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Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton, lectures on race

Post-Genome Princeton

Trudie Pert

April 2, 2010 

Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton University and an accomplished molecular biologist, recently spoke about the “vexing issue of race” during a public lecture at Princeton University. The address, “The Meaning of Race in the Post-Genome Era,” was sponsored by Princeton’s Center for African American Studies. 

Established in September 2006, the Center for African American Studies had existed as an academic certificate program at Princeton for 37 years. The center moved to its home at Stanhope Hall in 2007 under the leadership of its first director, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature Valerie Smith (left), who opened the doors at the dedication ceremony with President Shirley M. Tighman.

Because of her strong and sustained support for Princeton’s Black Studies, Tilghman was introduced as, “Sister President." 

“Sister President” began her lecture by dismissing as biased the works of her dead White male predecessors.  According to Tilghman, the Swedish scientist, Carl Linnaeus, equated race with innate character and based his conclusions on prejudice rather than observation. The German physician, Franz Joseph Gall, was the first person to postulate that the brain was the organ of the mind; he claimed that Europeans possessed superior skulls. Francis Galton, an English polymath and cousin of Charles Darwin, proposed “assortative mating"  for traits like intelligence and confused social class with race. Tilghman did not mention Darwin, probably because his conclusions would be jolting (See here and here.) 

Finally, she criticized the American eugenicist and biologist, Charles Davenport, for claiming that complex traits such as high intelligence and personality characteristics were tied to race and for influencing the passage of the eugenically inspired and restrictive Immigration Act of 1924. 

Tilghman stated that current evidence shows that the genetic differences between human beings are very small, and that individual differences are significantly greater than differences between groups. Predictably, she rejected the possibility of finding distinctive racial characteristics determined by genome sequencing. In spite of the enormous variation in physical attributes regarding size, color, hair texture, etc., she stated that at the level of the genome these differences are infinitesimal in number when compared with the enormous number of identical shared genomes. Though one can predict the geographic origin of today’s Europeans, Africans, and Asians with great accuracy, genetic distinctions are declining rapidly as widespread immigration and intermarriage are occurring.  

These ideas ignore the work of Frank Salter and Henry Harpending showing that, although there is indeed more variation within than between races and despite a great deal of genetic commonality among all humans, the amount of genetic variation between human races is significant, and therefore racial and ethnic groups constitute large storehouses of genetic interests for everyone.

It also ignores research showing important racial differences in traits like intelligence that have very large effects on achievement that are so important in contemporary societies. An exclusive emphasis on human commonality and downgrading the importance of genetic variation grossly distorts the reality that genetically-based differences have huge impacts on individual and group performance. 

Further, no one has come up with a formula to get rid of ethnicity as a form of identity and as a vehicle of expressing interests. Throughout the world, ethnically diverse societies are marked by ethnic conflict. Intellectuals like Tilghman have utopian dreams about a racial future free from conflict and filled with peace and harmony, but we already know that ethnic diversity increases social isolation and lowers trust both within and between races.

According to Tilghman, it is the small race-specific component that constitutes “the challenge ahead” because information on race-specific genetic influences on traits like IQ could potentially be employed to “sustain prejudice and discrimination.” The lurking fear of finding incontrovertible evidence of race-specific differences  in important traits is the “vexing issue” of genetics.  But we already have good evidence that genetic differences are important. When even more evidence is available, Tilghman and her ilk will doubtless ignore it. In the end, it's all about politics for these people.

White feminists seem to believe that they share a common enemy with African Americans, namely, dead and living White men, and have therefore become great friends of Blacks. They have found that by advancing the Black agenda they can better further their own minority position (see: Feminist Coalitions, ed. Stephanie Gilmore, 2008; Radical Sisters, Anne Valk, 2008).  Since becoming Princeton's president in 2001, Tilghman has greatly expanded Black studies, has recruited a number of controversial Black faculty, and has encouraged the extension of the university’s affirmative action admission and hiring policies.

