Letters from alumni about "Imperfect Match" Athletics at P.U. 12/17/03 issue
A recent piece in the New Yorker by probably the finest essayist writing in American, Adam Gopnik, reminded me of an encounter a number of years ago when I attended an off-year reunion. Gopniks paean to Kirk Varnadoe, a friend, mentor, and recently deceased art historian, described how the structure required in playing football at Williams College had contributed to his intellectual development as one of the prime art critics in America.
I was gratified during my brief stay in Princeton years ago during that off-year reunion that I did not have to put up with the successes of my classmates. I happened upon Herm Belz 59, whom I still recognized; he was part of the Iron 5 basketball team (there was a sixth man). Herm was not all that athletic but a very sound basketball player.
The Iron 5 did not win the Ivy championship but had a commendable season. I knew Belz by reputation as a prominent professor of history at the University of Maryland, and, over the previous years, I was impressed by his articles/book reviews. We, in fact, discussed them, his politics, etc.
It is unfortunate that the agenda of current Princeton administrations take as the paradigm of college athletics those universities who essentially employ illiterates, modern-day gladiators if not outright felons to populate their arenas. I suspect most have never experienced having ones mediocre talent honed by intelligence, structure, and discipline.
Stephen M. Nagy, Jr. 60
As a former coxswain and four-year member of the women's crew, I am both saddened and offended by the recent debate among the faculty, administration, and alumni regarding student athletes.
While at Princeton I helped continue the school's streak of national championship titles when my boat won back-to-back national championship titles in Women's Lightweight Crew. Perhaps former president Bowen thinks that my academic performance at Princeton was not what it should have been had I not rowed.
However, if you speak to my former professors who wrote my recommendation letters to graduate school, I think they might disagree. You see, sir, there is more to Princeton than graduating at the top of your class, or so I thought.
My Princeton experience has meant so much to me and I am proud to be an alumna of this school; it has wonderful opportunities to offer, both athletically and academically. But I am greatly disappointed in the way Princeton and its administration are alienating not only the current student-athletes but a LARGE portion of the alumni who participated in athletics, who loyally contribute to general alumni fund.
I am beginning to wonder if Princeton deserves my continuing financial
contribution since its current stance on athletics at the collegiate level
seems to be so negative. Perhaps, we should all reconsider our
donations this year.
I was a student athlete at Princeton (varsity women's golf, four years with two Ivy-League titles).
I was also, like many of my teammates, in the top percentage of my high school graduating class (two of my teammates were valedictorians).
At Princeton we majored in subjects such as economics, politics, art history, biology, mathematics, architecture, etc. Some of us were also active in charity groups, theater troupes, and, gasp, had multicolored hair (as proof of our artistic leanings).
As for myself, I now manage an art gallery, study French, and am trying my hand at tennis. This is not to say I am some cultured athletic anomaly all my teammates are diverse people with diverse interests, many of which are in the field of fine and performance arts.
Simply put, it is actually possible to be athletic and intellectual. I don't know who/when/why the myth was spread that people cannot excel in these seemingly disparate pursuits but it is simply not true (particularly at Princeton where we pride ourselves on finding the most superlative examples of renaissance achievement).
It should also be noted that athleticism and intellectualism are not dissimilar great students are highly competitive with excellent work ethics, qualities also possessed by outstanding athletes.
Perhaps I received the antagonistic statements toward athletes too personally, but I feel that every negative comment against student-athletes at Princeton is a slight against my own achievements and calls into question my rightful title as an alumna of Princeton. It is also disrespectful to my teammates (now in medical school, law school, working in finance, etc.) who were among the most educated, intellectual, and cultured people I met in college.
Julia Allison 01
I am getting very cross about the bad-mouthing of athletic admissions at Princeton . A study of the Ivy League, chaired by Princeton's former president, says that athletes are just taking up space better occupied by more sedentary students.
Let's look at my very small department architecture graduating in 1951. Billy Kleinsasser 51 *56, a gifted halfback on football's undefeated and nationally ranked team, seldom had time to enjoy the great cameraderie of the drafting room, but his designs always scored in the top 3 or . Did he amount to anything in the nation's service in later life? Only serving with distinction for 33 years as a member of the University of Oregon's School of Architecture and Allied Arts faculty, helping the next generation. I would fault today's admission effort , rather than the athlete, if they cannot accomplish the same results .
Lansing Holden '51
President Bowen and the many alumni who responded to his comments raise a number of pros and cons about the admission, contributions, and value of athletes at Princeton, as well as the value of the athletic program to the experience of these athletes at and after university. Here's another view to consider.
After 30 years in corporate America, I have observed that a great deal of structure in that environment derives from athletic models and metaphors. Teamwork, passion, playing by the rules, thinking outside the box, integrity, leadership, practice, not to mention competitiveness, while also values learned in other activities, are usually applied in an athletic context. Those who understand and navigate aptly through this model typically do well in their business careers. That is why many corporate employers do seek athletic experience and success in candidates.
It is also why, I believe, women have frequently struggled in the corporate environment they were not afforded the experiences of their male counterparts, at least women of my age. Fortunately, Title IX was enacted, which has not only reshaped the structure of collegiate athletics, but also the experiences and education of hundreds of thousands of women. Today, women entering the workforce from college can indeed be on a level playing field with their male colleagues. The opportunity and recognition for female athletes has cascaded down to high schools, so that being a woman athlete is today seen as an achievement, not an aberrration, for millions of women.
I realize that the focus of this debate is intercollegiate athletics. But that is only part of the story of athletics at Princeton. While in school, I not only played on a varsity sport, but on many intramural teams.
