Summer Camp Guide 2008

January 23, 2008: Letters

Lessons from a war: Alumni respond

Math at Princeton

Blessing and burden

Global studies

Exercising leadership

Whitman College views

Teaching Vietnam

Endowment math

Sprint football's woes

From the Archives

PAW Letter Box Online
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Lessons from a war: Alumni respond

Thank you for printing “Lessons from a war” (cover story, Nov. 7). It is good that you honor my sisters and brothers for their service in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. That the focus of the article is upon positive lessons is by no means a flaw. Even so, I mention some additional lessons.

Certainly since Vietnam, Princetonians have borne a disproportionately small share of the burden of U.S. wars. Whether the predominant opinion among us is that a war is justified or not, this collective abdication of responsibility deprives our country of thinking that the military badly needs, deprives individuals of nuanced connections to country that only veterans fully understand, and deepens the profound gap between elite intellectuals and mainstream patriots. “We” are not doing our part, and “they” know it. The United States should have mandatory, universal national service, including the possibility of involuntary military service.

The decision to go to war should include the corollaries that the wealthy will bear a large share of the financial cost and that the children of the elite will bear a proportionate share of the human cost.

The most important lesson — and one our society has difficulty learning — is that many of those who return from war without disabling physical injuries have suffered deep wounds to their souls. The wounds may now be latent, but they are there. This is true of “good” wars as well as “bad.” To my brothers and sisters I say, “Welcome home. Thank you for serving. Take care of yourselves — your humanity as well as your leadership skills. And take care of your country. You have an uncommon breadth of wisdom.”

JOHN NEELY ’67 p’01
101st Airborne Division, Vietnam, 1968–69
Salem, Mass.

As one who opposed the invasion of Iraq, I had mixed emotions when I read “Lessons from a war.” I respect the fact that Princeton has alumni in Iraq and that this can be defined as “Princeton in the nation’s service.”

Yet I can’t help questioning what service are they performing by being associated with an effort that has devastated a country that, in spite of numerous claims to the contrary, never was a threat to the United States.

“... And in the service of all nations”: I don’t believe that “all nations,” especially Iraq, would agree that our military (including Princeton alumni) was performing a service while blasting the Iraqi population to hell and gone. We know our deaths are approaching 4,000; we’ll probably never know the extent of civilian deaths.

We certainly are servicing war-profiteering companies like Halliburton and Blackwater, while adding a trillion dollars to our national debt.

For alumni seeking “a deeper education,” why not try the Peace Corps or simply working with the homeless? Now that really would be “Princeton in the nation’s service.”

Naples, Fla.

“Lessons from a war” is particularly valuable for four reasons. First, it demonstrates Princeton’s commitment to educate young men and women who become members of the armed forces that defend and protect this country.

Second, it reveals the deep difficulties encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the substantial contributions made by members of the armed forces far beyond the war-fighting aspects of their assignments. Third, it indicates the positive attitude and rapid learning of the present generation of young officers in the field. Finally, it highlights the significant gap between the skills and attributes that generate real-time performance in the field and those needed for academic achievement — always a useful reminder for an academic audience.

Princeton can be proud of its sons and daughters profiled in this piece, and the editorial staff of PAW is to be complimented for having the good judgment to print it.

Webster, N.Y.

The article “Lessons from a war” struck me as both shallow and flat. None of the men or women interviewed offered any serious reflection on what their service means in the war effort. I would not expect any person serving in the war zones to question the American war effort, but the article would have been far more interesting and worthwhile had the author attempted to elicit some thought from these individuals as to why they are there and what they are accomplishing. One would expect that each of these service people supports the war effort, but considering that a significant portion of the American population has serious doubts about the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not a single interviewee expressed any views about the greater meaning of the war effort.

Surely there must be some meaning and passion in these Princetonians who have chosen to serve, but nothing of this comes through in the article.

Union City, N.J.

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Math at Princeton

I loved your “Math Mecca” article (feature, Nov. 7). I was a graduate mechanical engineering student and frankly had a difficult time with my math courses, but years later I find that the things I learned there are at least as useful (if not more so) in my daily life as the engineering classes I had. One of the main things I remember was all the work just to prove that there was a unique solution to the problem — we didn’t even get to what the solution was, just that there could be one. At the time it seemed like a lot of effort for almost nothing in return, but it turns out to be a very useful way for looking at engineering problems — sometimes you need to know whether or not there can be a solution to a problem before you spend limited resources trying to find out the exact answer. In the popular books on creative thinking and problem-solving, you don’t see that approach being used.

I would encourage those in mathematics — whether or not everyone understands them or what they do — to keep working and thinking, as most of the problems in the world need their help in finding good solutions.

