Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dispatch from Campus: Prospectives

“Where’s Clio Hall?” I’ve been asked a dozen times this summer. Each time, the speakers pronounce it differently, sometimes Clee-oh, sometimes Cly-oh, but always carefully, always with a visible effort to say it correctly, as if they might be judged for any mispronunciation.

It’s a familiar enough scene. Visitors to Princeton are always different and yet always the same somehow: Parents with cameras and sunglasses striding around with eager curiosity, their awkward 16-18 year-old progeny in tow. The children are intent on subtly disassociating themselves from their parents and any embarrassment that might spring from being in their company.

I like to think that it’s something in my gait or my air, that lets these people know that I, unlike them, belong here. That somehow I exude the confidence of a native, of someone perfectly comfortable with her surroundings and herself.

Of course, I know what really gives me away is that I’m alone. I do not have an entourage of relatives hovering around me, nor is there an orange lanyard around my neck clearly marking me as one of the thousands of campers who have descended upon campus. While during the year I may walk to class or to the library chatting to a friend or two, over the summer, real Princeton students are distinguished by their solitude.

For some reason, to these anxious prospective students and their parents, I am someone important. What I think of them, they believe, actually matters in the great frenzy of the college admissions process. Mispronouncing Clio becomes the equivalent of an American in Paris ordering “pute” in a restaurant instead of “poule”; an unforgivable faux pas that will mark them forever as an outsider.

To become insiders, to actually be part of a college campus, is what these little family units are striving for. As if acceptance to our august institution will magically solve many or most of the little insecurities and problems they contend with on a daily basis.

After giving directions I smile at the retreating figures heading towards yet another information session given by a bored admissions officer about SAT scores and extracurricular activities. Because, though they may wish to be like me, a real Princeton student, I still get lost on campus. Because I still have no idea what I really want to do with my life. Because even when you do belong here, you never really belong here. And because, after two years, I still don’t know how to properly pronounce Clio.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Tigers, tigers everywhere

Still looking for a job and hoping to take advantage of Princeton's alumni network? The Washington Post had an article this weekend outlining tips on how to make the most of those resources. Much of the advice in the article comes from a member of that alumni network, Lee Dudka GS '77, the president of the Princeton Club of Washington. Dudka's whose words of wisdom directly relate to Princeton graduates and their use of alumni ties.

One piece of advice Dudka offered is aimed beyond just fellow Tigers, however. "You have to do something for someone every single day. That's how you maintain and keep expanding your network," he said.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Electric Cars

Move over golf carts and white campus cars, the University's launching a new fleet of "environmentally friendly electric vehicles, which travel at speeds of up to 25 mph."

Following the recent approval from the West Windsor Town Council to operate these vehicles on township roads, the University will roll out several of these vehicles to replace gas-powered vehicles in the coming months. These four-wheel vehicles, chosen for sustainability reasons, will be used on campus and give access to Alexander Road, 701 Carnegie Center and a maintenance facility on Harrison Street.


BREAKING NEWS: Drexel's Bates offered lax post, expected to accept

Drexel head coach Chris Bates has been offered the Princeton men's lacrosse head coaching position and is expected to accept it, individuals familiar with the situation told The Daily Princetonian early Sunday afternoon.

The individuals stressed that while the agreement is not yet final, an official announcement is expected sometime this week.

Bates is also expected to bring with him Drexel assistant coach Greg Raymond. Raymond was the second assistant at Princeton for three years before leaving this past season to work under Bates as a top assistant at Drexel.

Bates was offered the position after Cornell assistant head coach Ben DeLuca withdrew his name from consideration
, the individuals said.

The search for a new head coach began after Bill Tierney announced June 8 that he was leaving Princeton to become head coach at the University of Denver.

Associate head coach Dan Metzbower was largely seen as a shoo-in to replace Tierney. But Metzbower announced June 16 that he was declining an offer for the position and could also leave the program.

On June 18, several news outlets reported that UAlbany head coach Scott Marr had been contacted twice by Princeton and was scheduled for a phone interview. But the next day, Marr withdrew his name from consideration.

