March 17, 2005
Princeton's feminist presidentBy Steven M. Warshawsky
After Harvard University president Lawrence Summers dared to suggest that innate differences between men's and women's aptitudes for high—level math and science careers may be one of the reasons for the lower percentage of female math and science professors at major research universities, the National Organization for Women angrily demanded his resignation.
Summers' speculative remarks, though controversial, are supported by substantial theoretical and empirical evidence. Nevertheless, NOW president Kim Gandy sees in them an example of 'personal sexism' and lack of a 'true commitment to inclusion.' According to Gandy, 'equality for women' requires that Harvard 'encourage women as students in the 'hard' sciences, promote more women in faculty positions, and step up the recruitment of women for teaching positions in math and science departments.' Oh, and fire Larry Summers.
The NOW—prescribed 'solution' to the 'problem' of an unequal number of male and female math and science professors is the familiar liberal troika: social engineering, affirmative action, and quotas. Over the past several weeks, NOW's followers, both on and off Harvard's campus, have been pressuring Summers to implement these policies. Among them is Princeton University president Shirley Tilghman. In mid—February, Tilghman, along with MIT president Susan Hockfield and Stanford University president John Hennessy, issued a public statement condemning Summers' remarks for allegedly 'rejuvenat[ing] old myths and reinforc[ing] negative stereotypes and biases.'
For Tilghman and her colleagues, speculating about the role played by genetics in math and science performance only discourages women, and 'can be as destructive as overt discrimination.' Instead, the three presidents emphasized the 'important cultural and societal factors' that must be addressed so that 'women can feel as much at home in math, science and engineering as men.' So much for the commitment to truth, merit, and free inquiry at our nation's top universities.
Although it was an unprecedented move by a fellow Ivy League president, I was not surprised when I read that Tilghman had publicly condemned Summers' remarks. As a 1990 graduate of Princeton, I take considerable interest in the university and have followed Tilghman's presidency closely. In Tilghman, the student radicals of the 1960s finally have succeeded in occupying the university president's chair, not just his office. Since becoming Princeton's president in June 2001, Tilghman (who graduated from college in 1968) has pursued an activist feminist agenda to remake Princeton into a liberal paradise that even Kim Gandy would love. Today, despite its long—outdated reputation as a 'conservative' Ivy League college (F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described Princeton as 'the pleasantest country club in America'), Princeton is rife with political correctness, multiculturalism, and liberal groupthink.
For a conservative alumnus like me, this is a terrible disappointment. But anyone who cares about the state of higher education in this country should be concerned that one of the nation's oldest and most influential universities has been so thoroughly captured by the forces of left—wing extremism — the very forces now trying to run Larry Summers out of Harvard. For a picture of what Harvard will look like if the feminists get their way, just take a look at Princeton.
'It's time for a woman president.'
Tilghman is Princeton's first woman president. It is widely believed among alumni that Tilghman was selected for the position based on her gender, not on her administrative or leadership experience. Although she is a highly accomplished molecular biologist, Tilghman had almost no executive—level experience in academia, business, or government prior to becoming Princeton's president. In sharp contrast, Tilghman's predecessor, Harold Shapiro, had served as the president and chairman of the board of regents of the University of Michigan, one of the nation's largest public universities, before becoming Princeton's president in 1988. And Shapiro's predecessor, William Bowen, had served for five years as Princeton's provost (the university's second—highest—ranking academic and financial officer) before becoming president in 1972.
It is safe to say that had Tilghman been a man, she would not have been selected for this important position. Indeed, at the press conference to announce her selection, Tilghman declared: 'It's time for a woman president.' Why it should matter whether Princeton's president is a man or a woman was left unexplained. The unspoken assumption, of course, was that women have been discriminated against in the past at Princeton, and fairness now required that a woman — perhaps even an unqualified woman — be appointed president of the university. For leftists like Tilghman, the legitimacy and efficacy of affirmative action to remedy perceived past discrimination is an unquestioned article of faith. Her own career is a testament to this belief.
Toward 'gender equity.'
