Notebook - May 20, 1998

Notebook - May 20, 1998

Princeton ova are in demand
Ads for egg donors in the "Prince" offer thousands of dollars

Female students at Princeton have a commodity that some people want: healthy eggs that (they hope) promise smart, attractive, and athletic offspring. For the last few years, individuals and fertility centers have advertised in The Daily Princetonian, seeking students to "donate" their eggs for $3,500 to $6,000. One ad offered an extraordinarily high fee of $35,000. Ads for egg donors have run this year in every Ivy student newspaper.

Lea Tate, of Potomac, Maryland, advertised in the Prince for about two weeks; her ad attracted readers with the words "Need extra income now?" The only other places she has advertised are in other Ivy student newspapers because, she said, "I'm looking for the best possible eggs." She is offering $4,000 for three cycles of retrieved eggs. Several students, but none from Princeton, have responded, said Tate.

Another ad, placed by a couple, seeks an egg donor who is "athletic, blonde, small to medium build." And an ad from an alumna starts with "Help our dream come true."

The International Fertility Center, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, placed the ad that offered $35,000. (The center didn't respond to repeated requests for an interview.) Options National Fertility Registry, located in Garden Grove, California, has placed ads offering $3,500 to $5,000. Numerous Princeton students have responded to Options' ads, according to the organization's director of communications, Troy Baker. Half a dozen are in the screening process, he said, and probably one or two will be selected as donors. According to Baker, the couples for whom Options placed the ads wanted only Princeton egg donors. Some couples, he said, look for "specific genes" such as those of an "Asian Harvard graduate." Over the past decade, he added, Options has placed hundreds of such ads in college publications, although most clients find donors by searching the organization's online database.

Katharine Tillman '99, president of the Princeton Bioethics Forum, said one of her roommates told her that she would donate her eggs in order to earn the fee offered, though Tillman said the roommate hasn't followed through. "People have the right to do what they want with themselves, and that includes their eggs," said Tillman. College campuses are good places to advertise, she observed, because students are young and healthy and often need the money.

According to Professor of Molecular Biology Lee M. Silver, the critical ethical issue in advertising for egg donors is a woman's being induced by money to do something that will harm her physically or psychologically, or that she may regret later on.

An egg donor is injected with hormones for several weeks to stimulate her ovaries; then a doctor removes the eggs by inserting a needle through her vagina into her ovaries and suctioning out the eggs. According to Options, common side effects include hot flashes, mood swings, and changes in appetite. Serious complications, said Silver, are rare.

"Reproductive technology is being taken over by the marketplace," observed Silver, who notes in his book Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World that the first pregnancy to be reported from a donated egg was in 1983. Ten years ago, egg donors were really donors, said Silver. They may have received only minimal payment. It was doctors who tried to find donors for their patients, and sometimes they didn't succeed, he added. In the future, Silver predicts, the buying and selling of eggs might occur only through the World Wide Web, where couples already can shop for sperm and egg donors through online catalogues.

People seeking the best possible sperm don't need to advertise in the Prince, said Silver, because sperm donors are easy to find in online catalogues. There are two companies, he said, that specialize in sperm samples from MIT, Harvard, and Stanford.

Annals of Research: What professors are exploring

Emily Martin, professor of anthropology

While finishing the research for my last book, I noticed that a couple of mental conditions, attention deficithyperactivity disorder and manic depression, seemed to be shifting their standing in U.S. popular culture. They were beginning to be treated as potential assets: Books on the business shelf recommended a business career for people with A.D.H.D. because their cognitive lability, or openness to change, would give them a special advantage in this realm; accounts of tycoons such as Ted Turner or doctors such as Kay Jamison traced complex connections between their worldly success and the emotional lability that is part of their manic depression.

I am now beginning a project about how conceptions of mental functioning are changing in an age of rapidly shifting markets, in which employees must continuously reeducate themselves. My ethnographic fieldwork will entail visits to support groups for people with A.D.H.D. and manic depression and for workers who have been "downsized," along with interviews with neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and executives in pharmaceutical companies. The goal of the research is to describe an emerging shift in the cultural conception of the ideal person's mental functioning, in which we come to value instability, disorder, and lability over stability, order, and stasis.