On June 22, InsideLacrosse.com reported there were at least four finalists for the position: Bates, Army coach Joe Alberici, Haverford coach Mike Murphy and LeMoyne coach Dan Sheehan. Alberici announced the next day that he had withdrawn his name from consideration, and IL.com reported on June 24 that Stony Brook coach Ricky Sowell had been a contender but was no longer under consideration.

On June 25, IL broke the news that DeLuca had been interviewed for the position and that Princeton officials were also considering a "Divion I head coach whose mid-major team has made the NCAA Tournament recently."


Friday, June 26, 2009

University: Layoffs? Yes. Scope? Unclear.

The University hopes to save $22 million over the next two years through "personnel savings," the Times of Trenton reported Friday.

Roughly half of that has been met through the U.'s "vacancy management" program. Then, last Friday, the University announced a voluntary retirement incentive program for which more than 450 employees are eligible.

Officials also hope to save some money through voluntary reductions in employees' work schedules.

Still unclear is how many employees and their jobs will fall victim to the economic downturn, as the University deals with a severe drop in the value of its endowment over the last 12 months.

"Will there be layoffs? The short answer is yes, but the scope is unclear," University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt '96 told the Times of Trenton. "We don't know how many people will take part in the voluntary retirement program."

Cliatt told the paper that the University does not intend to follow other universities that have announced widespread layoffs. Yale announced in March that as many as 300 employees would lose their jobs, while Harvard announced on Tuesday they were laying off 275 people.

The crowd at Thursday's town hall meeting on the topic was so large that folks were turned away, so a second town hall has been scheduled for Monday at 9 a.m. in McCosh 50.


Every Ivy (except Princeton) to participate in Yellow Ribbon

Princeton is the only Ivy League institution that will not participate in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs' new Yellow Ribbon Program to partially waive tuition for veterans.

That news coming from the Philly Inquirer, which reported today that 700 colleges and universities around the country are taking part in the program.

Last month, University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt '96 told the 'Prince' that Princeton decided not to participate because it already provides substantial need-based financial aid.

"The key point in our consideration was that we have a financial aid program that admits students on a need-blind basis," she explained. "We meet the full assessed need of all qualifying students through a generous no-loan program in which grants don't have to be repaid."

Cliatt added that the average student aid grant for next year is expected to reach $36,000, and she said, "Any veteran who applies to Princeton and is admitted would be very generously supported."

Yellow Ribbon is the largest expansion in veteran education since the GI Bill in 1944 and is expected to cost the feds $68 billion over the next decade. The government will pay up to the highest in-state tuition and then match every dollar a school offers in financial aid. To be eligible, veterans must have served three years on active duty or at least 30 days before being discharged for an injury since 9/11/2001.

The program -- which kicks off this August -- could increase the number of vets in college (there are currently 350,000 of them) by 25 percent.


Team USA, Bradley '80 to battle for Confederation Cup

The 2-0 victory of Team USA over Spain on Wednesday afternoon has been called the "Miracle on Grass."

And you can trace it all back to one Bob Bradley '80-- current manager of the U.S. men's national soccer team, and former player for and head coach of the Princeton men's soccer team.

A native of Montclair, N.J., Bradley played for West Essex High School before coming to Princeton in the fall of '76. He would go on to lead the Tigers in scoring his senior year before graduating with a degree in history.

After quick coaching stints at Ohio University and UVA, Bradley came back to his alma mater to coach from 1984 to 1996. During his tenure, the Tigers clinched two Ivy League titles (1988 and 1993) and earned their only bid ever to the NCAA Final Four (1993).

(And Bradley's ties to Princeton don't end there: his brother Scott -- a former Major League catcher for the Yankees, White Sox, Mariners and Reds -- has served as head coach of the Princeton baseball team since 1997).

Bradley then moved to Major League Soccer, where his 124 victories are more than any other coach in league history. He's the only two-time Coach of the Year in MLS history and was also the '03 All-Star Head Coach.

