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Letters from alumni about females at Princeton

Editor's Note: Mr. Cummings's letter was written in response to a New York Times article, January 21, 2004, in which Evan Baehr ’05, editor in chief of The Tory, said Dr. Tilghman's administration has acquired a markedly different makeup that separates it from the traditions that have, historically, defined Princeton. "There is an ideological notion — unquestionably liberal — within the context of women in academia that runs contrary to the Princeton of the 1950s and 1960s. It is impossible to divorce female appointments from overall liberal ideology."

January 21, 2004

In response to the Princeton Tory and Evan Baehr's criticism of Dr. Tilghman, one is compelled to remind him and those who believe Princeton, under her leadership, is moving in a dangerously un-Tory direction, that Princeton was, from its inception, a hotbed of anti-Tory radicalism.

John Witherspoon, who served as president, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. James Madison, who went on to become president of the United States, was a revolutionary while an undergraduate. James McCosh, who also served as president of Princeton, was a religious free-thinker and an educational reformer in a decidedly radical mode.

When Princeton became a bastion of anti-intellectual snobbery, Woodrow Wilson opposed the eating clubs and fought to establish a distinguished graduate school.

As someone who was at Princeton in the fifties, when anti-Semitism was rampant, I always lamented that the spirit of Witherspoon, McCosh, and Wilson had languished.

Dr. Tilghman is in the great tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment that has always been at the heart of Princeton's greatness. I celebrate her presidency and deplore the reactionary backlash now in vogue. If this group wants to be really Tory, then they should emulate Margaret Thatcher, the first and only woman prime minister of Britain, and Benjamin Disraeli, who was born a Jew.

Indeed, Michael Howard, the current leader of the Tory party, who is also Jewish, has actively promoted women in positions of leadership. These so-caled Princeton Tories need a lesson in what it really means to be a Tory.

Richard Cummings '59
Bridgehampton, N.Y.

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November 10, 2003

It saddens me that the (mostly) men who write derogatory and cruel things about female Princetonians and female administrators exist in such numbers.

I was inspired by Princeton men and women in my time there, and I wish that these alums would just see how much good comes out of Princeton each year.

I believe Shirley Tilghman is a good president, but I thought President Shapiro was good too.

I ask myself, is it really the upper echelons of the administration that matter? I think the hearts, minds, and good works of each graduating class are what make Princeton special.

Like the Grinch stealing Christmas, to me Princeton would be great even if we had no president, because it was the staff, professors, and students who made the Princeton experience amazing. Tilghman and her staff do many things, but they do not shape the interactions I had with my thesis adviser, set the lesson plans, or dictate the content of the conversations I had with friends. And these are the things that made Princeton a dream come true for me and other women there. Let's stop worrying about who is in charge and be thankful that the staff and faculty and students are talented people who do good things, whether they are led by a man or a woman.

Katharine Buzicky ’02
Oxford, England

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October 30, 2003

You published my letter of April 26, asking why the University had a female administration, along with your reply that included statistics implying that it didn't.

Now I read in the New York Times Magazine of October 26 that President Tilghman, being asked about the University, "a powerful institution run largely by women," and about alumni complaints about the female administration, "says she was not really surprised," implying that these were the same alumni who complained about coeducation.

This is a surprising and insulting generalization. However, now you know how you should have answered my earlier letter: Instead of trying to deny the female administration with statistics, you should have simply said that I was an old fogey.

John Brittain '59
Lewistown, Pa.

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July 3, 2003

Thank you for your note in the July 2 issue, answering my letter that asked why so many of the senior administrators are women, given Princeton's commitment to diversity. That President Tilghman has appointed a number of men is interesting, but I didn't ask that. That half of the President's cabinet are men is interesting, although (on the University's website) I can't tell who they are. I suppose they include the general counsel and the treasurer and the head of buildings and grounds.

What prompted my letter, however, is that now the dean admissions, and the president, the dean of the college, the dean of undergraduate students, the provost, the dean of engineering, and the vice president for campus life are all women. The dean of the faculty and the dean of the graduate School are men; however, all the senior administrators with responsibility for undergraduate students and life are women. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, and if I don't like it, you need not worry. But please don't print disingenuous statistics to imply that it is not so.

John Brittain '59
Lewistown, Pa.

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June 6, 2003

I have just completed 6,000 miles to be at my son’s graduation from Princeton. The campus was alive with wonderfully attractive, sexy, and smart young undergraduate women. Wow!

