Letters - January 27, 1999

Report on admissions

I read with interest about the proposal by the Faculty Study Group on Undergraduate Admissions to increase the number of undergraduates by 125-150 per class (Notebook, November 18). I can understand the reasons for increasing the number of undergraduates. It would make the remarkable Princeton experience available to a larger and more diverse population of deserving students, increase international representation without decreasing the numbers of U.S. and Canadian students, occupy a faculty expanding with the diversity of the curriculum, and increase the tuition rate base in support of the university's growing costs for faculty and increasingly complex facilities and services.

On the other hand, the scale and setting of Princeton as both a scholarly and social community are very important to its special place in the firmament of great universities. They enable the greater level of personal interaction between teachers and students which is vital to Princeton's success. They provide the best chance to realize the benefits of diversity within a small, cohesive community, rather than compartmentalization within a larger one. Expansion, even modestly toward the populations of notable peers such as Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, might cost Princeton exactly the advantage it enjoys in comparison.

The historic leap to Princeton's current enrollment was essential to achieve coeducation. But it's hard to see such a compelling case today.

Robert B. Rodgers '56
Princeton, N.J.

One of Princeton's greatest attractions is its small size and the close ties it fosters among students. The spirit and enthusiasm one finds on campus already attract what the Study Group's report calls "intellectually engaged students." But adding 500 to 600 such students would potentially dilute Princeton's spirit, for students narrowly focused on academics would not take part in the activities that make Princeton special.

Our competitors are duly impressed with the level of accomplishment of our athletic teams. Princeton's dedicated athletes reach a level of excellence in sports while tackling our rigorous academics, and as alumni they go on to become some of our greatest contributors. All special admissions categories -- athletes, legacies, and minorities -- bring talent and diversity to the campus. We can further improve the quality of the student body by doing a better job of publicizing Princeton's character and spirit, not by inflating the size of the undergraduate classes.

James MacWilliam '54
Houston, Tex.

I appreciate the effort being devoted to the Princeton of the future and the makeup of the student body. Diversity and attracting the best and brightest legacies, athletes, and students with special aptitudes are all important. But I hope we won't neglect men and women who at that early age may not be academic 1's or 2's but who have shown character and leadership and hard work. Every Princeton class can cite examples of members who barely got in and weren't stars in their first years, but who in later life made great contributions in their particular fields and to this country and their communities. Let's save a few places for them.

Ward Chamberlin '43
Adamsville, R.I.

I take issue with two points of those suggesting an increase in the size of the student body:

First, their basic premise is that there has been a substantial increase in the strength of applicants to Princeton and that too much academic talent (academic 1's and 2's) is being turned away. In examining the supporting table, I find that at least the increase in academic 1's appears to be illusory. Academic 1's as a percentage of enrolling students was constant at about 16-19 percent (by eyeballing the data) for the classes of 1993-1999, and jumped to 26 percent, 28 percent, and 32 percent over the following three years, just as the new SAT point scale was being introduced. Assuming that enrolled students reflect applicants, the change suggests insufficient adjustment and rating creep rather than a sudden increase in the strength of the applicant pool. The increase from 51 percent of academic 1's and 2's for the Class of 1993 to 72 percent for the Class of 2002 probably results from increased grade inflation in high schools; certainly, Princeton's reputation and the preparedness of high school students have not changed so drastically over this period.

Second, the Study Group suggests that the way to increase the quality of intellectual life on campus is to admit more students who have demonstrated strong contributions to activities such as acting, painting, creative writing, and so on. I disagree. It would never be possible to admit a sufficient number of students in any of these areas to have a strong effect on overall campus life, and just admitting a few of each differs little from current policies of attempting to admit a class with diverse talents.

A far better way to increase the intellectual engagement of most students would be to promote intellectual activities in highly available venues, such as after-dinner poetry readings (by professors or students) in dining halls, or painting exhibits in residential colleges. By analogy to sports, admitting 10 more varsity athletes is not going to change the overall athleticism of the student body as much as would putting exercise rooms in every dorm or expanding intramurals.

Dan Mytelka '87
Burke, Va.


