Letters - April 7, 1999

Women at Princeton


Although my husband and I are copresidents of our class, I am not on campus as much as I would like. Therefore, I am in a position to take strong issue with just one implication in the March 10 On the Campus column by Kruti Trivedi '00, "Muscling aside the men." I was one of the women she referred to who attended Princeton nearly 30 years ago. My recollections of Princeton do not include being degraded or made to feel unwelcome. Yes, there were professors known to prefer male students, and there were professors known to harass female students. That was life then, that is life now. But we were rarely anybody's victim, and we were not bitter. I agree with Melanie Kirkpatrick '73, in an opinion piece she wrote for The Wall Street Journal last June, that women at Princeton in the early '70s apparently had it easier than they do now.

Lorraine Longino Barba '75
Kenilworth, Ill.


O.K., Kruti, get a grip. I read your column bemoaning how you and many of your fellow women feel excluded from a tradition that doesn't include them. But there are different views on what exactly is the "Princeton tradition." I believe this tradition transcends any sort of campus or undergraduate demographics that spring from any spot on the university's timeline. Obviously I'm not from the part of the timeline that you and your buddies occupy, but I most emphatically feel that you are part of the tradition I cherish.

What's important is everything that makes Princeton special: the academics, the people, the campus, the intellectual buzz, and so on. And you're part of that because you're there. This tradition does not include the chauvinist failings you noted on campus and that unfortunately are present everywhere.

I have always recognized how much more enjoyable my four years in the early '70s would have been had there been thousands rather than merely hundreds of women on campus, but there weren't. And now there are. And that's the point -- things always change, but that doesn't detract from what I hold to be the P.U. tradition. Princeton today is not the Princeton I knew and loved, but there's no denying that there's something special in the air in central New Jersey. I can breathe it, smell it, feel it, even when I'm a thousand miles away.

Kevin Warner '71
New York, N.Y.

Diversity initiative


The university's diversity initiative as reported in the February 24 Notebook suffers from the same flaw that underlies the current mania for multiculturalism in virtually all of American higher education. Professor Miguel Centeno complains he sometimes feels alienated because "There is a very dominant culture [at Princeton] and it is not mine." When I was at Princeton some 40 years ago, there was likewise a dominant culture, one reasonably described by me -- a rough-hewn Brooklyn-born Jewish kid -- as a southern boys' finishing school with emphasis on beer parties, but I hardly had a right to expect that culture to cater to me.

It is not the university's task to establish a culture -- dominant or otherwise -- except one in which free intellectual inquiry is fostered. Social engineering in order to establish representative "cultures" is not what higher education should be about. It is an impossible task, not even definable. To the extent such engineering succeeds, experience teaches that it is to the detriment of liberty, academic freedom, individual identity, and freedom of speech and conscience -- all of which should be Princeton's transcendent values.

Harvey A. Silverglate '64
Boston, Mass.


With all the emphasis on diversity, why is nothing said about achieving political diversity? Are ethnic considerations the only kind that matter? Princeton seems intent on transforming itself into Bill Clinton U., its faculty bent on bashing Republicans and promoting the centralization of power in Washington. This philosophical imbalance is so ingrained it may never be eliminated, but it wouldn't hurt to at least discuss the matter now and then.

Ned Waller '47
Danville, Va.


When I was an undergraduate, the university put considerable pressure on the selective clubs, including an obligation that collectively they offer a place to everyone who bickered. Then as now, the eating clubs reflected the wish of certain students to share their social life in a smaller circle. I was in Ivy Club, where I enjoyed debating with other members on a wide range of topics, and on a plane seldom experienced elsewhere on campus. We consciously strove to perpetuate this intellectual diversity within an atmosphere of mutual respect that accommodated differing opinions. Our ideal was elitist in the Confucian sense: the most able should lead and must also serve society. The ethos of the other clubs I frequented, mostly Cap and Gown and Cottage, differed in degree but not in substance.

It was also during my student days that the administration changed room draw so that a large group of students could no longer take over an entire entry of a dormitory. It did so in the belief that students of varied backgrounds should be obliged to live together. Such beneficial interaction already occurs in class and on the playing field, but must it also be enforced at the dining table and in the dorm?

