is buttered on? But it might be a college I would feel more pride in saying I was an alumnus of.

Tarrytown, N.Y.
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Earning their grades

Regarding the June 11 On the Campus column, I was bemused to learn that there might actually be a student referendum that included how the administration sets academic standards. The creep of grade inflation has led in the direction of everybody-gets-an-A (Hey! Where's the party?), while deflation flags the student's deficiencies and helps him make the most of his family's investment. Forcing students to earn their grades also raises the value of a Princeton diploma in the world at large.

I enjoyed the closing equivocation by senior class president Tom Haine '08. There's a place waiting for him in Washington.

Manhasset, N.Y.
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Benefits of a year off

A letter in the April 23 issue by my friend Harvey Rothberg '49 comments on a current proposal to create a "bridge-year" program for students admitted to Princeton to spend a year abroad before starting their freshman year. In 1965, my colleagues at the University Health Service, Lawrence Pervin and Louis Reik, and I organized and presented a Princeton University conference titled "The College Drop-out and the Utilization of Talent." Our own papers and those of colleagues from other institutions were presented, and the entire proceedings were published the next year by the Princeton University Press.

We obtained the academic records of Princeton undergraduates who had taken one or more years off from their college studies. The large majority of these students had distinct improvements in their academic records following the leaves of absence.

We did not analyze possible differences between leaves of absence taken at the various times in a college career, nor did we compare the possible differences between a year off taken before starting college and a year or more taken at a later time in education (although one of my sons who took a year off before starting college at Northwestern University had a rather startling improvement in grades between secondary school and college). Furthermore, my impression is that there was no difference in the effect on grades between a year taken off after freshman, sophomore, or junior years.

Director, University Health Service, 1962–77
Lauderdale by the Sea, Fla.
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For the record

A memorial for John Todd Cowles '34 in the Nov. 5, 2003, issue of PAW misstated the length of his marriage to Toffee Lee Cowles, who survives him. The two were married on May 1, 2002.
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