Shirley Tilghman, who has just announced that she will step down as president of Princeton at the end of the academic year, was chosen as the successor to former president Harold Shapiro in part because the powers that be thought it about time that the university had a female in that office. She was the first president of Princeton not to have been a former student (graduate or undergraduate) and she didn’t come with extensive administrative experience.
Among her accomplishments is the increased financial aid package that Princeton now offers to students from lower and middle income circumstances. Undergraduates at Princeton overwhelmingly come from upper-middle-class and affluent families, and there has been a push under Tilghman’s watch to bring in students (including whites) from less affluent backgrounds student body. The idea is a good one and Princeton has enough money in scholarship aid to pull it off.
And under her presidency the undergraduate student body expanded by over 500 through the addition of Whitman College (named after benefactor and Princeton grad Meg Whitman). The big advantage of this is that the ratio of recruited athletes to other students goes down. While racial affirmative action still prevails, in keeping the number of athletes constant while increasing the total number of students admitted, a higher proportion of students who get into Princeton now make it on their brains, not athletic ability.
One of her biggest mistakes: Her claim in the face of the Larry Summers affair that “the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences is nonexistent.” This is ludicrous. Textbooks (e.g. Diana Halpern’s Sex Differences in Cognition, and Doreen Kimura’s Sex and Cognition) have provided exhaustive data. Only the wilfully blind could ignore the facts.
Another dubious decision: her refusal to allow the student Love and Chastity group to set up a center on campus that would be comparable to the feminist-oriented Women’s Center and the LGBT center. The purpose of the center would be to present a haven from the campus hook-up culture and a place for students of traditional values regarding sex and marriage to have a place where they could share ideas and feel comfortable talking with students of the opposite sex. The students even offered to pay for the center with donations from supportive alumni but Tilghman nixed the idea. Her response, an open letter printed in the student newspaper, seemed remarkably weak. Shirley Tilghman is a nice person without a strong political or ideological compass. In academia, this indicates someone who will almost automatically absorb the secular leftism of the dominant campus ethos and the New York Times editorial page.
When Ian McEwan talks about his writing, he sounds like an impressionist painter entranced by water lilies. He speaks of images and scenes, the feelings they elicit and how they prompt him to begin new books. That’s his power: He’s a writer who has strong ideas, doesn’t shy away from contrarianism and tackles modern political problems, but he isn’t an Ayn Rand packaging political philosophy as fiction. He’s a writer whose respect for and mastery of the written word allows him to play with ideas unpopular in academia without reaping the wrath of critics.
His latest novel, Solar, not only lampoons the state of the modern anti-global warming movement (the head of a climate institute goes to the North Pole, where his penis falls off). The book also mocks academia at every turn.
Michael Beard, a Nobel laureate who has done nothing of note since winning the world’s most prestigious prize, is the anti-hero of Solar. (Spoiler alert.) He holds a post at an unnamed university in Geneva, but does no teaching. He doesn’t particularly care about global warming, or anything else that doesn’t yield immediate pleasure. He heads a center to reverse the damage being done to the planet, mostly because the work is undemanding and pays decently. A young man who works for him (who is also sleeping with his wife) comes up with a brilliant plan to utilize solar energy to replace fossil fuels. Beard steals the idea when the man dies accidentally and frames another one of his wife’s lovers for his murder. Suddenly Beard is the world’s hero.
Beard is asked to be the “titular head of a government scheme to promote physics in schools and universities” and grudgingly accepts. He sits with a committee, mostly physicists (all male) and one woman (a social anthropologist) whose work focuses on proving that genes are “socially constructed.”
Continue reading Ian McEwan’s Take on the Larry Summers Saga
On Forbes.com today, Harvey Silverglate responds to a New York Times blogpost by Stanley Fish on Lawrence Summers, who may be president-elect Obama’s choice for secretary of the treasury. (We asked Silverglate to write it for us, but Forbes beat us by half an hour.)
Silverglate did not much like Fish’s article, and we found it insufferable ourselves. Fish argues that senior administrators simply cannot say things that might upset the various constitutencies of their universities. Unlike professors and students, they must make nice all the time. Fish says he takes no position on the issues raised by Summers with criticisms of the work habits of Cornel West and the speculations about the relative rarity of females in the upper ranks of science. Summers’ sin, in Fish’s opinion, was upsetting people and “making the university into the object of an unflattering attention.”
This is quite close to the standard rationale for campus speech codes, which punish speakers for hurting the feelings of any member of a protected group. The offense is the upset. Summers’ remarks to West were in private and his science comment was in a closed meeting that appeared to be off the record. But never mind. Fish doesn’t approve. He recommends tact, patience, poise self-restraint, deference and courtesy. What he definitely does not recommend is a college president who occasionally says what he thinks.