Saturday, November 26

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Defending a Princeton education

While students at the niversity of Pennsylvania were taunting the men's basketball team with calls like "Overrated!" earlier this year, our team was able to ignore the trash talk and go on to win the Ivy League title. However, the same thing is being said about Princeton academics, and it doesn't look as though the debate can be resolved on the basketball court. (It would be great if it could – can you imagine David Ascher going one-on-one with Dean Malkiel?)

Is a Princeton education worth the thirty grand a year, or is it overrated? Lately, the very reputation of a Princeton education has been called into question. In December, the Tory implied that affirmative action has forced Princeton to lower its standards for selected groups, namely African-Americans and Hispanics. Then, the administration came out with its report on grade inflation, complaining that students were getting much higher grades than they really deserved. Recently, the standards for student-athletes were brought into question, as though playing a sport automatically means you don't deserve to be here.


Considering that I am graduating in a few months, I would hate to leave thinking that my education was worthless. As far as I'm concerned, Princeton is, by far, the best liberal arts education that one can get in this country. I may not have the best academic record, but I only blame myself for not taking advantage of all the opportunities this University has to offer. And I still got into medical school, so I don't think the excellent reputation of a Princeton education will ever be doubted.

The admissions office may have its own standards for accepting students, but I am grateful that they do recruit a wide variety of them. As for affirmative action, I'll admit it – I'm a liberal. I think that racism and sexism have not died in this country, and if it wasn't for active recruiting, this university would still be an all-male, Anglo-Saxon bastion of higher education. Additionally, I cannot believe that the standards for minorities and women are much lower than for Caucasian men – considering some precepts I've attended, I wonder if certain white males should be in this school.

Second, the report on grade inflation only states that high grades have increased. It does not imply one damn thing. Most professors I have talked to have told me that they honestly give out the grades that students deserve. They were upset that their own integrity was being brought into question. I think that most discussions on this issue fail to recognize that education has changed since the 1960s. Students today are rarely asked to memorize and regurgitate information to the same extent they were in the past. They must be able to apply their knowledge in new and more complicated ways. In addition, professors have used grading curves in order to create examinations that are comprehensive yet fair.

Compare an organic chemistry test here with an organic chemistry test at a public university – I can guarantee that Princeton professors demand a hell of a lot more from their students. At the University of Texas, for instance, almost every test is multiple choice. I'm not saying Princeton students are smarter than they were 25 years ago (sorry, David) – all I'm saying is that grades have been adjusted to fit modern conditions. I'm sure the same thing has been done at other institutions.

By the way, I got a C in organic chemistry two years ago – according to the administration, that should probably be a Q. Maybe administrators should be forced to take the final exam to see how easy it is to get an A.

In either case, there is no way that grades could be "deflated" now since any policy would be unfair, both to professors and students. The most that one can ask for is more constructive criticism on papers and exams.


Finally, I move on to the debate on student athletes. I am not a student athlete. The most I ever did was row freshman crew for two months before I realized I couldn't hack it. During those two months, however, I could see how motivated a student athlete must be to be successful, both physically and mentally.

Most athletes I have encountered actually have something intelligent to say in the classroom and in precepts; not all are drunk, boisterous, stereotypical jocks. Defenders of tooldom who decry the recruitment of athletes, fail to recognize one glaring fact: Many Princeton students play sports, graduate and actually do well afterward! Some even become teachers and professors – amazing, ain't it?!

So, for those who may have thought about transferring to another university in order to get a cheap, comparable education, have no fear. I honestly believe that Princeton is not just a name you attach to your resume to get into graduate school or to get a job. It still stands for excellence in a wide variety of extracurricular activities, an intelligent, dedicated faculty and student body and, above all, academic integrity.

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