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Letters from alumni about Princeton's unauthorized accessing of a Yale admission website

December 28, 2002

Dean Hargedon cannot " accept responsibility" and remain in place. He should resign or be asked to resign.

It is sad because he has done so much for Princeton, but anything else demonstrates a lack of integrity on his part and tha tof the university's as well.

Steve Ramsey '69
Fairfield, Conn.

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October 26, 2002

As the wrangling continues about the unenviable work of the admission office, may I suggest that the title of the Head of the Department be changed to the Dean of Rejections?

For many years I have heard there are many qualified applicants for each slot available in the freshman class, so it doesn't seem to be so much a question of who will be accepted, but rather how can thousands of applicants be rejected on anything approaching a rational, defendable, and explainable basis?

If any of the thousands could matriculate at Princeton if there were the places, then the one admitted could be selected by the toss of a dart. The major task then becomes one of explaining to those outside the Admissions Department why certain individuals were rejected.

Jonathan F Swain 57
Sudbury, Mass.

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October 24, 2002

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Brad Bradford ’44 that “it would be tragic to see the career of [Stephen LeMenager] demolished” as a result of a well-meant effort to test the security of the Yale website. I worked as an admission officer at Princeton with Mr. LeMenager for four years. He has impeccable integrity, and he is a very skilled, hardworking, and devoted employee of the university who shows talent and heart in his work. It should be noted that Mr. LeMenager was testing the site AFTER the decision letters for Princeton had been mailed. His actions did not have any bearing on Princeton’s admission decisions. Furthermore, he did inform Yale’s admission staff of his discovery so they could improve their security. It is a loss to the admission office and the university to end Mr. LeMenager’s role in the selection of Princeton’s future classes.

Hunter Woodman Hutchinson ‘94
Carlisle, Mass.

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October 20, 2002

President Tilghman's letter to alumni about the Great Admissions Caper had the flavor of Pravda reporting a Stalinera purge trial. Admissions Commissar Hargadon confessed his crimes and announced the date of his already-planned retirement. Deputy Admissions Commissar LeMenager, the man who pulled the caper, will work on university communications from his cell in the Lubyanka. Other admissions personnel have likewise been disciplined. President Tilghman apologized right and left for the awful deed. But this awful deed hurt no one, was not concealed, and benefited Yale's and other admissions people by warning them about the privacy-hole in Yale-type systems.

Rules were broken, but devices and systems work as well as they do because the people who develop and repair them routinely do forbidden things. (Try diagnosing trouble in an electrical device without disabling the interlock that turns off its power when its cabinet is opened.) Privacy of electronically stored information is a concern-of-the-month. It was easier for Princeton's administration to bend to fashion and throw its admissions people to the wolves than to stand up and fight for them.

Charles W. McCutchen ’50
Bethesda, Md.

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October 8, 2002

President Tilghman got it completely backwards when she failed to support Princeton's admission office in "l'affaire Yale" this summer, and instead publicly disciplined two highly respected and long serving leaders of
this office.

Several factual points are not in dispute: 1. The purpose of the database "break-in" was to check the security of a software system that the Princeton men had rejected for not having adequate safeguards. 2. The timing of the security check — after all admission decisions at both universities had been made and communicated, and using only names of those who had applied to Princeton, thus making their personal data already know to the admisssion office — made it impossible for "harm" to be done to any individual's privacy. 3. The security breach was reported to Yale by Princeton admission officers in a private forum intended to facilitate learning/cooperation between Ivy League admissions offices. 4. Neither of Princeton's admission directors saw any ethical lapse at the time of the events.

Points 2-3 above should have prevented any characterization of the events as "spying." Point 4 is evidence not of "ethical insensitivity," but of the absence of clear standards for proper behavior in our internet world — and serious differences of opinion as to what these standards should be.

Practical and legal considerations have made it clear that the primary responsibility for keeping private things private lies with the owner/operator of the database. In the nonacademic world, databases are tested relentlessly by site sponsors themselves, by competitors of site sponsors, by competitor software makers, by independent consultants, by official "watch-dogs," and, yes, by hackers. The operators/sponsors of Internet sites usually welcome security break-ins that are "benign" as to intent, that do no harm, and that are voluntarily reported to them.

