In Response to: The New Look of Legacy

As a freshman, I studied physics in the Palmer Physical Laboratory — its corridors adorned by photos of Einstein, Oppenheimer, Fermi, and their ilk. In the basement was the world’s first Van de Graaff generator (1929) as well as Professor Allen Shenstone’s giant spectroscope — so large that the foundation had to be modified with sand to prevent the traffic vibrations on Washington Road from affecting his measurements.

The building still stands — sans photos, generator, and spectroscope (but with the addition of the Smilodon filched from Guyot Hall). The name over the entrance now reads “Frist Campus Center.” I can readily imagine the beneficence of the Frists but dare not contemplate the perfidy of the Palmers (who also lost the football stadium but got to keep the Square).

While I in no way condone either racial or religious bigotry, on Wilson’s behalf, he must receive credit for the progressive educational reforms he achieved at Princeton — most notably the preceptorial. He was also the first to appoint a Jew to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A further thought: If the names of buildings with antisemitic or anti-Catholic eponyms were disallowed, there would be many more candidates for renaming. In attempting to redress the now-recognized past misbehaviors of an earlier era one should recognize that today’s fashion risks becoming obsolete to future fashionistas.

Adaptive renaming can also be implemented in other areas. For example, according to Princeton University’s Effron Center for the Study of America, “We recognize and acknowledge that our center stands on the territory known as Lenapehoking, the traditional homelands of the Lenape people, also called Lenni-Lenape or Delaware Indians, whose descendants today include the Delaware Tribe and Delaware Nation of Oklahoma; the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape, Ramapough Lenape, and Powhatan Renape of New Jersey; and the Munsee Delaware of Ontario.”

In recent years minerals from my collection have been displayed at Princeton — including one Himalayan Quartz. To some, its country of origin is still Tibet — to call it China provokes great consternation among many. Fortunately I don’t have any Taiwanese Cinnabar.

That said, these days there is some likelihood that a “forward-thinking” university might declare any “unsuitable” descriptor anathema. Choosing a “scientifically” or “politically” correct name for a location is just the beginning.

Suppose Woodrow Wilson had uncovered a unique mineral specimen whilst planting tulips in the garden of his home at 62 Washington Road. And further suppose the members of the “College of New Jersey Science Department,” as the label at that time would have read, had — after careful study — determined that the specimen was indeed a new mineral and chose to honor the finder and name it “Woodrowwilsonite’”

What now would Professor Thomas S. Duffy, chairman of Princeton’s Department of Geosciences, be required to do? Might not there be a faculty resolution or presidential fiat to rename the mineral “Princetonuniversityschoolofinternationalandpublicaffairsite”?

But any Mao-like “re-education” of the mineral’s namers might not suffice. Does poor Professor Duffy have further to revise his citations. Who decides what to call a place? For the nonce, Duffy and his mineralogical colleagues use cartographical locations for natural items — current geopolitical reality rules.

Beware the Effron Center! One shudders to contemplate a university where Princeton’s newly affirmative labels would readily eclipse the specimens.

I have always considered myself a liberal. My education has taught me that science is an evolutionary process and today’s “facts” are conjectures and often quite ephemeral.

In high school, I learned that theater required “the suspension of disbelief.” Experience has confirmed that science requires the “the suspension of politics.”

Carl Heimowitz ’64
Bloomfield, N.J.