What a great time to be a freshman at Princeton University. If you are one of the lucky 1,911 who were admitted to the Class of 2020 out of 29,303 applicants (and one of the very smart 1,312 who accepted that offer of admission), you have just stepped onto a campus that is basking in various rays of sunshine:
For the sixth straight year, Princeton is ranked No. 1 among national universities in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings. Princeton is also No. 1 “best college for your money” as defined by Money magazine; No. 1 “best college value,” according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance; and No. 1 of the “best colleges in America,” as defined by Business Insider; and — among many other accolades — ranked by a group called Campus Pride in the top 30 of “LGBTQ-friendly” colleges.
What’s not to like? Who’s not to like?
Certainly not Professor Angus Deaton, the economics professor who won the Nobel Prize last year. A Near Eastern studies professor, Marina Rustow, received a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. Simon Levin, professor in ecology and evolutionary biology, won the National Medal of Science.
According to a column by President Chris Eisgruber in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, “the 2015-16 academic year was also a banner year for our undergraduate students and alumni, who won an impressive collection of fellowships. Princetonians took home five Rhodes Scholarships, three Marshall Scholarships, a Mitchell Fellowship for study in Ireland, and five of the inaugural Schwarzman Scholarships for study in China. Two Princeton juniors received Truman Scholarships that recognized both their academic achievement and their commitment to service.”
Of course there are a few clouds in that brilliant sky.
Frank Bruni, writing in the September 18 New York Times, dismissed the U.S. News rankings as “a marketing ploy. No wonder so many college presidents, provosts, and deans of admission express disdain for them. How sad that they participate in them nonetheless.”
And if the new freshmen think they are above the crowd, they better think twice, and keep in the mind the three Rs. No, I’m not talking about reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic — presumably a group of people whose average scores are above 2100 on the reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic of the SAT have pretty good mastery of those skills. I am talking about the other Rs: “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities.”
That’s the title of the 121-page university handbook detailing what members of the university community can do, can’t do, and what will happen if someone messes up along the way. I stumbled across a copy a few days ago on a walk across campus, marveling at how much had changed since I was there a half century ago. A recruitment poster for “Princeton Bhangra” caught my attention. “Watch me whip,” it said. “Now watch me Bhangra.” Then it gave times and places for workshops, an open house, and then tryouts.
Whips? Tryouts? Is this some new varsity sport? Not yet. A Google search takes me to www.princetonbhangra.com, where I discover the following:
“Princeton Bhangra is a co-ed, collegiate team that performs bhangra, an upbeat South Asian folk dance. We have danced at multiple competitions and exhibitions across the United States. We take great pride in our diversity as a team. Our dancers come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. In every performance, we stir the audience with an unmatched excitement and passion for bhangra.”
Another recruiting poster caught my eye. “Looking for Christians on Campus?” If I had seen that poster in the fall of 1965 I would have figured Christians were as ubiquitous as the black squirrels scampering across the lawns. Princeton was so Christian that up until the 1964-’65 academic year freshmen were required to attend Sunday services at the University Chapel. That requirement was lifted in 1965 when I arrived, which I count as an affirmative vote on the question of whether there is a god.
I suspect that today the “evangelical” Christians referred to by the poster are few and far between on a campus that is more diverse than ever.
But all that change pales in comparison to what I discovered in “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities.” If our incoming crop of freshmen (and I am calling them that despite a recent edict from the university’s human resource department about the need to use gender-neutral language) want to follow the straight and narrow, they have a lot to consider.
And those 3 Rs seem to be increasing over time. I can’t recall any similar book even existing when I stepped foot on campus in the fall of 1965. By 2006, there was not only a book, but it was 84 pages long. In the past 10 years it has grown by nearly 50 percent.
The 3 Rs include a detailed discussion of plagiarism, including specific examples of essays that plagiarize in different ways original source material. One example is “verbatim plagiarism, or unacknowledged direct quotation.” In another essay the writer “has rewritten much of the paragraph, and fewer phrases are lifted verbatim from the source,” but “inserting even short phrases from the source into a new sentence still requires placing quotations around the borrowed words and citing the author.”
In another example, the essay writer has completely rewritten the source material, but “the key idea, the choice and order of the examples, and even the basic structure of the original sentences are all taken from the source. Although it would no longer be necessary to use quotation marks, it would absolutely be necessary to place a citation at the end of this paragraph to acknowledge that the content is not original.”
I can’t imagine anyone in our incoming Class of 1969 not knowing plagiarism when they saw it. However, our new Class of 2020 lives in the world of digital word processing. I’m sure those cut and pasted passages begin to look awfully good at deadline time.
Two sections in the 2016 edition of the 3 Rs have grown dramatically since 2006, when just over two pages were dedicated to that subject. In the 2016 edition alcohol rules now consume more than three pages, with other references in sections on the eating clubs and the infamous Nude Olympics (now banned, incidentally).
The other behavior that comes under increased scrutiny in the latest edition of the 3 Rs: Sex. The 2006 edition takes a page to define sexual harassment and sexual assault and another page to describe how complaints and grievances are resolved.
In 2016 “sexual discrimination and sexual misconduct” commands more than 21 pages, much of it dealing with the need to conform to Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972. The 3 Rs describes behavior — dating, “hook-ups,” etc. — that back in the 1960s many of us only would have dreamed about. And it further notes that the university prohibits “all sexual and romantic relationships between faculty members and undergraduate students.” Now that’s something we couldn’t even dream of.
In fact, back in our day, the university’s policy toward sexual conduct was probably limited to its prohibition of women in our dorm rooms — never overnight, as I recall, and not past midnight on weekends and 7 p.m. on weekdays. And all of that was boiled down to one-word: parietals. Princeton may not have been as brilliant back then, but it did have a simple elegance to it.