Letter from Princeton

The Mail

(The following letter refers to an article by James M. Lardner on Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School, which appeared in a recent Supplement. Mr. Lardner's reply follows the letter. -- Editor's note.)

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

WHEN one has been away from Cambridge even for a little while, as we all have been, one forgets that curious blend of intelligence, sensitivity, and inaccuracy which the CRIMSON manages so often to display. Mr. James Lardner's article (February 25) on the Woodrow Wilson School has reminded us of it. Some of its contentions seem to us to be so far from the mark that in the interests of objectivity and good journalism we should like to offer some observations in correction.

1. The School's Graduate Program "converts its students into establishment thinkers."

This is Mr. Lardner's most serious allegation. Alas, we often find ourselves wishing it were more true. Or, rather, we wish that the policies and practices of the establishment were more in accord with the thinking that prevails among both the graduate students and faculty of the School. Then the transition to Washington--for both--would be less frustrating.

We are troubled by Mr. Lardner's usage, however. Perhaps he has too recently read C. Wright Mills' The Power Elite. More probably he simply enjoys the sound of the word "establishment" and has never tried to understand its meaning. As he uses the term it refers either to all occupations he has decided he dislikes, or to nothing at all.

We might add that if the various connotations of the term "establishment" really bother Mr. Lardner, he must, as an undergraduate at Harvard and a writer for the CRIMSON, have remarkably well-developed talents for self-deception.

2. The School "is insisting on proto-bureaucrats. More than ever, its ... curriculum aims at the production of better civil servants."

We gather that by the use of the awkward term "proto-bureaucrat" Mr. Lardner meant to imply that the School views its mission as the training of narrow fonctionnaires. We are baffled as to how he got this impression. The School's curriculum contains no conventional courses in public administration. Its faculty has no interest in starting any. A list of the jobs which its students take upon receiving the M.P.A. degree contains very few which could merit any of the labels Mr. Lardner employs in his article. Is the deputy director of a community action program in a large city, the special assistant to the head of the A.I.D. mission in Thailand, or the Ford Foundation's representative in a Latin American country a "proto-bureaucrat"?

3. The School's graduate students spend their time wheeling and dealing in "mock political extravaganzas."

We often wish this were more true, too. The policy game in urban transportation and labor problems which Mr. Lardner described is only one course among the 16 taken for the M.P.A. degree, and is the only one of its type in the School's curriculum. But if it were possible to develop meaningful instruction through the stimulation of other areas of public policy--particularly international politics and foreign policy, where the lack of authentic informational inputs seems to be an overriding barrier to effective simulation--we would like to try it, and indeed some of us spend a lot of time thinking about how to do so.

4. The School's Graduate Program contains "too much academia"; there are reading lists with "over 200 individual items, from magazine articles to books of more than a thousand pages"; "it's just more college."

Is Mr. Lardner aware that this contention contradicts the one above it? Would he like the program to be more like high school? Perhaps he would prefer to approach problems such as the relationship between government and science, the conduct of foreign policy, or the management of the national economy through the use of pre-digested textbooks that really would convey the establishment line? The know-nothing bias which underlies his argument is truly breathtaking.

5. The School "discourages" applicants who wish, after completing, its M.P.A. degree, to enter Ph.D. programs or to go on to law schools.

Mr. Lardner is partly correct. There are such ample resources in the United States today to finance the training of teachers and scholars that the Woodrow Wilson School emphatically does wish to use its own resources to train people who will enter that very broad domain known as public affairs. But there are increasingly large numbers of public affairs problems, particularly those requiring highly sophisticated techniques of analysis, which are only approachable by people whose education extends through the Ph.D. level. That is why it sometimes advises its graduates to enter other Ph.D. programs. Law school is a different matter. Those who feel they want to practice law are better advised to go to law school from the outset. On the other hand, there are so many diverse and absorbing opportunities open to graduates of our program these days--and they will surely multiply, in the future--that to undergo three additional years of legal training merely for "insurance" reasons seems to us to be prudence sadly misplaced.

We do not wish to give the impression that we disliked every aspect of Mr. Lardner's article. We liked his lead paragraphs; his article was reasonably well-written. There were even one or two substantive points with which we agreed! But we find it regrettable that he set about displaying his more unremarkable biases with such singlemindedness. Only a reporter quite extraordinarily dedicated to the perpetuation of a set of preconceived notions could so resolutely have disregarded the contradictory evidence.
















(Graduate Students and Members of the Faculty, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University)

Lardner's Reply

AT NO point in my article did I state, no less "allege," that the Woodrow Wilson School turns its students into "establishment thinkers." Clearly this is not the case, since, as I did state, there are very few radicals or non-establishment thinkers in the school to begin with.

Perhaps the 15 authors of the above letter are correct in questioning the use of the word "establishment." I did not mean to imply that Woodrow Wilson students are precise replicas of President Johnson, or that they are conservative in any but the broadest sense of the word. What I did mean was that they tend to identify with the administration, or more generally with the government, and to tackle issues with due consideration for all the constraints operating on officials actually faced by those issues. Given the school's purpose, there is nothing necessarily wrong with this; nor did I say there was.

If there is one suggestion in this letter that mystifies me more than the rest, it is that--as a Harvard student and a writer for the CRIMSON--I cannot use the word "establishment" without stepping on my own foot. In the broadest sense (not the sense in which I used the word), there is more truth in this than I care to admit. So I stand convicted of self-deception. What possible bearing this has on the article in question is beyond me.

With few exceptions, the article made no allegations one way or the other about the Woodrow Wilson School. It was composed almost entirely, and deliberately, of quotes from Woodrow Wilson students and faculty members. These quotes were specifically identified as such; yet the above letter chooses to ignore the attributions and to attach all the statements to the author. Points One and Four of the letter, then, deal with assertions I never made.

As for the statements refuted in points Two and Five, they are not really refuted at all. The word "bureaucrat," which I used only once in the article, need not mean "clerk"; a bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy. Just the same, the article was laced with phrases ("public service," "policy-makers," "public affairs") conveying a much more elevated impression of government work. Point Five smacks of paranoia. I did not criticize the Woodrow Wilson School for discouraging applicants with no bent toward public service. I merely stated a fact--one which the letter confirms.

Point Three, in which I am accused of saying that Woodrow Wilson students "spend their time wheeling and dealing in 'mock political extravaganzas,'" is deceptive. If by "their time" is meant any substantial percentage of their time, then I cannot see such a contention in the article. I did, on the other hand, make clear that much of a student's time is occupied with regular courses.

In point Four, the letter asks an absurdly rhetorical question which, as far as I can see, has nothing whatever to do with any point made in the article. The "too much academia" and "just more college" complaints were voiced to me by students at the Wilson School, and were so attributed. As for the mention of one long reading list, I cannot see how this could be interpreted as an argument on my part for anything.

I am more surprised by criticisms the letter does not make than by those it does. My article gave a somewhat unbalanced picture of the Woodrow Wilson School, because it failed to treat the many aspects of the school which are universally admired. Its emphasis was very heavily on theoretical questions surrounding the methods and very existence of such schools. This emphasis was, of course, deliberate; read in the context of the pieces printed along with it, that should have been obvious.

It would be perfectly understandable for Woodrow Wilson School students and faculty members to react against criticisms directed at the basic premises of their school. What I cannot understand is the notion that merely to write about such criticisms is somehow to endorse them. For the record, I am far from convinced by the arguments against the Woodrow Wilson School; I only wish it would spend more of its time improving the government and less trying to make newspaper articles resemble its own public relations literature