Professor Cornel West was the first to be welcomed to Princeton by Tilghman after he left a position at Harvard where management did not appreciate his merits. In 2000, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, rebuked West for missing too many classes, contributing to grade inflation, neglecting serious scholarship, and spending too much time with his economically profitable projects such as issuing two rap CD’s, and appearing in several Matrix movies.  West, in turn, accused Summers of elitism, a serious sin to the multi-culturally minded. He was welcomed into the Princeton fold in 2002, apparently because Princeton does not limit itself to rarified interests. 

Cornel West

The second Tilghman Black studies appointee is Professor Van Jones, who was recently appointed as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow. An attorney and environmentalist, Jones was selected by Pres. Obama in March, 2009, for the newly created post of Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, at the White House Council for Environmental Quality. Jones, called by Time Magazine one of the “Heroes of the Environment,” was founder of the Black advocacy group, “Color of Change,” in 2005. 

Alas, due to his outspoken manner, his time at the White House was all too brief. Due to allegations of associations with Marxist groups in the 1990’s, his published, disparaging remarks about Congressional Republicans, (calling them “a$$holes”), and several nasty publicized vendettas, he was too publicly uncouth even for Obama. Jones resigned from his White House position just six months after he had been appointed to it. Not to worry – Princeton immediately offered him a sinecure. The government’s loss is Princeton’s gain.

Tilghman’s sympathy for Black causes is of long duration. In 2003, Princeton joined an amicus brief filed with the US Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy. The brief ensured that racial and ethnic diversity constitutes a “compelling” interest in the admissions process of “selective” universities like Princeton. In Dec., 2009, she received the W.E.B. DuBois Medal, the highest honor bestowed by Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and American Research, for her leadership in strengthening Princeton’s commitment to African American studies. Princeton’s Center for African American Studies was established under Tilghman’s direction in 2006 after existing as an academic certificate program for 37 years. Tilghman recommended a greatly expanded curriculum because she found race study for all liberal arts students to be an “indispensable element of preparation for life in this country.” Since 2006 core faculty members have grown from 2 to 18. Associated and affiliated members contribute another 18 additional faculty.  Courses have increased by 40%.

Below are two of the ten courses offered in Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies, Spring, 2010.

 AAS 314/COM 39 Model Memoirs: The Life Stories of International Fashion Models

This course explores the life-writing of American, African, and Asian women in the fashion industry as a launching point for thinking about race, gender, and class.  How do ethnicity and femininity intersect? How are authenticity and difference commodified? How do women construct identities through narrative and negotiate their relationships to their bodies, families, and nations. Course will include guest lectures by fashion editors and models; discussions of contemporary television programs, global fashion, and cultural studies, and student self narratives about their relationships with cultural standards of beauty, whether vexed or not.

AAS 339/ENG 339 Josephine Baker and the Modern                                                                                           

What does a black burlesque star have to do with the making of Euro-American modernity? This course situates the performance art of Josephine Baker as a dynamic fulcrum through which to trace the unexpected connections between the invention of what might be called the “modernist” style and the staging of black skin at the turn of the 20th century.  We will study her work in film, photography, and cinema as an active and profound engagement with a range of modernist innovations and theories in the fields of film, photography, architecture, art and literature.

Josephine Baker

What next?  Courses to extoll the virtues of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson?  To a president who has supported Princeton’s first post doctoral fellowship in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered studies, who endorsed the creation of a new LGBT campus center, and who has acted in a student production of the Vagina Monologues, these Black studies courses are, no doubt, most suitably diverse.

The Princeton University admissions policy is very welcoming of Black students. If race is merely a social construct, as Shirley Tilghman implies in her Post-Genome speech, then Princeton’s admission policy is most puzzling. Why give admission preferences based on race if racial differences are only superficial?  In their article, “The Opportunity Cost of Admission Preferences at Elite Universities”, Thomas Espenshade and Chang Chung, two Princeton sociology researchers, describe who gains and who loses as a result of admission preferences.  They concede, that “a decision to admit one student involves a choice not to admit someone else."

