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Letter Box


More letters from alumni about Alcohol and highjinks on campus and Princeton of yore

March 26, 2003

I'm writing in response to recent publicity and letters concerning the town's crackdown on underage drinking on Prospect Street. As a point of reference, I should perhaps make it clear that I come to this issue wearing several different hats...in deceasing order of significance — father of a member of the Class of '05, general pediatrician, and one who sits on the grad board of one of the eating clubs. In those diverse roles, I do tend to look at the question from somewhat different and arguably conflicting vantage points. The grad board part of me worries about the liability associated with a catastrophic event; the father in me is realistic enough to accept the fact that it is a part of the collegiate culture (and this is not anything new, by the way) for college students to drink; and the pediatrician (and father) side of me worries about the health and welfare of these older adolescent/younger adults.

Let me start with the liability question. As a physician, I am probably more acutely aware of the litigious society we now inhabit than most. Guess what? If somebody wants to sue you, they're going to. Blame, responsibility, culpability...pretty much irrelevant to the question. That being so, my feeling has always been that as long as I know inside that my motives were pure and that I did my best and tried my hardest, if someone does want to come after me, bring 'em on. That's why I have insurance. (Just so you don't think I'm a veteran of these wars, in 25 years of practice, I've had two actions initiated against me, but both were quickly dropped for lack of any merit.) Extrapolating that viewpoint to the clubs and to the University, my advice would simply be to do what is right and in the best interest of the students, and then let the liability chips fall where they may (but don't forget to pay your insurance premiums along the way).

As for the collegiate culture, whom are we kidding? That's not going to change. And really why should it? These kids can vote. They can die in Iraq. They can get married without parental consent. In all other ways we consider them, to correct myself above, to be not "kids" at all but adults. We hold them responsible for all of their deeds and actions (hell, they can even be sent to the electric chair if the circumstances so warrant), but we don't allow them the responsibility to drink. Somehow we don't think they're old enough to handle that one. We used to, by the way, back in the late ’60s and early ’70s (a byproduct, I guess, of all the 19-year-old deaths in Vietnam), but we took it away.

The statisticians will point to a decrease in traffic deaths associated with the reinstatement of the 21-Year-Old Rule (and I'm all for decreased traffic deaths — my brother, while an undergraduate at Yale, was killed in a car accident...though no alcohol was involved); but if you follow that argument out to its natural conclusion, then let's outlaw alcohol altogether and really decrease the number of alcohol related accidents. (Oh yes, our parents and grandparents already tried that...but it didn't work out too well, I recall.)

And if we're really concerned about young people dying, let's look to inner-city violence, let's make sure they (and we as well, by the way) always use their seatbelts, and, as a Republican who voted for the guy I can't believe I'm saying this, let's maybe rethink our military posture around the world.

So if we accept then the fact that college students are going to drink, what can we do to help them do it safely and wisely? Because truthfully this really has to be the main focus. Their welfare has to be the main priority.

Well, one thing that I'm quite sure is not going to work is to crack down on them as Princeton's misguided police chief is currently doing. Two natural consequences of that are going to be increased "pregaming" (whereby students load up on alcohol in their rooms before going out for the evening figuring they will not be able to get it once they are "on the Street") and an ever growing hesitancy on the part of those in authority to call for medical help if someone does get into trouble.

In regard to the latter, a new and unfortunate policy seems already to be evolving which gives a whole new meaning to the expression "ambulance chasing." Called recently by officers at one of the clubs to attend to an inebriated student, the ambulance arrived with two police cars in tow. Now isn't that just great? Maybe the next time, that same club officer (assuming he's not in prison) will think twice and simply shove the student out the back door and hope for the best.

Now I realize that it is impossible for the University to officially sanction an illegal act, and — agree with the law or not — it is currently illegal to serve those under 21. I'll happily allow the administration that legal position, but I will not surrender to them the moral high ground they sometimes seem also to be assuming, not when they so happily cater to the 40, 50, and 60-year-olds who drink to excess on a certain weekend in early June and then take to the roads all over Mercer County. At least the students who drink too much are all walking home.

So how then do we reconcile these three parameters of liability, safety, and culture? I'm no smarter than anybody else. I have no easy answer but whatever it is, it has to realistically accept the fact that the students are going to figure out a way to drink and that our role as parents, physicians, and administrators should be to educate them to the consequences and then to give them legitimate options (i.e. absent of any attendant punishment) to which they can avail themselves if they or their friends do get into trouble.

