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Princeton’s selective progressivism

Posted by Ron Coleman on November 12, 2008

Princeton University announced last month that Shirley M. Tilghman, the University’s president, will serve as “one of the founding trustees for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a new international, coeducational, graduate-level research university that is being created near Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Jeddah.”

Isn’t that an odd choice for a high commissar in the higher education nomenklatura ?  We’re talking about the Shirley Tilghman described thus by Steven M. Warshawsky:

In Tilghman, the student radicals of the 1960s finally have succeeded in occupying the university president’s chair, not just his office.  Since becoming Princeton’s president in June 2001, Tilghman (who graduated from college in 1968) has pursued an activist feminist agenda to remake Princeton into a liberal paradise that even Kim Gandy would love.  Today, despite its long-outdated reputation as a ‘conservative’ Ivy League college (F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described Princeton as ‘the pleasantest country club in America’), Princeton is rife with political correctness, multiculturalism, and liberal groupthink.

Warshawsky, who graduated Princeton ten years later than I did, may perhaps lack the long view — the school was more or less what he described in the early ’80’s, in fact, when a fairly conservative president, economist William G. Bowen, presided over Nassau Hall.  Tilghman’s achievements are not so much in her politics, which are standard fare among college presidents, deans, administrators and the trustees who perpetuate this professional class of college royalty.  It is the manner in which she, the first non-alumnus president in the school’s recent history, has consolidated the management of everything Princeton, including the flow of information through organs once semi – independent (such as the Princeton Alumni Weekly), into the politically correct hands of the administration.  This aggregation and centralization of Princeton’s tax-exempt corporate empire is worthy of the best Soviet ministry builders… gloved in velvet, of course.

Princeton's Alexander Hall

Princeton's Alexander Hall

Still, his description is entirely correct:  As reminded on at least every third page of the Weekly, which essentially serves as a publicity vehicle for President Tilghman and features her face, her quotes or both on at least every fourth page, she is indeed entirely politically reliable, as is virtually all of her faculty.  So what could possibly make such a progressive and visionary woman agree to become a trustee for a Saudi college?  Engagement from the inside, that’s what!

“I have been very selective in taking on outside responsibilities, and I deliberated carefully before accepting this commitment,” Tilghman said. “Having devoted so much of my career to expanding educational opportunities for women, especially in the sciences and engineering, I decided that I should join with the other members of this board in encouraging the development of such opportunities in a region of the world where historically they have not been available.

“It was critically important to me that KAUST is committed to providing a Western-style education, to attracting students and faculty from around the world and from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, and to educating men and women from different religious traditions together,” she said. “In my view, these are important steps for Saudi Arabia, and as a trustee I will be carefully monitoring the university’s success in achieving these objectives.”

Well, that will be interesting.  I wonder which religious traditions are going to be allowed to drink the waters of scholarship in the deserts of Arabia at Jeddah?  As the writer of the Bedu Blog explains:

I have had queries from some readers wanting to know that since there are not cordial diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, whether those who practice the Jewish faith are in fact allowed into the Kingdom. I will share based on what I personally know. To begin with, when one completes a visa application to come to the Kingdom, one must designate (among other things) nationality, place of birth and religion. You may ask, why does one have to identify their religion on a visa application? This is due to the fact that only muslims are allowed into the holy cities of Makkah and Medina so as a result, ones visa (and subsequent iqama if applicable) will indicate whether one is a muslim or non-muslim.

In general, if one cites Jewish as their religion but not born in Israel or from Israel, then it is likely the visa will be granted. However the odds of a visa being denied increase if one was born in Israel. I am personally not aware of anyone who is a Jew and from Israel being granted a visa to enter the Kingdom.

Sounds fair, right?  After all, who are we to judge?  Sure, during my time on campus, we learned that the only possible strategy for dealing with the apartheid regime of South Africa was condemnation, divestment, disengagement and boycott.  But it’s different with Saudi Arabia, because.

And, the current dip in oil prices notwithstanding, I am every bit as sure that Dr. Tilghman’s view of the matter is not colored by the precipitous fall in the value of Princeton’s endowment, which the PAW describes as a “double digit drop” but this article estimates is more likely “down 25% or more since June 30 if they were to assign realistic values to their illiquid investments.”  Certainly the prospect of a gooey flow of black gold into those orange and black coffers for a change could not have anything to do with that liquidity crisis.

I suppose Saudi Arabia’s religious Jim Crow laws will not be a problem as long as the Muslim-only “holy cities of Makkah and Medina” aren’t the site of the next meeting of trustees of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or none of the diverse members of the student body needs, I don’t know, a book from a library there — oh, never mind.

UPDATE:  Nice point from Soccer DadRemember when Yale turned down a $20 million endowment because the donor wanted it to fund study of Western Civilization? The New York Times praised Yale at the time, “No self-respecting educational institution can allow an outsider — no matter how well-meaning or generous — to dictate its education priorities.” I wonder how they feel about a prestigious college – in this case Princeton – ceding its control, not to a generous donor but to a government that seeks to stifle free inquiry? My guess is that if the Times editorializes, it will ignore the restrictions the partnership with Saudi Arabia will impose on Princeton and praise the university for being open to new ways of thinking.