Campus architecture

Count me among those hopeless philistines who believe that the modern world would be a far better place if the infant Frank Lloyd Wright had been discreetly strangled in his crib.

My narrow-mindedness is not a symptom of creeping middle age, for I have always been an architectural arch-conservative. As a freshman I told the Housing Office I did not care which dormitory I lived in, so long as it was one of the soaring Collegiate Gothic edifices that first drew me to Princeton. If the university had ignored my request and exiled me to Wilson College, or, worse, to that brown-brick obscenity then known as the New New Quad, I would have undoubtedly opted for Yale.

Thus it has been with mixed emotions (specifically, revulsion, horror, and sadness) that I have viewed the various photographs of recent campus construction that periodically appear in paw. I am unimpressed by the raves (ravings?) of the professional architectural establishment. I have not seen a single inspiring or distinctive design. Indeed, most of the university's new buildings would seem at home in just about any architectural setting, from the office multiplexes lining U.S. 1 to a shopping mall in Seattle. To my eyes, the much-ballyhooed Wu Hall resembles nothing so much as a suburban post office. The new stadium is the one recent campus structure I admire, but it does not belong at Princeton. It would look quite appropriate at, say, MIT (if MIT had a football team) or among the sleek, modern structures of the Air Force Academy. Princeton should be more traditional. We fielded one of the very first collegiate football teams, and we ought to have a venerable athletic venue that recalls those days of glory. We also need to blow up Jadwin Gym, that cavernous, multilayered seashell which so strongly suggests the fossilized husk of some primeval crustacean.

If I had $500 million to spare, I would give it all to Princeton with but one unbreakable string attached: the money would have to be used, first, to raze every campus building erected after, say, 1950, and second, to ensure that every subsequent structure would fit into the university's prewar architectural scheme. I know there was a lack of architectural coherence even before World War II, but let's face it: Even Alexander Hall beats the Woodrow Wilson School.

Stewart Harris '83
Green Cove Springs, Fla.

I was pleased to read of the ongoing renewal of campus walkways (President's Page, March 25). As a past Orange Key historian and student in Professor Robert J. Clark's seminar on campus architecture, I have strong feelings about maintaining Princeton's beautiful landscape. The walkways are more than paths -- for many alumni they are associated with our first impressions and fondest memories of Princeton.

I was also glad to read about plans to improve landscaping east of Washington Road. As an engineering student I long suffered the second-class feeling of all who trudged to the E-Quad on the "nerd highway," past parking lots and chain-link fences. U.S. 1 was more scenic.

Dave Thom '96
Toronto, Ontario


A pox on prox cards

I was distressed to read Kruti Trivedi '00's article on the new "prox" cards (On the Campus, October 21) and an article in the November 12 New York Times on the same subject. Princeton's new electronic security system puts it in the ranks of government officials bent on destroying the right of privacy -- more like what you'd expect of a correctional institution than a place for the free exchange of ideas. When I was an undergraduate I don't recall people even locking their doors.

Frederick H. Bruenner '41
Port Washington, N.Y.

In the Good Old Days, doors
opened to knocks.
But we've changed our ways and
now open to prox.
Some students say that privacy's
Others think, "Okay, the system
can't be faulted which protects
you from predators, misanthropes,
and creditors."
As an Old Alum, mind on the
bum --
I'm thinking anal, basic, and
banal --
My criterion is how well the
john locks,
Or if Princeton's Presbyterian, do
we cling to john knocks?

Joe Illick '56
San Francisco, Calif.


Peter Singer

The many wrathful comments greeting the appointment of Peter Singer (Letters, October 21, November 4 and 18, and December 2) have moved me to read his books. So far, Practical Ethics. Next, Rethinking Life and Death. Why the tzimmes? Professor Singer is a philosopher who thinks rigorously and writes clearly about longstanding ethical dilemmas whose resolutions -- whichever directions they take us -- will have far-reaching consequences for all earthly life. Such matters seem worthy of our attention.

I bid Professor Singer welcome to our campus, applaud Princeton for acquiring him, and wish I were still an undergraduate so I could enroll in his courses.

Adie Suehsdorf '38
Sonoma, Calif.