Perhaps too, Princeton's police chief might abandon his crusade and spend his time going after some real criminals.

I happily await the vitriol of my detractors.

Steve Townend '71 p'05
Devon, Pa.

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March 13, 2003

Re: It's Not Your Father’s Princeton

As one of the many members of an administration, including President Tilghman herself, who are investing significant energy in trying to reduce high-risk drinking on campus, the sidebar concerning efforts to increase student awareness about the dangers of binge drinking is disappointing (“It’s Not Your Father’s Princeton,” February 26, 2003).

There is a complex and nuanced story to tell about the causes and consequences of high-risk drinking on college campuses. The fact that this issue was relegated to a small sidebar serves to diminish the importance of what can be, at times, a life and death issue.

I hope PAW will consider devoting more space and effort to informing its readership about the efforts to raise student awareness being made by a broad coalition of concerned Princeton students, faculty, and administrators.

Daniel C. Silverman, MD MPA
Chief Medical Officer
Princeton University

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March 6, 2003

It’s Not Your Father’s Princeton

In response to the sidebar about the campus alcohol posters, I’d like to clarify both the intention of the posters and the messages conveyed.

As the former USG president, I was an active member of the Campus Alcohol Coalition, a consortium of administrators and student leaders dedicated to reducing high-risk drinking on campus.

The social marketing posters highlighted in the PAW are only one part of the Coalition’s comprehensive effort to address student alcohol use.

The poster campaign began as a means to raise students’ awareness of the gravity of alcohol abuse among undergraduates—not to put forth an “anti-alcohol” message.

Initially, the coalition worried that posters with shock value would not break through to students who are so mired in the drinking culture. However, student focus groups guided us to create a Princeton-specific, strong imagery campaign. While the effectiveness of the posters is currently being evaluated (as all good programs should be), many would already agree that the posters have sparked discussion about the issue. In years past, posters were criticized for subtly encouraging students to drink by displaying egregious statistics on binge drinking. The current posters catch students’ attention and cause them to consider the consequences of their actions.

Nina Langsam ‘03
Princeton University

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March 2, 2003

Re: It's not your Father's Princeton. I found the caption for the story on the posters designed for the Board of Trustees Alcohol Initiative to be unfortunate and misleading for two reasons.

The first was its implication that the two posters reflected the experience and behavior of the typical Princetonian of yore.

The second was the fact that PAW doesn't seem to recognize that for today's undergraduate, it may well be "your mother's Princeton," too.

Jane Kenney Austin ’76 p’05
Warwick, R.I.

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September 18, 2002

Along with the letter from Moose Joline '47 about Princeton baseball history, you ran a reunion photo of 1942's class baby Woody Rutter throwing in the first ball at the Yale-Princeton game in 1947.

It was then traditional to bring the class baby on the field in some unique way. The previous year, I believe, a miniature car arrived at the mound and amazingly, like clowns in the circus, about five men and the class baby squeezed out for the first toss. But '42 outdid that by landing an autogyro (predecessor to the helicopter) on the mound and out stepped little Woody!

The crowd roared. Still, at our fifth we tried to out-do '42 by having three full-grown elephants parade onto the field with our class baby Richard Wolf atop one of them. All three elephants kneeled down, raised their trunks to salute President Dodds, and then off stepped our five-year-old for the first pitch. (A photographer recorded the occasion for the New York Times the next day.) I don't think any class thereafter could match either the autogyro or the elephant.

Not to be forgotten, '44 brought back two of the same elephants 35 years later for our 40th reunion to parade down Prospect Street for the second time. But there was no Yale-Princeton baseball game.

Herbert W. Hobler '44
Princeton, N.J.

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September 1, 2002

Some impressive claims are made by Alexander D. Feldman '01 in his letter responding to mine, which had noted the trade-off between increased emphasis on extracurriculars, for today's undergraduates, and the reduced academic demands made on them. Feldman denies this trade-off, asserting that his co-evals "at Princeton today are asked to work harder, achieving at higher levels and in more endeavors, than ever before." To make this possible, it seems that "most undergraduates at Princeton today are both more motivated and more talented than the classes that came before them." They achieve the impossible, according to Feldman, because they "bring greater focus, efficiency, and flexibility to bear" than we of previous eras.