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8 Responses to “Princeton’s selective progressivism”

  1. Yasir H said

    This is silly. You quote Tilghman as saying “I decided that I should join with the other members of this board in encouraging the development of such opportunities in a region of the world where historically they have not been available.”

    So according to her “historically” her stretches back only 100 years because leaving aside the last century or so, women under Muslim rule have “historically” been very empowered, unlike in the west where they were considered property. I’m tired of ignorant rabble, wearing a fake mantle knowledge, spouting rubbish.

    And if there is any apartheid state in existence now, it is Israel or maybe Desmond Tutu isn’t really qualified to say what really constitutes apartheid, right? After all, who is he…

    Saudi Arabia has its problems but not allowing Israelis to enter the country or non Muslims into the holy cities are NOT amongst them.

  2. Yasir:

    What cities are non-Jews not allowed to enter in Israel?

    In what country in the West are women entitled to fewer civil rights than in Saudi Arabia now?

    In what country in the West did women have fewer civil rights 100 years ago than Saudi Arabian women do now?

  3. Ara Rubyan said

    Ron:

    You dignify the argument by engaging in it — not the wisest thing to do, under the circumstances. Fact is, sensible people know the answers to your questions. Don’t waste time posing them.

  4. mary said

    “Saudi Arabia has its problems..”

    Like the fact that Saudis still support al Qaeda, Hamas and terrorism worldwide through charities like Al Haramain?

    ..or the fact that Saudi Arabia is loathed throughout the Muslim world for desecrating holy relics and graves in Mecca and Medina?

    ..or the fact that the majority of terrorist worldwide are Saudi?

    Even Saudis are willing to admit that their nation is “the world headquarters of religious oppression and xenophobia”

    In the early 20’s, when Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence were attempting to prevent Saudis from taking over the Muslim holy places (a takeover that was the equivalent of letting Nazis take over the Vatican), Churchill said:

    In the vast deserts of Arabia, which stretch eastward and north-eastward from the neighbourhood of Mecca to the Persian Gulf and to the boundaries of Mesopotamia, there dwell the people of Nejd, powerful nomadic tribes, at the head of whom the remarkable chief Bin Saud maintains himself. This Arab chief has long been in a state of warfare, raid, and reprisal with King Hussein and with his neighbours generally. A large number of Bin Saud’s followers belong to the Wahabi sect, a form of Mohammedanism which bears, roughly speaking, the same relation to orthodox Islam as the most militant form of Calvinism would have borne to Rome in the fiercest times of the religious wars. The Wahabis profess a life of exceeding austerity, and what they practise themselves they rigorously enforce on others. They hold it as an article of duty, as well as of faith, to kill all who do not share their opinions and to make slaves of their wives and children. Women have been put to death in Wahabi villages for simply appearing in the streets. It is a penal offence to wear a silk garment. Men have been killed for smoking a cigarette, and as for the crime of alcohol, the most energetic supporter of the temperance cause in this country falls far behind them. Austere, intolerant, well-armed, and bloodthirsty, in their own regions the Wahabis are a distinct factor which must be taken into account, and they have been, and still are, very dangerous to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and to the whole institution of the pilgrimage, in which our Indian fellow-subjects are so deeply concerned.

    The situation has gotten a lot worse since then…

  5. Jack said

    I just like the term “selective progressivism” as a way to underscore modern political and social formulations of the way things have never been, but then again maybe ought not to be ever thought of in that way as an exercise in what’s all wrong about intending to do the right thing.

    It reminds me of other double entendres, like; cordial disintegration, fashionable disaster, progressive taxation, or controlled chaos.

    I also think there is something uniquely pleasing that the Lions of the Sixties have become the alley-cats of the 21st century. There’s a little bit of progressivism in all of us I reckon. You just need to have the right attitude at the right time for it to really show clearly the mythos of the future.

    There’s also something that kinda makes me kinda smile about the idea of the “King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a new international, coeducational, graduate-level research university that is being created near Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Jeddah.”

    Suppose I wanna create a research study on how women are different from men in their styles of driving an automobile? What will be the process of review when the project is presented to the Mutawas? I just hope there is a method for speedy peer review and the execution of the subjects used in the experiment after the whole thing is over.

    Then you can bury your research results a lot faster that way.
    There’s an old saying in science, “there’s no amount of blood that you can’t soak up with enough sand.”

  6. Suppose I wanna create a research study on how women are different from men in their styles of driving an automobile? What will be the process of review when the project is presented to the Mutawas? ..

    That’s exactly how Islamic “science” works. Islamic scientists start with a conclusion and then work toward proving that conclusion.

  7. Jack said

    “That’s exactly how Islamic “science” works. Islamic scientists start with a conclusion and then work toward proving that conclusion.”

    I’ll be durned.
    That sounds a lot like certain people from the Sixties.

    They might get along pretty well after all.
    Scientifically speaking.

  8. a nonny mouse said

    This process ain’t happening in a vacuum. I remember my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, and the big meetings and protests and so forths about don’t ask don’t tell and the eeeevil ROTC on campus that was so horrible to the Values, apparently. Wanted to throw us off campus in the middle of Gulf War I, they did.

    They musta solved that issue in their minds since then–big ol’ CMU campus in Qatar. I wonder how many pride rallies they do out in town in Doha.

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