Wide-ranging thought and debate among aboveaverage minds and freedom of association within an academic community: those remain for me what made Princeton special. My closest friendships were made in those years. I hope the administration can maintain quality and diversity by seeking equality of opportunity rather than by imposing egalitarianism.

James Cunningham '73
Lausanne, Switzerland

Nude Olympics


Regarding this year's Nude Olympics (Notebook, February 10): Gather any number of young, healthy, red-blooded men and women; take off all their clothes, pour rivers of alcohol down their throats, and cram them all together into one heaving anonymous mass in a very small space in the middle of the night, surrounded by an even larger and even more faceless mass of cheering voyeurs.

Moreover, select mostly high-strung, overachieving, and overly sheltered late-adolescents who are only in their second year of living away from home -- but at an institution that is only a little less buttoned-down, overregulated, and high-pressured than the perfectionist families they came from. Then convince them that this little ritual, like just about everything else connected to said institution, is a "tradition" -- i.e., never to be questioned, only followed.

Gee whiz, Beaver, what do you think is going to happen next?

Perhaps the real question we should all be asking concerning this year's (what, 27th?) Nude Olympics is not, Why did this happen? but, Why hasn't this happened before?

Eddie Nguyen '92
Prague, Czech Republic


Your article on the Nude Olympics includes information about the origins of this event that are incomplete.

During my sophomore year (1969-70, the first year of coeducation), I lived in the third entry of Holder Hall with five other classmates, including the late John P. Leidy, Jr. We became known as the Bachelors Six, a moniker coined by Leidy, who single-handedly kept Holder denizens enthralled during the winter reading period with his arsenal of bottle rockets, bonfires, and occasional sprints in the buff around Holder courtyard. Not infrequently he would be challenged by a naked contestant from another entry. These forays were dubbed the Nude Relays.

After a snowfall during the late winter of 1970, Leidy placed an anonymous call to the proctors to complain that there were students racing around Holder court in nothing but tennis shoes. This was an absolute fabrication. He then telephoned The Daily Princetonian to inquire whether it would be covering the "Nude Olympics" that evening. When the skeptical reporter responded that there was no such thing, Leidy told him the proctors were trying to stop it. The reporter immediately contacted the proctors, who informed him they were looking into the situation, thus providing confirmation from an authoritative source. Whether this non-event found its way into print, it became fodder for the rumor mill. The naked sprints became a not-infrequent occurrence throughout the rest of the year. The university's later attempts to pacify the Holder hellions by inserting pods of coeds into the fourth entry were useless and ultimately led to the initiation of the distaff set into this ritual.

The Bachelors Six never moved out of their double suites after sophomore year, for we were ensconced in very comfortable digs and were having too much fun as junior and senior cohabitants of a sophomore dormitory. Leidy indoctrinated successive sophomore classes into the rites of Holder, which by that time had surpassed Brown and Dodd halls as one of the more colorful stops on the proctors' nightly rounds.

Our friend John Leidy passed away in 1997, and the '60s died a long, long time ago. But for the sake of historical accuracy, let it be known that the first Nude Olympics was a hoax.

Thomas F. Schiavoni '72
Boston, Mass.


My jaw dropped faster and farther than usual when I read the debate surrounding the Nude Olympics (Letters, March 10), particularly the views of Webster Wheelock '60, who expends a lot of rhetoric allegorizing the figure of "drunk woman" and asks, with amazing arrogance, "what are we to make of a modern bacchante ...?"

If his point is that a woman is being stupid if she gets really drunk, then the dimmest understanding of equality for the sexes demands that he say men are stupid to do likewise -- and more stupid if they are prone to committing crimes or cruel acts when so inebriated. Wheelock simplistically assumes that the women assaulted in this year's Nude Olympics were the same ones in the drunken state he describes. But it is equally probable -- more so, judging by accounts I've read -- that some women were unable to defend themselves not because they were incapacitated but because they were walled in, overpowered, or ganged up on. Whatever the case, a victim's being drunk, while hardly beyond criticism, is her prerogative. It does not make her body any less her own. It does not give anyone permission to violate her body, nor does it exculpate the perpetrator of sexual assault -- just as, less seriously, nothing exculpates a thief who steals your watch when you are too drunk to mind it.