Not surprisingly, no factual evidence is adduced to back Feldman's rather immodest portrait of today's superstudent, and, of course, he is necessarily ignorant of the realities of 40-plus years ago. Nonetheless, there are facts to be brought to bear on the debate, and they are these:
1) in the 1950's, the class day began at 7:40 a.m.;
2) the class week ran from Monday morning through Saturday noon (with many science labs and introductory language courses utilizing this half-day);
3) the semester of classwork, without any reading period and using only one week instead of two for final exams, was three weeks longer than today's; and
4) we were required to take one more course than today's students in each of our eight semesters.

If you do the math, you will observe that, in order to match the workload of older generations, today's students would have to add between 60 percent and 65 percent to their total of academic assignments: the books read, papers written, and discussions conducted in class over four years. I am impatient with the silly claim that education is not a matter of quantity. Of course, in one very important sense, it is: If you never read a book or an article, and never have the occasion to reflect on it, it can hardly count as part of your learning, formal or otherwise.

In this regard, the university registrar's office helped me a few years ago to determine what number of undergraduates signed up for course overloads. The figures I was given were for the Class of 1998 through its junior year, which I take to be representative of Feldman's generation of superstudents. Of that sample group, fewer than 2 percent signed up for extra courses which would have raised their four-year load to the minimum required for graduation of earlier generations. And remember that all of the undergraduate courses in the 1990s ran about three weeks shorter than in the past — requiring that many fewer assignments per course than we were given to handle.

Feldman explains that, though his generation took fewer and shorter courses, the "steady advance in academic knowledge over the years" means that "courses are now significantly broader than they were in the 1950s, covering more topics in the same span [sic] of time."

This is nonsense, and I trust that it isn't a specimen of the analytical thought being accepted by the university's professors today. Teachers do not simply add new knowledge to their course reading lists; they substitute new theories, information, and methods of analysis for the old. Think of language classes, history and literature reading lists, science lectures: Is it plausible — even possible? — that professors would retain outmoded methods and material while piling on newer knowledge, as Feldman seems to believe?

I reiterate my earlier contention that there is evidence to show that when a university "asks its students to take extracurricular activities and social skills as seriously as [they do] academics" there has to be a trade-off. At a disadvantage in this debate because they can have no first-hand knowledge of campus life a half-century ago, and evidently because they have been swallowing too much from the press releases lauding their talents and achievements — impressive, but not supernatural — Alexander D. Feldman '01 and contemporaries who share his self-gratulatory views also have the disadvantage of appearing to toot their own horns. Lighten up, you guys; you have been given a lot, but you can't have it all.

C. Webster Wheelock '60 *67 p’93
New York, N.Y.

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May 17, 2002

The February 27 PAW has once again generated unproductive rubbish in the Letters column: Mr. Wheelock wrote initially in his typically retro view about the old days at the U. Next you publish the obligatory responses that blast Mr. Wheelock's assertions and correctly identify errors in his logic and reasoning. I'm bored by this.

From the time I set foot on campus in 1967 until now, the Alumni Weekly periodically publishes a letter from an old timer complaining about how much better it was back when. Subsequent issues display divergent views from other readers. Can't we move on?

It would be one thing if there were a kernal of truth and insightful analysis in the initial letters, but they continue to strike me as products of frustrated, constrained thinkers intent on displaying their mental and writing skills. Who needs it?

Please ditch these letters to the 20th century file and move forward by providing your readers with the spirit of what I believe makes Princeton great: it is an ever-changing, evolving animal that is constantly in search of what will make it great tomorrow, not harking back to the halcyon, nostalgic days of yore.

Of course I miss the old Princeton, but for crying out loud, the old Princeton shocked the crap out of those who preceeded me by 10 or 20 or 30 years or more. Welcome to life.

Kevin Warner '71
Delray Beach, Fla. (God's Waiting Room)

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April 8, 2002

There's nothing wrong with a defense of the "good old days."

Sometimes that defense is even much-needed. But some alumni in these pages, intentionally or not, tend to denigrate today's Princeton when comparing it to the Princeton they attended.