According to Espenshade and Chung, currently, African-American candidates for admission at the elite universities receive on average 230 extra SAT points, Hispanics 185 additional SAT points, recruited athletes, 200 points, and legacy applicants, 160 points. If bonus points were eliminated, the following would result. African-American acceptance rates would fall from 33.7% to 12.2%, a decline of almost two-thirds. In other words, the proportion of Black students would decline from 9% to 3.3%. Hispanic acceptance rates would fall in half, from 26.8% to 12.9%, a decline of 7.9% to 3.8% of all admitted students.  The category of recruited athletes and legacy students is mostly White and negligible. 

Asian applicants would be the biggest winners if racial preferences were eliminated from the admission process. Their acceptance rates would increase from 17.6% to 23.4%. They would comprise 31.5% of all accepted students compared with the actual proportion of 23.7% However, were Princeton to place a ceiling on foreign Asian students, this number would be much lower.  In the absence of admission preferences and ceilings for Asians, the number of White students would rise only 2.4%, an acceptance increase from 23.8% to 24.3%.  Jewish enrollment at Princeton is 13%, well below the Ivy League average of 25%. These figures match up well with the many studies which have found corresponding average normal racial IQ: Asians 104, White 100, and Blacks 85 (see, for example, “Is Race a Valid Taxonomic Construct, by J. Philippe Rushton).

In order to attract minorities to Princeton and the other elite universities, there is a great deal of money available to fund financial aid to students from families with low incomes. In their book, “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission on Campus Life,” (Princeton University Press, 2009), Prof. Espenshade and Alexandria Radford concluded that social class matters in the admission process, but it is usually given less weight than race or ethnicity. Having a lower-class family background was equivalent to having 130 additional points on the SAT.  However, the admission preference accorded to low-income students appears to be reserved largely for nonwhite students.  

Tilghman’s enthusiasm for increasing the number of Black faculty and Black students at Princeton is exceeded only by her eagerness in placing feminists into key positions.  For some time now criticism of her many appointments of women, to the exclusion of qualified men, has been growing. Because she herself had no administrative experience when she was appointed president, her very selection to that office caused alarm, as it most certainly was based on gender. And gender parity is always on her mind.

Once chosen, she moved aggressively to appoint an assistant dean “to oversee gender equity.”  Within her first two years as Princeton’s president, Tilghman appointed Princeton’s first woman provost, first woman dean of admissions, first woman dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and first woman dean (a non-engineer) of the school of engineering. Recently she appointed a second woman to become dean of the Woodrow Wilson School. She favors preferential treatment of women, and envisions policies whereby women faculty will be granted a longer tenure review period and subsidized nannies.

“A decision to admit one student involves a choice not to admit someone else,” applies not only to student selection but also to university hiring. When the goal is to achieve race and gender parity, White men are side-lined.  Not only are White males losers in the racial affirmative action student selection process, they are doubly cheated when women receive preferential treatment in the hiring process.    

A recent alumni magazine quotes Tilghman bragging, “This is not your great-grandfather’s Princeton.” What a pity. Princeton was established in 1747 through the efforts and with the financial resources of mostly Scottish immigrants as the institution of higher learning for young Anglo men. Princeton’s association with the Presbyterian Church was close, and its first thirteen presidents, until Woodrow Wilson, were clergymen. The beautiful English neo-gothic campus chapel is the third largest college chapel in the world. Princeton’s sixth president, the Scottish born Presbyterian minister, John Witherspoon, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

 


John Witherspoon

White men established Princeton University and Whites have continued to finance the institution which now has the 4th largest institutional endowment fund in the Ivy League, and the largest endowment per student of $2,000,000. One wonders why racial descendants of Princeton founders, i.e., parents and students of European heritage, do not demand a White preferential admission policy and a faculty and an administration reflecting their own ethnic heritage.

Trudie Pert is a pen name.  Email her.

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