Opinion » Column | Sept. 16
Robert F. Goheen. Aside from an infrequently-read plaque on a route far from any campus tours, though often walked by STEM students, and a library on the first floor of the McCosh Health Center, there are no obvious consecrations to Goheen, whom we might consider the patron saint of Princeton the modern research university. The only of our 20 presidents born outside of North America or the British Isles, though India was still under the British Raj at the time, Goheen doubled the size of the university and alumni donations (no coincidence) while increasing the budget by a factor of four.
While part of a national trend, Goheen’s tenure saw Princeton — a campus built in no small part by enslaved African-Americans — recruit non-white males for the first time in its history. His term is considered the inflection point between the Princeton associated with application-only eating clubs and the Princeton associated with three dozen Nobel Prize winners, all but five of which — including Woodrow Wilson’s Nobel Peace Prize — were earned during or after the Goheen presidency.
In the most recent installment of social progress, the Board of Trustees and President Eisgruber have unanimously endorsed a report, “On Diversity,” detailing new measures to increase racial diversity in management, instruction and laboratories (including graduate admissions). From the report: “interpersonal interactions across racial lines most strongly related to cognitive development; nevertheless coursework, workshops, and non-racial interactions also had a significant impact.”
That’s an odd construction — coursework is secondary to cross-racial interactions? Yet it’s presented in the evidence, if we carefully define our terms. The report distinguishes between research testing university students and workplaces. University research “explores the effects of diversity on intellectual self-confidence and critical thinking.” Consider that a university has little measurable product apart from the development of individual students. A nugget on graduate admissions advises: “The factors most correlated with doctoral attainment – research experience, creativity, and persistence.” Presumably these psychometric qualities are garnered during or shortly after the undergraduate years.
The numerical findings show an interesting trend as well: non-white students’ grades improved when their roommate was white, but not the other way around. Some context might be helpful: recent evidence suggests over a third of U.S. students don’t improve on the cognitive scale at all during their undergraduate education, with nearly half standing pat after the first two years. This might imply majority-acculturated students of any race are more adept at playing the game which leads to higher scores, while amassing little psychological development to show for it. While this isn’t a problem at Princeton, the findings are national, so the discussion must consider national context.
Now, for the other side of the distinction: The workplace research, which “examines team performance and innovation.” A surprising finding, in the vein of the report, is that multiculturalism doesn’t improve results in the workplace. One might imagine that a workplace leaves little opportunity for discursive cultural expositions. If everyone is homogenized and pointed at a specific task by their employer, having an immediate focus might dampen philosophical cross-pollination on company time. The message is clear: engage in intercultural exchange as possible, since the benefits, and perhaps opportunities, diminish once employees are instrumentalized for the tasks of a workplace.
In an argument popularized by another contemporary, Robert F. Kennedy, a quote in the .edu recap of the study encapsulates the sentiment of the report: “Only by drawing the best talent from every sector of society can we achieve the scholarly and educational excellence to which we aspire.” While the quote was proximally written by Eisgruber, it also genuflects towards a half-century of work towards the intangible and measurable benefits of multiculturalism. Tying alumni support to expansion and recruitment, the final word, “aspire,” is a knowing wink at a recent fundraising program.
Goheen also encouraged student participation in the University’s governing apparatus, meeting with a mass student strike in 1970. In the spirit of suggestion, I would make the following proposal: Create a transfer program for undergraduates. The epic nostalgia of alumni is evidence that a particular culture is formed here, binding people of diverse backgrounds together. What would a transfer student make of it, and more importantly, what would a transfer student contribute? This would change with each individual, but consider Princeton’s culture unique from other universities: this should scale with the cultural difference of a transfer student.
Some consideration is given to non-traditional students for individual courses, but they have a limited impact on the general culture. Our main program for creating multi-cultured individuals, instead of different mono-cultured individuals, is the study abroad program. It is difficult to imagine a vacuum where there ought to be qualified students at other institutions not currently partner to the program. Would a transfer program be more radical than study abroad, given that the only distinctions are the quality of the institution — not the individual — and the duration of the exchange?
James Di Palma-Grisi is a psychology major from Glen Rock, N.J. He can be reached at email@example.com.