Bradley led his teams to victories in the 1998 MLS Cup and the 1998 and 2000 U.S. Open Cup. In December 2006, Bradley became the 33rd head coach in the history of the U.S. men's national team. The next year, the team captured the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

He'll get a chance to add to that list on Sunday afternoon, when the U.S. takes on Brazil in the title game of the Confederation Cup.

UPDATE: The United States fell to Brazil 3-2 after leaving 2-0 at halftime.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Last lax interview is this afternoon; decision "imminent"

Christian Swezey over at Inside Lacrosse continues to chip away at the story of Princeton's selection process for a new men's lacrosse head coach.

Last night, Swezey added a new name to the mix: Cornell assistant coach Ben DeLuca (pictured here) reportedly interviewed for the position on Wednesday afternoon. DeLuca joins Chris Bates (Drexel), Mike Murphy (Haverford) and Dan Sheehan (LeMoyne) as a candidate for the job.

But sources say there is a 5th person in the mix as well. That person's interview (the last of the five) is scheduled for this afternoon. Swezey describes him as "a Dvision I head coach whose mid-major team has made the NCAA Tournament recently." You'll have to try and figure that one out on your own.

Princeton officials are tightlipped about the whole process, but a decision may well be "imminent."

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sands '09: Females discriminate against females in the theater business

Are female playwrights victims of discrimination in the theater world? Emily Sands ’09 says yes – but females are doing most of the discriminating. Sands presented her research on gender bias in playwriting to an audience of more than 160 playwrights and producers in Manhattan on Monday night. The presentation earned Sands an article in The New York Times as well as amazed reactions from some members of the audience.

Sands’ lecture, based on her senior thesis, made claims that put a new twist on long-held assumptions.

First, Sands explained that women write fewer plays than do men, so producers have a smaller selection of female-written plays to choose from.

Next, Sands demonstrated that a play written by a woman is likely to be judged more harshly by artistic directors and literary managers than a play of identical quality written by a man. Sands qualified this conclusion, however, with the revelation that male reviewers judge male and female authors equally, while women are more critical of fellow women than they are of men.

Finally, Sands claimed that an analysis of Broadway shows produced over the past 10 years revealed that women do indeed need to write better plays than do men in order to get their work produced.

The first claim was based on a sample of scripts on the online database Doollee.com. Sands found that 74 percent of the scripts on Doollee were written by men.

The next two claims were backed up by studies modeled on famous experiments. Emulating the study “Are Greg and Emily More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal,” by Marianne Bertran and Sendhil Mullainathan, Sands sent identical scripts to reviewers. Some plays bore a female penname and others bore a male penname.

Sands’ third study imitated experiments conducted in the 1960s and '70s that used batting averages to demonstrate that black players needed to be better than white players to play Major League Baseball. Sands showed that average ticket revenues from Broadway shows written by women over the past 10 years were 16 percent higher than revenues from shows written by men in the same time period.

Sands’ thesis advisors, Wilson School Dean Christina Paxson and Wilson School professor Cecilia Rouse, praised Sands' work in the Times. But the Times reported that Sands’ interest in theater manifests itself in more ways than one: Sands’ commanding stage presence contributed to an impressive performance that won her a lengthy ovation.


Transformers: Live from Princeton, in theaters everywhere

Almost one year to the day after several scenes from the movie were filmed on campus, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" has opened in theaters all across America.

In a trailer on the movie's website, Princeton gets a little -- while brief -- airtime, including these shots of Holder Hall:

Lead actor Shia LaBeouf inside McCosh 50:

And LaBeouf again out by the sundial:

It's unclear where the other collegiate scenes are from, though the film crews obviously attempted to have the whole thing look like Princeton. Rumor has it they may have been shot at a nice little community college in Philadelphia.


Closing in a men's lax coach (...maybe)

Is it three? How about five? Maybe four? Just how many finalists are there for the men's lax job? Inside Lacrosse updated its blog this morning to say it could be any one of those numbers...or maybe even a different one.