Nell Irvin Painter, professor of American history

The project I'm managing not to work on now is a study of personal beauty. This is a project growing out of my book on Sojourner Truth, who did not read or write, but did sit for photographic portraits, which showed her as a well-groomed bourgeoise, not the hell-raiser of late20th-century mythology. Her photographs presented a source so fascinating that it held my interest even after I finished Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol (W.W. Norton, 1996).

Theories and practices of beauty have come and gone over the past two millennia without following a historical progression. At any one time, multiple ideals of beauty have coexisted, varying with class, time, place, race or ethnicity, and so on. Reflecting the enormous range of people who cultivate their beauty, my inquiry is not limited to middle-class women, nor to white women, nor to Western women, nor to heterosexuals, nor even to women. By recognizing that all people pursue ideals of beauty, I expect to broaden what we mean by "beauty" and to show the relationships among beauty, sex, health, respectability, fashion, wealth, and labor.

Frank R. Dobbin, associate professor of sociology

I will spend next year at the Russell Sage Foundation finishing a book about how employer antidiscrimination measures have evolved since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We currently lack a comprehensive picture of how employee practices have changed. While most of the debate about affirmative action has revolved around quotas, employers have seldom used quotas except under direct court order. Drawing on surveys, interviews, and historical materials, I show that employers played a key role in defining discrimination because the law established an abstract right to nondiscrimination without specifying how employers should guarantee that right. What "affirmative action" and "equal opportunity" meant in practice was worked out between employers and the courts.

Antidiscrimination practices went through four distinct phases. During the 1960s, employers defined discrimination as explicit policies excluding women or minorities. When the courts found this definition too narrow in the 1970s, employers defined discrimination more broadly as the lack of aggressive measures to recruit and promote women and minorities. When reverse-discrimination suits challenged some of those measures in the 1980s, employers formalized hiring and promotion to prevent discrimination, creating annual performance evaluations, formal job ladders, etc.

With waning political support for affirmative action in the 1990s, employers switched to "diversity-management" programs designed to change corporate culture. These programs encourage diversity of all sorts and emphasize cultural differences rather than discrimination as the root of inequality in employment. Each of these four approaches affected thousands of American workplaces, and contributed to how millions of Americans understood discrimination.

Jennifer L. Hochschild and Michael N. Danielson *62, professors of politics and public affairs

We are writing a book about the failed efforts of New York State to create desegregated schools and public housing in Yonkers, New York. Initially, one would expect a state as strong, activist, wealthy, and liberal as New York to be able to induce a relatively small and poor city such as Yonkers to do what the law required -- that is, eliminate racial discrimination in public schools and housing. However, although the state tried for two decades to get Yonkers to desegregate, it failed; by 1980 Yonkers was more racially separated than ever before, and was being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for de jure segregation. (The Justice Department won the suit in 1985.)

Our book seeks to explain this anomaly and to draw lessons from it for the academic study of federalism and race, and for policy makers interested in promoting racial integration. We conclude that a combination of a complicated governance structure, a mixed set of agency missions, and underlying racism blocked desegregation. In the end, democracy worked -- in the sense that the majority of citizens got the policy outcome that they wanted.

The descriptions by Emily Martin and Nell Painter originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. (c. 1998.) Reprinted with permission.

In Memoriam
Arthur Stanley Link, John Turkevich *34

Arthur Stanley Link, the foremost authority on Woodrow Wilson, died on March 26, after a prolonged bout with lung cancer. He was 77. A leading presidential historian, Link was the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History, Emeritus. He wrote more than 30 books, including a five-volume biography of Wilson. Link's crowning scholarly achievement was the editing of the 69-volume Papers of Woodrow Wilson, which was published by Princeton University Press between 1966 and 1994.

Link earned a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina in 1945, the same year he joined the Princeton faculty. In 1992, he retired to Advance, North Carolina. Link served as an elder at Nassau Presbyterian Church, in Princeton.