The proper outcome for "l'affaire Yale" should have been a letter from the president of Yale apologizing to its accepted applicants for having, inadvertently, exposed private information on Yale's Internet site through inadequate security...and another letter thanking Princeton for bringing this situation to their attention, both back in May.

Whether someone in the Yale admission office should be punished for failure to do the obvious with respect to Internet site sponsorship is best left to Yale.

New technology, and the possible harm it can cause or facilitate, is an ongoing problem. Princeton's idea of a solution — blame the messenger — is truly unhelpful.

John F. McNiff ' 64
New York, N.Y.

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October 3, 2002

I was sadly disappointed after reading the article "Admission Office Investigated" in the September 11 issue outlining the investigation of the Princeton admissions personnel hacking into the Yale applicant website. I guess now I have another reason to contribute to Yale.

Richard W. Kadel *77 (Yale ’73)
Berkeley, Calif.

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September 2, 2002

In his August 26 letter to the PAW, Neal F. Grenley '69 asks: "Does President Tilghman really expect Princeton graduates of any era to be impressed by her handling of this incident?"

I am.

There is, of course, no denying that what the Princeton admission staff did was wrong. But can we please put this in perspective? No one was enriched by these actions. No one was physically harmed or threatened. There was no intent to defraud. In fact, the invasion of privacy was relatively minor, so much so that the Princeton admission staff didn't even think to not discuss it at the Ivy League admissions meeting. No names were released to the public, and no embarrassing details of the students' academic or personal lives appear to have gone outside the walls of West College.

I cannot imagine what President Tilghman's detractors would have her do? Would it be even possible to conduct a more fair, thorough and independent investigation? Should she fire the perpetrators with extreme prejudice, in spite of their years of exemplary service? Deprive them of their livelihood, health insurance, and retirement benefits over a single incident? I doubt that Stephen LeManager would ever get another university job, and I suspect his internal transfer would essentially end his career progression at Princeton anyway. Does a single incident of bad judgment, with the outcome I described above, really warrant more than an internal transfer and demotion? Would Dean Hargadon's unceremonious dismissal just months before retirement do anything other than send a message that Princeton University values political expediency above fact? Maybe public flogging would satisfy the mob.

Personnel matters are a serious business, and President Tilghman's response was measured, compassionate, and just. I am relieved that she has the strength of character to resist the demands of the uniformed and to treat a loyal employee fairly. We should all be so lucky to have a boss like that.

Michael Braun '92
Philadelphia, Pa.

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August 31, 2002

Fred Hargadon's straightforward apology
for the break-in into Yale's admission website is very much to his credit.

On the other hand, Shirley Tilghman's long and flaccid statement on the matter stinks. As as a one-time chairman of an Alumni Schools Committee, I know that top universities are in as fierce competition for the best candidates as the candidates are for getting into those schools. So don't tell us that the site was visited out of "simple curiosity." And to "demonstrate the site." Why bring up LeMenager's "surprise" that "there was no security beyond name, birth date and social security number"? Does his surprise at the ease with which you could use someone else's private identity to get in diminish the offense? Imagine a burglar's "surprise" at the low-grade quality of a lock as a mitigating factor in his crime.

"One of the lessons of this experience is that even individuals with a high degree of sensitivity to ethical principles in traditional settings can fail to be equally sensitive when technology is involved". Oh God...

The lesson for me is that Princeton's moral stance, of which the honor system has been such an outstanding example, has been compromised not only by this conspicuously humiliating break-in but also by the pseudo-moralistic back-and-filling on the part of the person principally responsible for running the place.

To paraphrase an expression of one of the president's star acquisitions to the faculty, the sanctimoniousness and subliminal prevarication of her statement makes her sound like the Yasser Arafat of the academic world.

Gerry Dryansky '59
Paris, France

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August 27, 2002

My August 13, 2002, correspondence from Shirley M Tilghman and Fred Hargadon regarding the Yale caper, under normal circumstances would have provoked an enormous belly laugh. Had they been written 50 years ago we all would have recognized the tongue and cheek nature of the commentary and given three cheers for the offending party.

