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.