Oprah Winfrey's publicist said the talk show diva was coming to Princeton this past weekend for a sit-down fawning with her favorite bestseller, Toni Morrison. Although Winfrey – shocking everyone on campus by actually being able to find Morrison – did tape the interview with the laureate, her real purpose for coming here was to moderate a hastily called "town meeting" to discuss grade inflation.
The forum, featuring prominent administrators and student leaders, was modeled after the recent town meeting in Columbus, Ohio, which featured top presidential advisers selling the White House's line on Iraq to a randomly selected audience.
According to a transcript of the show, which will air this week on Tigervision, the format was not the only similarity between Columbus and Princeton. OPRAH: Y'all remember college? (Well-dressed audience laughter) O: What kind of grades did y'all get? (More laughter, this time with nodding) O: Making the grade. That's the big issue right now at Princeton. University bigwigs say the students are getting grades they don't deserve. Compared to 25 years ago, they say, grades today are inflated. And they plan to do something about it. Here to explain what Princeton plans to do is Dean of the College Nancy Weiss Malkiel. Welcome. MALKIEL: Thank you, Oprah. First, to the audience I would like to extend my appreciation for the opportunity to elaborate on several compelling programmatic initiatives the University is prepared to undertake to combat this plague known as – (Shouting from the audience) UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Two, four, six, eight! You do not our grades inflate! M: Uh, to combat this plague known as grade inflation. We aim – UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: We got A's in classes we skipped. Don't take that off our transcripts! O: Please, please, everyone. Show some respect for the Dean of the College. M: May I finish? O: Go ahead. M: Oprah, this behavior is indicative of the lower caliber of student that we're talking about. These dynamic programmatic initiatives – UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Save the whales, save the manatees. But don't deflate the humanities! O: Ladies and gentlemen, you're doing nothing for your cause. UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Strawberry shortcake, banana split, do not kill our beloved Slav Lit! (Cheering from audience, some of it in Russian) O: Maybe we should hear from a student. David Ascher is the president of the student government and has vowed to fight the University's plan to deflate grades. Dave, what's wrong – ASCHER: It's David. O: Okay, David. What's wrong with students getting the grades they deserve? A: There's nothing wrong with that Oprah. We're saying students are getting the grades they deserve. And they should continue to get those grades. We're the smartest group of Princetonians ever. O: How do you know that? A: Look at the statistics. And consider this: A large percentage of us are the product of at least one Princeton parent. Some of us – and this percentage will increase in the coming years – are the product of two Princeton parents. Excellence breeds excellence exponentially, Oprah. That's our motto. O: So Princeton students are genetically engineered better than they were 25 years ago? Dean Malkiel, how do you respond to David's claim? M: In short, to respond to Mr. Ascher, I'd like to use a phrase popular with the talk-show culture: David, you Princeton students ain't all that! (Audience whooping) O: Let's hear from the audience. Sir, what's your take on how to handle grade inflation? UNIDENTIFIED ALUM FROM THE CLASS OF '43: If you want to make the place dumber, get rid of all the Asians. HIS UNIDENTIFIED CLASSMATE: And the women! (Elderly alumni are promptly beaten by audience members wielding copies of "Paradise," Toni Morrison's latest, available at the U-Store and bookstores everywhere) O: Ummm, now I'd like to bring out Toni Morrison. MORRISON: Hello, Oprah. O: Toni, you're the wisest woman in the whole wide world. What's your take on this situation? Can you think of a student you've taught who has not earned her grade? MO: Oprah, dear, I've never met any of my students. O: You're sooooo wise. If only I could crawl inside your – UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: M&M's, Reese's Pieces, we'd better do well on our senior theses!