Why I Don't Donate To My University Anymore -- A Recent Letter to Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber
Christopher L. Eisgruber
1 Nassau Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
The other day I received a call from a Princeton student calling to encourage me to participate in annual giving this year. I was in a hurry, and I feel bad that I gave the student a rushed answer, but I told him that I thought universities were lost and that I no longer had any desire to donate money to any of them. The word “lost” is admittedly imprecise, but it was the best I could to summarize my concerns in a brief call.
When I was at Princeton, we used to laugh at those crotchety alumni who wrote angry letters about Princeton letting in women, or integrating the all-male eating clubs, or whatever else. I never imagined that someday I would find myself writing one of those “I can't donate to Princeton any more” letters, yet here I am doing just that.
For years – decades really – I have been totally, passionately committed to Princeton. I attended every reunion I could, even in the off years. I interviewed applicants for years in Arizona and before that in Seattle. Until recently, I never had the business success to be able to donate large amounts, but I did when I could and stretched a bit in honor of my 25th reunion. My wife saw the passion and commitment and called being a Princeton alumnus a cult, and I jokingly agreed.
Today, I finally have started to earn the resources that might allow me to increase my support for the university, but I find that my passion for doing so has waned. Universities in general, and Princeton in particular, simply seem lost. Adrift. Untethered from their traditional mission and goals.
And so I will try to put my concerns in a letter. I don't really have much hope of this approach having much impact, just as I don't expect the university to miss my modest past donations. But since the only proven method of gaining you respectful attention to an issue – storming your office and issuing demands – is distasteful to me, I will have to settle on this approach.
To give this letter a bit of focus, and to avoid indulging in a long, rambling diatribe, I will focus most of my comments on one aspect of university life, specifically the way that “diversity” has come to be interpreted on campus. This will force me to avoid other issues that worry me, such as the substitution of virtue signaling for scholarship in the humanities and the increasing use of obtuse academic-speak in published papers to obscure a lack of scholarship.
When I first heard about Princeton and other universities discussing diversity, I was supportive. As I understood the term, universities were taking much-needed leadership in trying to shed the in-group / out-group distinctions that have been so corrosive throughout human history. But after participating in actual campus discussions at Princeton, Harvard, and Amherst, among others, I have been convinced that this is no longer the intent of “diversity.” The intent seems not to be to eliminate out-groups, but merely to shift the out-group tag from one group to another, in this case onto white cis-gendered, professionally successful males.
I was simply staggered the first time I was in a campus discussion and, after making an extended, evidence-based argument on a particular topic, the sole response was “check your privilege.” Much of the campus audience felt this was a sufficient refutation. I would have written this off as an anomaly had I personally not experienced this a number of times since, as has my son. Is this really what passes for intellectual discourse at universities?
So my first reason for ceasing my donations to Princeton is that I see no reason, being a member of this new out-group, that I should provide financial support to a faculty whose majority considers me a pariah to be vilified and blamed for all of mankind’s shortcomings, and who refuse to even listen to my speech, or allow it on campus, merely because of my gender and ethnicity. I feel no more need to donate money to any college today than an African-American should have felt the urge to, say, donate to the George Wallace presidential campaign.
But my issues with campus diversity efforts go beyond my being miffed at being scapegoated. The truly amazing thing to me is just how profoundly disconnected diversity efforts are even from their own stated goals. When studying these programs, I am often reminded of the famous line from the Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
In particular, universities are first and foremost institutions of ideas and knowledge, but their diversity programs are 100% aimed at getting a good mix of skin pigments and reproductive plumbing. In the actual world of ideas, Princeton and other universities have created a thin-skinned intellectual monoculture, the very opposite of diversity. Recent surveys have shown that essentially no one in the Princeton faculty is Conservative, or like me, libertarian.
Frankly, I am not sure I could create such an extreme intellectual monoculture even if I were required to do so. A while back a Princeton friend was at a skeet shooting event in Texas sponsored by an oil company, and he reported that there were more progressive Democrats at that seemingly built-for-Conservatives function than there are Conservatives on the Princeton faculty.
I suppose I should confess that this has one silver lining for my family. My son just graduated Amherst College, and as a libertarian he never had a professor who held similar views. This means that he was constantly challenged to defend his positions with faculty and students who at a minimum disagreed, and in certain cases considered him to be a pariah. In my mind, he likely got a better education than left-leaning kids who today can sail through 16 years of education without ever encountering a contrary point of view. Ironically, it is kids on the Left who are being let down the most, raised intellectually as the equivalent of gazelles in a petting zoo rather than wild on the Serengeti.
In fact, under the auspices of diversity, this monoculture has gone to a whole other level with all the craziness about safe spaces, micro-aggressions, cultural appropriation and the general weaponization of victimhood. Students (of the Left, not of the Center or Right) can get other kids silenced, speakers cancelled, and even professors fired for daring to put a contrary point of view in front of them. Just look at the absurd demands that you and the rest of the university took seriously. I would laugh at these antics for their silliness if they did not pose such a dire threat to freedom of speech and expression in this country. When universities become hotbeds of authoritarian censorship and bullying, who is left to be the defenders of free speech?
Just to pick one example, how did universities ever get into the business of enforcing bans on “cultural appropriation?” Many of the greatest breakthroughs in art, for example, happened when source material of one culture is interpreted by another. An Italian director Serio Leone borrowed from Akira Kurosawa who was borrowing from Dashiell Hammett. American blues music infected British bands like the Beatles, and then returned back to the US in a new mutated form. I had thought this was the whole point of a university – to cross-pollinate minds with inputs from many cultures. In fact, until I found out I was naïve, I had thought the whole point of university diversity programs was to expand the pool of cultures from which ideas and knowledge could be “appropriated.”
I will tell you that even beyond the issue of no longer financially supporting the University, I am not sure I would ever try to hire any Ivy League graduate. It feels like Russian Roulette – will I get the smart kid who decides that she has been micro-aggressed and takes over my office? Frankly I would rather hire the scrappy kid at the state school who Princeton turned down because she was Asian or because all he did was work hard at academics rather than engage in frequent social activism.
I have no doubt that great and wonderful kids graduate from the school every year. You don't have to convince me; I have met many of them. I am not against the kids, I am against the leadership of this University and the anti-rational perversion occurring in the university's role.
I have heard it argued by my fellow alumni that Princeton is not as bad as other schools on these dimensions. This strikes me as pretty weak tea. It might be OK for the College of West Nowhere to keep its head down and try to weather the current intellectual storm. It is another thing for Princeton to do so. I was extremely proud years ago when Princeton took the leadership among universities to make its financial aid grant rather than loan-based, allowing students to graduate debt-free and be able to do anything they wanted in the world without the worry of crippling student debts. I want to see Princeton demonstrate real leadership in the current intellectual morass facing universities before I can give back my support.
Warren Meyer ‘84