Letters - September 8, 1999

Several readers, including Gerard B. Townsend '51, noticed the similarity between the cover image for the June issue of paw and for the same issue of the Harvard Business School Bulletin. Just a coincidence? Apparently, yes. Given that the magazines were produced independently of each other, this seems to be just another case of: Great minds think alike.


Women's Places

I found your article "Depth, Not Dominance, for Crew" (Sports, July 7) to be very odd. The women's lightweight crew won a national title and was honored by two sentences in the article. Men's crew took second to California and got the two lead paragraphs. Not only that, but the article mentioned that Princeton received the award for the best combined men's and women's program at the IRA, for which it was "aided" by the women's lightweight team's victory. Looks to me more like the women's successful showing was aided by the men's efforts.

Princeton clearly has very talented female athletes, who are not simply adjuncts to the men's teams. I hope PAW will give them the coverage they deserve.

--Lucy Hornby '95
New York, N.Y.


Glancing at the photos used to illustrate "Commencement '99" (cover story, July 7), I am pleased to see that Princeton now is graduating only females and blacks.

By the way, thanks for printing the clarification by the SHARE director and E. Cameron Scott '93 (Letters, July 7). As an "old boy, white conservative," I enjoy letters such as that one, which help me to reconfirm how the university admission office is off track and why my support is better merited by my graduate school.

--Robert H. E. Hein '56
São Paulo, Brazil

Campus architecture

In the summer of 1943, at the end of my first year at Princeton, I reported for duty in the U.S. Army, which sent me to North Camp Hood in Texas for basic training.

As relief from Army life we would go to Waco for the weekend where some of us found that the First Presbyterian Church of Waco had a Saturday afternoon reception and evening dance for servicemen.

One afternoon one of the older ladies of the church asked where I matriculated. Upon my answering "Princeton," she asked if I knew Alexander Hall. Answering with proper restraint that I knew it well from our earliest orientation, she explained that her family had given it to the university.

Thankfully I did not exclaim, "You mean that monstrosity!"

--H. Lansing Vail, Jr. '46
Shaker Heights, Ohio


I have just finished reading the extensive article by Catesby Leigh '79 on the problems besetting Princeton's new buildings (cover story, May 19). This is the first time I have been moved to write a letter to the magazine, but that article did it. As a loyal alumnus who was strongly influenced by the beauty of the campus to chose Princeton over the competing offers received from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford, I was amazed to learn of the extensive building boom that has taken place in the last 10 to 15 years. More to the point, I was appalled to discover that Princeton had so totally succumbed to the jumble-sale approach to architecture, where far more attention is paid to the individual building and the related egotistical desire of the particular architect to do something-anything-to be different, than to the historical context of the institution and the surroundings. Many of the newer buildings can only be described as ugly. College is stressful enough these days. Why add to the problem by creating a disjointed, ugly, cluttered environment? I truly like modern architecture, but again, only in the proper context.

--Raud E. Johnson '58
New Canaan, Conn.


Shortly after the completion of Corwin Hall, a Dial Club-mate who was majoring in art and architecture neatly inscribed in bold capitals upon the wall of that ugly box look on my work ye mighty and despair, a variation on the boastful words of Shelley's Ozymandias. Many of us who passed by on the way to the Street loved the critique, which applies to every subsequent building that I have seen on campus.

--Edgar F. Harden '53
Port Moody, B.C.


Catesby Leigh discusses the aesthetics of Princeton architecture. However, buildings also have function. I spent four years in university housing, and I found one element of Princeton architecture to be very dysfunctional: entryways.

Entryways divide students into small clusters. Students in different entryways are separated by exterior doors; students within the same entryway are separated by flights of stairs. Entryways replace hallways with stairwells. This makes the space connecting rooms nearly useless as a common area.

I found all of this terribly isolating.

--Steven McDougall '82
Littleton, Mass.


Many an old grad must have often mumbled "hear, hear" while devouring Catesby Leigh's piece on Princeton's evolving architecture. Having been besotted by Princeton's ever astonishing beauty each day of my four years on campus, I have watched, with ever widening distress, the repetitive "in your face" given to the likes of Potter, Cope, Stewardson, and Cram by a host of errant campus alteration projects carried out from the '60s to the present.

"Campus alteration" is the right terminology because, as is now apparent, too much of what has been done was evaluated on its own merits, rather than on the cumulative effects resulting to the campus as a whole. Soaring costs were said to have forever doomed new use of our collegiate gothic and other architectural traditions-but, thanks to a healthy academic skepticism we had so well learned in McCosh, we suspected there was much, much more to the story than that.

We were uneasy that an impersonal, urban kind of modernism-so strange to Princeton-had been given sway as much for philosophical reasons as costs. The new Princeton needed less elitist, more egalitarian clothes. But where had the humanism and integration with nature, for which the campus was world renowned, gone? Was this very special place to become a museum to document changing, disjointed-even conflicting-architectural styles and their associated political interpretations, rather than remain a well blended sanctuary of extraordinary pastoral calm and beauty, politics be damned?