I am extremely proud when I see Princeton ranked first among universities in the annual U.S. News & World Report annual survey. I was beside myself with glee when Sports Illustrated ranked Princeton among the nation's Best Sports Schools. Why? Because while Princeton doesn't win many national championships, the ranking was based on our high participation rates of both men and women, across a wide range of varsity, club and intramural sports. It was terrific recognition that the university's commitment to making an athletic experience accessible to as many undergraduates as possible does matter. This broad commitment to athletic opportunity also ensures that in some measure the value and love of physical activity is woven into personal experience, leading to healthier lives for thousands of Princeton alumni.
Sure, I lament the recent poor performance of our football team, and know that when we do make the NCAA basketball tourney, at best we will be an upset special. But I wouldn't trade greater success in those venues for the rich athletic experience available in addition to the obvious outstanding academic experience (although those that know me will be shocked by this admission). The availability of both ensures that Princeton students can craft a balanced education on the dimensions that, for better or worse, are major determinants for success in business after graduation.
Larry Kurtz '72
Regarding academics vs. athletics, I consider it to be a curious anomaly that the do-gooders concern themselves only with the athletes but not with all the other activities that "detract" from study time, e.g., TapCats, Jugglers Club, High Steppers, Tigertones, Theatre Intime, gay and lesbian organizations, political rallies, Triangle Club a virtually endless source of wasted hours. Or is their view so "socially" biased they consider only those activities they oppose, perhaps because they were themselves study nerds with little to offer other than academics and no appreciation of other values?
Is this not the same ilk who constantly preach diversity, but find such things as ROTC, our good old eating clubs, the all-male or all-female school too diverse? Don't these things all add to diversity? Duh?
And what about the athletes (or those who want to participate in chess, TapCats, etc.): Do we dictate to them what they can or cannot do, or do we allow them free choice and the exercise of judgment in the self-determination of what they want to do and can (hopefully) manage to do?
My feat is that these Big Brother types are taking over what was once a fine institution with a lot of room for personal choice, which, in turn, leads to acceptance of what? RESPONSIBILITY for one's own choices and actions. Can education be complete, in fact, if we don't not only allow but try to promote and develop that?
Where, in all this, is a count of how many athletes have flunked out because of sports; and if we're to measure that, then let's also ask, how many flunked out because they were too preoccupied with other activities, on one hand, or on the other hand so constrained to academics/grades, only they cracked under the strain?
It has always struck me how blind these people are to their own foibles, such as their hate for eating clubs while preferring and supporting the just-as-stuffy, Oxford-emulating colleges. Have they nothing better to do?
I think it simply boils down to opposing anything not invented here or into which THEY, not the student, don't fit. Perhaps we should instead be challenging the credentials and motives of these nerds.
John J. Auld, Jr. 50
P.S. So, too, is the honor system a lesson in responsibility. Or at least
it SHOULD be. Responsibility is being left at the post in today's world
of ever-more-real-or-imagined rights. We need more of the former.
As are many concerned alumni, I am angered by the recent views of former University president William Bowen and his supporters, who demonstrate a narrow and weakly disguised contemptuous bias against intercollegiate competitive athletics, in general, and Princeton student-athletes, in particular. This stance, I believe, is extremely misguided and very much contrary to the holistic purpose of a Princeton undergraduate education.
I doubt that few, if any, dissenters have experienced the joys and benefits that accrue from participation in athletics at any level. Competitive sports require and promote life skills, which are critical for success. These skills cannot be nurtured through academic pursuits, alone.
It is apparent that Bowen and his group would have the Princeton undergraduate body composed, primarily, of one dimentional Ivory Tower intellectuals (whose exclusive academic interests are better served at other institutions, that are well known for welcoming this type of undergraduate). I believe that stratospheric grades and staggering SAT scores should not be the most important measures of a student's worth to the undergraduate community.
I find it unacceptable that our student-athletes student -athletes in the truest sense are being portrayed, by a clueless minority, as objects of scorn. Rather, I applaud our young men and women for fulfilling, with pride and passion, their demanding academic and athletic commitments.
Princeton University has an exceptional and enviable academic and athletic tradition. Let's keep it that way.
William B. Ward Jr. 59
Kudos to PAW for its December 17 cover story and for printing three pages of letters. I write to counter the negative image conveyed by one of your correspondents.
In my experience as a preceptor in the politics department, athletes are indistinguishable from the other students. Some are talkative and write brilliantly; others are quiet and express themselves less intelligently than most.
But whether male or female, big sport or minor sport, the academic performance of athletes has been comparable to that of other students in their precept.
The admission office has chosen wisely. Princeton's athletes deserve
applause for their performance in the classroom as well as on the playing
As a student-athlete who was not recruited, I feel a need to respond to President Bowen's (who was my outstanding preceptor in my freshman Econ 101 class) controversial topic.
In my opinion, the key to success in this topic, like everything else in life, is moderation. The vast majority (at least in the 80s, when I was a student, of the student-athletes were students primarily, athletes secondarily. This philosophy is why I chose Princeton to begin with.
The student-athletes were offered admission based upon their whole life, with academics of primary importance. There were a few who struggled to a significant degree who were probably admitted for their athletics, first; academics second. This decision is an error of the admission office, not the athletic department.
The student-athlete should be admitted by the same criteria as the student-musician/community service/leadership... person. To characterize the majority of student-athletes as weak because of a few admission errors is unfair to those deserving student-athletes at Princeton.
Athletics teaches life lessons in an equally important way as academics. Having any extracurricular activity which is demanding will teach individuals to manage their time and balance their life better. The editor of the Prince had a more time demanding position than any athlete's schedule so should Princeton not allow a student to have that role?
I was a walk-on to the cross country and water-polo teams. I also graduated magna cum laude in biology, published my thesis in a scientific journal, and went to UCSD for medical school. My coaches and teammates (some stronger academically, some not; most athletically superior to me) supported this dual role.
I currently balance my life as a part-time family physician and shareholder in a small group practice who volunteer teaches at UCSD, is past-president of a state medical organization, and currently serves as vice-chairman of my department at the hospital in my work life.
