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No way out

One of the most notable things about Princeton, especially to outsiders, is the tradition associated with the school's name. To many, "Princeton" conjures up ideas of rich white young men, running around drinking like F. Scott Fitzgerald '17, enjoying a four-year stay at the Good Old Boys Club. Well, such assumptions are not too far off-base. Some things may have changed — now rich white women and a smattering of well-to-do minorities add a drop of diversity to our atmosphere. (No, it's not the just the layer of snow that makes it look so lily-white.)

But from within, we should not be blind to the mindset that pervades this campus. It is largely a mindset of entitlement, a mindset of superiority, not only toward each other, but toward those at other schools and elsewhere in the world. I will not go off into a tangential rant here about our obligations to help the less-fortunate members of society, to emphasize non-Western and Western values equally and to treat our faithful employees with the same dignity and respect that we theoretically afford each other. I've already done that in the past.


My focus is on a few interrelated policies and practices — official and unofficial — at this University that have common themes to them. Roughly, I take issue with this University's treatment of students who want to take time off, take courses at other schools or transfer out of Princeton. The general attitude that pervades such dealings, at least in situations with which I am familiar, is one of disturbing elitism and holier-than-thou superiority on the part of the administration.

Recently, a good friend expressed unhappiness with the academic climate, the social scene and the lack of opportunities afforded him here at Princeton. Upon appealing to various deans for assistance in preparing his transcript and official records for a transfer application, he was met not only with general uncooperativeness but with scorn for even considering that another place might provide him with a better educational experience. Now, given the treatment afforded him by certain University higher-ups, not only is my friend stuck here and still unhappy, he is even more disenchanted than he was before.

Message to administrators: I am perfectly happy at Princeton. So are a lot of other people. It is probably a great school for the majority of the people here. In fact, it probably is the best undergraduate experience available in this country.

Message number two: A lot of people are not happy. Princeton is not a great school for them. Other places might offer them an experience that better fits their needs and interests, regardless of what U.S. News & World Report says. The University's high rating does not entitle its administration to maintain a high level of arrogance in dealings with students. Rather, it should compel the University to be responsible to the student body that makes Princeton so great and to treat each and every student with dignity and respect.

Those are my main complaints. Sure, I could list others, starting with the fact that one can't (with rare exceptions) take a semester off from school. One has to choose between taking off an entire year or no time at all. This leaves many students — unhappy but not altogether disenchanted — either stuck somewhere they don't want to be or away for so long that they don't want to come back. This is compounded by the difficulty associated with transferring credits from other schools or from high school advanced-placement courses. Would it really kill the University to let someone travel for a semester and get credit for taking courses elsewhere without being officially part of the study abroad program? Does it really matter if not everyone writes two JPs?

Of course, it isn't all bad. The study abroad program, while not as popular as at other schools, is good, and the University does help to promote it. But only within certain limits. The general attitude — that Princeton is the best, and anywhere else is inferior — is not only an inappropriate one for us to harbor, but a disenfranchising one for many University students.


It can be difficult to see the forest from within, but look around. To the big tall trees that govern this forest: Cut the unhappy little trees some slack. Don't cut them down. Dan Wachtell is a philosophy major from Rye, N.Y. He can be reached at

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