Princeton expects hard questions and demands honest answers. She nurtures our young minds and souls, allows us to blossom in a rigorous environment, waters us with love and respect, and imbues us with the ideal of service. We stumble. Here, I describe a fall and suggest a means to stand tall again.
Like many, I have tried to help fight COVID-19. I am an urban pediatrician with a science Ph.D. I know well the detection technique for SARS-CoV-2 RNA. In mid-March, when U.S. testing was woefully inadequate, I devised a means to remove three major impediments (naso-pharyngeal swabs, viral culture/transport media, and personal protective equipment, all scarce). In 15 days, aided by classmates and study volunteers, I demonstrated feasibility and submitted a manuscript.
Determined to help, I visited affected nursing homes. None were interested. I knocked at the maximum security gate of the Cook County Jail, the worst site in the nation. The guard begged for help. I offered to test all detainees and staff over seven days. The head doctor demurred, citing cost ($125 each, less than one day’s incarceration).
I searched for money. Foundations, companies, and Congress gave none. I realized that my alma mater had both money and a mission: “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.” I called Princeton incessantly. I left multiple messages on phones and via email for President Eisgruber. One person called. Though kind, she offered neither money nor assistance. Not a penny could be pried from the endowment to save lives of pre-trial detainees or jail guards in the largest U.S. outbreak of the worst pandemic of our lifetimes.
“Princeton in the Nation’s Service” is, I am sure, often true. When I called on her, it was not.
Princeton, reinvigorate the motto. Support your alumni, as they support you, and work together in service. Fund alumni-selected ideas that put the motto into action. You have grown us well, now help us give back that which is more valuable than our money: our minds and our hearts. And, from this stumble, let us stand taller together.