This past year I have been the leader for my daughter's girl troop, started a cub scout pack for my son, coached both kids soccer teams, played on my own women's soccer team, and managed my son's basketball team. I am not unique.
Survey the 40-year-old student-athletes who graduated from Princeton. See how they balance their lives now with sports, work, and family commitments. I bet they are more successful adults at the balancing act of life than the academicians who had no significant extracurricular demands.
Probably Princeton student-athletes are in their nation's service in their community to a higher degree than those students who chose not to participate in demanding extra curricular activities. I welcome President Bowen's response.
Susan Mariscal Glockner '85
I believe President Tilghman's thinly disguised drive to eliminate athletics along with any semblance of fun at Princeton is not only misguided, but based on the wrong criteria.
It would far more instructive to examine postcollegiate outcomes for athletes and nonathletes, as opposed to GPA. If GPA and test scores are the only measures of success, then Princeton's admission office can be replaced by a spreadsheet that ranks applicants' GPAs and SATs and admits them on that basis.
I am confident that athletes are as successful after college as nonathletes; Princeton athletes can be found easily in top graduate and professional schools, government and international service, as well as in lucrative and challenging jobs.
The larger and more disturbing issue, though, is President Tilghman's attempt to change the character of Princeton without regard to the feelings of current students and alumni. No single person has the right to reshape an institution like our university.
No one can deny that artistically oriented students enrich campus life, and that people with green hair (whatever that signifies) may add diversity. However, it hurts Princeton when this single-minded drive for "diversity" means denigrating all other backgrounds and interests.
Is it President Tilghman's goal to have a school where everyone is a
theater buff with green hair?
Once again Princeton alumni are having a debate on the enormously privileged place sports continues to hold at our university. Defenders of athletic recruitment argue that sports teach teamwork.
Teamwork certainly is a useful skill, and it often can be learned from participation in sports (or in theater or on a newspaper or on a political campaign). I am glad the admission office places a high value on applicants' experience with teamwork. I wish they didn't assume that teamwork is only or even mainly learned on sports teams. I also wish they wouldn't assume that the most successful high school athletes have done a better job of learning teamwork than those with lesser physical abilities or who participated on teams with fewer victories.
That preference is motivated by a desire to field winning teams at Princeton and not by any reasoned judgment about how winning sports experiences, losing sports experiences, or other extracurricular activities contribute to character or future achievement.
Richard Lachmann '77
John O'Brien was admitted as a student-athlete in the Class of 1965. His remarkable and uplifting life blows away Bill Bowen's argument against such admissions.
Can Princeton afford to reject men of his caliber?
Robert C. Wheeler '42
You constituency is concerned about athletics and academics. This is to suggest that the University do some investigation into the situation.
More specifically, for the last 20 years, go through Whos Who, Whos Who in the Law, Whos Who in Medicine and so forth and pick out the Princeton graduates, then figure out which ones were athletes. Then figure out what it might tell us.
In all of the discussions of admission practices and policies, the amazing
circumtance is that nobody wants to look into the careers of the graduates
of the University and try to relate them to the dogmas of the admission
William C. McCoy 45
With regard to President Bowen's thesis, it seems to me much more meaningful
and relevant to Princeton's stated purpose ("In the nation's service")
to examine its student-athletes' achievements and contributions to their
communities after graduating from Princeton. I suspect that such achievements
and contributions would compare quite favorably to any group of students.
It strikes me that President Bowen must have had bad "playground" experiences early in life, such is his apparent hostility to those who choose to participate in sports at a high level. Competition is a significant part of life, and the tools to succeed in a competitive environment learned on the practice and playing fields are no less important than those learned in a preceptorial. In my judgment, Princeton would be poorly served to listen to the shrill cries of President Bowen and his ilk.
James G. Davidson 89
Defenders of Princeton's athletic policies invariably point to the "contributions sports make to a person;s education, character, and ultimately success in life," to quote from John Oxenham's letter. Fair enough. As far as I can see, though, this argument has no bearing on the crux of the debate: recruitment.
Presumably, the benefits of teamwork, concentration, and striving to excel are not limited to elite athletes. Why doesn't Princeton take seriously the ideal of the student-athlete, and let students who qualify for admission on the basis of their records test their limits on varsity teams? They might not dominate the competition, but if we take the apologists at their word, that's not what's most important about sports at Princeton.
Jud Mathews '97
Am I missing something? Every single letter from outraged student athletes totally misses the point Bowen and others are making about athletics and academics. All they argue is to defend the value of sports. No one, including Bowen, is attacking sports. Of course, sports fosters character, teamwork, good sportsmanship, confronting physical challenge. And varsity sports in particular serves these purposes.
The unaddressed point (and I have yet to hear an argument to directly address this) concerns the weight placed upon sports in the admission process, to enable the most competitive, winning teams possible. It is not the purpose of a university to have competitive, winning teams. This is entirely irrelevant to the education process, however gratifying it might be to certain alumni. The values of playing sports to individuals as part of their college experience, is, on the other hand, an invaluable part of the college experience.
How ironic that in the same issue of PAW is a letter from Dick Kazmaier, who was not only not recruited to play football at Princeton, but was even told his freshman year that he was too small to play.
Last time I looked, Oxford and Cambridges reputations havent suffered one whit from lack of recruited athletes and neither will Princetons.
Randolph W. Hobler 68
The most recent issue had some great letters regarding the athletic controversy.
During our junior and senior years, I shared a Firestone carrel with Kazmaier. I know he studied and worked, more after the football season. He made the choice to give up basketball, and probably would have been a starter in baseball; for academic reasons he quit.
I have a theory that high school principals, ministers, and university presidents should be seen and not heard once they leave their position.
Why Bowen wants to meddle in the affairs of Princeton is a mystery. He should leave the running of Princeton to the president, the administration, and the faculty, plus the Board of Trustees and alumni.
