Alito and Princeton

I generally stay far away from the back-bench spitball fights that seem to go with Supreme Court confirmations (except for Harriet Meier's, but she was so spectacularly bad a choice I felt the need to chime in).  So I am late to the party in noting that apparently Alito came under some fire for being a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton.  Apparently, he has been tagged as a racist, sexist, blah, blah, blah for being a member of this organization.

First, it is worth observing the the Republicans asked for this guilt-by-organizational association stuff.  Long before the Federalist Society membership attack by Democrats was the attack on Dukakis as "a card carrying member of the ACLU".  This is just as dumb as can be.  I, for example, support the ACLU in a number of their endeavors at the same time I have grave problems with certain aspects of their work, particularly their refusal to acknowledge property rights as on equal footing with speech and privacy (which I guess is not surprising since they were founded by a Stalanist).  I am sure it is possible that Alito supports some of the goals of CAP without wanting to make Princeton all-male again.

My second reaction is just to laugh.  While at Princeton, it was always fun to take a shot at CAP for being racist or sexist, since their most public positions always seemed to be about opposing women on campus or affirmative action or similar stuff.  Then and since, though, I have gotten to know a bunch of folks in CAP and have found its really just a bunch of very conservative (little c) folks concerned that Princeton isn't the same as when they were there.  I sometimes agree with them, for example when they oppose political-correctness driven speech limitations, and sometimes disagree with them, particularly when they oppose any sort of dynamism in the school.  In general, I classify them as humans were classified in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:  Mostly harmless.

My problem with CAP is that Princeton, like most of the Ivy League, needs to be more dynamic, not less.  Princeton has done a good job adjusting themselves to many challenges over the last 30 years:  Princeton has gone from no women to being majority women.  It has good representation from most ethnic groups, and it has all the money it could possibly need to make sure any student it wants in the University can afford to go.  Its got every building and piece of equipment a student could ever need, plus a few more.

But here is the real problem, as I see it:  Over the last 30 years, the undergraduate population at Princeton, as with all of the Ivy League, has hardly grown.  The University has become hugely wealthy over this time, has built tons of facilities, but it has all gone to increasing the educational and capital intensity for the same 5000 students.  The challenge as I see it is how do you make this same education available to say 15,000 people at a time instead of 5,000 without changing the heart of the institution. 

Because they aren't creating any new Ivy League schools, while an ever larger portion of the population has the wealth and basic education background and the drive and expectations to want an Ivy-League-quality college experience.  The result is that the admissions process has gotten to be crazy.  Ask any Ivy Leaguer who went to college 20 years or more ago, and ask them "Could you get admitted today" and they will probably answer "no" or at least "I'm not sure".  Education consultants - I have met these folks - are making fortunes coaching kids from the age of 9 or so on how to get a resume built that is Ivy-League-admittable, complete with an oddball hobby selection aimed at catching the admissions board's eye.  Everyone plays piano, so kids started trying the harp and banjo to be different, but even that is overdone so now its probably the bagpipes or something.  Football is out, and lacrosse is probably overdone now, so how about falconry?  Out west, private universities like USC are thriving by being able to offer top educations to much larger numbers of people.  The Ivy League needs to figure out how to do this as well.

Of course, every time I raise this idea at any Princeton forum, I get only negative reactions, being accused of trying to change the very fiber of the university.  You don't have to be born in 1930 to be conservative about the the university and change.  But I keep at it, noticing that the responses I get are identical to those heard when the University went coed.

update:  Well, Joe, I'm not really a big Joe Biden fan.

  • dearieme

    Just a personal prejudice, no doubt, but I would entertain reservations about anyone who joined a group entitled "Concerned x of y". It's almost as bad as claiming to be "compassionate".