Ideas have consequences. Cheapening the value of human life always precedes arguments for its extermination. The systematic programs of mass murder carried out in this century in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and other countries did not emerge from an intellectual vacuum. Even Dr. Jack Kevorkian claims a philosophical basis for his actions. Why, then, would Princeton embrace, and supply a platform for, a philosopher who provides the intellectual rationalization for the slaughter of innocents by defining groups of human beings as nonpersons lacking basic human rights?

In contrast to Professor Singer's ethical framework, I wonder how many of the faculty members associated with the University Center for Human Values accept divinely revealed Biblical truth as the basis for morality in human conduct? This perspective, after all, inspired and guided the founders of Princeton and the nation. It is the foundation for much of what we value in western civilization, but it tends to offend intellectual elites by denying them the privilege to play God with people's lives.

G.K. Chesterton wrote of the vanity of "giving a pestilence a place in the sun," yet this is exactly what Princeton has done in the appointment of Singer as a professor of bioethics. There is little that is ethical about his bioethics; a more appropriate title would be professor of infanticide or euthanasia.

Lance F. James '76
Marblehead, Mass.

Convincing Professor Singer to leave Australia to join the faculty is a major coup. It is time for the "welcome" of defamatory brickbats with which alumni have showered him to cease.

For years doctors confronted with newborns whose lives (such as they are) can be prolonged by surgery, but whose long-term prospects can never be made to amount to more than constant suffering or vegetation, have opted to let them die (increasingly, one gathers, after consultation with the parents). A sadder moral dilemma is difficult to imagine, but surely Professor Singer is to be praised, not vilified, for attempting to put it in the realm of general moral debate, rather than continuing to let such decisions depend so heavily on the individual beliefs of the physician who happens to be on duty that day.

John Hart Ely '60
Miami, Fla.

The creation of a University Center for Human Values should give greater meaning to a merely technical education. One would expect that it would teach the highest human values and that its teachers would be persons comparable even to Gandhi or Mother Theresa, capable of demonstrating how altruistic ideals can be applied to practical life. The irony of Professor Singer's appointment is not that he is controversial, but that his views fit so closely with those who already teach at the center. Rather than opening up new areas of debate, he will only reinforce the dominant secular, relativistic world view already promoted.

William Park '51
Bronxville, N.Y.

Will Princeton choose Dr. Kevorkian to fill its next available chair of bioethics? A half-century ago millions died in the Nazi juggernaut, and now one of the bastions of western civilization has planted that seed again. Who will be the next victims of this philosophy of death -- us old fogies as we become too decrepit to donate our millions to Princeton? Diabolei sub numine viget.

Paul F. Perreten '55
Old Saybrook, Conn.

In building up umpteen thousand dollars' worth of student debt, it was not my plan to see my good name dragged through the mud of paw's letters pages. I'm not sure what has prompted this vitriol from fellow alumni, but I insist that it end. O.K., so I was bit late on my class dues, but is this really a reason to send me "Dear Hitler" e-mails?

It seems odd that so many feel free to criticize my personal morality and academic work without ever taking the time to get to know me or read even one thing I have written. I urge such people to check my senior thesis in the University Archives; nowhere will they find that I advocate the beating of defenseless orphans or running over grandmothers in the streets.

If these ad hominem attacks don't cease, I'll be forced to transfer allegiance to a certain school where I am now a graduate student. Not all Peter Singers are evil, and some of us are quite likable.

Peter Singer '97
Cambridge, Mass.


Larry Ellis

With the passing of Larry Ellis, Princeton lost not only one of its greatest coaches but one of its finest teachers (Notebook, December 16). He coached track, but by word and deed he taught a generation of Princetonians how to live, and to a significant extent he shaped my Princeton experience.

Coach Ellis and I both arrived at Princeton in the fall of 1970. He was a successful high-school track coach from Jamaica, New York, and I was a freshman from Los Angeles. My arrival was nothing special, but his created a stir in the media and a buzz in the Princeton community, for he was the first African-American to assume a head-coaching job at an Ivy League school.

Some questioned whether he belonged at Princeton. They wondered whether a black man could teach even the sport of track to the fine young (and mostly white) men who constituted the vast majority of students. As an African-American, I knew that these same people also questioned whether I or any person of color belonged at Princeton.