Sadly such is not the case in the politically correct atmosphere of Princeton. One can become outraged by the over competitive nature of a staff member while at the same time condoning student courses in aberrant sexual behavior, over sight of honor code, the need for massive protection against theft (which never occurred during my undergraduate years) or a one-sided political bias which is totally dismissive of the university's traditional demand for balanced and fair inquiry.

Charlie Huber ’51
Greenwich, Conn.

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August 26, 2002

President Tilghman's statement of August 13, 2002, is, in sum and substance, a ritualistic apology devoid of substantive consequences to the Princeton administrators who embarrassed the university, compromised its integrity, and caused the diversion of its resources to underwrite an "independent investigation."

Dean Hargadon, despite "more than four decades" of association with Princeton, failed to discern right from wrong in the antics of his associate dean, and will gracefully retire at the end of the next academic year.

Associate Dean LeMenager, who demonstrated both a profound lack of judgment and any sense whatsoever of professional courtesy to a sister institution notwithstanding his "almost twenty years" at Princeton, is reassigned.

Although President Tilghman's statement is ambiguous on the subject, Dean LeMenager appears to have a continuing place on Princeton's payroll.

Both Messrs. Hargadon and LeMenager are affirmatively praised by President Tilghman on the occasion of their respective malfeasances, for being such wonderful people. The underlings in our stellar admission office, who, charitably, cannot be expected to tell right from wrong because obviously their leadership cannot, are to be the subject of unspecified "disciplinary actions." Of course, there will be re-education, training, and new policies for all.

This, then, is President Tilghman's response to administrators who by all accounts displayed an astounding lack of propriety and common sense, whose behavior piqued the curiosity of a U.S. attorney, and who generally made Princeton a laughing stock.

Does President Tilghman really expect Princeton graduates of any era to be impressed by her handling of this incident?

In the year 2002, it would of course be asking far too much to have expected Dean Hargadon and Associate Dean LeManager to have resigned immediately on their own volition in order to spare Princeton the embarrassment of all of this. But is it also asking too much for President Tilghman to respond to this affront to the Princeton University community in a meaningful way that indicates she, unlike the admission office, actually comprehends the breach of the university's core values that was committed?

Neal F. Grenley ’69
Scarsdale, N.Y.

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August 26, 2002

The public expiations of President Shirley Tilghman and admission dean Fred Hargadon over the use of private data to access Yale's admission website seem to echo the victims of Stalin's purge trials of the 1930s.

The Princeton intruders seemed motivated either by curiosity or concerns over website security. No victims, no compromising of either school's admission decisions.

Yes, it was a mistake, from which one should learn not to do it again. But sacking the associate director of admission after 20 years of service, and implying that Hargadon must leave earlier than he otherwise would, seems incredibly harsh. One strike and you're out.

No one at the May 2002 meeting of college admissions personnel took offense at Princeton officials' "invasion of privacy." In fact no one seemed upset until the Yale Daily News was about to break the story. Then everyone got religion and proclaimed "mea culpa." Heads had to roll. What an obscene display!

Armin Rosencranz '58
Stanford, Calif.

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Editor's note: The associate dean of admission was not sacked, as the letterwriter states, but reassigned. Dean Hargadon was not asked to leave earlier than he otherwise would have. The announcement of his retirement was made earlier than had been planned.

August 19, 2002

Ornery Bulldog Bites Curious Tiger

At the exact culmination of months of intense reviewing of thousands of applications, an undoubtedly exhausted Princeton admissions staff unwittingly stumbled on a surprising lapse of security in Yale's admissions website.

Acting only out of impulsive curiosity, and after it was too late to inappropriately use any "confidential" information gathered (even if it were so inclined to do so, which does not appear to be the case at all), the admissions office acted naively in accessing the site.

It failed to take into account the potential for a media frenzy and possible legal ramifications for its careless but not ill-intentioned actions.

Though guilty of poor judgment and neglectful oversight in the heat of battle, the subsequent sincere apology by Princeton to Yale, and its commitment to ensure that the situation does not occur again, is enough of a remedy. But heads rolling is an unforgiving over-reaction by Princeton done mostly because of political correctness, intimidation by the media, and hyper-concern over its pristine moral stature.