In the February 27 PAW, C. Webster Wheelock ’60 *67 addresses what he identifies as a "cultural gulf"that has arisen "between the old Princeton and the new." His letter gives a persuasive and illuminating defense of the Princeton of the 1950s, one that I agree is worth reading by many younger students and alumni. However, one of his assertions casts an unduly negative light on today's undergraduates, and this letter will attempt to put Wheelock's analysis in perspective as it applies to today's undergraduates.

Wheelock states, "Undergraduates in the late 1950s did about 60 percent more course work to graduate than do today's Princetonians in the humanities in their underclass years."

As a recent graduate (though one in engineering), I did quite a bit of course work myself, so I am naturally surprised by and skeptical of that figure. More unsettling than his figure is the implication that somehow Princeton students today do not work as hard as their predecessors did in the 1950s. Numbers aside, it is possible that Princeton's undergraduates in the 1950s took more courses, or spent more time on them, than their counterparts do today. However, it is simply not true that Princeton students today work any less hard than the classes that came before them; indeed, undergraduates at Princeton today are asked to work harder, achieving at higher levels and in more endeavors, than ever before.

How could today's Princeton students possibly do less coursework while working harder in their time at Princeton than those of the 1950s? Wheelock actually explains two reasons for that discrepancy in his letter. Today's Princetonians, he points out, dedicate themselves to higher caliber athletics (and, I would add, greater skill and devotion in other extracurriculars, such as music), and spend more time partying and socializing with the opposite sex. This is certainly true.

In its dedication to recruiting and shaping multitalented and well-rounded individuals, Princeton implicitly asks its students to take extracurricular activities and social skills as seriously as academics. Devoting energy to those other pursuits cannot help but detract from the time spent on academics. This is a tradeoff that can be debated, but not avoided, and Princeton has decided that there is significant value in extracurricular and social experiences aside from academics. As for coeducation, no one today can argue that women do not deserve as much as men to partake in the great education Princeton has to offer. Along with its pitfalls, the diversion from academic pursuits that coeducation provides can be a worthwhile one for both men and women. These factors, serious extracurricular activities and social activity, are now part and parcel of the undergraduate‚s task at Princeton.

There is another key factor, one that Wheelock does not mention, that undercuts the sharp distinction in academic effort he draws between Princeton students of the 1950s and today: the steady advance in academic knowledge over the years. Continuing an inexorable process since the days when Benjamin Franklin could be not only a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of many, today's academic fields are deeper, broader, and more various than they were in 1950. There are more important works to cover and more areas of scientific inquiry than ever before. Given the expansion in material, undergraduate courses at Princeton are now significantly broader than they were in the 1950s, covering more topics in the same span of time. To accommodate the increase in breadth, courses must spend less class time on each topic and require more outside reading and analysis by the students. Of course, given their extracurricular and social commitments, students do not have hours of extra time to devote, and so must find ever more efficient ways of assimilating information. Thus, students are now asked to absorb much more knowledge than the students of the 1950s, yet with less time, focus, and academic support. Even if undergraduates at Princeton today take fewer courses or spend less time on academics than their counterparts did in the 1950s, they are required to be more effective and productive in the time they do spend studying, forcing them to apply skill and concentration in greater quantities than ever before.

Most undergraduates at Princeton today are both more motivated and more talented than the classes that came before them. Asked to do more in the same amount of time, today's Princeton students bring greater focus, efficiency, and flexibility to bear than their precursors had on average. The task laid out for them is impossible: to achieve in academics, to succeed in extracurricular activities, and to grow personally in a social context. There is not enough time, even with the talent and dedication of today‚s Princetonians, for students to achieve what is possible for them in all three areas. Nevertheless, today's Princeton undergraduates gamely and cheerfully apply themselves to that impossible undertaking, and what they do achieve is quite remarkable.

It is true, as some alumni have pointed out, there are some number of bad apples and lazy underachievers at Princeton today, and that was also true in the 1950s. There are vices on campus today, just as there were then (some the same, others different). Nevertheless, I am heartened by Wheelock's description of a Princeton filled with students who were studious, humble, and energetic, and I hope that my letter paints an equally favorable picture of today's students. Princeton undergraduates, then as now, appreciate their good fortune in attending our great university, and they work hard to make the most of it.

Alexander D. Feldman ’01
Santa Barbara, Calif.