As her official biography trumpets, throughout her career Tilghman has been an outspoken advocate 'on behalf of women in science.' At the same time, in typical liberal fashion, Tilghman pretends to be 'blind to gender.' In fact, gender—consciousness is never far from Tilghman's mind. For example, when she received a L'Or�al—UNESCO Award for Women in Science in 2002, Tilghman (alone among the five award recipients) lamented that 'We still live in a world in which science is largely a male profession,' and she looked forward to the day when 'there will be as many women as men succeeding in science.' Why numerical parity between the sexes is a worthy goal in the science field, she didn't say. But Tilghman's motives are ideological, not practical. After all, science has made enormous advances over the years, even if it is 'largely a male profession.'
Despite evidence that, overall, fewer women than men are likely to be interested in or have the aptitude for high—level science careers, Tilghman believes that what is needed is 'to change the minds of young women who are thinking about what they are going to do with their lives.' In other words, ensuring equal opportunity for women who decide, for their own reasons, to pursue science careers is not enough. What is needed is for women's 'minds' to be 'changed' (presumably by people like Tilghman), so that more women decide to pursue science careers in the first place. NOW's Gandy was making the exact same point when she demanded that Harvard 'encourage women as students in the 'hard' sciences.' This is a perfect illustration of the totalitarian impulse the underlies modern liberalism: Freedom and opportunity for others are only valuable to the extent they achieve the outcomes pre—approved by the ruling elite.
As Princeton's president, Tilghman has moved aggressively to bring about her vision. She appointed an assistant dean 'to oversee gender equity,' established a committee to examine the hiring and retention of female science faculty (despite the fact that Princeton already had been hiring more female science faculty who, on average, earn the same salaries and receive tenure at the same rates as their male colleagues), and she requires departments that want university funding for scientific conferences to demonstrate a 'good faith effort' to include women panelists. (See here and here.) Unlike the hapless Larry Summers, Tilghman did not have to be bullied by campus feminists into taking these actions. As the top feminist at Princeton, such actions just came naturally to her.
Most recently, Tilghman established a student exchange program between Princeton and Smith College, an all—female college, to allow engineering students from each school to spend a semester at the other institution. The express goal of the program is to 'increase the diversity' of Princeton's engineering program, which Tilghman and Maria Klawe, the first woman dean of Princeton's school of engineering (appointed by Tilghman in 2002), have decided is too male. In addition to bringing more female students to Princeton (which has been co—ed since 1969 and has a student body that is 49% female), the program will provide, in Klawe's words, 'an interesting opportunity for Princeton students to try out an environment where most of the students are going to be female.' Why this is relevant to a Princeton education is far from obvious, but it reflects the hypocrisy (and misandry) of feminists who believe that female—dominated environments are good, while male—dominated environments are bad.
Like all utopian social reformers, Tilghman believes that achieving justice, as she crudely defines it — viz. numerical equality between men and women in all spheres of life, regardless of individual preferences and abilities — requires imposing the outcomes she desires from above, even if that means overturning the institutions and traditions that were established long before she came to power. Above all else, Tilghman wants to 'reexamine' the university's tenure system, which she believes discriminates against women whose peak childbearing years coincide with the review period leading up to the tenure decision. (For example, see here.)
While Tilghman has not acted on this proposal to date (for obvious institutional reasons — tenure is the 'third rail' of university politics), clearly she envisions either permitting female faculty members a longer tenure review period (to account for time off to have children) and/or reducing the scholarly output expected of female faculty members to qualify for tenure (to account for the conflicting demands of raising a family). In their joint statement against Summers, Tilghman and her fellow presidents expressed the same viewpoint when they declared that universities 'must develop a culture, as well as specific policies, that enable women with children to strike a sustainable balance between workplace and home.' In sum, Tilghman wants preferential treatment for women — which not only discriminates against men, but denigrates the efforts and achievements of women who do not need, or want, to be treated differently.
In response to alumni who complain about her feminist agenda, Tilghman is open about her intention to remake Princeton into a more female—oriented university. As she explained in an interview with the Princeton alumni magazine (the 'PAW') in July 2002, 'the university has 250 years or so where there were few women so there's a lot of ground to be made up here.'