And who at Yale has been reprimanded for its own (and arguably more serious) neglect in this matter? And why did the Yale admissions officer (or anyone else) not rise up in indignation when the insufficient lack of security on the Yale website was first discussed in a meeting of admissions officers in May?

If I were a Yale applicant, I might be flattered to learn that the Princeton took enough interest in me to ascertain simply whether I was admitted.

Dr. LeManager and the other staff members at worse should be grounded for the weekend, but not kicked out of the house.

Sandy Harrison '74
Ardmore, Pa.

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August 17, 2002

What is going on at our beloved Old Nassau?

Has our fear of Yale become so obsessive that we have reached the same low level of morality as those who would place our economic system in jeopardy by bending the rules in some cases and outright breaking thern in others?

I ask what was in it for Mr. LeMenager? What possibly could have been in it for him to put the university in this most embarrassing situation — a better performance review maybe, a promotion for doing outstanding sleuthing for the admission office maybe, a pat on the back for getting information illegally maybe, or heaven knows what else?

I do not deny that the world of university admissions is competitive, but it's a competitive world everywhere. I was not aware we are supposed to accept not playing by the rules is, in fact, one of the rules. Do we really need to have the reputation of Princeton sullied by this act of arrogance? Is this the kind of culture we are subconsciously fostering in our staff? What kind of signal does this send to our students? It seems we have strayed more than a little from the days of signing the honor code.

I think this administration has an opportunity to send a very strong message to the entire community — students, family, faculty, staff, alumni, the town, and all other interested parties that such behavior is not only abhorrent, it is totally unacceptable to society in general, but to Princeton University in particular, and will always be met with the most severe punishment available.

Having said this I am willing to accept suspension with pay for Mr. LeMenager until all the facts are in but assuming his action was willful and the facts as we know them today are true how can we accept anything but dismissal and pursuit of any legal recourse available.

In the Wall Street Journal article of July 26, the Boston attorney Mr. Lee Gesmer mentioned potential trouble for Princeton in the areas of civil trespass, fraud, and invasion of privacy. That sounds like pretty heavy stuff to me! Go after it administration! The rest of us will just live with the shame.

I was hours away from mailing the above letter to the editor of the PAW when the news broke that Mr. LeMenager is not going to be dismissed but "reassigned." Mr. LeMenager broke into the Yale website because he wanted to see how secure the website was? Give me a break! If the administration accepts that story as true (which apparently is the case) then we have some real soul searching to do if we have a soul left!

We can't have it both ways — a slap on the wrist (reassignment) on the one hand and the dean of admissions admitting "inappropriate actions" and promising to restore integrity to the admission process on the other.

Sorry, but I don't buy it! Too bad we didn't take the opportunity to send the right message.

Hap Fuller '54
Asheville, N.C.

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August 3, 2002

The unwelcome headlines involving the Office of Admission bring to mind an alumni luncheon I attended many years ago in Philadelphia. The guest speaker was an admission officer who offered, for our entertainment, a 30-minute recitation of gross misrepresentations he had uncovered in the prior couple of years from applicants desperate to become Princetonians. It was sad to hear about debasements self-inflicted by otherwise promising young people; but it was much sadder and more unseemly to witness the jocularity with which the speaker presented and much of the audience received the details.

I wrote President Bowen at the time that the admission office might be well advised to find a little humility while serving as final arbiter of the deepest aspirations of so many students at such a vulnerable time in their lives.

Now that it is the admission office whose dishonor is the subject of gleeful retelling — nationwide — perhaps that humility is at hand.

Ed Chambliss '71
Morris Township, N.J.

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July 29, 2002

On July 27, 2002 I read in the Newark Star-Ledger that Princeton admission officers had hacked into Yale's admission website as an "experiment." This behavior, if it occurred, is certainly juvenile and possibly much worse. It demonstrates a serious lack of judgment in people with a prominent role in determining the nature of the university.

On October 10, 2001 PAW carried my letter expressing concern about the lack of response to a letter of recommendation by me to the admission office. Through other sources (I still have not received a response) I learned that the official excuse for not acknowledging recommendation letters is that there are too many of them.

