In his March President’s Page (“Speak Up for Princeton and for Higher Education”), President Eisgruber ’83 exhorts us to “be an ambassador for Princeton.” Rather than recite public praise for the good ship Princeton, this loyal crew member shouts to our captain of flooding in our lower decks. Would only our captain acknowledge and act on these vital alerts.

I support Princeton. To this end, I call Princeton’s leadership to greater transparency, responsiveness, and accountability. My several appeals remain largely unanswered. I urge interested readers to learn more about them at my Tiger Roars site.

To his credit, President Eisgruber acknowledges that Princetonians “can and, indeed, should raise questions about how best to pursue excellence and inclusivity. Disagreements are natural and essential to improving scholarly and civic communities.” But President Eisgruber falls troublingly short on the merits of these objectives and the means to pursue them.

President Eisgruber believes and assures us, “At Princeton, fortunately, the culture required to support a great university remains healthy and intact ...” Nonetheless, fundamental questions remain to what extent Princeton’s culture succeeds or fails to further Princeton (or even maintain it) as a great university. 

At the opening of his essay “Elite Universities Have Not Sacrificed Excellence for Diversity” in The Atlantic, President Eisgruber denounces what he terms “a noxious and surprisingly commonplace myth.” He deems simply untrue claims “that elite universities have pursued diversity at the expense of scholarly excellence.”

Au contraire, says President Eisgruber, “Much the reverse is true ...” He later attacks what he terms “[f]alse dichotomies between excellence and diversity.” But he supports his position largely by anecdote, rather than data and analysis. And he facilely labels university observers concerned by pursuits of diversity at the expense of excellence as “smart people who ought to know better.”

Yet President Eisgruber himself seems blissfully unaware in his essay as he commits the classic fallacy of equating correlation with causation. He also focuses on a red herring — that a search across a broader pool of candidates can provide a greater number of excellent candidates from which to choose. (This unexceptional proposition is true.) But he conflates the scope of search with the criteria for selection. The key issue is whether and to what extent selection oriented to achieve a desired measure of “diversity” among all accepted candidates results in a lower level of excellence than is otherwise obtainable. President Eisgruber fails in his claim that Princeton faces no tradeoff between diversity and excellence.

President Eisgruber’s essay receives these critiques and more from University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne (“Princeton’s President makes bogus arguments that diversity and academic excellence are compatible”). Professor Coyne concludes:

... I’m not saying that colleges should give merit 100% priority over diversity. That is a judgment call about whether, as Jon Haidt puts it, you want “Social Justice University” or “Truth-Finding University.” But Haidt also notes that you can’t have both, and in this abysmal piece of analysis, Eisgruber takes issue with that. I have always said that I prefer some form of affirmative action, and I stick by that, but I’m not pretending that substantial increases in equity can be achieved without lowering overall “excellence.” ...

In his January 18, 2024 State of the University Letter, President Eisgruber devotes the “Inclusion” section to diversity, equity, and inclusion matters. This came a full month after the widely reported recommendations by Harvard Professor Steven Pinker (“A five-point plan to save Harvard from itself”). Pinker’s fifth point also applies to Princeton. It is to disempower DEI programs that have proved themselves iatrogenic. Yet neither Eisgruber’s SOTU letter, his Atlantic essay, nor his PAW column mention Pinker. Nor do they address Pinker’s concerns with DEI programs’ deleterious impacts:

Many of the assaults on academic freedom (not to mention common sense) come from a burgeoning bureaucracy that calls itself diversity, equity, and inclusion while enforcing a uniformity of opinion, a hierarchy of victim groups, and the exclusion of freethinkers. … Universities should stanch the flood of DEI officials, expose their policies to the light of day, and repeal the ones that cannot be publicly justified.

More recently, Princeton’s own Professor Sergiu Klainerman has argued (“Universities Are Making Us Dumber”) that DEI has become “a uniquely destructive bureaucratic instrument that needs to be abolished.” And the ADL has just given Princeton an “F” on its Campus Antisemitism Report Card. 

So President Eisgruber continues to steer Princeton amid hazards he fails to see or to acknowledge. Oh captain, our captain, the good ship Princeton is flooding below and you steer her further onto the rocks. When will you answer these alarms?

Bill Hewitt ’74
London, Ky.