Web Exclusives: On the Campus

April 19, 2006:

Getting in, and tuning in

By P.G. Sittenfeld ’07

The results from Princeton’s annual version of academic bicker ­ applying to the Woodrow Wilson School ­ came back in mid-March with the reality that not all policy-wonk-wannabes are created equal.

Of the 156 students who applied to the University’s only selective major, 90 earned slots.  The fortunate 58 percent admitted are predictably pleased to be plugged into the prominent institution.

“The faculty is superb and they constantly bring in brilliant dignitaries and statesmen,” said Thomas Dollar ’08.  “There aren’t a whole lot of other places where 20-year-olds get to work and interact with these kinds of people.”  

The selection committee’s primary criterion in reviewing applications is that students demonstrate, in the two brief statements they are required to write, a genuine interest in public policy.

“I tell students at our information session that many of them are only there because their type-A personalities give them a need for competition,” said Professor Stanley Katz, chairman of the Undergraduate Program Committee.  “That usually gets a lot of nervous laughter.”

Ria Dutta ’08 admits to being one of those students who was attracted to the selectivity and prestige just as much as to the prospect of an education in public policy.  “The University’s administration would never say this, but I think it’s clear from their actions that they care more about the Wilson School than other majors,” Dutta said.

An often-pondered question: Should the Wilson School be selective at all?  Should supply simply match demand?  

If all interested students were admitted to the program, the number of faculty advisers would be spread much too thin, according to Katz, who points out that the size of the undergraduate program has grown by 50 percent over the past decade.

Eager diplomats-to-be should keep polishing those resumes; Woody Woo has no plans to alter its admissions process anytime soon.

“It’s meritocratic elitism,” Katz said.  “I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”

THE BIG BUZZ  ON CAMPUS during the Oscars didn’t have anything to do with the actual awards.  Students spiffed up in evening gowns and black tie and rolled out the red carpet in Frist Campus Center to celebrate the launch of Princeton Student Television Network (PSTN).  Members of PSTN debuted first episodes of four shows ­ a news program and three sitcoms.  Several more shows, including a game show, a reality TV  show, and a business program are all scheduled for first screenings before the end of the  academic year.  

“Just like the Academy Awards do for film, we were celebrating the shows we’ve created,” said station manager Greg Marx ’07 of the Oscar night festivities.  The event even featured an open bar for students of drinking age.

One of the sitcoms that debuted was “Princeton Sprint” ­ the show’s title meant to mock the woes of the University’s sprint football team, which, prior to winning its final game this year, had lost 40 straight contests.

“It’s about a bunch of college guys dealing with being mediocre at a place of excellence,” said Ben Fast ’06, a writer, actor, and producer for the show.  Fast said his experiences with Triangle Club, Quipfire!, and Tiger magazine ­ the major campus comedy outlets ­ provided the necessary background to write a pilot.

The reward, according to Fast, lies in the magic of the medium.  “There’s a certain mystique to producing a show for television, even if it’s something more low-budget like this,” he said.  “When you’re on set and you hear someone yell, ‘Action!’ it’s exciting.”

For many participants, PSTN is their first experience in television and is providing its own kind of education.  “This has been a learn-as-we-go process,” said Erika Duke ’08, who is director of development for the station and also acts in a sitcom called “Grounds for Expulsion.”  “At a lot of other schools, we would have the option of majoring in broadcasting if we wanted,” Duke said.

The current schedule of shows occupies only a modest portion of the station’s available airtime, but PSTN’s organizers say that’s OK for now. 

“What would normally take five years, we’re trying to do in two,” said Marx.  “We’re going forward at 100 mph, making our mistakes and moving on quickly.”

Princeton’s Development Office has granted PSTN permission to attempt to raise up to $100,000 from alumni.  The ultimate goal, according to Marx, is to have up to 30 different shows airing weekly.

Members of the fledgling station recognize they have challenges ahead, but are pleased with progress to date.  Fast recalls a friend telling him, “Everything I’ve heard about this project leads me to believe it won’t happen.”

PSTN’s response: Take that!  And, oh, tune in!

P.G. Sittenfeld ’07 is an English major from Cincinnati, Ohio.