Why then was Commencement so drab, so drear, so utterly dreamless?

The class president was a woman, the valedictorian was a woman, most prizes went to women, eight of the 14 members of the commencement steering committee were women, six of the eight high university administrators are women. Why then so drear and dreamless?

Can’t woman inspire? Cannot woman ever be numinous? William Carlos Williams said woman was his energy, but man his inspiration. Does this ever change ? Can it ever be changed ? Did The Orange Moon over Nassau Hall leave with Fred Hargadon ? There's reason to feel it did. And I am not alone.

James C. Neely ’48
Napa, Calif.

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June 4, 2003

Princeton now has a woman president, a woman provost, a woman dean of admissions, and a woman as president of the Alumni Association. I suspect that it will soon have, if it does not already, more women students than men.

I would like to suggest a change of name for the school to more accurately reflect the make-up of the administration, the faculty, and the student body. At the same time, we should preserve the heritage and history associated with the old name. How about a change to Princesstonia University?

Richard B. Ragland '45
Chesterfield, Mo.

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May 17, 2003

On the basis of very little evidence, Mr. Lewis seems to conclude that Princeton is being overwhelmed by women. There are only a limited number of possible explanations for Mr. Lewis's attitude. These explanations would seem to be:

(1) Pure sexism. Perhaps Mr. Lewis thinks that women should be kept out of top positions and out of academics and the workforce entirely, in which case I feel very sorry for any female members of his family — although if one of his granddaughters were to become president of a major university, maybe he would sing a different tune.

(2) Fear of men having to compete with women. After all, if society confines half of its brains and talents to a small subset of occupations, poorly qualified men stand a better chance of advancement. Think of Afghanistan under the Taliban.

(3) Ignorance. The same issue of PAW reports that Princeton has 365 male and 61 female full professors, which doesn't sound like an overwhelmingly female environment to me.

(4) Resentment toward what Mr. Lewis interprets as favoritism toward female candidates for top university positions. In this case his letter amounts to an unsubstantiated attack on President Tilghman's qualifications and performance. Mr. Lewis is entitled to his opinions, but I think most people would feel that if we are to be subjected to them, he should back them up.

I am an academic economist, which means I work in a largely male environment. I have always been against affirmative action, because I don't want any successes I might have to be attributed to differential standards and not to the quality of my work. It saddens me to realize that there are still people out there like Mr. Lewis, who probably thinks I should not have been admitted to Princeton and that the world would be a better place if I had not aspired to my present career.

Valerie R. Bencivenga '76
Austin, Tex.

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May 5, 2003

The President of Princeton is female.

The Provost of Princeton is female.

The Dean of Admissions is female.

The Dean of the School of Engineering is female.

Do I detect a gender bias?

James C. Alexander Jr. ’43
Fort Smith, Ark.

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March 20, 2002

The reaction to the Hugh Lewis ’41 letter in March 13 issue was most interesting. While I had expressed concern to Tom Wright ’62 (secretary of the selection committee) over President Tilghman's appointment, it was not that she was female, but was the third president in a row without Princeton undergraduate experience. Having heard her on the Saturday of Reunions 2001, I think she is one impressive lady! I think Liz Hallock ’02 hit the nail on the head in comparing female versus male attendance at the NYC Arts Alive program and her club tap room. I was a member of the executive committee of the PC of Northern California for several years prior to moving in 2000. By the time I left, the past and present presidents of the club were "ladies" as were 80 percent of the attendees at most monthly meetings. It wasn't that the ladies were taking over; they were filling a vacuum left by males. So men, don't complain; participate!

Adrian Woodhouse ’59
Reno, Nev.

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March 2, 2002

In response to the letter from Hugh M.F. Lewis ’41: If Hugh Lewis '41 is perturbed by the fact that Shirley Tilghman, almost all of her top-dog appointments, and almost all of PAW's staff are female, he'd better sit down before he looks at the roster of the Alumni Council 14-member staff. It's 100 percent male-free.

Terry Wintroub ’69 k’89
Lawrenceville, N.J.

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March 1, 2002

This letter is to say "amen" to the letter written by Hugh M. F. Lewis ’41 entitled Female U. (Letters, January 30). As the widow of a 1949 graduate (due to a WWII interrupted education) and a 1941 graduate of one of the Seven Sisters colleges, it is discouraging and saddening to see how far off course our present day Ivy League colleges and universities have drifted. I truly wonder about the quality of education our young people of today are getting. How sad!