IL is sticking by reports from earlier this week that Mike Murphy (Haverford), Chris Bates (Drexel) and Dan Sheehan (LeMoyne) are still on the shortlist. Now there are rumors that "at least one or two other candidates" are interviewing for the job.

The list is also growing of coaches who have withdrawn their names from consideration. Way back on June 19, UAlbany coach Scott Marr announced he was no longer interested in the top job at Princeton. Yesterday, news came Army coach Joe Alberici had decided to stay at West Point. And today, we hear that Stony Brook coach Ricky Sowell -- who The Prox never knew was in the running -- is no longer being considered.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

UPDATE: Number of lax finalists down to three

And then there were three.

That's the word coming from Inside Lacrosse this morning, when it reported Army head coach Joe Alberici has withdrawn his name from consideration and is no longer a candidate become the next men's lacrosse head coach.

IL still believes (from left to right) Haverford coach Mike Murphy, Drexel coach Chris Bates and LeMoyne coach Dan Sheehan are the three finalists for the position.

That means we may be down to just one candidate (Bates) who has been a head coach at the DI level. Murphy coaches Division III Haverford and MeMoyne Division II LeMoyne.

As The Prox reported yesterday, Princeton is believed to be conducting interviews in the next few days and could make a decision by the end of the week.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Inside Lacrosse: Four candidates for men's lax job

There are four finalists to fill the men's lacrosse head coach position. Interviews are being conducted in the coming days. A decision could come by the end of the week.

All that from Inside Lacrosse, which reported this afternoon that "numerous sources" in the lacrosse world are suggesting Director of Athletics Gary Walters '67 has narrowed the list of folks he's considering to replace Bill Tierney.

Who are the four? Looking above (from left to right): Army coach Joe Alberici, Haverford coach Mike Murphy, Drexel coach Chris Bates and LeMoyne coach Dan Sheehan.

Haverford may be Division III and LeMoyne Division II, but the experts say it's not unusual for Walters to hire a head coach who's never held the top spot at a Division I school. In fact, he's done it 14 times.

Tierney announced June 8 he was leaving Princeton to become head coach at the University of Denver. Just over a week later on June 16, associate head coach Dan Metzbower announced he was turning down the head coach position and would also leave the program.

Stay tuned as the 'Prince' does it's best to break the news here.


DeGeorge '09 signs with Cleveland Indians

Make that four Tigers who have signed with pro baseball teams this month.

Infielder Dan DeGeorge '09, who led the baseball team this season with a .349 batting average and 53 hits, has signed with the Cleveland Indians and will report to the Class A Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

DeGeorge's decision to bypass the draft is not uncommon among Princetonians. In fact, he's the fourth graduating senior in five seasons to do just that.

With this latest news, there are now nine Tigers playing professional baseball: three at in the Major Leagues and six in the Minor Leagues.

Earlier this month, David Hale, Brad Gemberling and Jack Murphy were all drafted-- by the Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronot Blue Jays, respectively.


Pretty as a (Moving) Picture

If you see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which opens 2 days from now on June 24, you may recognize some of the locations. The film, which is the sequel to the 2007 film Transformers, includes scenes filmed on campus last summer.

Transformers is certainly not the only film to take advantage of the campus’ architecture. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) lists 51 titles which were filmed in Princeton, New Jersey and 13 titles filmed on Princeton University.

Films you may have seen with shots from Princeton include A Beautiful Mind (2001), Across the Universe (2007), Annapolis (2006), Hoop Dreams (1994), One True Thing (1998), People Will Talk (1951) and Scent of a Woman (1992).

The University chooses whether or not to allow filming on campus based on the subject of the film.

"We try to look for synergies with the project," said university spokeswoman Emily Aronson in an interview with the AP. "For instance, our interest in having more young women apply to the university and movies such as `A Cinderella Story,' and `Spanglish,' which featured female characters who apply to Princeton."