Why did Bill Bowen not face this issue when he was president? Who is running the university? Bowen should not be making policy.
H. Pharr Brightman 52
February 7, 2004
In all that has been written on student-athletes at Princeton, not once have the words motivation or incentive been mentioned. Is that because there is something objectionable about a student using sports to provide motivation and incentive for achievement in the classroom? Or is it that those who were not student-athletes simply dont have a clue about how important motivation and incentive derived from athletics can be?
In life, success or failure is not usually a product of mind or body alone they work together. As a recruited athlete, I know firsthand that a good competitive athletic performance can provide the mental stimulus to excel in the classroom.
And it works both ways. Doing well at anything be it mental, physical, or both provides a sense of well-being and relaxation, conditions that enhance achievement in any activity. Of course there can be conflicts; that should not surprise anyone. But the same conflicts can arise between academics and, say, participation in musical organizations. Is anyone suggesting we cut back on these, as well?
I grew up in a family where respect for and achievement in a wide range of activities was encouraged academic subjects, the arts, and sports all equally important for mind and body. Obviously, problems can arise when a reasonable balance is not maintained, but from what I see at Princeton, the balance is where it should be.
Richard S. Snedeker '51
As your December 17 article on the new Bill Bowen book presages, the recruitment of athletes at Princeton, and most likely throughout the Ivies, has now been targeted to be minimized, if not proscribed, and quickly. When the yield curve for the matriculation of recruited seventeen year olds who profess a passion for special relativity theory crosses that of recruited special teams players, the results won't be special, neither on the gridiron nor on the campus. The days of well rounded Princetonians, student-athletes once revered, and reminiscent of Baker and Bradley, are sadly numbered.
Gregory J. Winsky '71
When I look into the mirror that Lederman and Bowen hold up to the Princeton student-athlete, I do not see my own reflection (cover story, December 17). And if I cannot be seen, then I feel I should be heard.
I was a recruited four-year starter on the varsity softball team and an English major devoted to literature (I am in the final stages of earning my doctorate in English at Emory University).
I was, in spite of my commitments to my academic work and my sport, able to find the time to contribute to the University community in other ways. I sang at Princeton AIDS Awareness Coffeehouse shows in the basement of Murray-Dodge. I served as an Eating Concerns Peer Educator through the McCosh Health Center. I was president of the Princeton Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which strove to combat the very stereotypes that a few would now spoon-feed to the Princeton alumni community at large.
I wonder if those who would change Princetons culture know what it feels like to push and train both mind and body like never before. I wonder if they know what it feels like to work with other strong and strong-willed Princetonians toward something tangible. I wonder if they know what it feels like not only to study, read, and write for a Princeton degree but also to run, jump, kick, swim, tackle, bleed, row, catch, throw, and cry for Princeton, to help each other along, to congratulate each other in success, and to comfort each other in failure, all in the name of Princeton?
Was I tired after a game or a practice? Of course. Too tired to do my studies? Once in a while. Did I ask myself from time to time if the sacrifices I was making to play a varsity sport were worth it? Naturally. But doing anything exceptional is never easy. If it were, says my mother, everybody would do it. The lessons I learned by balancing a sport and my studies at one of the finest universities in the country were invaluable. They became an inextricable part of the me who ventured forth into life after Princeton.
And isnt this the point? Look around at reunions and see how widely Princeton alums acknowledge, year after year, the formative nature of their four years at Princeton. Princetons lively and thriving culture of the well-rounded and holistic education is what separates it from other elite institutions.
And so to end with an anecdote. In 1995 the Princeton softball team was
the first and is to this day the only Ivy League team to play in the "Final
8" N.C.A.A. Division I Womens College World Series in Oklahoma
City. It being the end of May, we were in exam period, and between games,
we took our books and studied in the stands. After a while, several U.C.L.A.
athletes, already weeks into their summer break, sauntered behind us and
stopped to look. I heard one of them mutter, Look at the Princeton
nerds with their noses in the books. I looked around at my teammates
studying in uniform, their caps curled down over faces bent towards organic
chemistry textbooks and Dostoevsky. Never before was I so proud to have
been called a nerd.
In my opinion, Dr. Bowen hit the nail on the head. Princeton University students enjoy the best professors, courses, and extracurricular programs in the world.
I graduated from Princeton High School in 1950 and was admitted to the Princeton Class of 1954. My father was the janitor for '79 Hall.The University granted me a tuition free education.
I started marching in the P-rade at the age of 5-6 carrying the banner of the Class of 1923. My drive to attend Princeton was to march in the P-rade, play Princeton football, and attend the only school that I could afford.
The freshman football coach did me a favor by cutting me the first week of practice. I was a three-week late walk on to the tennis team and was informed that the players had already been selected even though I was the number-one player at Princeton High.
Thanks to those two coaches, I was able to concentrate on my studies as a premed and get admitted to four of the top 10 medical schools.
I was able to take the most challenging courses such as advanced literature with Larry Thompson and Carlos Baker and attend lectures of "Buzzer" Hall and Robert Frost and chat with Albert Einstein. There are alumni around whom Princeton admitted to play football despite low academic scores that remain bitter as they were treated as "Dumb Jocks."
Bill Bowen has hit the nail on the head.
Philip D. Diggdon 54
January 16, 2004
I have not read President Bowens book, but I found that both the interview with him and the article itself failed to address what is perhaps the fundamental element of varsity level sports at Princeton; the educational benefit of participation in competitive athletics at an intercollegiate level.
Rowing, a three-season full-time sport may not be a major mens sport at Princeton, but it is one of the few Princeton programs consistently in contention for national titles.
Due to its multidisciplinary requirements and policy conferences, the Woodrow Wilson School was considered a time consuming undergraduate major during my time at Princeton, and I expect that it still is.
The article, in addition to its criticism of the practice of recruiting athletes, leaves the impression that the educational experience at Princeton is diminished for elite level athletes.
