Yes we would all like a motto which inflates our pride and self-esteem. But all the universities in Europe were first designed for the training of people in the professions: law, medicine, religion, teaching. The rulers of the day, whether clerical or lay, intended the universities to train their bureaucrats, whether as lawyers, judges, officials, or members of the church hierarchy. Service was defined in this way, not in some grandiose idea of service to humanity. A university education might help you to discover heretics and witches so they could be burned at the stake. It might help you to detect traitors and criminals also so you might dispatch them from this life as soon as possible. It might help you to find the means of appropriating the property of peasants and poor farmers for the benefit of big landowners. It might help you to devise laws helpful to one regime or another. It might help you save lives or end lives through a certain understanding of the human body and its diseases and afflictions. But it certainly was not designed for something grand like the current or the former Princeton motto. Perhaps a modern version of all this might be: Princeton can help you get a job some day! This might be appropriate considering the outrageous cost of an education.
In Response to: Dedicating Princeton University’s New Medallion