While the school may choose to allow filming, crews may change their mind at the last minute, as was the case for a scene in The Interpreter (2005) or in other cases the University chooses to prevent filming and the films move elsewhere. For this reason, you may have seen the 2002 film Stealing Harvard, but not the film originally proposed, that of Stealing Princeton.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Princeton No. 12 in U.S. News (world) Rankings


Princeton is the 12th best university in the world, according to
the U.S. News World's Best Colleges & Universities rankings released June 18.

Princeton was #2 (behind Harvard) in the rankings of U.S. colleges and universities that the magazine releases each August. But in this ranking of all colleges and universities around the globe, Old Nassau comes in at #12, behind Harvard, Yale, Caltech, Chicago, MIT, Columbia and Penn. Penn? Yes...Penn.

What gives, U.S. News?

These questionable rankings "enable our readers to understand more fully how well American institutions perform when compared with other institutions of higher learning around world," the news outlet says. They've determined that 25 percent of the top 400 universities in the world are found right here in the US of A.

What exactly goes in to these rankings? Scores on "Employer Review, Student to Faculty, International Faculty, International Students and Citations per Faculty." Whatever all that means.

Here's a list of the Top 20:

1. Harvard, USA
2. Yale, USA
3. University of Cambridge, UK
4. University of Oxford, UK
5. Caltech, USA
6. Imperial College London, UK
7. University College London, UK
8. University of Chicago, USA
10. Columbia, USA
11. Penn, USA
12. Princeton, USA
13. Duke University, USA
13. Johns Hopkins, USA
15. Cornell, USA
16. Australian National University, Australia
17. Stanford, USA
18. University of Michigan, USA
19. University of Tokyo, Japan
20. Mcgill University, Canada


Einstein's tongue photo goes for $74K

Turns out someone paid $74,324 for this "iconic" photo of Albert Einstein taken in March 1951 on campus as the renowned physicist celebrated his 72nd birthday. Rumor has it that photographer Arthur Sasse asked Einstein to pose with a smile for the photo, but instead Einstein stuck out his tongue. He loved the photo so much that Einstein had nine prints made for it.

Turns out someone else loves it too. Because on Friday, the photo was purchased for a cool $74K from RR Auction, a New Hampshire auction company.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Mysterious Departure of Booster Juice

Booster Juice, the popular smoothie bar on Nassau Street, quietly ended its nearly year-and-a-half stay in Princeton two weeks ago.

According to students on campus, the Nassau Street shop, which is part of a Canadian franchise, was plastered with yellow paper and did not open on June 8 or any day afterwards.

The Booster Juice website, however, still lists "166 Nassau Street" in Princeton, N.J., among its stores. Interview requests via e-mail and phone to confirm the information with the owner went unanswered.

"I don't know why Booster Juice closed, but I kind of saw it coming with the opening of Twist and the very long winter when no one ever wanted a smoothie," Mark Lock '11 said. "Its location is also quite far from central campus and nearer to the E-Quad people who are absolutely non-smoothie drinking people."

Booster Juice was located near 185 Nassau St., home to the Lewis Center for the Arts. Though it was the only smoothie shop in the area, the popular ice-cream shop Thomas Sweet is only a few feet away and several blocks away was the popular new froyo/yogurt store, Twist. Other competitors included Bent Spoon and Halo Pub ice cream.

In an interview with owner Michael Pulaski in late January, Pulaski noted that the recession had been taking a toll on his business with sales down by 15 percent, causing him to lay off all of his employees. He said he expected smoothie sales to revive in the summer.

Last month, the store did indeed have long lines and at least two employees working in the store, making its sudden departure quite baffling.

--Tasnim Shamma '11


Friday, June 19, 2009

Ken Starr supports Sotomayor '76 nomination

He is famous (infamous, some would say) for his investigation of the last Democratic president, but former independent counsel Kenneth Starr is backing the Supreme Court nominee of the current Democratic commander-in-chief.

On Thursday, Starr said he "thinks very well" of Sonia Sotomayor '76 and "supported the nomination" after a speech in LA, according to the Washington Post.