I felt then, and I continue to feel, that I got more out of Princeton due to my participation in the crew program, not less. Staying on the team and in my major required a discipline in terms of time management, diet, sleep, alcohol consumption, and focused study, which I am not sure I would have had otherwise. I was also able to participate in Whig-Clio in my first two years and as a community service volunteer in my second while maintaining an active social life and still watching too much TV with my roommates.
Princetons mission is to educate young people for the challenges they will face in life. That is why you have to be able to swim to graduate.
I believe that some of the most valuable lessons I learned there were learned not in the classroom, but on the waters of Lake Carnegie. They were lessons I learned from my coaches, from my teammates and from myself. I learned about testing my own physical and psychological limits, and that you can always do a little better, do one more. I learned about being part of a team in every sense. I learned to win at the highest level, and perhaps more importantly, I learned to do my absolute best and still lose.
In my subsequent career in international business, I cannot say that those lessons have been less important than my knowledge of international monetary policy.
Eliminating athletics would probably have improved my academic performance, just as eliminating academics would probably have improved my rowing performance, but this also true for the violinist and the linear algebra fanatic, and learning to balance such choices is part of life.
When I review my educational experience as an individual, I am convinced that participation in varsity athletics was a valuable and integral part of the education Princeton provided me, and to fail to address that component in a discussion of athletics at the University seems to me to omit the basic reason that the programs exist in the first place.
Noah M. Steinberg 90
I had always assumed that student-athetes were different from others on campus. What a shock to learn in your Dec. 17 issue that recruited athletes often skim through their reading asignments, cut classes, search for guts in the course catalogue, or have little to say in precepts. Give them a break. Based on my experience at Princeton, they sound like everybody else.
Peter Hadekel '73
I was very interested in ex-President Bowens article in PAW about his new book, Reclaiming the Game, which questions whether the elite universities ought to continue their current policy of accepting a disproportionate number of athletes.
He sagely questions the detrimental impact this has on the university, and the misuse of precious resources that it represents. Yet this policy of accepting more athletes has a further impact on our country.
Parenting has become Americas most competitive adult sport and the gold medal of success is elite university admission. In taking in so many athletes, the elite universities are also having a detrimental effect on parenting and childrens athletics. Rather than these programs being places where children are free to have pleasure, as well as to compete, they have transformed into near-professional arenas whose coaches tout Ivy League acceptances among the programs graduates as reasons parents ought to sign their children up.
Parents tell each other children must play competitively by seven or theyll have no chance of an Ivy admission; they study acceptance patterns to see whether Princeton, Yale, and Harvard are now looking for female ice hockey players or male squash players, and urge their children to take up these sports.
As I have written, this is no longer the behavior of only over-the-top parents; it has become endemic. To succeed, young children are exposed to abusive coaches, unrealistic expectations, and demanding schedules that compromise other important aspects of their development. Orthopedic surgeons report that this has led to an alarming rate of sports related injuries among 5-12 year olds.
Debating whether or not elite university admission policies ought to play this role is pointless: they do. They have become the guidelines which ambitious parents around our country use to make child-rearing decisions. Heeding President Bowens sage advice would be a small step not only in making Princeton already rated as the nations premier university an even better university. It might begin a process of taking a serious look at, and perhaps changing, the deleterious effect current admission policies at elite college are having on child-rearing in America.
Alvin Rosenfeld s76
It was with great concern that I read your article entitled "At
What price Victory" even
My contribution to Princeton athletics was between 1958 and 1961, when
I was fortunate
Even in the era of "walk-ons," players were "recruited"
or asked to visit the campus
Then as today, a student's worth was not judged solely by GPA or class-standing
Success comes in all shapes and sizes. Athletes provide their own brand
of success which
In fall 2002, my wife and I attended a Princeton/ Dartmouth football
Perhaps Mr. Bowen should do some research on graduated athletes and chronicle
Hugh Scott 61
I am sure this is just one of many responses you'll receive to that article, however, in addition to the blatant yes/no sides of the issue, I hope to offer a slightly different stance. In the fall of 1996, I arrived on campus without ever having visited and carrying a strong prejudice against an old boys' preppie school.
I knew nobody on campus or anyone that had ever gone to Princeton for that matter. Freshman year was tough but rewarding fact is, with my boring engineering requirements, I was more inclined to spend time at the round tables in Wilcox then attend my math precept.
When my grades were in serious trouble, I found it was not the faculty or staff that could relate to my position, but the students. Recruited athletes are prime examples of how to balance commitments and still have fun doing what they love while cramming in high-quality education. And the best part is that they can quit without losing their scholarship! I looooove need-based aid. In any case, the choice is theirs. Isn't that what our country is based on free choice?
Who is making the judgment that a scientific discovery is more important than a day-to-day involvement with disadvantaged children in your community? What overwhelming success is Princeton shooting for that we haven't already achieved? Is the balance on campus really that far off?
Extremists abound at Ivy League schools, and I know recruited athletes that have excelled in the academic sphere as well as those that have quietly started nonprofits. Just because someone doesn't make headlines does not mean their contribution is insignificant.
PAW lauds the impossible achiever those that play two varsity sports, win a Pulitzer Prize their sophomore year, and build go-carts out of spare bicycle parts and candy bars. Equal recognition should go to those that use their education to share with those less fortunate.
Our informal motto, as written in the mission statement, reads: "In the nation's service and in the service of all nations" to that end, we should take our focus off some small yet highly visible segment of the campus body and refocus it on the whole university... to see how we can improve everyone's awareness of, and participation in, community and world issues.
To me, the student-athlete discussion is no different from that of legacies. If you look at any subset of Princeton students you can find good and bad examples.
I can honestly say I learned something from every single person I encountered at Princeton from Miss Annie in the dining hall to the guy who built a nuclear fission machine in his basement.