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April 1, 2002

C. Webster Wheelock's '60 *67 claims that "a more demanding academic program" and "less opportunity to socialize between the sexes," meant Princetonians of his era entertained themselves more responsibly than those of today. Those inclined to believe him should re-read A Room Full of Hovings, John McPhee ’53's profile of former Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Hoving '67. In that book is a memorable description of a 40-hour pre-exam debauch in Holder Hall. Imbibing "milk punch" (a sort of alcoholic stone soup) by the canister load, Hoving and his roommates transformed most of their belongs (and their entire allotment of university furniture) into fuel for a festive fire. Here's the finale: "They had, in fact burned up almost everything in the room except the player piano. Someone went out and came back with an axe. The piano played on while it was being hacked to pieces, and all the pieces were given in tandem to the flames." Just the sort of wholesome male bonding Wheelock's alma mater needs more of now!

Robert H. White s’80
Williamstown, Mass.

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March 12, 2002

Following up on C. Webster Wheelock '60's letter on life at Princeton before and after the 1960s, I wonder whether the following observation is substantially true. My brother Tom (Dartmouth '64) recently said to me that he and I and lots of our peers got into Ivy League schools as they were in transition from institutions where wealth was the major criterion for admission to universities where talent was the major criterion. (Our father could afford our tuition, and we were moderately smart; thus, our window of opportunity.) No offense meant to anyone, but is there a study that would substantiate or destroy this perhaps-too-gross a generalization?

Joe Illick '56
San Francisco, Calif.

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December 24, 2001

I found fascinating the article by Kathryn Feldman ’72 regarding the 2001 Oscar-winning documentary Into the Arms of Strangers and how, in a story of kismet, two Princetonians' intergenerational friendship later became a working collaboration – with one of the Princetonians acting as the film's associate producer and the other as a subject (cover story, December 19).

Perhaps a bit of the same kismet was at work when the PAW published in the same issue (1) the From the Archives photograph of John P. Poe 1895 and two other Princeton classmates equally bloody and battered after a freshman/sophomore snowball fight, and (2) the Liriel Higa ’02 commentary regarding the Undergraduate Student Government's 2001 report on women's issues and her own 2 a.m. experience with loud, drunk and male Princetonian louts (On the Campus, December 19).

When this photograph and commentary are taken together, I saw an intergenerational Princeton story that connects my, Poe, and Higa's Princeton experience and one that sparks further thoughts on my continuously evolving appreciation of life and the all important position of Princeton in that experience.

At 2 a.m. about 20 years ago, on perhaps too many occasions, I was one of the said same loud, drunk, and male louts. My escapades only differ from that related by Higa in that instead of having one of my compatriots crash into the dorm door of a PAW writer he crashed through a hallway glass fire door, and the compatriot yelling "Open up the f---ing windows, b---s!" verbatim was doing so while running around the Henry/1901 courtyard naked and swinging his pants over his head. In addition to the effects of alcohol, the latter perpetrator was doing so as part of the requirements of having lost a bet. Names are withheld to protect the guilty.

Perhaps, like a computer hacker with a guilty conscience offering his services to counteract further hacking, my above exploits give me some credibility in decoding the issue of sexual harassment of women at Princeton. Perhaps I get further "street cred" from constantly brushing up with and possibly fostering low-grade misogyny during my year as social chairman of then all-male Tiger Inn, two years of rowing crew and playing rugby, and five years in the Marine Corps.

Fortunately, over a decade of marriage to a very, very perceptive and patient woman and the gift of a now three-year-old daughter (whose unique personality makes me convinced that she is 100 percent Princeton material) gives me the desire to make amends and, I believe, has done much to cure me of my prior negative tendencies. These factors and 20 years of experience including and since Princeton tell me that alcohol-related sexual harassment of women at Princeton comes from a powerful mishmash of "nature or nurture" gender differences in regard to the biology/physiology of the sexual urge and the different rates of attaining a mentally and societally competent state of maturity. In short, most "boys will be boys." That is, most of them will exhibit their inherent tendencies towards sexual frustration and social immaturity while under the influence of too much alcohol.

