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July10, 2013

Vol. 113, No. 15

letters

Seek only the best, brightest

In response to: President's Page

Published on July10, 2013

The Apollo space-mission team, members of the Manhattan Project, those in the extended military task force that located and killed bin Laden, and the members of Bletchley Park that decoded the super-secret Nazi Enigma code were all in a sense diverse groups. But they were groups of diverse talents, with only the best in each field selected for inclusion. While men and women from various ethnic, religious, and class backgrounds participated in these groups, it was not their demographic diversity but their superior talents that were responsible for their inclusion.

Alas, Caltech seems to be the only American research university that recruits its professors and students solely on the basis of a most-talented-and-accomplished applicant principle. The fact that 40 percent of its student body is Asian doesn’t seem to bother the Techers one bit. For hanging tough in its dedication to excellence, it has been rewarded by a No.-2 ranking in a respected international comparison of modern research universities, ahead of all the Ivies except Harvard.

I can think of few better ways to make Princeton and other great research universities lose their greatness than doing what Shirley Tilghman recommends in her May 15 President’s Page column: watering down still further its focus on excellence for the pursuit of an identity-group representation principle or a population-proportional “diversity.” Princeton in my judgment should seek among its faculty and students only the best, the brightest, and the most eager to learn and achieve, regardless of demographic background. It’s called the “merit-only principle.” That is what I always thought a great research university was all about.

RUSS NIELI *79
Cranbury, N.J.

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Comments
3 Responses to Seek only the best, brightest

Dick Schulze '57 Says:

2013-07-03 11:35:56

Could not agree more; I'm surprised they published your letter.

Carl Bowin *60 Says:

2013-07-09 10:38:01

Having a B.S. CalTech '55, an M.S. at Northwestern '57, and a Ph.D. at Princeton, I also agree with Russ Nieli's comments. Although I've had some professors from Harvard, in my field (geology/geophysics) I don't comprehend their number-one ranking. But then again, I don't understand researchers in my field ignoring my finding that "Plate tectonics conserves angular momentum" [www.electronic-earth.net/5/1/2010/]. Ah, people, and life, are so interesting.

G.A. Howard '74 Says:

2013-08-28 09:37:28

It is sad and depressing that you three men, *60, '57, and *79, all clearly having benefited from white male preference aka racial and gender discrimination that our beloved alma mater exercised for centuries, would band together to denounce diversity. Do you gentlemen have any facility for self-examination? Apparently not. My simple question to all three of you is whose spot did you take? What qualified woman did you displace? What brilliant minority student did you prevent from attending? One would think there would be some humility and gratitude that you gentlemen hit the lottery by being born at a time of egregious, yet acceptable, discrimination that allowed you to have the greatest education on Earth. Indeed, none of us could get into Princeton today. They are picking among the highly qualified as evidenced by the ridiculously high freshman-retention rate. As to Mr. Shulze's "shock" that Mr. Nieli's letter was printed, there should be no surprise. Mr. Nieli's "argument" would not stand in a rigorous high school debate, proving, once again, admissions standards have improved greatly in the past 30 years. Mr. Nieli's sophistry of reason is straight out of the '50s, and no one should fear exposing it for what it is: the whine of the entitled, wishing there was the same level of entitlement. Fortunately, almost all the alums that I've met embrace our coeducation, our integration, and now our diversity, realizing that being excellent and diverse has propelled Old Nassau to new and greater heights. Three cheers for the past president, the incoming president, and the admissions department. They're doing a fantastic job of elevating the brand by their aggressive inclusion.
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