Recruited athletes are not stupid, and they do have things to offer. The insinuation that we compromiise our academic eliteness by admitting these students is disappointing to me as an alum, since I thought our focus was less glamour-driven more toward "In the nation's service..." rather than some king of the mountain academic race. What's that quote: "It's amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit."
It takes all types to have a diverse student body, and looking at the variety of activities in applicants it makes sense that if you sometimes lean toward the ones more academically focused, you too should lean toward those that are more athletically focused and offer them the opportunity to reach their academic potential. Mental balance seems to require both brains and brawn.
Somehow Dean Hargadon and his admission committee thought it fitting to offer me a chance to attend their university and I'd like to think that I rose to the challenge and am making a difference in the world because of it. I was not valedictorian of the mediocre public school I attended, however, my extracurriculars seemed to tip the balance in my direction.
Princeton made an astronomical change in my life, and I applaud equally those who are naturally talented as well as those who taught me how to make the most of an opportunity with hard work. Despite all the teachers that told me I would never pass physics or become an architect, there were fellow students who told me I could and I did with a competition design on display at the National Building Museum to show for it.
Nobody can guess who will make the most of the opportunities that Princeton offers. It will always be a gamble, and there will always be students that sit on both sides of the equation. Never forget about those that take advantage of their chances, like so many student-athletes profiled in the article and those who may never be recognized for their hard work. And always maintain their freedom to choose. What we do with that choice is up to us.
Thanks to all who helped me make my choice.
Sarah Wolbert '00
I am delighted that former president Bowen and others have finally confronted the existence of professional athletics at Princeton and other college campuses.
From my days at Princeton in the 1960s onward through my teaching career at the University of Maryland and the University of California, Davis, I have never understood why we accord professional athletics a place in higher education.
As far as I know, the United States is the only country where athletics of this kind coexists with higher learning. There is a place for professional athletics, of course, but that place is not i universities.
I think it is high time that Princeton join the University of Chicago and a few other institutions in eliminating athletics as a money-making program.
Geerat J. Vermeij '68
I take offense to Mr. Bowens assertions that student-athletes are wasting Princetons most precious resource: admission slots.
Do student-athletes underperform academically? According to his data, yes, they do. But the real question here is what is Princeton University here to do?
Is Princeton here to educate whollistically, or is Princeton here purely for the pursuit of academic excellence? When that question is answered openly, only then can we properly assess the role of athletics in the education of undergraduates at the University and the practice of admitting the countrys best scholar-athletes.
I contend that Princetons mission is not an academic one but an educational one. Athletics (as well as orchestra, Triangle, etc.) therefore has a key place in that education, and academic success cannot be taken as the sole measure of institutional success. Without giving this view any consideration, how can we therefore justify implementing Bowens suggested deemphasis of athletics?
Bowen and those who support his views make athletics seem like nothing more than a recreational activity wherein some measure of national or regional glory can be obtained. The lessons I learned from my teammates (which was a more diverse group than the whole of the student body), my coaches, and my experiences on the track and the field are what I deem to be the most important things learned in my years at Princeton.
I made a conscious decision to sacrifice a small bit of academic success for the opportunity to succeed athletically and in the community. For all my hard work, I graduated cum laude in chemistry, received a Spirit of Princeton award, and was one of the most decorated scholar-athletes in recent memory.
But according to Bowen, my underperformance in the classroom means I did not make the most of my admission slot and therefore should never have been admitted. It is disheartening to know that the efforts of our student-athletes are underappreciated even from within our own Princeton community.
Cameron T. Atkinson 03
I am so tired of hearing nonjocks more than intimate that athletes should not have the benefits of a Princeton education, because others can benefit from the great University's opportunities more than the athlete. Bill Bowen says that walk-on athletes would take care of Princeton athletes.
It is my opinion that jocks whether recruited or just walk-on athletes are better suited for Princeton than the rest of the student body. They must of course pass Princeton's SAT requirements or they will not be admitted. To graduate all students, athletes or not, must complete a senior thesis.
The athlete has worked harder to play his or her sport and get good grades in high school than the average student and most of the good students. A particular sport is always the first love but a Princeton quality athlete is a rare find. He has learned to work hard both scholastically and as an athlete. His experience tells him his marks will suffer, but the joy of his sport is well worth the sacrifice. Whether a walk on or a recruit that is the way of the athlete. He must make a team in high school and being a varsity player is a major joy of his or her young life.
A varsity athlete is a hard worker and that may be more important than missing many lectures by some Princeton professors.
Just because Mr. Bowen's data show that that the jock is graded lower in his or her class does not mean he or she hasn't learned as much as those ranked higher. A case could be made that a varsity playing experience produces more knowledge than many courses at Princeton combined. The nonathlete misses much of what makes Princeton really great. Maybe one of the standards for admission should be that the applicant must have played a varsity sport in high school.
I suggest that Bill Bowen should study how successful the Princeton athlete is in life compared to the nonathlete. He should set the standards, but obviously will need considerable help.
Such a study could generate a really controversial book and make much money.
William A. Kelly '49
Now that you have spoiled us with such a terrific issue on a wide range of campus life issues, it will be hard for us to expect anything less in your "normal" issues of PAW.
Regarding the athletics-ivy "mismatch," I would like to convey that even though I was not good enough in sports to be on any Princeton varsity team, I was an avid sports fan who still remembers vividly our trip to the "Final Four" in 1965 and the basketball game that sent us there, where unranked Princeton beat 4th-ranked Providence by 40 points!
I convinced myself that my cheering somehow helped, since I only saw Princeton lose once in the three years of Bill Bradley's outstanding career, and outstanding ball handling by Gary Walters remains an equally vivid image.
In my senior year, the football team began with 6 field goals by Charlie Gogolak over Rutgers, one from about 50 yards out, and we suspected then it would be a terrific year leading to the Ivy championship.