I was hurt by such questions, which came from within the very community I was working hard to be a part of, and wondered how I should respond to them. I decided to observe how Larry Ellis dealt with them to determine my own course of action. To my amazement, he seemed to ignore these racist attacks on his ability. He displayed class and grace as a coach and a human being, proving every day that the decision to bring him to Princeton had been right. Coach Ellis silenced his critics by laying the foundation for a resurgent track and field program, and through his example he taught us to cope with a sometimes ugly world.

The world of track and field has lost a great coach, but the Princeton community has lost much more. Larry Ellis was a professor of life. My sons did not have the opportunity to be taught directly by him. But I have transmitted the lessons he taught me, so his influence continues into the next generation.

Arnold G. Hyndman '74
Belvidere, N.J.


Eating clubs

In Daniel A. Grech '99's December 2 On the Campus column, he closes his discussion of Princeton's elitist club system by referring to his own hypocrisy in participating in bicker and its attendant prejudices and cruelties.

As a former president of Cap & Gown, I join him in admitting to my own selfishness and weakness in bowing to the social pressures that Princeton presented to me when I showed up there 44 years ago. Had I been a more courageous person, I would have opted out of bicker and faced the isolation of the loner at Princeton: few social opportunities, few places to eat, dorm rules that precluded cooking for yourself, no supermarket within walking distance, and no cars allowed on campus.

Given my personal mea culpa here, could I now please hear one from Princeton's administration and Board of Trustees? Talk about hypocrisy! It is time for the trustees and the administration to meet the needs of all the students by making the eating clubs irrelevant.

When the social center of the university moves from Prospect Avenue to the environs of Nassau Street, and when Princeton finally accepts its clear responsibility for the welfare of all its students, it could then truly see itself as a major university, not the preppiest of prep schools.

Asa Baber '58
Chicago, Ill.

I take exception to Daniel Grech's sweeping generalization that bicker clubs boast a "legacy of racism, sexism, and antisemitism." While I cannot vouch for the other clubs in question, my experiences as an undergraduate member of Tower Club prove otherwise.

During my years there, I enjoyed the company of a vastly diverse group of friends who never felt the need to call attention to themselves by virtue of race, gender, or religious denomination. It was this merciful disregard of politically correct posturing that led me, a native Puerto Rican, to assume the club's presidency during my senior year. I inherited the position from Mel Gaylord '92, an African-American, who himself succeeded Maureen Hagy '91, a woman. Subsequent to my own tenure, Scott Wurman '94, who is Jewish, took over. None of us ever considered indulging the bleeding-heart mandate to maintain any sort of demographic quotas at bicker. We simply allowed for members to vote their own conscience, and, not surprisingly, they always managed to embrace a new group of equally diverse individuals to our club.

As to Grech's disdain for the Street's "dominant culture of beer guzzling and random hook-ups," I know of at least five marriages that were forged through the course of Tower's own social activities, and countless others that grew from the equally spirited interaction between ours and other club's members. I agree that alcohol abuse continues to be a problem on the Street, but eliminating the entire selective club system isn't the solution. I find no specific correlation between bicker selection and alcohol abuse; the latter is endemic to colleges, regardless of the clubs, fraternities, or sororities they house. One would be better served exploring how youth culture manages to foster substance abuse, both within and without college societies.

In addition, Grech's reference to club members eating "meals cooked by a private chef served ... by minority employees," as if this were somehow closed-minded and elitist, strikes me as resolutely unfair. The staff at Tower has always benefited from exceptional salary and benefits packages that, in some instances, have included paid education. Club employees have also won the hearts of members, and vice-versa, often fostering fond mutual relationships.

F. Javier San Miguel '93
Los Angeles, Calif.

As a former obviously bigoted and alcohol-challenged member of Cottage Club, I've never had anything good to say about Ivy Club until now, for it must have proudly rejected Mr. Grech's bid for membership. On behalf of all the leaders in our society and others, such as myself, who were All-America athletes and honors graduates, I thank him for pointing out the profound differences between people like him and alumni who were members of the selective clubs.

Bill Chaires '75
Annapolis, Md.