Edith Bissett w’49
Ventura, Calif.

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March 1, 2002

Regarding H. Lansing Vail's letter in PAW, February 27, summarizing the opinions of the Princeton Alumni Association of Northern Ohio on the onset of coeducation at Princeton ("overwhelmingly...NO!"), it is my distinct pleasure, as a second-generation Princetonian and member of the Class of 2000, to report that the problems of coeducation foreseen 30 years ago by those living 100 miles west of the Hudson River are more than outweighed by the rewards reaped 30 miles south of it today. I feel very fortunate indeed to have spent four years developing some of the most important friendships of my life based on shared senses of humor and shared intellectual explorations, and not constrained by the gender segregation that so inevitably makes men and women alien to one another, and by extension rival camps.

Sexual harassment is unacceptable; it is also, unfortunately, a fact of our culture. I left Princeton galvanized by what is wrong with gender relations in this country and tremendously inspired by what is right. I also left with the strength, of both intellect and conviction, to work towards a more just and civil society.

Carlynn Houghton ’00
New York, N.Y.

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February 14, 2002

I write in response to Hugh M.F. Lewis '41, who suggested that the trustees "promptly convert Princeton to a single-sex, female university and be done with it" because Princeton now has a "lady president and a lady second-in-command."

Based on your letter, Mr. Lewis, it is clear that you are no Tiger, you are a dinosaur.

Betsy (Smith) Hellman '93
New York, N.Y.

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February 9, 2002

I think Hugh M. F. Lewis is a mean old (82) woman hater. It must gall him when meddlers like Rodgers and Hammerstein elbow in and say that there is nothing like a dame. They’re right, you know.

I further think it’s just fine that the PAW staff is broad minded, which is more than he is.

I am looking forward, sort of, to more captivating nut-brown humor from Lewis and/or his disciples. But, as an old (81) classmate of his, I must warn him against any suffragette movement that might spring up and strip his gears.

David G. McAneny ’41
Granada Hills, Calif.

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February 8, 2002

I would like to thank PAW for printing the letter by Hugh M. Lewis ’41 (January 30) in which he recommended that "the trustees promptly convert Princeton to a single-sex female university and be done with it," in light of "lady" Tilghman's installation. I have felt subdued in the days since reading Lewis‚s letter, which I now have on the wall above my desk. Yet even though reading the letter made me sad, I am glad I saw it. First, counter to its intent, it has only provided me with more energy to be the best student, thinker, and Princetonian I can. Second, the letter damned itself with gratifying effectiveness.

Lillian Pierce ’02
Princeton University

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February 7, 2002

I was thinking about graduation today (will it ever come?!), and so I decided to read PAW in order to set the mood. I enjoyed the letter on Female U., and so did all my girlfriends in the room at the time. I will give the benefit of the doubt to the gentleman, Mr. Lewis ’41, concerned by the amount of leadership positions at Princeton occupied by women and assume he did not mean any sexism, but was merely pointing out the possibility of women winning posts not by merit, but to act as figureheads.

Let me assure you, sir, if no one has done so already, that I have met Ms. Tilghman in person, and she is a highly capable and not to mention, lovely, person, befit to lead Princeton into the 21st century.

Furthermore, the climb of women into positions of power in the administration is perhaps a fitting reflection of life at the undergraduate level. I recently attended a workshop for those interested in leading Arts Alive, Princeton's latest effort to give back to the New York community in the wake of September 11. At least 100 students made a showing at the event; only about five of which were men. And yet, on any given night when I walk into the taproom of my eating club, the young men present greatly outnumber the women.

Princeton is a wonderfully integrated co-ed institution, but it cannot be denied that portions of it are occupied primarily by the men, while others by the ìladies.î If only in part, it seems you got your wish of an "all female" Princeton already!

Liz Hallock ’02
Princeton University

P.S. I'm thinking about running for young alumni trustee, but I do not wish to be deemed inadequate by alumni on the basis of my sex! Maybe I should not run to avoid offending anyone :)

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February 6, 2002

One of the delights of PAW is reading the letters from disgruntled alumni decrying something at Princeton they don't like, usually because it's not the way it was in the good old days. Normally I chuckle at these letters and move on, but your January 30 issue contains such a classic collection of old-fogey letters that I can't resist commenting.

