April 23, 2008: Letters
Letter Box Online
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I strongly agree with C. Thomas Corwin ’62 (letters, March 5) that the Princeton campus plan should include a Washington Road pedestrian overpass somewhere near the Woodrow Wilson School. The Frist/McCosh/ WWS hub gets a lot of foot traffic and would be well served by such an overpass.
Even better would be to put Washington Road underground into a tunnel that would extend from the corner of Nassau Street down to the science buildings. Above the tunnel, walkways and greenery then could weave together the parts of the campus that are currently bifurcated by Washington Road.
THOMAS REED *71
Writing as a parent and as a frequent writer on architecture, I must express my dismay at the supplement to the Jan. 23 issue of PAW titled “Princeton Campus Plan: The Next 10 Years and Beyond.” If any publication were designed to obfuscate whatever Beyer Blinder Belle and their colleagues were trying to do, this was it. The number of “projects” alone (p.18) would make Donald Trump quail. Maps are confusing and faint, if not unreadable, even to those versed in the field. No plan (except for the landscape drawings) is remotely identifiable as part of the campus. The pictures of “Ivy Lane and Western Way Neighborhood” and the “new parking facility” (pp. 12–13) look like the sets of a video game. (We wait for the action figures to start fighting over where to park their cars.) The “Natural Sciences Neighborhood” (p. 11) appears to be an arrangement of toy blocks. Could we not have had some elevations or axonometrics? There is no effort to help the reader relate to existing buildings in the area.
I have seen many architectural renderings of new developments, landscapes, and design projects that provide better information than this brochure. (Even the illustrations are out of focus.) This supplement surely offers little comfort to the alumni who long to understand what is going to happen in the future to their beleaguered campus.
CAROLINE SEEBOHM p’00 p’03
Evan Thomas writes poignantly about West Point cadets who read literature “to investigate truth and beauty, right and wrong” (Perspective, March 19). These same investigations take place daily at Princeton, not least in the building where Thomas teaches his writing seminar: the Joseph Henry House, home of the Humanistic Studies Program. Brendan Carroll ’11 is enrolled in the famous interdisciplinary humanities sequence, where students spend an entire year (four courses) exploring Western culture from classical antiquity to the modern period. In the March 10 Daily Princetonian, he wrote eloquently about that experience (http://www.dailyprincetonian. com/ 2008/03/10/20435).
Countless other students and alumni can testify to the insights into the moral life that they have gained through Princeton’s exceptional courses in literature, classics, religion, history, politics, and philosophy. The quest for meaning is very much alive on campus.
Last December, I wrote a story for Newsweek’s Web site about a book called Soldier’s Heart, by a West Point professor, Elizabeth Samet. In the story, I made an offhand comparison between Samet’s English class for plebes and what I knew, or thought I knew, about Ivy League colleges, “warped by political correctness.” The Princeton Alumni Weekly reprinted the story in its March 19 issue.
I teach a class, JRN 400, “The Media in America,” to four freshmen, four sophomores, four juniors, and one senior. They informed me, politely but without much hesitation, that their professors do challenge them to think deeply, to question and wonder. Some of them seemed impressed, if not a little awed, by the quality of critical thinking of their teachers. Yes, there is some jargon thrown about, especially by the occasional precept know-it-all, but students do not feel any particular pressure to conform to political correctness. Yes, there is a certain stoicism about stress and rejection (especially around bicker time), but hardly the joyless preprofessional grind I suggested.
One of my more perceptive students asked me if I thought things had really changed that much: Hadn’t Princeton students always competed for one thing or another or worried about their futures?
I realized as he spoke that I had caught myself in that old trap of projecting one’s own experience (or nostalgic fantasies) on someone else’s present-day reality. Although I did not go to Princeton (I went to Harvard, which some readers will think explains a lot), my father and both grandfathers did, and I have a romanticized view of an earlier age at Old Nassau that probably never really was. I went to college in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when students questioned and talked about their feelings and the meaning of life to excess (and, if they were like me, rarely went to class). I love teaching, but when we were done, I had the uncomfortable feeling I had just used my own failure as a case study in the pitfalls of dashed-off online journalism. The take-away was simple enough: Don’t make glib generalizations based on untested assumptions.
I have read with great interest of the University’s plan to consider the creation of a “bridge-year” program (Notebook, March 19) that would allow some undergraduates to spend a year in public service abroad as part of or a preface to their undergraduate program. I certainly endorse the two major aims of such a program, namely, to increase the international perspective of the students and to expand the University’s commitment to the service of all nations.
My concern, however, has to do with the optimal time in the course of a student’s experience in which such a year of service overseas would best be implemented. Based on my observations and my understanding of the maturation of students, I believe that the optimal time is likely to be later than immediately pre-college, and perhaps best between sophomore and junior year. However, I would not exclude consideration of another point in the educational cycle, such as between freshman and sophomore years, or even between junior and senior years.
I believe that the typical student with two years of college behind him or her is likely to derive more from an overseas experience than would a pre-college student. Equally important, the student with two years of college behind him or her would bring more maturity and capability to the overseas activity in which the student would be placed, and therefore would be a better representative both of Princeton Uni-versity and of the United States.
