Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary
March 13, 2002:
An old alum comes to terms with Princetons New Deal
By Hugh O'Bleary
My old poker pal Stu is in a snit (we like to say hes "all
Stu-ed up") over Meg Whitman 77. Stu (Class of 72,
engineering major-turned real estate developer, weekend golfer,
tends to bluff the full when hes only got two pair) is one
of those sons of Old Nassau who clearly are less than thrilled with
the fact that there are daughters of Old Nassau. "Why dont
they just turn it into an all-womens school and be done with
it?" is one of his frequent refrains.
Needless to say, for a fellow of Stus enlightened outlook,
Whitman offers a full, rich sampler of galling realities. Not only
is she a Princeton graduate, she also happens to be the president
and chief executive officer of eBay, the online auction powerhouse.
The womans net worth? Somewhere north of half a billion dollars.
The announcement last month that Whitman is giving $30 million to
Princeton to pay for a new residential college, one that would be
called Whitman College and would per force house women Tigers, sent
Stu into a fresh round of grumbling.
"Thirty million?" he said over a hand of high-low stud
last week. "Couldnt she have gotten it cheaper on line?"
I said that I thought that was an ungrateful attitude to take and
suggested he was just touchy because he hadnt even paid his
class dues. "Hah!" he said and raised me a quarter. It
was going to be one of those nights.
The next morning I ran into Stu on the train. I figured hed
be in a good mood considering hed finished 17 bucks ahead.
But he didnt want to talk poker. He had the paper in his hand
and it was clear something had caught his interest. "Now shes
gone and done it," he said. I didnt have to ask who "she"
was. "What?" I said. "Has she bought the naming rights
to the stadium?"
He gave me a long look. "No, but its almost as shameless.
Shes going to give the Baccalaureate address. Isnt that
a coincidence, after she just happened to give the university a
few million dollars?" "Maybe," I said, "the
students are interested in hearing what an incredibly successful
dot-commer has to say at this particular point in history."
I shrugged. "And, after all," I added, "she is an
alumna." We rode in silence for a while, but Stu wasnt
ready to give up. "Im telling you," he said, as
we chugged through New Brunswick, "this is going to come back
to bite Princeton right in the baccalaureateif you get my
drift." I must have looked as lost as I felt, because he leaned
very close and whispered, "One word, OBleary: Enron."
"Enron?" I said.
"Enron," he said. "There are universities all over
the country who took money from Enron to endow programs and chairs.
And now what have they got?" "The money?" I said.
"Well, yeah," said Stu. "But the thing is theyre
stuck with the name, too. Do you know theres a Kenneth L.
Lay professorship of political science at the University of Houston?
An Enron professorship in economics at Nebraska? A Kenneth Lay chair
in international economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia?
A Ken Lay Center for the Study of Markets in Transition at Rice?
Its a disgrace!"
I pointed out that some of the countrys finest universities
had long been funded by some of historys most infamous robber
barons. "Leland Stanford built his fortune on exploited railroad
workers," I said. "Even old Andrew Carnegie remember
his vicious suppression of the Homestead strike?" "Ancient
history," barked Stu. "Im talking about tales of
shame and infamy ripped from todays headlines. What university
wants to be associated with that?"
"But eBay?" I said, incredulous. "Thats the
nations garage sale. What could be more wholesome?"
"Mark my words," he said. "We cant be too careful."
We spent the rest of the ride in silence. Two days later the phone
in my office rang. It was Stu. "Its starting," he
said. "Whats starting" I asked.
"Man Sought in eBay Scam," he said.
"Man Sought in eBay Scam! Its the headline
in todays paper." As it turned out, he was right. According
to news reports, the FBI and the Oakland county sheriffs department
were looking for a man accused of bilking nearly 100 buyers on eBay
out of as much as $500,000 money they had sent him for
Wee Forest Folk figurines. I tried to explain to Stu that eBay
and by extension his bete noire (et orange) Meg Whitman was
in no way responsible for any figurine finagling that took place
on its site. "I just dont trust her," he said and
hung up. Since then Ive been pondering what I can do to make
Stu see things differently, to embrace Princetons not-so-new
era, and finally to celebrate the success and prominence of one
of his fellow alums. I think Ive come up with it. I invited
Meg to our next poker game.
You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" email@example.com