The premise of having universities in general, and Princeton University in particular, is that the classroom and dormitory experiences are an important part of growing up for smart people, that it makes them better and more-useful people. I happen to agree and I feel it was important for me. The classroom interaction with occasionally-brilliant professors and often-smart classmates and the social interaction with the same community was a joy to me.
Princeton University did a lot to make that experience wonderful for many who might otherwise be excluded. There were student-run musical groups of all flavors performing in the various archways and other venues. They created a Third World Center (not a great name, in my opinion) for non-white students to congregate. Jewish students were offered a small worship area when I was there which has grown to a full-fledged Princeton Hillel, Center for Jewish Life. Unique to Princeton (as far as I know) is a kosher eating facility for those students who follow Jewish dietary law.
The quality of that environment was severely diluted by both large and small deviations from decency on the part of Princeton's administration. I don't claim Princeton was uniquely destructive, only that it was my alma mater that was doing it. Princeton has whined about racism in the world and, recently, in its own history while maintaining huge differences in standards for different skin colors. Princeton caved to pressure for equality of the sexes in sports not by expanding the opportunities for women but by eliminating opportunities for men, the intercollegiate men's wrestling program in particular. Double standards and hypocrisy in administration were a frustrating part of my experience.
As hypocritical and politically-divisive as all the administrative horseshit may have been, it never jeopardized the wonder and joy of Princeton's high-end classroom experience as this oafish blunder does. It's one thing to tell fearful students it's okay to stay home and to come back later when they're no longer afraid, but it's not okay to end the rare gem of Princeton's campus experience.
One of my recurrent themes in discussing these sorts of political issues is, "It shouldn't take a Princeton degree to understand it," and I'm invoking that here. Just the naked fact that a disease is a political entity should tell us enough that it shouldn't take a Princeton degree to figure out things aren't right. The number of claimed casualties of this corona virus divided by its mortality rate given significant sickness gives us a ratio of about twenty Americans for every case of somebody flu-level sick with this disease and one out of 2000 dead from it. Never mind the reports from the news, does the Ivy League college community come close to those numbers? Does Princeton come close to those numbers?
Okay, maybe Princeton took what history has judged as the wrong side on eugenics, an impending ice age, acid rain, mercury in tuna fish, the ozone layer, and, most recently, global warming, but this whole disease thing is just too obvious. The published death rates are obviously low enough not to be worth canceling concerts over, much less classes, and the anecdotally-observed rates of illness and death are about one hundred times lower than these claims would indicate. Just in case that's not enough, I would hope Princeton's engineering data scientists would look hard enough at the CDC data to notice that the disease death rates for 2020 are lower than 2019 or 2018.
I would prefer Princeton University not take political sides. My second choice is that they make sure our students know there are two sides to these issues and to respect the other side. If Princeton can't see both sides, then it would be nice if they picked a side supported by history, science, and fact. If Princeton can't do that, then at least they can protect our students so their classrooms continue to teach them useful, good stuff.
Princeton University, the burden of proof is on you. We have a university that has delivered a rich, positive classroom experience since 1746, even with the corruptions noted above, and you're going to take it away because somebody might get sick. I appreciate your concerns, but students have the option of staying home if you're open and they don't have the option of attending classes if you're closed. Since both our own experience and CDC data severely mitigate your fears, it's not a hard case that this is the wrong decision. As Americans we have the right to assemble peacefully and, even in the most confrontational classroom arguments, this is a peaceful assembly of people for the purpose of learning. As an American steeped deeply in American values, I would hope we would defend this with deadly force if the government tries to shut us down, but I'll settle for opening the doors as far as the law allows.
At best this is a serious breach of contract. We are far short of meeting burden of proof that we are in grave danger with our classroom doors open. (Didn't we fight our American Revolution during a smallpox epidemic? I know somebody who had smallbox and it's a lot worse than what we're afraid of here.) You were paid tuition for the classroom experience. Annual Giving donations are for the purpose of offering "The Princeton Experience" to new generations of students at Old Nassau. Princeton also has taken government money for the commitment that, come what may, that experience and education, along with its associated research environment, will be offered. I would hope Princeton would refund tuition for all classes missed, Annual Giving revenues for at least the past decade, and all government money for the past twenty-five years as a token restitution for what has been lost due to this breach.
There are deeper issues having to do with
the threat of having a government taking away
the rights we're losing to the fear of COVID-19.
Standing up here and now
with the power and reputation of Princeton University
is a path to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness
for future generations.
I have discussed those issues
and they are relevant here.
This is the kind of thinking that
a Princeton education offers us.
I would go a step further and say that
this is the kind of thinking that
Princeton University and its community
owes us for all the support they get.
this is a terribly wrong decision
from the perpective of history,
bad for the students,
and a terrible breach of Princeton's contract
with both its academic community,
its country, the United States of America,
and those who have been paying its bills.
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In summary, this is a terribly wrong decision from the perpective of history, bad for the students, and a terrible breach of Princeton's contract with both its academic community, its country, the United States of America, and those who have been paying its bills.
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