I urge the working group whose members are exploring this idea to consider carefully when is likely to be the optimal time in the course of a five-year, college-related experience that such a program should be implemented. It is even possible that while some students might wish to participate in a program of overseas service prior to attending college, others might find it preferable to wait until a later point in their college careers.
HARVEY ROTHBERG ’49
I applaud the University’s announced new policy of providing admitted students a gap year before matriculation to work overseas on good deeds. But how about the many good deeds needed here in the United States?
As with the national Vista program of help to inner-city and depressed, harsh rural communities of Americans, this might seem to be Princeton’s first priority.
The world today is flooded with foreign young people studying, traveling, and working. Meeting them is valuable for American youth, of course. But such exposure to other lands and cultures will, I think, progress naturally through extant student-abroad organizations. And how about the significant number of those admitted to Princeton who come from foreign countries? A gap year working here would give them insight into and experience in some of America’s problems.
In general, I always have wondered why in this country youngsters have not been given a year to transition from, in most cases, home-living high schools to the residential world of higher education.
Most other countries require a period of military service, which, I think from my personal experience as an enlisted man in the Navy, does much for youth to meet in a meaningful way the full spectrum of their countrymen and women. I’m glad that Princeton is started on the right track.
HENRY F. MERRITT ’48
In his March 19 letter, Charlton Price ’48 asks rhetorically, “and what Middle East issue doesn’t involve Israel?” The answer is: the majority.
Many Middle East issues that do not involve Israel are familiar. In 1980, Saddam’s Iraq invaded Iran. The subsequent war lasted eight years and cost a million lives on both sides. The Turkish military campaign against the Kurds is current news, as is Syria’s long-standing project to establish a “Greater Syria” that includes parts of Jordan as well as Lebanon.
Other less well-known conflicts are listed by Amir Taheri in his February 2007 article in Commentary. There are chronicled the 1960s border wars between Afghanistan and Pakistan over “Pakhtunistan,” the ongoing dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, the Pakistani quarrel with Iran regarding the Baluch tribes, the 60-year-old conflict between Iran and Afghanistan over border rivers, the argument between Iran and Iraq concerning the control of the Shatt al-Arab estuary, the seizure of islands from what is now the United Arab Emirates by Iran in 1971, Iran’s disputes with its Caspian Sea neighbors, the Saudi Arabia-Oman war over the Buraimi Oasis in 1955, the decade-long conflict between Qatar and Saudi Arabia over Khor al-Udaid, the naval war between Qatar and Bahrain in 2001 regarding the control of the Hawar Islands, and the continuing Jordanian dispute with Saudi Arabia — which began in 1924 — concerning the province of Hejaz, etc. In the early 1960s, Egypt engineered a coup d’état in Yemen and sent an army of 60,000 to suppress opposition. In all, 200,000 people were killed. More recently, Egypt seized the Halaieb from Sudan and is currently at odds with Libya over territory.
None of these issues (and more can be added) involved or involves Israel. Ironically, Egypt’s only demarcated, internationally recognized border is the one it shares with Israel.
In addition, “anti-Semitic” has always meant anti-Jewish. The term was coined as a euphemism in late 19th-century Germany. The anti-Semitism of neo-Nazis is not aimed at Arabs, Akkadians, Assyrians, or Phoenicians.
DAVID S. HODES ’63
I am compelled to respond to the blanket condemnation of academic physicians and medical centers in Dr. W. Reid Pitts Jr. ’63’s letter (March 19). I have been in academic medicine for the entire 40 years of my professional life. I have been president of two specialty organizations, visiting professor at more than 60 academic institutions, and am editor of a respected international specialty journal. This exposure has given me insight into many academic medical centers and familiarity with what my academic colleagues do.
Contrary to Dr. Pitts’ allegations, very few academic physicians are salaried. Forty years ago, more were, but no longer. Academics involves education (teaching and research) and caring for patients. I, like most of my colleagues, likely see and operate on more patients in a week than he does in a month. No patient of mine has ever had “ghost surgery,” and every one always sees me during visits. I have no “armies of billers and coders” and do not “maximize charges” for anything. We see all patients regardless of insurance status. I know that my academic colleagues around the country have the same approach.
While a few academic medical centers have been fined (such as the University of Pennsylvania), they are a small minority. There were occasions when drug companies funded studies, but with current government oversight, journals and societies require conflict-of-interest disclosure, placing any study in the proper light for its validity to be judged, if it ever gets published.
As for “being far removed from the real world,” Dr. Pitts spouts the myths of 40 years ago, not the realities of today. He seems to be living in an embittered, jealous cocoon of the past. Things changed long ago; it is better to live with the present reality than with past illusions.
ROBERT J. NEVIASER ’58, M.D.
I believe the ’58 classmates in the Feb. 13 From the Archives photo are as follows, from left — top row: Mike Jones and William (Rocky) Potts; middle row: Steve Rockefeller, Jerry Rigg, and Dave Badger; bottom row: Perry Ruddick. Note the knee socks and cigarettes in hand, vestiges of a long-past era.
DICK SCRIBNER ’58
Edward H. Friend is a member of the Class of 1950. His class year was reported incorrectly in a Notebook photo caption in the April 2 issue.