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Reading deeper than the commercial world

If you read that other newspaper on campus, you undoubtedly know "Verbatim." For those of you who do not read or do not know what verbatim means, I will elaborate: "Verbatim" prints the most hilarious and outrageous statements overheard on campus – excluding, of course, Ivy bicker interviews.

But last week in Firestone, I heard something so shocking, not even "Verbatim" would print it. You, lucky 'Prince' reader, shall read it here and now.

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A rather burly looking young man approached the girl in the carrel next to mine and said in his best Rambo voice, "So you've got a lot of reading, huh?" Rambo seemed bewildered that this girl would read in the reserve room rather than attend the Cottage Club women's support group, held nightly over by the magazines. As if "a lot of reading"at an Ivy League School was a big surprise – a bigger surprise then, say, an Ivy League Basketball team ranked number eight in the country.

"It's not that bad," sighed the girl, and flipped through her copy of "The Collected Stories of William Faulkner," as if to demonstrate its irrelevance to her life. "It's just stories."

"Just stories." Why would a Princeton University student ever say such a thing, and what could it mean? That since her preceptor awards the Congressional Medal of Honor for intelligible responses to discussion questions, the text did not require her full attention? That since "A Rose For Emily" would not likely appear on her ECO 101 problem set and therefore not directly affect her grade, Faulkner shouldn't have bothered writing it? Or maybe she meant, "just stories," as in, "it's only make-believe so it doesn't matter if I understand it or not."

"Not that bad." What does that mean? That of all the unbearable reading we do at Princeton, fiction is the most tolerable? It seems that more and more we just want to finish our surpassingly large assignments so that we can start the next batch of boring reading, or so we can watch the NCAA tournament. But what does this say about the way we approach our education here?

I happen to have the answer to all these questions and others (which explains why I have an oped column and you do not). Princeton students seem incapable of living in the moment. We only want to read or work or learn in order to finish the reading, working and learning so that, hopefully, we can land a job in consulting. But for what? To make lots of money to send our kids to Princeton?

The University only promotes this kind of "practicality," and believes that incoming classes need twice as much knowledge of lab science than ethics and morality (and if that doesn't say something about Princeton priorities, I don't know what does).

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But I have another theory about the meaning of "just stories." I believe that Princeton University, perhaps inadvertently, promotes anti-intellectualism. And I do not, for the life of me, understand how some people get accepted to this school. I certainly do not expect that every student should be the world's next Bill Bradley or Jimmy Stewart. But how does Princeton expects to maintain its already overrated reputation?

The school turns its back on applicants who (although they could not afford one of those Phillips schools) might actually make an intellectual or artistic contribution, while admitting those who show little or no genuine passion for learning aside from the willingness to pay the big bucks –who think that literature and history are "not that bad." Princeton would rather produce moneymaking machines who, upon graduating, begin siphoning part of their salaries back into the University's endowment.

Perhaps, instead of admitting those uninterested in literature and the arts, Princeton should take a hint from its own highly successful athletic programs and start recruiting – but recruit students who want something more in life than an athletic trophy or a position as a mid-level bureaucrat.

How did a student who talks about reading fiction the same way she does getting her wisdom teeth pulled slip through Fred Hargadon's cracks? Shouldn't a Princeton University admissions officer have the insight to recognize academic apathy when he or she sees it?

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But it occurs to me now that the admissions officer who interviewed me when I applied also graduated from Princeton.

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