When Princeton again had an oustanding basketball team a few years ago,with only two losses entering the NCAA tournament, part of the 1965 team's victory of more than 50 points over Wichita State was replayed on TV (an NCAA record which still stands).
My point is that some of the most exciting memories alumni have of Princeton are sports memories, and they last a long time. Many of us still look for Princeton scores in daily papers, even if we live too far away to enjoy games in person. We are always proud to be associated with a school that excels both in athletics and academics.
I went jogging in Cincinnati with a new Princeton sweatshirt on after a recent cliffhanger loss in the NCAA basketball tourney,and a complete stranger who had also seen the game commented on how well Princeton had played.
One reason for encouraging excellence in athletics at Princeton was not given much attention in your article: Sports teaches teamwork better than almost anything else can. Like group study projects that are now in vogue, learning how to work with other people to reach a common goal is very important in almost every field of life. My education in teamwork came after graduation (in the Air Force). Academic excellence often now requires a group effort, especially in multi-disciplinary fields like architecture and urban planning.
Too bad there isn't an SAT exam to measure excellence in leadership and teamwork!
Michael Burrill 66
In the past a faculty member mentioned to me that the administration
Vincent J. Menna '61
Reacting to the article What Price Victory in your December 17 issue, several of my teammates from the 1951 football season have urged me to address writer Doug Ledermans characterization of me and, by extension, my teammates during our undergraduate years. In a phone conversation, one of them protested, Kaz, you come across in that article as an exploited jock, completely preoccupied with football.
To mollify my teammates and to set the record straight, I need to respond.
First, in his article Lederman writes, Kazmaier recounts being barred by the football coaches from playing a spring sport because they wanted him to focus exclusively on football. I never made this patently false statement. If anything, my freshman year coaches insisted that I study in the spring, particularly since I had come from a very small high school. To attain an honors achievement level, I chose not to participate in any spring sport thereafter, nor play basketball my senior year.
Second, quoting from a fall 51 Time magazine article, Lederman writes, [Kazmaier] let his studies slide during the football season. True enough, during our nine-week season, football was my first priority. The rest of the school year was an entirely different matter. After the football season, I pulled my share of all-nighters, spent countless hours in the library polishing my thesis, and in Bill Bowens words utilized the extraordinary resources of the university to the fullest. In his selective referencing of the 51 Time article, Lederman passed over the following, [Kazmaier] rates his serious interests in this order: 1) friends, 2) studies, and 3) football.
Now, over 50 years later, Ill stand by that assertion. What disturbs me about Ledermans article is his misrepresentation of my experience to support his (and Bill Bowens) contention that high level athletic competition is incompatible with Princetons mission a conclusion with which I completely disagree. Further, I would argue that many men and women of great character have been disparaged by the assumption that athletes do not belong at Princeton.
Richard W. Kazmaier Jr. 52
I read with interest your article about student athletes. I was, however, expecting the article to address the contribution sports make to a person's education, character, and ultimately success in life.
Academics are the medium and tools of which students forge themselves during their time at Princeton, and it plays a role in their future ability to be successful in life. None-the-less, sport and the skills it requires focus, energy, team work may also be important contributors of their future success. In my view, one of the greatest factors of success in life is intensity, energy, and a hunger to go further; three traits exemplified by Princeton student athletes.
I would be interested to know if Princeton ever conducts research to evaluate how alumni fare in life, beyond the academic measure of GPA. I am always impressed with the achievements and general contribution to society I find in the PAW obituaries and wonder if Princeton's ability to mix all these enriching experiences on campus, sports included, is not what makes it the greatest place of all.
John Oxenham '91
Surely it is time to bury the faulty theses and questionable statistics of Bill Bowen *56.
Princeton is one of a small handful of great universities for many reasons, not the least of which is that it educates leaders. It also uniquely fosters a sense of community and commitment.
Superior athletes bring a sense of discipline, commitment, and passion to the university community that is unique. In the culture of the U.S., in which Princeton resides, winning athletic teams foster pride and, again, a sense of community and commitment.
Pedogogically, the kind of quick analysis and decision-making required of a superior athlete in a team sport cannot be learned in a classroom and is one of the important characteristics of leadership. Given its lofty position, Princeton deserves to have outstanding student athletes and teams. Both the University and the athletes benefit from each other.
Finally, Princeton and others of the Ivy League do not have a God-given right to their leadership position. Certainly, superb faculties and research, great students, and financial strength as well as visionary administration creates it.
But the past 40 years have witnessed the likes of Stanford and Duke ride the wave of their national athletic teams to positions of educational leadership they did not enjoy previously.
Simultaneously, the Chicagos and Johns Hopkins of the world, moving down Bill Bowen's path, have become also-rans.
Lawrence W. Leighton 56
I fear that Professor Bowen, one of whose classes I was privileged to take, has lost sight of the purpose of education.
My academic experience at Princeton was indeed greatly affected by participating in athletics. To my lasting regret, I wasnt very successful at either.
One reason, in hindsight, was my inability to cope with dual priorities athletics and academics. I came to realize while a graduate student and no longer an athlete that I had always been out of sync at Princeton thinking about football when I should have been studying and worrying about my studies on the practice field.
The lesson that one can only excel if thoughts and actions are in harmony was not lost on me. Had I participated in athletics at a lesser school or not participated at Princeton, I might have been more successful. But I would not have been nearly as well prepared for the challenges of profession, family and life.
Bruce L. Gates 66
"What price victory?" by Doug Lederman '84 in the December 17 was a masterful example of what PAW can accomplish. In his article, Mr. Lederman holds up a much-needed mirror to Princeton, asking tough questions, and seeking clear answers from the likes of former President Bowen, coauthor of the study "Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values," and current president Shirley Tilghman. When combined with first person sketches of campus life by today's student athletes, the account is truly a "must read" for everyone who loves Princeton and wants the best for the institution and those for whom it matters most: the students.