Human statue identified

In your issue of June 4, 1997, you published a From the Archives photo of an unidentified man in a toga perched in one of the statue niches on East Pyne Hall while a group of graduates streamed by beneath him. The mysterious prankster was Jeffery A. Smisek '76, then my boyfriend and now my husband. I had gone to photograph him and belatedly discovered that my camera had no film. I had no idea someone else had taken a picture of him. Jeff is now executive vice-president and general counsel of Continental Airlines.

Diana Strassmann '77
Houston, Tex.


Community service

Soon after my graduation last June, I accepted the position of Class of 1998 Community Service Chair. My decision was made in the hopes of providing my classmates and current students with eye-opening service opportunities such as those I experienced as a student. During my undergraduate years, my community service focused on fostering relationships between Princeton students and villagers in Belize. Through teaching children, mapping caves in a national park, and living closely with villagers, I learned innumerable enlightening lessons. For my senior thesis in the geosciences department, I was able to examine and extend that learning in an academic framework by studying the caves in the national park and suggesting plans for managing the caves and educating visitors and villagers about them.

More than 60 other Princeton students have had similar experiences in Belize. The complex cultural and legal issues of international volunteerism call for a knowledgeable full-time staff person to provide stability and continuity for the program. The other 1998 class officers and I are exploring the possibility of sponsoring such a position in an annual 14-month internship for a Princeton graduate. Chad Oliver '98 decided to fill the need by volunteering in the park last fall. He returns to campus this spring to train students for future trips, provide administrative oversight for the program, and work with faculty to establish a course based on ecotourism as a development strategy.

Because the Class of 1998 is so young, we have limited financial resources to support Chad as an intern. His costs would be significantly reduced if a resident of the Princeton area would be willing to let him stay in an extra room. In addition, the program would be helped substantially by donations of airline tickets earned by frequent-flyer miles. Classes or individuals interested in becoming involved should contact me at bertucci@alumni.princeton.edu (718-474-0847).

Sarah Bertucci '98
Princeton, N.J.


Robert Dicke '39

I would like to clarify some points made by Robert A. Winters '35 in his November 4 letter describing his encounter with Princeton physicist Robert Dicke '39 shortly after the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR).

The CMBR was first predicted by Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman *40 in a paper published in Nature in 1948. This seminal paper followed up on some ideas presented in a paper published that same year by Ralph Alpher, Hans Bethe, and George Gamow, in which they suggested that the light elements could have formed in the hot, dense conditions of the early universe. Alpher and Herman showed that they could explain the abundance of helium in the universe, and that the CMBR was a necessary consequence of their model.

Alpher and Herman tried to convince radio astronomers to search for the background radiation. It is a difficult experiment, and at the time there were no attempts.

The serendipitous discovery, in 1965, of the CMBR by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, of Bell Laboratories, and the awarding of the Nobel Prize (in 1977) for this discovery are well known. Penzias and Wilson did not realize at first what they had discovered because they had no knowledge of the work of Alpher and Herman. For a theoretical explanation of what they had found, they quoted an accompanying paper in The Astrophysical Journal by Dicke and others which made no reference to the work by Alpher and Herman, who only later were properly credited.

I was an undergraduate physics major when the CMBR was discovered. It made a strong impact on me, and is probably responsible for the fact that of 18 physics majors in my class, six of us became astronomers. I had some interesting conversations with Dicke about this. While a graduate student at Columbia, I worked with Penzias and Wilson and got a good feeling for their strength as experimental physicists and how that played into their discovery.

Marc L. Kutner '68
Astronomy Department,
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Tex.


Forrestal Research Center

I am writing a history of the James Forrestal Research Center, which flourished on U.S. 1 from its dedication in 1952 until the mid-1970s, and would like to hear from former undergraduates and graduate students who conducted research or attended laboratories or classes there. I am particularly interested in anecdotes about faculty involved in aeronautical research, including Dan Sayre, Nick Nikolsky, Lester Lees, and Joe Charyk. I can be reached c/o Princeton Alumni Weekly, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton, NJ 08542 (609-258-4931; merritt@princeton.edu).

J.I. Merritt '66
Princeton, N.J.