Letters: December 17, 1997

Study abroad
Reading Dave Itzkoff '98's November 5 On the Campus about foreign study by undergraduates, I was struck by how little things have changed since my day. Students are still concerned about "missing something" while away from Princeton, while the university has apparently become even less supportive of their going abroad.
When I took a year to study in France, the issue was missing a year (usually one's junior year) in a tight-knit, male-bonded community dominated by the eating clubs. Studying abroad was seen as akin to cutting off one's arm--virtually neutering the entire Princeton experience. Yet many of us did go, and with positive support from our departments. However, I don't recall any help from the administration beyond shifting tuition and housing payments to another institution.
We did have to fulfill junior independent requirements and obtain departmental credit for the courses we pursued while away. But somehow the Bibliothèque Nationale and a café or two on the Boulevard St. Germain did not impede the superior academic experience we had. Each of us built a lasting foundation for future endeavors, a platform that not only changed us forever, but became the starting point for important directions we almost certainly would not otherwise have taken.
We returned to Princeton for our senior years with a great inward smirk about all that we had missed. After we graduated, most of us went on to one or more years of further study abroad, and some of us took up lengthy residences. We are in careers that daily draw upon that junior year abroad, and we truly understand foreign cultures. All of us are at least bilingual, and some of us speak three or four languages.
In a world that increasingly calls for universality of thought and global understanding, I am concerned that the attitudes of students and, more important, the position of the university, have evolved so little over the years, and may even have regressed.
Mount Kisco, N.Y.

Gladly Lerne, Gladly Teche
John Fleming *63's "Gladly Lerne, Gladly Teche" (PAW, October 22) highlights some of the most serious conflicts between the missions of teaching and research in the modern university. But Fleming does not address the issue of escalating costs in higher education as these costs relate to the obligations of professors toward their students. The alarming facts are that between 1980 and 1994, household incomes went up 90 percent, inflation went up 84 percent, and college costs went up 234 percent. Meanwhile, the academic year--the actual time most teachers spend in the classroom--contracted from 36 weeks to 28 weeks.
At Princeton and elsewhere, most academic buildings and dormitories are seriously underutilized during the summer months, while college continues to be a four-year experience, with lengthy breaks in the fall and spring, a month at Christmas, and at least 12 weeks during the summer. Some schools, including Middlebury, have adopted a trimester program, with school continuing in session over the summer. This shortens college to three years and makes more intelligent use of facilities, which are horribly expensive to maintain whether full or empty.
Research is the backbone of university progress and faculty development, and the conflict between research and teaching is exaggerated. Most top researchers are also good teachers because research keeps their perspectives fresh. A year-long trimester system, with faculty teaching two semesters and doing the bulk of their research and writing in the third, would make colleges and universities more efficient and still allow professors adequate time for scholarship.
Professor of English,
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, Mass.

Sailing literary seas
In his remarks about Jollyroger.com in the November 5 In Review, Van Wallach '80 states that his main difficulty with the site is typified by the following quote taken from the constitution of The Jolly Roger: "All crew members aboard this brigantine are united in their quest to revive Great Literature such as that which has been banned for promoting violence against whales." Because the humor of this statement appears to have been lost on Mr. Wallach, I urge President Shapiro to make Moby Dick and other Great Books required reading, so that future Princetonians might be able to fathom the subtleties at Jollyroger.com.
On the same day I read Mr. Wallach's review, I also received an e-mail that stated, "I have started to read Moby Dick (The Whale) because of your page. Thank you." As brevity is the soul of wit, and beauty is in the beholder's eye, I recommend the latter endorsement as better reflecting Jollyroger.com.
Smooth sailing.
Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Princeton experience
In response to John McCarthy h'67's September 10 letter regarding Julie Rawe '97's June 4 On the Campus, we believe he should have read her article more carefully. If so, he would have noted that Julie (our daughter) did not say that she and 63 percent of her classmates surveyed listed friends as the most important part of their Princeton experience. Rather, she stated that, in a senior class survey, she and 63 percent of those responding to the question "What one word would you use to describe Princeton?" circled "friends" from a list of responses limited to "friends," "thesis," "alcohol," and "sports."
Julie derived so much from her four years at Princeton that it would be difficult to pinpoint any one area that was most important. She may indeed have had "lengthy" study breaks, but she must have had equally lengthy study sessions, because she graduated with an A-minus average in her major.
Julie's time at Princeton was neither a picnic nor a "country club" but a wonderful, rounded experience. If we did not mind paying for it, why should Mr. McCarthy gripe about it?
Charleston, S.C.

Fruit flies in the fruitcake
I enjoyed the Faculty File on Eric Weischaus's Nobel Prize–winning work with Drosophila (Notebook, October 22). It reminded me of a genetic experiment with fruit flies I did as a biology major under the guidance of Professor George H. Shull, a pioneering geneticist noted for his work on corn hybridization. The experiment involved my taking the flies home over Christmas vacation. When the cotton stoppers fell off some of the test tubes, we had the flies all over the house, much to my parents' dismay and my chagrin.
These latest probes into Mendel's secrets would have astonished Dr. Shull.
Naples, Fla.

Athletic participation
As a point of clarification, the "Varsity Athletic Participation" graphic in the November 5 Notebook was somewhat misleading. In presenting information from several institutions, it did not always compare consistent data. In some instances the data only reflected varsity participants and did not include athletes who were members of sub-varsity teams and crews. Princeton has nearly 300 student-athletes in the sub-varsity category. If you include similar athletes in the athletic participation rate at Harvard, for example, the latter's participation rate increases to 19 percent, not the 14 percent stated in the graph. We are proud of Princeton's commitment to broad-based athletic programming, but sometimes comparisons can be misleading.
Director of Athletics
Princeton, N.J.

Low-tech lament
One of my favorite PAW departments is On the Campus. What in tarnation is "http://www.princeton.edu/~paw"? Why are you denying technologically disadvantaged alumni access to On the Campus? Please restore On the Campus to black and white in PAW.
Vienna, Va.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We have, of course, continued to publish On the Campus in the print version of PAW. This year we began offering a separate On the Campus column that appears only on our Website and can be accessed via the address mentioned by Mr. Palmer. We trust that our house ads promoting the new, Web version of this venerable department have not confused too many of our readers.