Last week, The Daily Princetonian published a news article about a petition circulated by graduate students that opposed the demolition of the Butler Apartments. The students worry that the demolition will leave a large number of them without on-campus housing. The petition cited concerns over the administration’s target of housing 70 percent of its graduate students on-campus —a higher proportion than that of most of Princeton’s peer schools —as still too low in a wealthy suburban town where housing prices are far too high for graduate students to afford. Moreover, priority in assigning housing is given to newer graduate students, so the 70 percent figure is not evenly distributed across all years —from their third year onward, housing for graduate students is nowhere near guaranteed. The students are also concerned that they will be forced to live far from campus in order to find affordable housing, even as they continue to serve as preceptors and instructors for undergraduate courses. Although the University maintains that the local rent market will allow graduate students to find relatively affordable and conveniently located housing, Princeton’s wealthy suburban neighborhoods seem to suggest otherwise.
Although it will be more than just a mild inconvenience to the graduate students involved, the demolition is not nearly as noticeable or as expensive as the other renovations occurring on campus, such as the extensive construction in Firestone Library or the new Lewis Center for the Arts. The demolition of the Butler Apartments and the rest of the administration’s Housing Master Plan won’t receive nearly as much of an emotional response from undergraduates or the local community as the demolition of the Old Dinky station and the construction of the Arts and Transit neighborhood. For most undergraduates, there is little contact with graduate students outside of precepts and office hours and perhaps those juggernaut intramural teams. However, they are still an essential part of Princeton —after all, we are not a strictly undergraduate-only liberal arts college like Williams College or Amherst College. They help conduct the research that keeps Princeton relevant in academia. The professor might be the one standing behind the podium and gesturing at the blackboard, but the graduate students are the ones who grade our homework and exams. They hold review sessions and office hours and answer our questions long after our professors have gone home.
The petition against the demolition gathered over 200 signatures from graduate students —nearly 10 percent of Princeton’s graduate student body. If 10 percent of the undergraduate student body were to sign a petition, Nassau Hall would almost certainly take notice. The graduate student body seems to receive much less attention from the administration, and even less attention from the undergraduates, even as they constitute one of the key cogs that make Princeton run. Whether or not the administration is actually less attentive toward graduate students’ wants and needs is difficult to measure objectively. However, many of the older graduate students I spoke to, who are no longer given priority housing or Graduate College rooms, feel that the general atmosphere is one of administrative apathy.
Princeton emphasizes its undergraduate education but that should not happen at the expense of its graduate schools. This is not to say that we should model ourselves after Harvard and Yale and create a medical school or a law school. Princeton shouldn’t risk becoming more known for its graduate schools than its undergraduate education, but the University could surely do more to ensure that its graduate students don’t end up with the short end of the stick. We undergraduates are coddled with a constant influx of study breaks, free T-shirts, therapy puppies and many other benefits —some of them are trivial and some of them are truly helpful, but all of them are symbolic of an administration that takes its “focus on undergraduate education” mantra a little too far. Many of us complain about the long walk from our residential colleges to Frick Chemistry Laboratory or the Engineering Quadrangle —especially those who live in Forbes College —but at least we don’t have to make that walk from the Graduate College or the Lawrence apartments. Even when the University enacts a policy that ends up being unpopular among the undergraduate student body, we can rest assured that the administration will keep its ears open to our input. Hopefully, the University will consider the forthcoming petition against the apartments’ demolition.The graduate students deserve the same respect and treatment that we enjoy. The undergraduate student body should consider lending its support to the graduate students on these sorts of occasions or at least take notice of issues that they face.Even if their problems don’t affect us, it is our responsibility to look out for each other as fellow Princetonians.
Spencer Shen is a sophomore from Austin, Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.