And Tilghman is determined to make up that ground as quickly as she can. Within her first two years as Princeton's president, Tilghman appointed Princeton's first woman provost, first woman dean of admissions (who previously served as dean of admissions at Wellesley College, an all—female institution), first woman dean of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and first woman dean of the school of engineering (who isn't even an engineer!).
Although Tilghman disingenuously denies that gender played any role in her appointments, even the president of the Women's College Coalition expressed surprise that
'this pattern has developed in such a short period of time, whereby many of the senior administrative positions are being offered to women. You will not find another Ivy institution that has that percentage of women in those positions.'
Brown skin and green hair.
Predictably, like any good feminist, Tilghman strongly supports preferential treatment for students and faculty 'of color.' In 2003, Princeton joined an amicus brief filed with the United States Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy. The brief argued that ensuring racial and ethnic 'diversity' constitutes a 'compelling' interest in the admissions process of 'selective' universities like Princeton. (Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Penn, Duke, and the University of Chicago also signed the brief.)
Tilghman reiterated her support for racial preferences this past December at a student government forum, where she made the remarkable statement that she 'can't imagine anything more important than using our resources at Princeton to train a broad array of students to be leaders in society.' Putting aside the Ivy League elitism of this remark, what Tilghman is saying is that having a 'diverse' student body is her highest priority as university president — more important than expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, or developing excellence of character and intellect, or passing on the ideas and traditions of American civilization.
As for this last goal, Princeton eschews attaching any unique significance to its identity as an American university in the school's educational mission. It is quite possible for a Princeton student never to take a single course in American history, literature, or government. As at so many other 'selective' universities, multiculturalism is the dominant mindset at Princeton. This is reflected in something as mundane, yet deeply illuminating, as the school's unofficial motto, which for nearly 100 years has been 'Princeton in the nation's service.' During the last years of Shapiro's tenure, however, the motto was 'expanded' to reflect Princeton's increasingly 'international' orientation; it is now 'Princeton in the nation's service, and in the service of all nations.' I agree with one outraged alumnus who wrote to the PAW: 'I don't think Princeton should be of service to nations which have declared hatred for this country, or are at war with us, or who harbor and encourage terrorists, or who are ruled by self—serving ruthless dictators, or who develop weapons of mass destruction for use against their enemies, or who deny the blessings of liberty, freedom of speech, religion and democracy to their people.'
Tilghman fully embraces the socialistic, relativistic, and nonjudgmental worldview embodied by the new motto. To take perhaps the starkest example, at a commemorative assembly on the one—year anniversary of 9/11, Tilghman urged students
'to recognize our common humanity with peoples of all cultures and nationalities, and to renew our understanding of our collective responsibility for each other's well—being.'
Sweet—sounding words that mean, in essence, Americans are no different than the Taliban or the terrorists (not to mention the communists in China, North Korea, and Cuba), and that we have a 'responsibility' to share our civilization's superior wealth and technology with these backward and hostile societies. What rubbish.
In keeping with her focus on 'diversity,' Tilghman also has been aggressive in recruiting minority faculty members (although with noticeably less success than she has had in appointing white females to high administrative positions). Most notoriously, she re—hired Cornell West after his very public falling out with Harvard president Summers in 2002, over West's lack of serious scholarly endeavors. (West previously taught at Princeton from 1988 to 1994. For critical appraisals of his work, see here, here, and here.) In recent years, West has issued two rap CDs, appeared in two of the 'Matrix' movies, and spent more time off campus in his role as 'public intellectual' than on campus teaching the students who attend the institution that employs him. Indeed, he credits Tilghman with allowing him the freedom 'to pursue all of his divergent interests.' These interests include serving as chairman of Al Sharpton's presidential advisory committee, and being a vocal opponent of the Bush administration's War on Terror. Although West fancies himself a critical philosopher in the tradition of Socrates, his politics are decidedly left—wing. It is no surprise that he is an honorary co—chair of the Democratic Socialists of America.
As a dues paying member of the far left, West should feel right at home on Princeton's campus. As with other 'elite' universities, Princeton's faculty is overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic. A study conducted in September 2004 by the school's student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian (known as the 'Prince'), revealed that more than 90% of donations from Princeton employees went to liberal candidates this past election cycle, including $41,000 to Kerry versus only $250 to Bush. Princeton's liberal faculty members view this gross imbalance with smug superiority. As computer science professor Andrew Appel explained to the Prince: 'Does it surprise me that smart people should be supporting Kerry? No.' The message to Princeton students (and alumni) was loud and clear: only stupid people support Bush. While Appel and his colleagues deny that their political views influence what goes on in the classroom, conservative students on campus are sufficiently concerned that they have started a chapter of Students for Academic Freedom.
Cornell West is not the only prominent left—wing professor at Princeton. Princeton also is home to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, known for his incomparable skill in twisting economic facts and theories to fit whatever policies the Democratic Party supports; Clinton apologist Sean Wilentz, who infamously (and quite comically) warned House Republicans during Clinton's impeachment hearing that 'history will track you down and condemn you' for voting to impeach Clinton; author Toni Morrison, who, ridiculously, declared Clinton 'the first black president' in the pages of The New Yorker in 1998; and the utterly execrable Peter Singer, a chaired professor of 'bioethics,' who has argued in favor of euthanasia, infanticide, and bestiality.
Even less well—known professors at Princeton are thoroughly imbued with left—wing dogma. Take, for example, associate professor of religion Eddie Glaude. In a 2004 speech to Princeton students going into elementary and secondary school teaching, Glaude criticized the United States for being 'selfish,' 'full of hubris,' 'a mean—spirited nation, free to hate those who are not like us,' and 'suffering the effects of corporate despotism.' The speech was supposedly about John Dewey's educational theory, but in today's liberal academy, education and leftist politics are one and the same. Glaude's ignorant display of self—righteous anti—Americanism should have been an embarrassment to Princeton, but the speech actually received positive coverage in the alumni magazine (which is run by the university).
By my count, there are only two (!) full—time faculty members at Princeton who are recognizably conservative. The first is the great Robert P. George, tenured professor of politics and founder of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, which brings conservative scholars and politicians to speak on campus. In 2003, Professor George was profiled in the PAW, which described him as 'the heretic in the temple' and 'an anomaly at Princeton.' George is a natural law scholar who opposes abortion and euthanasia (as well as capital punishment), and is a highly regarded public commentator on a broad range of legal and political issues. Not surprisingly, conservative students flock to him. But according to the PAW, that's just too much for his liberal colleagues, who are made 'uneasy' by George's 'widening influence' both on and off campus. Would George be able to obtain tenure today? I wonder.
The other openly conservative Princeton faculty member is Michael Doran, an assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies. (There may be others, but they remain cautiously inconspicuous.) Doran is a controversial figure on campus, due to his involvement with the Bush administration's War on Terror (he is an expert on Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda, and terrorism) and his close association with the preeminent (and right—leaning) Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, himself an emeritus professor at Princeton who also has worked with the Bush administration. Despite impressive scholarly credentials, and strong student support, Doran's prospects for tenure at Princeton have been hampered by his politics, which are opposed by other members of the History Department. Doran recently turned down an offer for a tenured position at Brandeis University. I hope he didn't make a mistake.
Thus, while Tilghman routinely endorses the supreme importance of 'diversity' to Princeton's educational mission, she does not mean intellectual or political diversity. Nor is bringing more conservative faculty and students to Princeton one of her priorities. On the contrary, she believes that Princeton is not liberal enough! Despite a Prince poll taken shortly before the 2004 election that showed 62% of students supported Kerry versus 24% for Bush, Tilghman believes that Princeton needs more students with (in her words) 'green hair.' And during last year's commencement address, she urged students to follow in the activist footsteps of the 'class of 1970 [who] shouldered their responsibilities as citizens of a free democracy to speak out for what they believed.'
Tilghman, like other liberal baby boomers, idealizes the 1960s, which she fondly remembers as a time of righteous anti—war protests (she has compared the Iraq war to Vietnam) as well as great progress in civil rights for women and minorities (as it surely was). Yet despite the even greater freedom, opportunity, and prosperity we all enjoy today, Tilghman's public remarks consistently emphasize — as Democrats do when a Republican is in the White House — 'how far we still have to go.'
'Proud to be a feminist.'
