Opinion » Editorial | Sept. 22
This October will mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Graduate College. In 1913, Dean Andrew Fleming West won a battle against then-University President Woodrow Wilson, who had fought to have a newly created graduate program centered within the undergraduate-dominated central campus. While Dean West’s victory created one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture belonging to Princeton, it has left a legacy of separation between the undergraduate and graduate populations — both physically and figuratively. The Board believes that this gulf is detrimental to the mission of the University and the educational enrichment of both undergraduates and graduates.
Graduate students can offer the intellectual and personal experiences that undergraduates yearn for without the intimidation that professors can naturally — through no fault of their own — pose. Often approachable, graduate students can offer undergraduates valuable advice. And yet, Princeton remains a place where graduate students are marginalized by an undergraduate-dominated campus. Interactions are relegated to formal, infrequent precepts confined to a particular topic and the few Residential Graduate Students that have agreed to live in the residential colleges.
Many of our most prestigious alumni — including Alan Turing GS ’38 and John Nash GS ’50 — were graduate students, not undergraduates, during their time at Princeton. With bright careers in the professional and academic world ahead of them, graduate students can assist students with tackling the academic rigors of Princeton. A graduate student’s account of his or her personal research can inspire an undergraduate to undertake a particular course of study, or a graduate student can help an upperclassman think about his or her independent work in a new way. The academic possibilities are many.
Along with their intellectual capacity, graduate students bring life experiences that are varied and rich: tremendous resources to young undergraduates who have yet to have an extended taste of the world outside of Princeton. While many graduate students come directly from undergraduate institutions, just as many come to Princeton with years of unique experiences outside of academia. Those who have come directly from undergraduate institutions can provide an understanding of the college experience outside of Princeton, giving undergraduates a better sense of what it means to be an undergraduate at Princeton.
The Board urges the University to take seriously the problem of the undergraduate-graduate rift and to explore as many solutions as prudently possible. Princeton is and should remain an undergraduate-focused institution, but that does not necessitate the separation of undergraduates and graduates. In fact, to enhance the undergraduate focus, interactions between undergraduates and graduates should not be limited to formal precepts and the occasional Residential Graduate Student.
Rather, the undergraduate-graduate interaction should be a daily affair, both informal and formal, creating a rich and varied campus experience. Perhaps the role of the RGS should be formalized into the RCA’s orientation activities for freshmen, giving them an official introduction immediately. Outside of RGSs, departments should aim to create a mentoring program by pairing graduate students in the department with undergraduates. Such mentoring can play a beneficial role in undergraduates’ research and independent work. These are but two suggestions for how graduate-student interaction with undergrads might be strengthened. The Board recognizes that this problem lacks easy solutions, but it nevertheless deserves the careful attention of the administration and student body.