Starr, who is dean of Pepperdine University Law School, has served as a federal appeals court judge and U.S. solicitor general. Then he investigated Bill Clinton's dealings in Whitewater and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky...an investigation that eventually got the former president impeached.


Faculty couple wins Japanese Nobel

It's often referred to as the Japanese Nobel, and early this morning, Peter and Rosemary Grant got a phone call with news that they had won it.

The faculty couple is the recipient of this year's Kyoto Prize for Basic Science. The Inamori Foundation, which awards the prize, praised the power couple for their research in the Galapagos Islands that's produced some of the most important contributions toward evolutionary biology since Darwin.

The Grants are world famous for their study of "Darwin's finches" at the Galapagos. Their work became widely known after it was highlighted in Jonathan Weiner's 1994 work "The Beak of the Finch," which won a Pulitzer Prize.

The prize, founded in 1985 and honoring lifelong achievements in basic science, advanced technology, and arts and philosophy, includes a $500,000 award for each category.

Both Grants came to Princeton in 1985. Peter is an emeritus professor and former chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Rosemary was a senior research scholar at the University before she retired last year.

The Grants will pick up their prize and the $500,000 check at a ceremony in Kyoto this November.


UAlbany coach interested, then not, in men's lax job

Turns out Scott Marr doesn't want to come to Princeton after all.

On Thursday night Fox23 News in Albany, N.Y., reported that Marr had been contacted twice by Princeton and had a phone interview scheduled for late this week. Marr confirmed that he'd submitted an official application, saying he was "honored to be contacted about the job."

But TODAY, all that changed. Marr called up Fox23 and told the news outlet he's withdrawn his name from consideration. Turns out he did have that phone interview, but talked it over with his family and decided to stay put.

BACK to the drawing board...


Monday, June 15, 2009

College News Round-Up 1

School may be out, but colleges around the country are making news.

The governor of Illinois has appointed a panel to investigate the role that intervention by state lawmakers and university trustees may have played in acceptances to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus.

Clemson University appears to be the most recent battle in the ratings war. The president of Clemson's peer review scores, which account for a quarter of a college's U.S. News and World Report score, classifies only Clemson's program as strong and lists more than half of the universities in the survey as having marginal programs. This has raised questions about "gaming" rankings and the quality of ranking programs all together.

Finally, for those of you engaging in work for no pay, Slate's The Big Money has a story about the rise of the intern.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Take Home Final

While travails of your finals can seem cinematic at the time, rarely is the Princeton exam period set to film. One half-hour student film made last year did just that with “The Take Home Final.” Written and directed by Robert Gati ’08 and starring Max Bradley ’11, Dave Uppal ’08 and Erica Duke ’08, "The Take Home Final" has elements of "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and tells the story of Gary Klondike and his quest to finish his take-home final and avoid expulsion.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Lost in the Meritocracy or Part of the Meritocracy? A Review

Parents of aspiring Ivy Leaguers have bought Ivy League tell-alls ever since elite universities first touted themselves as meritocratic. These books, the idea goes, provide two types of information for the discerning parent. First, the memoir style gives readers the specific details of how an individual--usually a self-identified outsider--gains admittance to an elite college. This forms a benchmark that parents can obsessively compare their own children to. How many AP classes did the author take? What was his SAT score? Did he play a sport or an instrument? Second, the tell-all serves as a Consumer Reports brief on the stuff the university admissions office wants to keep secret. Stuff like secret societies, all-male finals clubs, sexual harassment, and drunken festivities.

One increasingly popular task of the Ivy League memoir is to dispel the myth that these institutions cultivate intellect. Instead, these books proclaim, these schools cultivate snobbery, cutting corners, and networking. Ross Douthat's 2005 memoir, Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class, proclaimed that classes were the easiest thing at Harvard. Getting into a finals club was the real challenge, one that required confidence, the right clothes, and effortlessness--not knowledge.

Walter Kirn's book on his schooling from Minnesota public schools to Princeton University, Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever, published on the eve of Kirn's 25th Reunion, is presented in the same myth-busting vein. His publishers have touted Kirn's Princeton as an "arena for...social climbing, ass-kissing, and recreational drug use."