John Turkevich *34, Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, died on March 25. He was 91 and a resident of Jamesburg, New Jersey.

A pioneer in catalytic research, Turkevich in 1935 developed a commercially useful cyclization method for preparing toluene, an important basic chemical and gasoline additive, from heptane.

Turkevich, who joined the Princeton faculty in 1936, was frequently voted "most popular lecturer" by students. During World War II he worked on the Manhattan Project. An expert on Soviet science, he served on diplomatic missions to the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s, and for 24 years he was the university's Orthodox chaplain.

Edward P. Bullard III, a master's-degree candidate in the Woodrow Wilson School, died on January 5 from medical problems he had battled during the past year. He was 34. Bullard was a Karl E. Prickett Scholar concentrating in domestic policy.

Class Act

Mitigating natural disasters

Gregory van der Vink *83's geology course combines science with policy making

Over the last 12 months, Americans have seen their share of natural disasters: killer tornadoes that ravaged the South, floods and mudslides that wrecked portions of California, and blizzards and ice storms that paralyzed the Midwest and Northeast. They have caused terrible losses of life and now cost the U.S. over a billion dollars a week.

Last fall, about a dozen geology students, led by visiting professor of geosciences Gregory E. van der Vink *83, began studying the problems created by such catastrophes in a course titled Dealing with Natural Disasters (Geosciences 499). They focused on examining how we can reduce our nation's liability to natural disasters. Their goal was to formulate solutions that "were scientifically sound and politically and economically realistic," says van der Vink. In April they presented their findings and recommendations to policy advisers at the White House, the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction, and to a Congressional subcommittee.

During the semester-long study, van der Vink considered himself more a choreographer than a teacher, sketching a general plan for the class but not steering his students down a foreordained path. "I wanted to create a sense of ownership among them," says van der Vink, "and then just keep encouraging them to come at the question from all possible directions."

First, the professor had students define the problem by deciding what constituted a natural hazard. Then they conducted case studies of past disasters, describing what happened, calculating the economic impact, explaining the long-term consequences, and predicting recurrence intervals. With that knowledge, they constructed worst-case scenarios and compiled publication-quality papers to justify such scenarios and explain their impact.

"More people in harm's way"

In one three-hour evening seminar, seniors Sarah Bertucci, Jeff Chapin, and Andy LeCuyer presented their worst-case earthquake disaster, which they based on extrapolations from the 1994 Northridge and 1989 Loma Prieta earthquakes, in California. Their scenario called for an 8.1-magnitude quake to hit a previously unknown branch of the San Andreas fault system near Los Angeles, at 4:30 p.m. in mid-January. The damages? Forty to fifty thousand people dead; 100,000 buildings damaged severely; near-total loss of power and communications; and total damages of over $75 billion. After the group's presentation, the class discussed how realistic the group's projections had been. One person thought the death total for the disaster was too high, since it assumed that 30,000 people would be at an L.A. Kings professional hockey game and would perish when the facility collapsed.

Among the class's discoveries was that the frequency and cost of natural disasters have been increasing over time. They found that's not because there are more hurricanes or earthquakes, but because populations and wealth have become more concentrated in disaster-prone areas. In other words, "there are now more people in harm's way and more people with more stuff in harm's way," says van der Vink. Federal aid and legislated insurance rates have made the nation more vulnerable to disasters by subsidizing inappropriate land uses.

Students found that strategies for dealing with natural disasters hinge on political concerns. Requiring property insurance for disasters or raising construction standards would help mitigate losses, but such preventative steps don't have a strong constituency on Capitol Hill because of the expenses involved. To build the necessary political will, students decided, people must be informed about the ways in which irresponsible land uses, such as building a million-dollar home on a beach dune, create long-term costs for taxpayers. "People need to understand that natural disasters aren't random acts of God and that people aren't always innocent victims," says van der Vink.