First in line is a fine example of an old favorite, the "women are ruining Princeton" genre, from one Hugh M.F. Lewis ’41. (Why do so many of these people have two middle initials?) Mr. Lewis includes the always-fun assertion that he doubts you'll dare to print his letter even though lots of alums agree with him.

Unfortunately, the declining number of PAW letters complaining about women suggests there may not be many of this kind of old fogey left after all.

Next we have another familiar complaint, this one about architecture, from James F. Lotspeich ’44. Mr. Lotspeich decries the decision to have the new science library designed by Frank Gehry, who is considered the greatest architect of our time by many critics and working architects. The writer tells us he has seen Gehry buildings and can't find any redeeming social or esthetic features in any of them. One suspects he feels the same way about the Picasso's in the Art Museum.

The most virulent of the January 30 letters, and the only one that bothered me, is from Robert 0. Woods ’62 on the familiar theme of "people I disagree with who therefore shouldn't be allowed to speak on campus." The object of Mr. Wood's ire (he uses such words as "fool" "idiot" and "near treason") is Danny Glover, who apparently gave a speech opposing America's use of capital punishment (a view shared by every other western democracy and a hefty percentage of Americans.) My concern about Mr. Woods's letter, however, is not its substance or even its over-heated language. It is that Mr. Woods is from a younger class than mine.

Please do not print any more old-fogey letters from classes younger than 1955. They make me fear that I am getting very old.

John C. Tucker ’55
Lanexa, Va.

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February 2, 2002

When I read Hugh Lewis 41's sardonic letter about Princeton becoming all female, I was saddened not so much by his viewpoint as by his brevity. It seemed that he chose to throw his hands up in the air rather than attempt serious debate.

The events that have transpired since President Tilghman's inauguration have led me to recognize that she has the elusive quality known as *baraka*. I believe all the characteristics that people have held against her will prove beneficial during her tenure. For starters, her perception of the university has not been indelibly colored by the joys and melodramas of youth, as would be the case with an alumna or alumnus.

Her Canadian citizenship has a sobering effect on rising American jingoism. And her atheism expresses an objectivity that will steer Princeton through these difficult times when religious and secular dogmas diminish our ability to see each other as fellow humans.

As for gender, I trust that President Tilghman and the other women in her administration will judge men more equitably than they themselves have been judged in the past, thereby giving new meaning to the term "the fair sex."

Martin Shell ’74
Klaten, Indonesia

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January 31, 2002

Thoroughly irritated by Hugh M. F. Lewis ’41’s mysogonistic nonsense, I began composing a reply in my head while continuing to look through the rest of the magazine. And what do you know? There, on page 12, was reply enough: "Two (Women) Win Rhodes Scholarships." Unless of course the feminist conspiracy uncovered by Mr. Lewis has spread to Oxford as well.

John Williamson ’81
Atlanta, Ga.

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January 26, 2002

In response to Hugh M.F. Lewis ’41’s letter, I would like to respond, quite simply, "Get over it." Should female students have scurried away with from the Princeton campus, metaphorical tails between their legs, when the positions of president, provost, and PAW staff were filled by men? Mr. Lewis’s letter unfortunately reminded me of a comment one of my male professors made to me during a lab session during my freshman year of engineering education at Princeton, "Do you really think female students have any business in engineering?"

I also recall the altogether ridiculous response of some male members of the Princeton Club of New York in the late 1980s when I initiated a successful campaign to have removed from the entrance way the stone plaque that read, "Where women cease from troubling and the wicked are laid to rest." Go figure, but I was quite tired of listening to older, male colleagues – whom I was entertaining for business purposes at the Club – snicker when we walked in the door. In that case, I was met with a comment about the purity of Ivory soap, the implication being that I was "impure" in the minds of certain male club members.

That certain (and hopefully an increasingly small number of) men should be this insecure continues to astound me, especially when the alternatives to such threatened, hence defensive, attitudes abound. "Get over it, guys – and try joining the human[e] race." It’s got to be a lot more fun than the psychological space you currently occupy.

Jensine Andresen ’86
Lunenburg, Mass.

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December 10, 2001

We now have a lady president and a lady second in command (whatever they call her). Also I noticed that all of the full-time staff on PAW have first names that would lead one to believe that they are members of the same sex.

To Save time, I recommend that the trustees promptly convert Princeton to a single-sex, female university and be done with it.

It is unlikely that you will print the above, but I, and many others, hope you will.

Hugh M.F. Lewis ’41
St. Louis, Mo.

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