Furthermore, I look at the Poe photograph as a part and parcel proof of a "boys will be boys" thesis. John P. Poe 1895 is the Poe Field namesake, one of the famous six Princeton Poe brothers, three of whom were all-America athletes, and an individual who was so popular a football hero that, when he was asked to leave Princeton for the rest of the semester because of academic deficiencies, he was cheered goodbye by all of his classmates at the Princeton Junction train station. After being asked to leave Princeton permanently for further academic transgression, Poe followed a life of adventure as a cowpuncher, gold prospector, surveyor, and soldier of fortune. Later he joined the British Army and was subsequently killed in World War I. His classmates memorialized him with Poe Field. His bloody and bashed face in the photograph was undoubtedly made courtesy of the fact that in Poe's day first snowfalls were used as good an excuse as any for freshman and sophomores to fistfight. For better or worse, the photograph strikes me as showing certain inherent and possibly interrelated truths about maleness and Princeton. Poe's story gives me pause to think about how tame are our lives, cane spree (originally conceived to redirect another excuse for freshman/sophomore fist fights), and what feebly remains of the more recently conceived tradition of Nude Olympics.

At the risk of sounding patronizing or like an apologist, I urge Ms. Higa and similarly intelligent and perceptive young women at Princeton not to waste their time taking the generalized actions of Princeton's male louts personally. I also ask them to consider that what makes Princeton Princeton is called a character – warts, frogs, rogue princes, and all. Of course, I am not condoning physically threatening words or behavior wittingly directed toward specific individuals, male or female. Yet, within that constraint, I urge Princeton students and faculty to have the patience to give all students, particularly those struggling with the inherent challenging hurdle of being young and male, some space to howl at the moon while growing up. I also urge all Princetonians, particularly Ms. Higa, not to let their college experience go by without just once getting uproariously and obnoxiously drunk, albeit safely please. I would argue that it is all part of a life's education and a life lived.

Reed M. Benet ’84
Belvedere, Calif.

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November 20, 2001

This is the first time I have ever written about anything concerning Princeton.

The last PAW, as usual, contains good and bad news.

The letter from Alan J. Schlesinger ’68 about college and alcohol was most distressing. It is about a lot more than alcohol.

I studied my arse off to get the grades and recommendations to get into Harvard Law School.

I found out later that law school and making big bucks on Wall Street are not what they are cracked up to be and chose to turn my life into a different direction. But, I must say, Princeton gave me that choice or at least made it easier.

I thank Her for that! With that thought in mind, maybe we should open the college to much more PUPP (Princeton University Preparatory Program) type efforts.

As far as legacies, I never believed in them. That sounds too much like the wrong side of class warfare. If Princeton truly wants to be in the nation's service, then much more PUPP and less football are in order. And if we are going to be fair about it, let's help all achievers of whatever race equally.

Andrew D. Strupp '69
Salt Point, N.Y.

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November 14, 2001

Despite my busy schedule as a pediatric resident, I could not let Mr. Schlesinger's opinions about Princeton's student-athletes go unchallenged. In my experience, his views are misinformed, stereotypical, and irresponsible. In extolling the virtues of Saturday classes, five-course schedules, and the almighty "C," Mr. Schlesinger's comments undervalue extracurricular pursuits and portray pure conjecture as truths.

Princeton athletics is much more than simply engaging in sport. It provides a balance and a framework for intense academic pursuits. What is ironic is that all of the "slots" my teammates and I filled in Mr. Schlesinger's "well-rounded class" were filled by high-achieving students, who succeeded at Princeton academically, notwithstanding their athletic abilities. To demean our efforts and claim that "perhaps...athletes are also students and will enjoy and be enriched by the exposure to academic life" is insulting, demeaning, and assumes as a fundamental premise that we did not value or contribute to the academic discussion inherent in the Princeton experience. Such a proposition is simply untenable.

Princeton history is filled with student-athletes who succeeded at the highest academic and athletic levels. Further, as a student-athlete, it was clear to my teammates and me that our academic development should outweigh our athletic achievement. In fact, it was this academic focus that drew many of us away from athletic scholarships elsewhere, where our only responsibility was athletics. It was this focus on academic achievement that made the experience as a student-athlete at Princeton so unique and rewarding. There was never a question that we were students first, and athletes second.

As a final point, Mr. Schlesinger seems to imply that student-athletes are incapable of carrying on articulate conversations with their intellectual peers, when he states in his penultimate paragraph that, "many...[student athletes?] use alcohol to pass time and as a means of interaction and common cultural communication." While this is a nice use of alliteration, this statement, and his letter in general, are fallacious, frustrating, and frivolous.