A nationwide database that would gather information on disaster events would help to make that case, concluded the students. The database would include the cost of natural disasters, census information, geophysical data (such as seismic data, water-flow patterns, and frequency of major storms), and financial information such as wealth distribution. With that information, legislators and insurers could set financial incentives for people in disaster areas to cover the level of risk to which they were exposed, a plan similar to the nationwide flood-insurance program.

The class's findings and recommendations were impressive enough to be accepted by both Washington subcommittees for inclusion in their publications. Says van der Vink, the students "made an undeniable contribution to a significant societal problem."

-- Paul Hagar '91

University says "yes!' to 13.1 percent

The university has accepted 13.1 percent of applicants for the Class of 2002, said Dean of Admission Fred A. Hargadon. Of the 13,006 candidates who applied, the university offered admission to 1,698 -- 555 of whom were early-decision applicants offered admission in February.

Last year, the university received 13,400 applications, admitting 12.9 percent of candidates. The reduction in applicants this year, said Hargadon, is due to 372 fewer international students who applied for admission.

Despite the lower number of applications from noncitizens, the university admitted more than the 82 international students it did last year. "In large part because of additional financial aid resources made available to such students, we were able to offer admission to 108 noncitizen students," said Hargadon.

Thirty-three percent of students admitted to the university indicated a minority background, and 49 percent are female, said Hargadon.

"On sheer quantifiable measures, this was the toughest group to choose from in recent memory," he said. Fifty percent of the applicants had SAT scores over 1400, and 54 percent earned grade-point averages of 3.8 or higher.

"The last three weeks of the process, you just feel bad for those you don't admit," said Hargadon. "It is possible for a few of the really qualified students not to get into the really good schools."

Each admission officer uses a different color ink to make comments on applications. "If you have to write it down, you have to think a little more carefully," he said. Hargadon doesn't read every application, "but I get through a good number," he said. "This past weekend [in early April] was the first weekend since Christmas I've been out of the office."

-- Jed Seltzer '00

This article was adapted from one that appeared in The Daily Princetonian. Ian Shapira '00 contributed to this story.

Bioethics discussions during Reunions

The Princeton Bioethics Forum was born with a simple phone call. Today, scarcely three years later, it has its own journal, its own speaker series, its own Web page, its own artist-designed T-shirt, and soon (members hope) its own endowment.

The group's next big event is a colloquium scheduled for Friday of Reunions weekend, May 29, that will bring together bioethicists to discuss a variety of topics, including cloning, physician-assisted suicide, and the Human Genome Project. The colloquium will be held in the James M. Stewart Theatre in 185 Nassau Street starting at 10 a.m.

That same weekend, alumni can read the maiden issue of the Princeton Journal of Bioethics, which includes articles by undergraduates from around the country covering topics such as living wills, genetic testing, and sterilization. The forum T-shirt, whose design was drawn by New Yorker cartoonist Henry Martin '48, will also be unveiled.

The phone call that launched the forum was a routine call home. Founder Erica Seiguer '98, in a conversation with her mother, a physician, mentioned reading a newspaper article about the Human Genome Project. In the piece, an eminent scientist confessed that he and his colleagues had been blindsided by the discovery that a gene causing certain types of breast cancer occurred at high rates in Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent. "I thought, 'These are really important issues -- I thought the experts had them covered!'" Seiguer recalled.

After she hung up, Seiguer, who is premed, decided to figure out how to continue this kind of conversation at Princeton. Lots of phone calls later to faculty members, students, and others resulted in the Bioethics Forum's first meeting.

When Norman C. Fost '60, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Wisconsin, became the first visiting DeCamp professor in bioeth-ics in 1996-97, the organization really took off. The forum sponsored panels on such hot issues as informed consent for genetic testing, assisted suicide, posthumous reproduction, and cloning.

When developing its advisory council, forum members started working the phones again. Their ambitious wish list included a university president, the president of the nation's biggest medical philanthropic foundation, and an associate justice of the state supreme court of New Jersey. "We figured half of them would turn us down," Seiguer said, "and every single one said yes!" Of the 14 advisers, six are Princeton alumni.

-- JoAnn Gutin

This story is adapted from one that originally appeared in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin.