Echoing a stereotype

It seems too bad that President Tilghman, in opening the special exhibition honoring the long and laudable connection that Robert Goheen' 40 *48 has had with the University, felt the need to voice a condescending and gratuitous disparagement of earlier generations of teachers and students at Princeton. In suggesting that President Goheen served in an era that "turned a largely homogeneous college of modest aspirations into an intellectual power-house," she was of course imputing a kind of complacence and scholarly mediocrity to the post-World War II college that preceded his presidency and, it is to be noted, he himself attended as a student.

At her age, President Tilghman can have no firsthand knowledge of the quality of thought and scholarship on campus at that time. She is echoing a now-familiar stereotype that can be summarized as follows: Without racial and ethnic diversity, and with an all-male student body, an institution cannot possibly have offered the highest quality education to its students. This self-serving cliche would have come as an offensive surprise to the scholarly professors who stimulated us with their ideas in those years. The English and history courses that my classmates and I took were representative of the first-rate thinking and writing that our teachers manifested then. And it might come as a surprise to a few individuals such as Bacon, Newton, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Kant, Darwin, Whitehead, Russell, et al. that their training, lacking as it did both coeducational and diversity components, could hardly have been of the best.