Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary

March 13, 2002:
Buying in
An old alum comes to terms with Princeton’s New Deal

By Hugh O'Bleary

My old poker pal Stu is in a snit (we like to say he’s "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 he’s 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 don’t they just turn it into an all-women’s school and be done with it?" is one of his frequent refrains.

Needless to say, for a fellow of Stu’s 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 woman’s 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. "Couldn’t 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 hadn’t 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 he’d be in a good mood considering he’d finished 17 bucks ahead. But he didn’t want to talk poker. He had the paper in his hand and it was clear something had caught his interest. "Now she’s gone and done it," he said. I didn’t 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 it’s almost as shameless. She’s going to give the Baccalaureate address. Isn’t 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 wasn’t ready to give up. "I’m telling you," he said, as we chugged through New Brunswick, "this is going to come back to bite Princeton right in the baccalaureate—if you get my drift." I must have looked as lost as I felt, because he leaned very close and whispered, "One word, O’Bleary: 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 they’re stuck with the name, too. Do you know there’s 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? It’s a disgrace!"

I pointed out that some of the country’s finest universities had long been funded by some of history’s 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. "I’m talking about tales of shame and infamy ripped from today’s headlines. What university wants to be associated with that?"

"But eBay?" I said, incredulous. "That’s the nation’s garage sale. What could be more wholesome?"

"Mark my words," he said. "We can’t be too careful." We spent the rest of the ride in silence. Two days later the phone in my office rang. It was Stu. "It’s starting," he said. "What’s starting" I asked.

"‘Man Sought in eBay Scam,’" he said.


"‘Man Sought in eBay Scam!’ It’s the headline in today’s paper." As it turned out, he was right. According to news reports, the FBI and the Oakland county sheriff’s 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 don’t trust her," he said and hung up. Since then I’ve been pondering what I can do to make Stu see things differently, to embrace Princeton’s not-so-new era, and finally to celebrate the success and prominence of one of his fellow alums. I think I’ve come up with it. I invited Meg to our next poker game.

You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" paw@princeton.edu