Never advocating extravagant, blind copying of our magnificent past, we were increasingly startled by the (less expensive?) vaguely related collection of Lego blocks, Tinker Toy shapes, and "not quite" colors and materials being forcefully and asymmetrically deployed. As so clearly the case of Spelman, did egalitarian have to equal ugly?

We were distressed that the deep, lush throbs of idealism, natural serenity, and continuity with the past conveyed by those remarkable buildings and landscapes in which we were so privileged to move were becoming increasingly hard to discern . . . muffled by a growing cacophony of cold, sterile, loosely similar architectural screeching as each new, iconoclastic try at being "significant" or "making a statement" was dropped into place.

Warmest thanks to Leigh for this thoroughly researched, articulate description of the road traveled to our present place, for persuasive guidance as to the way forward, and for giving a brilliant and clear voice to some of us old grads regarding the recent decades of multimillion dollar cosmetic experimentation upon the corpus-and the spirit which it proclaims-of our beloved Princeton.

--Frederick D. Pettit '58
Hillsborough, Calif.

Edward Prichard '35

It's flattering to be informed by Louis Jacobson '92 in his review of Short of the Glory (In Review, May 19), a recent biography of Edward F. Prichard '35, that I was part of a "tight-knit Washington intelligentsia that lived and dined together" and included Adlai Stevenson '22, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Dean Acheson, Isaiah Berlin, Drew Pearson, and Kay Graham. Flattering, yes; but not true. "Pritch" and I were indeed two of the several young men (including William Du B. Sheldon '34 and Adrian S. Fisher '34) who before the war shared digs at Hockley, the bachelor establishment that sheltered Prichard during most of his Washington years. But, not one of the luminaries mentioned above lived at Hockley.

They all knew Pritch and most of them surely admired him for his wit and wisdom despite the all-too obvious faults that eventually led him to disaster. I hope that his magnificent effort to rehabilitate himself and his major contribution to reform of Kentucky's educational system are given more sympathetic attention in the biography than they received in Jacobson's review.

--John B. Oakes '34
New York, N.Y.

"Ah, so what?"

Helen Zia '73 in her letter (Letters, July 7) states that "Ah so" is a "racial expression commonly used to denigrate people of Asian descent" and implies that Lee Minton '67 was at grievous fault in using the phrase in his letter printed in the May 19 issue concerning Gordon Wu '58.

In 1975, Emperor Hirohito and Empress Akihito of Japan paid a state visit to Washington. At the request of the Empress, patroness of the Japanese Red Cross, a courtesy call to the headquarters of the American Red Cross of which I was then president was included in their itinerary. I had arranged in my office a display of memorabilia portraying the long relationship of our two societies. The most impressive object was a great vase sent to the American Red Cross in the mid-1920s by young Emperor Hirohito in gratitude for our assistance after the Tokyo earthquake of 1923.

I expressed our pleasure in possessing such a treasure and thanked the Emperor for his thoughtfulness of a half-century earlier. When the interpreter had finished, Hirohito looked up at me and said simply, "Ah so." Thus at least one person of Asian descent-and one with impeccable credentials-had no objection to the phrase so worrisome to Ms. Zia.

--George M. Elsey '39
Washington, D.C.


The American interjection "ah" has a wide variety of regional pronunciations ("aaah," "aw," "uh," etc.); the classic Bronx version almost defies transcription. "Ah," however, is the most common spelling. "Ah, so what" may sound unusual to Ms. Zia, but it is (or, 30 years ago, was) quite audible on the streets of Philadelphia and New York (together with other, less savory expressions beginning likewise). Lee Minton '67's repetition is hardly strained; it effectively emphasizes his contention that the three cited quotations are not relevant to the matter at hand.

Ethnic slurs are not acceptable and should not be tolerated. However, Ms. Zia implies that any phrase or construction, in any context or situation, which might possibly offend someone must not be used. This is political correctness run rampant. Once the English language is purged of anything which might offend, what to do about those other languages? When speaking Spanish or Japanese, shall I avoid uttering "negro" or "a so" lest some monoglot take offense? (In Spanish, negro means "black;"" in Japanese, "a so desu ka?", sometimes shortened to "a so," may be translated as "is that right?" or "really?") An appropriate response to such absurdity: "Ah, get a life!"

--Leroy W. Demery, Jr. '75
Seattle, Wash.


Helen Zia alleges to have been an editor and never to have heard the expression "So what?" Ah, what? There is no racial humor in what I wrote. The subject was money and, especially, hubris. Ms. Zia misses the real joke-the bad one-perpetrated on the contributors to the endowment when it pours $100 million of hard-earned, after-tax cash down a conflict-of-interest drain. And PAW makes a major editorial mistake by deflecting the attention of the alumni to an utterly goofy discussion of punctuation, and in the process losing the real story-the investment management performance of the endowment-in a rubble of syntax.

--Lee Minton '67
Sparta, N.J.

World War II tanks

In his review of Yours D3, by Richard Davis '47, Field Maloney '97 refers to "huge German Panzerfaust tanks." The Panzerfaust was an antitank grenade launcher, similar to the U.S. Bazooka, but requiring only one man to operate. Any huge German tanks found in Sicily were probably Tigers (56 tons), or perhaps Mark IVs (26 tons).

--Joseph D. Coughlan '55
San Francisco, Calif.

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