Ben Pecht ’96
San Diego, Calif.

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November 8, 2001

The letter by Alan J. Schlesinger '68 is a distillation of much of what the university's graduates have been learning, with mixed feelings, for decades about life on campus. Though there can be no doubt that many contemporary undergraduates neither drink excessively nor direct most of their energies into non-academic pursuits, it seems certain that a cultural gulf has widened between the old Princeton and the new. Mr. Schlesinger's forthright, even brave, reflections on the ramifications of that gulf are addressed to fellow alumni as a kind of update or report; I wish, however, that today's undergraduates might also read the letter. From it, they could get a clearer picture of life on the campus prior to their time, a picture which has sadly drifted into a distorted backward glance at supposed legions of indolent preppies, undeserving of admission in the first place, whiling away their four years in pranks, parties, and prejudice.

The reality: Undergraduates in the late 1950s were half from private and half from public schools. They did about 60 percent more course work to graduate than do today's Princetonians in the humanities, and they usually worked over a five-and-a-half day class week, including Saturday labs, in their underclass years. Partying in the official sense of organized entertainment was limited to three or four approved weekends during the academic year; I do not recollect any Thursday or Sunday evening booze-enhanced revelry even on those occasions. The era was more one of well-balanced individuals than of a "well-rounded class." In short, back then we had more amateurish athletic contests, a more-demanding academic program, far less opportunity to socialize between the sexes, a much lower incidence of abusive drinking-related behavior, and greater occasion for male friendships to evolve.

That was the Princeton that nurtured the alumni generosity of today, and one wonders whether the new Princeton will prove as successful in generating loyalty and the altruistic belief that one should repay something of what he has been given. It is the size of the university's endowment that now permits large numbers of today's undergraduates to attend without paying much or perhaps any of the cost themselves. In equity, shouldn't these lucky young people feel something more akin to gratitude to their forerunners rather than the vague feelings of superiority and mild disdain evidently based on what is just a caricature of the original?

C. Webster Wheelock '60 *67
New York, N.Y.

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November 7, 2001

Having been the manager of the men's lacrosse team (the first to win the National Championship) for four years and having been joyously married to a Princeton football player for almost 10 years, I found Alan Schlesinger ’68's letter (November 7) so deeply insulting that I felt compelled to respond. It was particularly galling as it was included in the same issue which commemorated the fine athletic prowess combined with intellect, humor, and humanity of many of those Princetonians who died in the awful events of September 11.

The implication that the vast majority of athletes at Princeton are a sub-par class of student whose sole means of interaction is through chugging beers together is incredibly uninformed and marks one of those sweeping generalizations which a Princeton education in critical thinking is intended to dispel. I have only to think of the football players and lacrosse players turned doctor – even neurosurgeon – or vice president of a major corporation, or teacher, or professor, or engineer, or officer in the Armed Forces, to be reminded of how horribly wrong Mr. Schlesinger is. I have only to recall long conversations on road trips about our senior theses or philosophical debates at brunch over texts we were reading or the poems that lacrosse players were citing in the wake of John Schroeder ’92's tragic death to know that Mr. Schlesinger's understanding of Princeton is somehow thoroughly misguided. I have only to think of the numbers of athletes of every sport who volunteered for student telethons and Project '92 to raise funds for Princeton, and the vast numbers who were involved in volunteer activities to know that Princeton athletes contribute immeasurable amounts to the university, both on and off the field (or court, as it may be). It would be hard for athletes NOT to contribute to Princeton, since I recall reading that a full 75 percent of students are involved in athletics in some form. If Mr. Schlesinger's ideas of the university held true, then Princeton would be a campus full of hung-over dunderheads incapable of real academic work. Instead, it has been ranked, yet again, the #1 university in the nation by "U.S. News and World Report."

To blame athletes for the alcohol problem at Princeton is short-sighted at best. Alcohol is endemic to the university, and I would agree that the culture of drinking THROUGHOUT the campus has to be addressed. But to disparage athletes at Princeton as a rule is sheer prejudice. They are certainly among the best and the brightest, and some of the finest died "in the nation's service."

Deb Botha Ryan '92
Bellingham, Mass.