Westfield, Ind.

Merrell Noden ’78’s lovely article, “Math Mecca,” brought me back to my younger days when our close band of friends, calling ourselves the Wigner Society in honor of the great Princeton mathematical physicist Eugene Wigner, used to worship Fine-Jadwin. I do mean worship, for to us, invigorated by the blood of youth, being able to pursue mathematics and physics at Princeton was not for a degree, but for the enlightenment of the soul and for the purification of the mind.

We toiled, debated, derived, proved, and sipped tea, all in imitation of the grand masters who dwelled in the common rooms of Fine and Jadwin. I have upon occasions kissed the stone floor of Fine Tower, as a pilgrim would to a holy shrine (ironic also, that it was in the lounge at the top of Fine that I first kissed a girl). Years have gone past and some of us have become professional mathematicians, but these memories of youth remain fresh in my mind and Mr. Noden’s article, like an old photo album, evoked the sweetest nostalgia.

As I sit in my office here at Merton, Andrew Wiles’ undergraduate college at Oxford, where I research and teach mathematical physics, humbled by the scholastic tradition and the breathtaking view of the medieval walls outside my window, there is not a single day in which I do not also fondly remember the warmth of my Fine-Jadwin cradle at Princeton. And rest assured, no matter where my own small mathematical adventures may take me, there will always be a hue of orange flowing through my veins to embolden and fortify my spirit.

Merton College, University of Oxford
Oxford, England

In Merrell Noden’s fine piece on the Princeton math department, he made an understandable error about the oral history interviews’ location “on the math department Web site.” While it is true the department’s quick links page allows one to view the transcripts, all of the files are stored on Mudd Manu-script Library server space, where they have resided since a former Princeton undergraduate and now professor of math at Villanova, Robert Jantzen ’74, converted the paper transcripts in 2000. Readers may access the pages by pointing their browser directly to: 

The original manuscripts reside at Mudd, should anyone wish to consult them.

Princeton University Archivist

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Blessing and burden

As a parent, a pediatrician, and a person, I am delighted to know that young Jasper is healthy and well. That, after all, is all that really matters. I would add, though, that I was more than a little dismayed to read in Laura Vanderkam ’01’s Perspective essay in the Oct. 24 issue such comments as “that way my baby wouldn’t slow my progress so much” and that once Jasper was delivered, she felt “freed from [her] burdens.”

I have no doubt that Ms. Vanderkam is a good person, but I fear she is also emblematic of a new breed of young mothers (and fathers too, by the way) for whom children, not just after birth but now prenatally too, it would seem, represent a bit of an inconvenience. Certainly it would not do to have her unborn baby “interrupt [her] training” or prevent her from “drinking moderately” or “safari[ing] in Africa.” (God forbid that she might follow medical advice in such matters, and thank that same God that her baby is well.)

The simple reality is that a child is both a blessing and a burden at the same time. It is because we love children so much that we happily take on the latter. When I first started in medicine 32 years ago, parents would come to me to help make their children well. Oftentimes now, however, the goal seems more to make it convenient for them to be sick. Priorities have changed, and most certainly not for the better. I know it to be true, but I rarely have seen such ideas dignified in print and never imagined such values to be espoused as being positive.

STEVE TOWNEND ’71 p’05, M.D.
Devon, Pa.
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Global studies

I applaud President Tilghman’s initiatives to promote “stronger international dimensions” within the University by recruiting more foreign scholars to teach on campus (Notebook, Nov. 7). To do so, however, Princeton will have to flex some of its considerable muscle to counteract a growing and alarming trend by the State Department to deny and revoke teaching visas for visiting scholars.

My daughter was inspired to become a Near Eastern studies major at Princeton during an NES seminar on Islamic fundamentalism taught by a highly regarded visiting scholar from the philosophy department of the University of Damascus, Professor Sadik al-Azm. Professor al-Azm was a gifted teacher who was honored by Dartmouth during his stay at Princeton for his “intellectual battles on behalf of progressivism, historicism, and modernity” in the field of religious fundamentalism. My daughter was sorely disappointed when his seminar scheduled for fall 2007 was canceled abruptly because of apparent visa problems.

While I am unfamiliar with the particulars of Professor al-Azm’s situation, the problem of the blocking or revocation of visas for foreign scholars by the State Department is undeniable and well documented. To name just a few of the better publicized cases: Yoannis Milios, economics professor from the National University of Athens, was denied a visa to speak at a SUNY conference; Nicaraguan historian Dora Maria Tellez was denied a visa to teach Latin American studies at Harvard; Swiss citizen Tariq Ramadam was denied a visa to teach at Notre Dame; Carlos Alzugaray Treto, Harvard research fellow and visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins, was denied a visa to attend the Latin American Studies Association annual conference in Dallas; Bolivian historian Waskar Ari was denied a visa to teach at the Uni-versity of Nebraska; British citizen Nalini Ghuman was denied a visa to teach music at Mills College; Panaman-ian Marixa Lasso was denied a visa to teach history at Case Western Reserve.