Indeed, Kirn portrays himself as an outsider who landed at Princeton as a fish out of water. Nevermind the fact that his father went to Princeton, something that Kirn tries to brush off as irrelevant since his father never took pride in his Princetonian status. Kirn was a transfer student from Macalester College, and from his experience, it's easy to see why Princeton decided to stop accepting transfers. He was miserable as a sophomore living in Wilson College, "the ugliest cluster of buildings on the campus and the home to an inordinate number of glum-looking black and Jewish kids." Kirn, however, was roomed with some bona fide heirs and heiresses hailing from New York who would enjoy expensive champagne and nice furniture and then asked him to pay for it. Kirn eventually found his place as a member of Terrace Club, where "screwballs and misfits line up with plastic trays for veggie burgers and canned fruit salad."

But even with a social niche secured, Kirn's education was not. Though he took classes with such venerables as Dr. R--presumably Neil Rudenstine, whom he thanks in his acknowledgments--most of his coursework was an exercise in pretentiousness. "Boldness of execution was what scored points," Kirn says of papers. "With one of my professors, a snappy 'heuristic' usually did the trick. With another, the charm was a casual 'praxis.' Even when a poem or story fundamentally escape me, I found that I could save face with terminology, as when I referred to T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land as 'semiotically unstable.' By this I meant 'hard.'"

Though filled with snappy sentences, Kirn's characterization of Princeton is neither new nor wholly accurate. Like other college-memoir authors, he resorts to sweeping generalizations. According to Kirn, there are four major types of people at Princeton: "Those Who'd Been on Sailboats," or New England prepsters; "Those Who Strove to Serve Mankind," Woodrow Wilson School students who possess a certainty rare amongst 20 year olds; "Those Who Never Raised Their Eyes," the equivalent of computer science majors who play World of Warcraft all the time; and "Those Who Pursued Disintegration Fully," recreational drug users who then turn into five year seniors.

Yes, Kirn is writing about an older Princeton, but even then, could its students really be reduced to such stereotypes? Where were the minorities, the actual intellectuals, and the people on financial aid? Kirn would gladly place them all into a fifth category of "misfits." But even Kirn's acquaintances were more three-dimensional than his broad categories. His friend/girlfriend Nina was some what of an artiste who had a masochistic view of feminism. She was clearly wealthier than Kirn, but he never explores the dynamics of that relationship.

At the same time, Kirn's unique anecdotes are a little too special. Kirn's was by no means a "typical" Princeton experience--if such even exists. He was a transfer student at a time when the University admitted 20 a year. Parents don't need to worry that when they send their kids to Princeton, they'll end up doing coke in an Upper West Side apartment while trying not to disturb Truman Capote, the eccentric upstairs neighbor.

Even if the book fails to illuminate any new insights about Princeton, Kirn does shed light on a failure of the American education system as a whole through his account of his pre-Princeton education. In our current "meritocracy," what passes as merit-worthy are a series of high scores on standardized tests, the ability to win spelling competitions in elementary school, knowing how to get A's playing to a teachers' interests, and winning poetry contests by artfully mimicking others. Above all, the meritocracy awards the ability trick others into believing in you. Kirn uses this skill throughout his book. Though filled with many entertaining anecdotes, the book ultimately does not grapple the larger questions. Kirn doesn't question where his ambition came from, or why it's inherently dangerous for a meritocracy to base itself on percentiles and SAT scores.

Perhaps Kirn is avoiding these questions because he doesn't want to know the answers. After all, he is a product of the meritocracy. He did well on his SAT's, went to an elite university, and is now a successful writer. Kirn, like any self-respecting Princeton alumnus, would hate to think that his success was based on a game who's rules were in his favor.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009


If you haven't seen it on the University's main site, swine flu has landed. Thank goodness most of us are off campus already. Let's just hope it doesn't come back this Fall.

The Prince is in the process of breaking the news.

Have a happy & healthy summer, wherever you are.