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September 23, 2001

I have left my daughter at Princeton for her sophomore year and wish to share thoughts – mine, not hers – on life at Princeton and its differences from days which alumni may recall. I can get as far as the As – academics, athletics, and alcohol.

The breadth of academic life at Princeton remains strong notwithstanding a degree of political sanitization. Much more significant overall is the depth of academic life where a reduction in course load from five courses to four courses has reduced the time invested in academics both in and out of the classroom. While older alumni had to take classes on Saturdays, there are today almost no lectures and few precepts on Fridays. The second significant change is the change in grading. PAW has previously reviewed the 1999 faculty study showing that almost 90% of grades are As and Bs. The faculty recognized that the practical effect of grade inflation is to flatten the grade curve and to reduce the value of quality academic work.

Athletics have changed dramatically at Princeton. Where once students played sports, the "walk-on" student athlete is for all practical purposes unknown today , and Princeton has about 750 recruited varsity athletes plus some number of so-called "walk-offs," recruited athletes who choose not to play. President Bowen’s "The Game of Life" documents the SAT gap, concentration of athletes in the bottom third of the class, and the extent to which Princeton has adopted a system in which athletes are a separate class of students. Perhaps the prevailing philosophy is that athletes are also students and will enjoy and be enriched by the exposure to academic life. That is doubtless true for some, but for those students recruited not as well-rounded people but as athletic slots in the "well-rounded class" the academic program is intended to be secondary, and they may be given the Bs which devalue the academic program. A writer to PAW last spring suggested adoption of explicitly separate academic standards for athletes. In fact the recruitment of young people who come to Princeton as athletes first and students second goes hand in hand with changes in academic life and the third A – alcohol.

Alcohol at Princeton today is not what you remember. It is not a keg at the club on Saturday night. It is omnipresent, drink until you’re sick on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Strangely not Friday. When President Shapiro removed kegs from certain university events some years ago he was not harking back to Prohibition but rather was reacting to a change in the nature and level of alcohol abuse on campus. What was once a Saturday party lubricant has become the common currency of the campus, the lingua franca of the predominant culture. I was flabbergasted in a UStore line to hear sophomores state it was "like awesome" that they had no classes on Thursday because "Wednesday has become so big."

There are many different cultures at Princeton, and the "well-rounded class" as distinguished from a class of "well-rounded students" does not lend itself to a common description. The largest single group in the "well-rounded class" which may have become the predominant culture of Princeton today is the 25% of the class who are recruited athletes with a primary expectation of playing sports and secondary interest in academics and who use alcohol to pass time and as a means of interaction and common cultural communication.

I believe that the admissions office reflects rather than creates the values of the university, and I assume also that these values evolve over time. The current values may seem strange to alumni, but it was probably ever thus. The relationship between athletics, academics, and alcohol deserves continuing review.

Alan J. Schlesinger ’68 p’04
Newton, Mass.

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April 10, 2001    

I was saddened but not surprised to learn that a supposed "record number of students" were treated for intoxication and injuries during the sign-ins weekend this spring.

However, PAW’s record keeping must not go back very far. In 1988, when I was Princeton's director of athletic medicine, I was on call at McCosh on the night of that year's sign-in parties. We admitted 39 students to the infirmary and sent seven to the hospital, one of whom ended up on a respirator.

A dedicated staff of nurses and student volunteers spread mattresses on the floors of the McCosh hallways to accommodate our overflow admissions, and we made continuous rounds all night long. Perhaps these "records" show that things actually are improving. After such incidents, reviews always are undertaken.

One thinks of the cynical line from Bob Dylan's song, "Oxford Town": "Somebody better investigate soon." I have no doubt that interventions can make dramatic impacts on selected individual lives. But I am less sanguine that programs at our universities can alter significantly the attitudes toward excessive drinking that permeate so much of American family and social life.  

Michael E. Sargent ’72 M.D.
Colchester, Vt.

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March 7, 2001

Looking at the statistics in the article (Notebook, March 7), both the number of students disciplined and the Health Services admissions for problems with alcohol declined from 1998-99 to 1999-00. That could be due to the Trustee Initiative working; it could also at least partly be due to students in trouble being more reluctant to seek professional treatment.

While the educational efforts can't be faulted, it would be tragic if attempted deterrence inadvertently resulted in students taking a grave risk to avoid the new penalties.

Rick Mott '73
Ringoes, N.J.

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