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Letters from readers about Perspective, by Professor Stan Katz, February 12, 2003

March 11, 2003

Professor Stan Katz raises an interesting question about the proliferation of academic centers in his Perspective of February 12. These centers are easy to caricature as “centers for the study of moi,” as one former colleague has put it, but they are driven less by the market than by the desire to pursue knowledge more deeply and effectively.

Scholars who wish to pursue their research at the top of their fields find it increasingly difficult to do simply as members of broad departments. They must create more specialized communities of scholars and graduate students dedicated to subfields – the comparative study of political institutions, development economics, health and health care – to name only a few. These subfields typically cut across disciplines but generate their own journals, conferences, visiting fellows, and graduate students.

The challenge for Princeton, as for many other universities, is not to reduce the number of centers, but rather to engage them fully in the training of graduate and undergraduate students alike, and indeed alumni. Our goal is to create an atmosphere that prizes teaching and research and marries them in innovative and exciting ways.

In this regard, research centers have the potential to become the primary engines for the production of knowledge and also communities in which teaching takes place as much through research as it does in the classroom. This kind of teaching is direct and individualized and involves learning through watching and doing.

Graduate students are not the only students who can fully participate in center activities. It is possible to imagine a host of activities that would engage professional masters students such as the M.P.A. students at the Woodrow Wilson School as well as undergraduates. The most obvious way to do this is to create specialized courses and series of courses that translate the specialized knowledge produced in a center into a form accessible to undergraduates. The finance center, for instance, which houses an extraordinary group of highly specialized faculty members from economics and engineering, primarily, offers a very popular undergraduate certificate. Similar certificates might be offered in education, law, and health policy.

Princeton could pioneer a new model of undergraduate and graduate teaching that does not forsake traditional methods but builds on them, in ways that advance our commitment to research and teaching for all faculty and all students.

Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80
Dean, Woodrow Wilson School

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March 1, 2003

I read the Perspective in February 12, and found it a very enlightening article. It was about the present trend toward more research projects by and for professors as opposed to teaching assignments for undergraduates.

This is a subject that has interested me for a long time, as it seems to be a trend in our more prestigious universities.

As the daughter of a university chemistry professor, I learned early on of the importance of the undergraduate student body being exposed to the best professors.

These days students are paying an exorbitant price for the privilege of being taught by graduate students who are only a year or two older than they are.

I know the answer will be that grants to professors bring money in to the university, but is that the purpose of our faculty at our leading colleges and universities? I think not.

Edith H. Bissett w ’49
Ventura, Calif.

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February 20, 2003

I strongly support Professor Katz’s view that Princeton may be losing its way as it grows larger and becomes more aligned with big science and government-funded research (Perspective, February 12). In my view Princeton needs to stress its assets more — its lack of professional schools, its near 100 percent on-campus living, and its isolation from the distractions of the city.

One idea would be to have a required course in the classics for all freshmen and sophomores. Perhaps this would also include study of the tenets and history of the three monotheistic religions. This course could be pass-fail, or if graded, part of the grade might be the willingness of the better students in this subject to help those not so adept both in and out of the classroom.

In today’s fractured global society we need more than ever to consider What is the good? The sophists of ancient Greece, who predated Plato and Aristotle, systemized learning. Today learning has become too systematized — preprofessionalism now increasingly threatens a liberal education even in the elite colleges and universities. Plato and Aristotle, following upon the sophists, criticized them as more retail-wholesale businessmen of knowledge according to Pierre Hadot [check] in What Is Ancient Philosophy?, Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, 2002, p 13. To develop the individual fully, to get at moral teaching, Plato and Aristotle invoked the power of love in their teaching, with the aim being the creation of loftiness of vision. America and the world are in dire need of vision. Princeton is ideally situated to inculcate it in its students.

Laurence D. Ely II ’67
Amherst, Mass.

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