In my experience precepting in the politics department, I have found that most student athletes in the "big name" sports of football, basketball, and ice hockey are quickly identifiable. Many of them appear to suffer from fatigue, they sit together and are generally less attentive and less willing to participate in discussions, and they often have trouble completing written assignments on time. I truly sympathize with their plight: As one basketball player explained it, she starts each day working out with weights, before she spends three hours a day at practice, and this routine runs between October and late March.
Whatever the value and rewards of competing at a high level in NCAA sports and there are many the price paid by these students is a high one, maybe too high.
Thus, I believe the University should promptly respond by empaneling a special commission of faculty, staff, alumni, and students to examine thoroughly the issues raised by Dr. Bowen and examined in the PAW article to propose whether reforms may be appropriate. Four years at Princeton if spent primarily in Dillon Gym is surely a questionable use of this university's great resources for learning and growth.
R. William Potter 68
William Bowen's thoughtful criticism of Ivy League admission policies ignores one factor (if not others): Many employers specifically seek out Ivy League athletes who have engaged in competitive sports. Their drive, energy, and ability to live in a competitive universe makes them more attractive prospects than those with higher grades who do not play competitive sports.
So the issue is not just who maximizes the academic virtues of Princeton, but also who best applies their educational experience in the real world. Perhaps such a long-term view offers a better measure of who maximizes the benefits of a Princeton education and becomes a leader in our society. Until these results are examined let's stay with the athletic status quo.
Paul B. Firstenberg 55
I competed four seasons a year for four years and feel as if I learned as much on the squash and tennis courts and with and from my teammates and opponents as I did studying philosophy. Learning to live, with a touch of grace, under relentless and ceaseless pressure has been invaluable.
Cuthbert Russell Train '64
It is fortuitous that your current issue (Imperfect Match) involving athletics and academics arrived on the very day of a nationally televised basketball game between Princeton and Duke, currently ranked 3rd in the nation. As a graduate of both schools (Princeton undergrad, Duke medicine), and as a sports fan, I take a particular interest in the game and in this issue.
The histories of Princeton and Duke intersect at several illuminating points the architectural similarity, James Dukes supposed interest in purchasing Princeton, and more to the point, Dukes last minute loss of Bill Bradley to Princeton.
In December of 62, leaving Duke Indoor Stadium (later Cameron) after a Princeton loss to the Jeff Mullin/Art Heyman led Blue Devils, I was pleased to hear a Duke fan say, Bill Bradley was the best player on the court. If Princeton had pulled off the upset that night, it would have been cause for celebration. If they were to do it tonight, Id be more worried than pleased (not to worry; they didnt).
Dukes athletic reputation extends back at least as far if not farther than its academic reputation. As a member of the athletically powerful Atlantic Coast Conference, Duke has a reputation to uphold. Sadly, Princeton now apparently feels the same about its athletic reputation, much more recently acquired.
At Duke in the late 60s it was quite apparent that Duke envied the Ivy Leagues academic credentials, and aspired to be the Harvard or maybe it was the Princeton - of the South. What was not apparent, at least to me, was Princetons jealousy of Dukes athletic clout.
In a day when Division I athletics increasingly resemble pro sports, it is hardly to a universitys credit to say that it competes at the highest athletic level. Too much else is implied. So heres one alumnus who thinks William Bowen has it right, and that we should thank him.
James H. Hall 64
Recently in the NY Times sports section there was a story about the West Point football team and how, despite the fact that they went 0-13 this season, their discipline and teamwork was a model for other schools.
The response to the suggestion that West Point move to Division III was that West Point "is" Division I football. Rather than shying away from college athletics with all its inherent problems, Princeton should carry on with its athletic traditions, which, much like at West Point, are not just about winning games.
As they have done in the past, Princeton players should set the standards in college atheletics for sportsmanship, discipline, AND academic involvement. (At least at Princeton, students are not hired by the athletic department to "deliver" atheletes to class.)
In that they contribute to the character of the school, athletes are not wasted "spots" in a Princeton class. Furthermore, it is unfair, elitist even, to suggest that giving a "precious" Princeton spot to an athelete rather than to someone with a higher SAT score is somehow immoral, as Princeton is not the only school that offers a top knotch undergraduate education. Students try to match their college choice with their personality, and there are plenty of outstanding students that prefer MIT, Columbia, or Berkeley to Princeton. But some of us were drawn to the traditions that Princeton had to offer, both academic and athletic.
Elizabeth Hallock 02
I wouldn't rush to change Princeton's current athletic programs. We often compete successfully with the heavily financed teams, and I think America needs that. The NCAA is a mess, and perhaps schools like Princeton can provide a model of a more moderate way of going about college sports.
Rob Slocum '71
While rival institutions strive to fill the classrooms with the best students, Princeton is special because it seeks exceptional people. This approach results in a student body composed of extremely gifted students with a diverse array of talents. While Ledermans article focuses on the student-athlete, the reality of the situation is that the majority of Princetonians proudly carry the hyphenated title: student-something-else. This creates a situation in which course work serves to unify students, rather than define them.
Clearly the nature of a persons extracurricular activity will determine its requisite time commitment. As ones commitment to any one activity increases, such as athletics, time spent on another, such as academics will tend to decrease.
This does not mean that Princetons athletes are any less capable in the classroom than those who specialize in less time-demanding activities, nor does it mean that athletes are less interested in taking full advantage of the educational resources offered at Princeton. Rather, they exercise their option to share their talents within a different venue and we should applaud our athletes for showing the courage to sacrifice an A-minus for a B-plus in order to represent the Tigers on the field.
Lastly, I would like to suggest to Bill Bowen that the underperformance, amongst the student-athlete community should not be of any concern. The real concern should arise when those students who spend six hours per day on extracurricular activities do manage to equal (or surpass) the academic performances of those who dont. Then we should worry about students not taking full advantage of their opportunities.
Andrew R. Chadeayne '01
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