Wheelock argues that being drunk on the occasion of a coeducational nude run is a sign of a woman's "consent." But stupidity and poor judgment do not equal consent. It is precisely when another's consent is absent and the person is helpless that one's own moral restraint is tested. However murky an establishment of consent becomes when drunk people start having what seems to be consensual sex (as opposed to when someone is passed out, when there is absolutely no consent), it is never the case that being drunk, naked, and running with men is already, a priori, an act of sexual consent. To suggest as much mocks the law and suggests that a coed Nude Olympics is nothing more than a mindless orgy. It degrades even real orgies -- which do involve a prior understanding of consent by all parties.

Jim Moyer GS
Princeton, N.J.

Global warming


In his letter in the February 10 paw on your December 2 cover story "Heating Up," Jay Lehr '57 reveals himself to be among those who have perpetuated an unrelenting seven-year campaign of deception and misinformation aimed at the science of global warming. Lehr is the president of Environmental Education Enterprises, an organization listed as a useful anti-environmentalist resource by such ultraconservative groups as the Heartland Institute of Chicago, and the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire. Lehr cites a petition, circulated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and allegedly signed by 17,000 "scientists" which urges rejection of the Kyoto treaty. But very few climate scientists were among the signatories, who included Ginger Spice of the Spice Girls, Dr. B.J. Hunnicut of Mash, and actor Michael J. Fox: the only apparent criterion for being counted as a "scientist" was a bachelor's degree in any sort of science. As for the Oregon Institute, it is a conservative think tank, not an institution of scientific research. (Its previous work has dealt primarily with advocacy for home schooling and civil defense.)

Recent articles in two of the most scientifically reputable journals, Nature and Science, not only confirm that global warming is a real and present danger, but suggest it may be happening faster than was ever expected.

Adam Kessel '98
Chicago, Ill.

Robert George


I found Professor Robert George's views on the appointment to the faculty of ethicist Peter Singer troublesome (Notebook, January 27), particularly his using paw as a forum for a thinly veiled attack on Singer. George asks people to "consider the likely fate of a candidate for an appointment in ethics who publicly advocated positions or policies that utterly outrage liberal moral sensibilities." He also asks them to confront the question whether academic freedom means "the moral right to be as far to the moral left as you please."

It seems that George is seeking to keep the pot boiling. Also, the concepts of moral responsibilities and the moral left, which he uses in his attack on Singer, are subjective and open to various meanings, depending on the views and prejudices of the user. George's views on the two concepts, while not in agreement with some in academia today, would have been heartily supported by Torquemada and his followers.

Henry L. Heymann '43
Washington, D.C.


Although I applaud Robert George's defense of truthfulness, I bridle at his implication that Singer's utilitarianism is somehow less moral than an unyielding adherence to the right to life, extended even to the unborn and dying. In a world of ever-more scant resources relative to our burgeoning human population, this is patently untrue.

As an academic neuroanesthesiologist, I personally assisted in the squandering of millions of dollars on hopeless causes, knowing that at the same time two-thirds of the world was dying of starvation, or worse. Who wanted it? No one, or so they said. Was it just? Everyone shrugged. The starving billions were elsewhere and the comatose patients on life support were not. What if the patients on life support and the starving children were all in the same room, or just one child with spina bifida and a thousand children in need of nothing more than bread? Choices must be made, even on the hallowed ground of human rights. A few years ago, I traded my career as a neuroanesthesiologist for one in public health because I was tired of making the wrong ones.

Margaret Brungraber Ruttenberg '76, M.D.
Newton, Mass.

Leukemia triathlon


Along with two other former Princeton lacrosse players -- J.D. Mello '95 and Andrew Mitchell '95 -- I am competing in the Gulf Coast Half-Iron Man Race on May 8 in Panama City, Florida, to raise money for the Leukemia Society of America. This will be our first triathlon, which consists of a 1.2mile swim, a 56mile bike ride, and a 13-mile run. We are seeking sponsors in order to raise at least $3,300 each. Those seeking more information can contact me at 2216 Delancey St., Apt. 3F, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (215-546-8866; alison.keiller.wg99@wharton.upenn.edu).

Alison Keiller '94
Philadelphia, Penn.

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