Many of these scholars were educated in the United States, and virtually all of them had longstanding contacts with American universities and colleges before the revocations and denials. Let’s hope that Princeton can do something constructive to reverse this disturbing post-Sept. 11 trend so that the proposals in “Princeton and the world” can come to fruition.

Kansas City, Mo.

I was interested to read that globalization has prompted “new international initiatives.” What I know to be true is that, as your article states, “undergraduates faced ‘very significant’ obstacles in the past to spending semesters abroad.” The fact of the matter is, however, they still do, and the greatest source of these obstacles is the discouragement (by lack of encouragement) that they face from many advisers and professors regarding the need for such study. A six-week summer exposure, in most cases a near-mindless joyride, is no substitute for real immersion.

Princeton, like the other Ivies, is just beginning to wake up from its long slumber of ignorance about the extraordinarily important linguistic, cultural, academic, and psychological benefits of an extended study-abroad experience. I have served as general director or resident director of the Hamilton College Academic Year in Spain program (Madrid) for over 33 years, and have seen firsthand the vast difference in attitude toward study abroad between that of Princeton and most other top institutions of higher learning in the United States. If students “still may not be able to travel abroad during the academic year,” it is not because of required independent work (which can now be done easily with consultations by e-mail), nor any other reason except for the refusal of so many on the campus to recognize the value of what is almost inevitably a life-changing educational experience.

Perhaps an affiliation signed a year ago between Princeton and the Hamilton program will help to break down these barriers at least in the case of study in Spain, but the proof of this is yet to surface.

Hamilton College
Clinton, N.Y.
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Exercising leadership

We read with great interest PAW’s recent coverage of the Woodrow Wilson School student task force that looked into ways to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions on the Princeton campus (cover story, Oct. 10). What seemed to be missing was any discussion of Princeton carrying out those proposals.

We hope President Tilghman and the trustees decide to exercise leadership in these areas. Princeton, with its strengths in science, engineering, and policy, is especially well situated to demonstrate that there are ways (some already proven and some more innovative) that an organization can benefit the environment and its own bottom line at the same time.

In the spirit of Princeton in the nation’s service, we hope the University will consider adopting some of these proposals.

Wakefield, Mass.
Deep River, Conn.
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Whitman College views

I’m appalled at the excess of design compromise and the banal student environment evidenced in the photographs of Whitman College (cover story, Nov. 21).

I concur on the whole with the trustees’ decision to set aside a quadrant of the campus to neo-gothic and other traditional styles — President Tilghman gave a rational explanation in her Oct. 24 message in PAW — and I never visit the campus without paying homage to such Cram & Ferguson gems as Holder Court and, above all, that beautifully scaled space known as Hamilton Court.

Whitman, however, is neither fish nor fowl. It is a sort of deflowered gothic, inside and out — a sad effort at compromise between full-fledged gothic, and Modernism. It fails in this, as have all attempts at splitting an architectural difference by trying to please both sides.

Surely Princeton can do better. How can our students become discriminating judges of good architecture once they go out into the world as clients, as most of them will at some stage in their careers, after spending four or more formative years in such trite surroundings?

New York, N.Y.

“Money is not everything, but it is the only thing.” This is what I feel after reading the story on Whitman College. I would recommend a Dec. 10 article in Business Week, “The Dangerous Wealth of the Ivy League.” The article states that “higher education is increasingly a tale of two worlds, with elite schools getting richer and buying up all the talents,” while “even the most prestigious public universities are struggling with rising enrollments and flat state funding.” It also called Whitman College “a billionaire’s mansion in the form of a dorm.” Does the University like this kind of perception?

I believe that members of this University community are almost unanimously against any public policy that is perceived to help make the rich richer. But this is exactly what’s happening with the higher education in this country, not without help from those of us who donate generously like Meg Whitman ’77 or symbolically like me. I said, “almost unanimously,” because someone like me may argue that making the rich richer does not necessarily hurt the poor. After all, it is the rich who may be able to help the poor, not the other way around (contrary to what I was taught in China decades ago). That’s why I am not against the idea of buying up the best scholars and researchers into the few elite schools such as the Ivy League. However, I am against spending so much money building mansions for our students who come to study and work hard, and have a taste of real life.