Perhaps if Princeton's admission office would spend more time on its files rather than Yale's, these letters could be acknowledged. Or maybe the letters should be sent to Yale?

Robert C. Lang, Jr. ’70
Warren, N.J.

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July 29, 2002

Now that expert electronic hackers have come to Princeton, I think it’s time for me to make a full confession, before they investigate and humiliate me.

I flunked out of Princeton after midyear exams my junior year. The cause: my not doing any work.

Later, standing on the rickety ladder of success in Madison Avenue, I claimed authorship of this jingle:

Rich, delicious ice cream, you will love it
Two chocolate layers, below and above it
Better than anything mother used to make —
An ice cream sandwich —Eskimo Cake.

It was a rotten lie. I had nothing to do with it. The true author was copy writer John H. Hines, friend and a 1937 graduate of Princeton, with honors.

Beyond that, my life has been totally blameless, save for a few slips here and there hardly worth mentioning.

David G. McAneny ’41
Granada Hills, Calif.

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July 29, 2002

It would be tragic to see the career of Director of Admission Stephen LeMenager demolished if his hacking of the Yale files truly stemmed from an effort to test their security.

Of course, he should have let Yale know he planned to do just that, but who among us has not made a dumb move with good intentions?

Brad Bradford ’44
Highland Park, Ill.

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July 29, 2002

I write in reference to the more than disturbing practice by the Princeton admission office as reported in the New York Times article on July 26, 2002, titled “Princeton Pries Into Web Site for Yale Applicants.”

As a Princeton alumnus, it is an understatement to say that I was dismayed and humiliated by the actions of admission officials who have apparently found it more valuable to pry into the confidential information of Yale applicants rather than spend their time carefully and thoughtfully evaluating the credentials of those hard-working high school students who decided to apply to Princeton as an institution they believed to be at the forefront of education.

To add to my frustration is the thought that law enforcement officials will now have to expend valuable resources investigating Princeton personnel rather than pursuing more important concerns.

I urge that Princeton’s significant misstep, which belies any signs of good judgment or ethical consideration, is in no way representative of its student body, present or former. We can only hope that the discovery of this unfortunate practice on a campus that prides itself with an honor code is not an ominous forewarning of the integrity and competence, or lack thereof, of the new administration under President Tilghman.

Aaron M. Rubin ’94
New York, N.Y.

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July 27, 2002

I can remember my grandfather (William Zinsser ’09) singing the "The Cannon Song" to me 50 years ago and the words came back to me with this morning's headlines about the Yale admission website penetration.

"Crash through the line of blue ......Princeton's honor to defend."

There are other ways to crash through that line. It is dispiriting indeed to learn of this breach of honor, especially in this season of corporate malfeasance.

One of the highest rated universities had little to gain and now has a whole lot to lose. It is not up to the admission office to "send backs 'round the end!"

Edward Z. Walworth '66
Lewiston, Maine

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July 25, 2002

Recent disclosures in the New York Times about "serious lapses in judgment" by the Princeton Office of Admission are no surprise to me. The fact that the FBI has been called into the case is to be expected for a Princeton that has apparently decided to become "another Harvard" and to do whatever it takes to achieve that. Has Princeton become the Enron of Ivy League universities?

After being admitted to both Harvard and Princeton, I chose Princeton because it offered me the opportunity for a residential experience, congeniality, actual (not mythical) access to top faculty members, and a kind of gentle laid-back atmosphere in which ideas could be discussed at length and with passion. That was my Princeton, and is the reason that — until recently — I've been a loyal supporter of the university.

Sadly, Princeton's attempt to out-Harvard that grand but not very viable place in Cambridge is reflected in the absurd competition for faculty members who'll never be seen by ordinary undergraduates, by an admission policy which discounts any interest in or loyalty to Princeton, and now in this engaging in "dirty tricks" in the admissions game.

I will continue to revere the four years I spent at Princeton, and will continue to be active with my class — 1957, and will give to my class forever and to our groundbreaking Classmates Fund, which cares for our own, regardless of whatever fates have left them less fortunate than the rest of us. But I will not contribute to the Princeton, which now, sadly, is in the news for its intense efforts to become something it was never intended to be.

John W. Milton, Jr. ’57
Afton, Minn.

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