From the start of her presidency, Tilghman has not hesitated to express her liberal beliefs in word and deed. Her speeches are full of tendentious liberal clich�s about inequality (of race, gender, sexual orientation, et al.), discrimination, poverty, the 'growing gap' between rich and poor, multiculturalism, environmentalism (Princeton is a hotbed of 'global warming' hysteria), and (always) each student's 'obligation to make this world a better place for all of us.' (For examples, see here and here.)
The collectivist impulse is strong in Tilghman. She rarely (if ever) praises the free market, entrepreneurship, or the profit motive — the very engine of America's wealth and progress, not to mention the source of Princeton's $9 billion endowment.
Similarly, while Tilghman routinely emphasizes America's racial and ethnic pluralism (for example, to justify her support for affirmative action), she ignores the deeply religious character of the country. Perhaps this is to be expected from a self—described atheist. Although Tilghman claims she is 'not a proselytizing atheist,' she does not shrink from expressing her non—traditional views. For example, in her 2002 commencement address, Tilghman recounted (for no apparent reason) that she had been asked 'to play God' that year in the University Chapel's Christmas Pageant. Tilghman couldn't resist adding: 'She was the role of a lifetime.'
Tilghman's willingness to offend traditional social mores was displayed even more starkly in 2003 when she participated in a student performance of the Vagina Monologues, during which she 'present[ed] three 'vagina facts' that highlight different aspects of the vagina — facts that are happy, sad or simply outrageous.' A more embarrassing spectacle from the president of one of the nation's most venerated universities hardly could be imagined.
I sincerely doubt that Tilghman considers her participation in the Vagina Monologues to be embarrassing, however, let alone to demonstrate poor judgment (and bad taste). At the start of her presidency, Tilghman proclaimed herself 'proud to be a feminist,' and she has taken a doctrinaire feminist position on every social and political issue she has confronted. Participating in the Vagina Monologues is just one example of her ideological fervor. Another example is her support for Princeton's first post—doctoral fellowship in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered studies and the creation of a new LGBT campus center. Under Tilghman, the line between academics and identity politics has become thoroughly blurred at Princeton, as at so many of our nation's colleges and universities.
The degree to which Tilghman is committed to NOW—style orthodoxy was further revealed this past November when Tilghman delivered the keynote address at a symposium on human stem cell research in New Jersey. Commenting on the controversy surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells (which entails the destruction of a human embryo), Tilghman expressed a deeply agnostic and instrumentalist view of when human life begins, and specifically denied the possibility of an ethical or scientific 'consensus' on this question. For Tilghman, determining 'when a developing human organism [read: fetus] is judged to have accrued the same rights and privileges as adult humans depends on one's ethical perspective.' Note how Tilghman completely sidestepped the factual question of when human life begins (viz. when a sperm and egg join together to form a zygote) and, instead, presented a thinly—veiled defense of the pro—choice position on abortion. The cold utilitarian calculus underlying Tilghman's position was laid bare in a remark she made to a student reporter covering the symposium:
'We have to weigh the rights and privileges of a ball of cells versus those of a child with juvenile diabetes and judge between them. I'm willing to trade a potential life for the sake of helping living human beings who are suffering from intractable diseases.'
Peter Singer must have been proud.
A sad farewell.
Since I graduated from Princeton in 1990, I have been a staunch supporter of the university and have contributed every year to annual giving. Not any more. Over the years, but especially since Tilghman became president, it has become increasingly clear that Princeton has no place for conservatives like me. (I was too na�ve at the time I attended Princeton to realize how biased my own education was.) When I look at Princeton today, I see a left—wing ideologue as president, a faculty that barely tolerates the presence of even a handful of conservative professors, and a campus environment that offers little sustenance to conservative students. I know I am not the only alumnus who feels this way. So why do conservative alumni continue to support the university? And why do conservative parents continue to send their sons and daughters to Princeton?
There are many fine educational institutions in this country that are much more open to a true diversity of educational and political ideas — the hallmark of what, ironically, is known as a 'liberal education.' As far as Princeton is concerned, however, I am sad to report that the ideal of a 'liberal education' has been hijacked by the Left.
Steven M. Warshawsky frequently comments on politics and current affairs from a conservative perspective. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.