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.