I am afraid that making the Ivory Tower even taller, figuratively or literally, is not going to help our future leaders understand the nation and nations they are supposed to serve.

Princeton, N.J.

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Teaching Vietnam

In his Nov. 21 letter on “Good Morning, Vietnam” (feature, Sept. 26), Col. G.D. Batcheller ’60 deplores the absence of “American military veterans available to present their perspective.”

I spent 11 months in the infantry on the northern approaches to Saigon and am hardly surprised that American students in a foreign country would be given the local “perspective” on a war that killed 58,000 of us and over a million of them. “Swords into plowshares” is bound to be an uneven process, but this looks to me like a good beginning.

The colonel might consider that “the same elements in the United States who today try to arrange our defeat in Iraq” may be as virtuous as he, and as worthy of our attention today as they were then.

Stockbridge, Mass.
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Endowment math

PAW reports that between 4 and 5.75 percent of the University’s endowment is used each year (Notebook, Nov. 7). With an annual endowment return of over 16 percent in each of the last four years, that assures that our $15.8 billion endowment continues to grow. Also, “endowment spending and annual gifts fund 52 percent of Princeton’s $1.2 billion operating budget.” That’s $624 million from endowment spending and annual gifts combined. I have trouble with the math. PAW reports that 4.6 percent of the $15.8 billion is being used for the 2007–08 operating budget, which is $726.8 million in endowment revenues alone. Even if Annual Giving this year were zero (let’s hope not!), there seems to be at least $102.8 million missing. That could reduce every undergraduate’s tuition by over $20,000, at a time when PAW has earlier reported that Princeton ranks among the very lowest of elite schools in the economic diversity of our student body. Where is the $102.8 million? 

Waban, Mass.

Editor’s note: Robert K. Durkee ’69, vice president and secretary, offered the following explanation: The endowment can be thought of as a large mutual fund in which each gift comes to “own” a certain number of units. For units that support the operating budget, the University’s spending rule says that each unit spends 5 percent more each year than it spent the previous year. The spend rate is calculated by dividing the amount spent by the total value of the unit — 4.6 percent at present. Not all accounts in the endowment support the operating budget; some funds support the faculty-staff mortgage program, and a “substantial fraction” supports capital expenditures, Durkee said. He said that a family typically would have to have an income approaching $150,000 before it paid as much as $20,000 to attend Princeton, and that less than half the class pays the full price. The average financial-aid grant for families with incomes of $60,000 or less is $42,595.
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Sprint football’s woes

Tiger football is alive and well in the hands of Coach Hughes and team, with strong support from the University. Not so for sprint football (also a varsity sport), which used to be called “150s,” though the standard is now 172 pounds at weigh-in. In its 2007 rendition, Princeton’s sprint program is so obviously under-supported and otherwise neglected, I can’t square the difference.

My son is a freshman at Penn and kicker for its sprint team. The league also includes Army, Navy, Cornell, and Princeton, a 75-year tradition still going strong. I witnessed two games with Princeton this year. I greatly admire the tenacity of the Princeton players. For the Nov. 2 game, Princeton had 28 players on the roster. All the other teams “butt up” against the 65-player maximum. Earlier this season PU had to forfeit, with too few healthy players.

Extended “family” is important to sprint football (alumni provide substantial financial support). One tool to bind supporters is the Web site, an easy, cost-effective way for a school to provide resource support. All that is needed is a modicum of dedicated, timely coverage. Visit and look up sprint football. Is this up to standard?

I greatly enjoyed my experience as a Princeton rower, when freshman walk-ons were the norm. In the Ivy League, it is a point of pride that a fine education can be balanced with nonacademic interests pursued at a high level. Sprint football, where “ordinary” (although athletically talented) human beings play the game, entirely exemplifies these values.

I don’t know all the contributing factors here. Relative class size must be one. Turnaround is difficult. The option of “throwing in the towel” must have been discussed. It seems it has already been done, without the concurrence of participants. I’ve seen how terrific the program is for 65 students at Penn, and the goodwill it generates among many times that number of supporters.

My purpose in writing is to share what I observed from my two perches. What is good can be great! Bravo to those in the trenches. What’s next for sprint football at Princeton?

Bryn Mawr, Pa.
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From the Archives

Re the Nov. 21 From the Archives photo, the student standing in the foreground with the bicycle is George W. Aufderheide Jr. ’46. The attractive young lady next to him undoubtedly is Helen Hinchcliffe, whom he married in that same year of 1946. They had nine children. She passed away in 1988, and he died in 2004.

Your comment that they look like professional models is right on; George always gave that impression. He was a great guy, and during World War II he was a Navy torpedo bomber pilot.

Wakefield, R.I.
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