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With over one hundred professors but no faculty, the Institute for Advanced Study is an unique academic conundrum. The Institute is located in Princeton but is in no way tied to the University. It is exceptionally rigid in its entrance requirements but after admission requires nothing of its members. On these paradoxical principles of education, the Institute has founded its unusual program.
The Institute, which admits only men who already have their highest degree, is a Ph.D.'s graduate school. It takes leaders in the academic world, frees them from the nuisance of routine and blue books, and encourages leisurely, uninterrupted research and writing.
With such attractions, the Institute has no trouble finding prospective members. To quote from the list of past members is blatant name-dropping: T. S. Eliot, Arnold Toynbee, Felix Frankfurter. Albert Einstein is a professor emeritus; George Kennan, recently returned to the Institute from Moscow; and the Director since 1947 has been Robert Oppenheimer, previously famed for his work in atomic energy.
The Institute has two divisions: the School of Historical Studies and the School of Mathematics. The Historical division, always in the numerical minority, includes English, Classics, philosophy and related fields. It has a membership now of 35; the Mathematics division numbers about 85.
When T. S. Eliot was studying at the Institute in 1948, this predominance of scientists somewhat awed him. Eliot was writing "The Cocktail Party" at that time and decided that he would have to demonstrate that he was working in a methodical way. Each study room at the Institute is equipped with a large blackboard for equations and theorems; Eliot's was always blank. So he gave each character in his play a Greek name, Alpha, Beta, and so on, charting the plot on the board. If the resulting formulae baffled Einstein, so much the better. Eliot left his handiwork on the board for the rest of the year.
Socially, the mathematicians and humanists mix well. Marston Morse, mathematician and a resident tutor at Eliot House until 1935, compared the collaboration favorably with that at Harvard. "Scientists and classicist mingle more here than we did in Cambridge," he said. "The ideal of the Institute is that scholars meet and teach each other on a plane of equality."
Since to be effective the Institute must be limited in numbers, there is sharp competition for membership. Many men are picked because the permanent members know of their work and feel that they would benefit from a year at the Institute. Other members are chosen from the many letters of applicants who are not already prominent in their fields.
In the School of Mathematics, many of the members are in their mid-twenties since the best scientific, work is often done by young men. Because of their comparative youth, these men do form student-teacher relationships with older, renown members like Deane Montgomery, Hermann Weyl, and Atle Selberg. In general, however, members are not separated into faculty and students groups. The youngest man at the Institute will announce an informal seminar and the oldest will come for instruction.
Perry Miller, Professor of American literature at Harvard, at the Institute for this year, is preparing a critical volume on Melville. Miller has nothing but praise for the Institute and terms the freedom it affords "Paradise."
This professorial Never-Never-land was founded in 1930 by a gift of Louis Bamberger and his sister, Mrs. Felix Fuld. The exact amount of the Institute's endowment is not public information, but it was not inconsiderable. The Institute several years ago voted half-a-million dollars to Princeton's Firestone Library, in return for use of the library by Institute members.
The Institute in addition occupies about a square mile of land, with office buildings, small libraries, a restaurant, and forty-five furnished apartments on the grounds. Each member who is accepted for study is awarded what the administration terms a "modest grant" for living expenses.
Objectives in Defense
The visitor to the Institute is forewarned that officials may be close-mouthed about some projects. Much of the work in the Mathematics Division is sponsored by agencies of the government and necessarily secret. "Under Secretary of Defense Wilson," Marston Morse says, "all grants must be for research which has some relation to Defense Department objectives. Wilson wants to support science only where this connection exists. Now we know of the connection but we're not sure the Defense Department knows of it equally well."
One such project, completed last year, is an electronic digital computing machine. Constructed in the Institute's only laboratory, the machine took an unestablished conjecture of 19th century mathematician E. E. Kummer, performed the 20,000,000 necessary multiplications, and after six hours, came up with the answer. The machine is part of an Institute project to forecast the weather accurately--perhaps two years in advance.
In charge of this project is John vou Neumann, an Hungarian mathematician who joined the Institute in 1933. Von Neumann is only one of the many members who have come to the Institute from Europe or Asia. This year an estimated one-half of the eighty-one members are from outside the U. S. The requirement of a Doctor's degree is waived in the case of Europeans if they have their country's approximate equivalent.
One member of the Historical School pointed out that though the language difficulty can generally be overcome in his department, there is a problem in semantics among the mathematicians. "I thought before I came here that all mathematicians spoke the same language. Since, I have found that with the current high degree of specialization, most of them don't know what the others are talking about." It is the inevitable broadening effects of the program as well as quiet and peace for further study which members praise in the institute.
Some men like Professor Morse combine interests in both departments of the school. Morse counts a musicologist at the Institute among his closest friends, and on one occasion of Robert Frost's birthday, wrote an article relating mathematics and the arts.
It is impossible to judge the progress of members at the Institute since the administration loads professors with neither restrictions nor requirements. Sometimes the product, as in the case of Eliot's play or von Neumann's calculator, is proof of time well-spent. In general, the permanent members can only trust their judgment to select men who will take full advantage of Institute facilities. Sojourns from the town of Princeton are encouraged, however, and Professor Miller has accepted several speaking engagements for the year, including a recent address on Yale's Jonathan Edwards Day.
As may be expected in such an informal program, day-to-day pace is uneventful. The Institute serves luncheon, and dinner, and afternoon tea provides a convenient meeting time for professors who are buried the rest of the day in a library. Also provided is transportation between the institute and the town of Princeton since Advanced Study's buildings are about two miles from the University.
For some men the Institute for Advanced Study is a vacation, but they miss the undergraduate and the pleasures of teaching. Others, preferring the life of research, stay on as permanent members. But everyone associated with the Institute enjoys pointing out how this experiment differs from other colleges and institutions. "We have," they not proudly, "no deans, no football team, no tuition."
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