The lady or the Tiger?

During the long reign of Robert Bartley over the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, the Journal set an incomparable standard of opinion journalism. Under Bartley’s leadership, the page substantially contributed to the intellectual capital that produced America’s recovery from the damage wrought by the Nixon/Ford adminstration and especially the Carter administration during the 1970’s. Bartley’s retirement produced a falling off in the quality of the Journal editorial page, though it remains must reading.

Since I started reading the Journal regularly in 1974, I don’t think the Journal’s political coverage has ever had a golden era. Its current political coverage is worse than ever, striking a consistently left-liberal chord that renders the Journal’s non-business news stories more or less indistinguishable from those of its sisters in the mainstream media.

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a hagiographic profile/interview of Princeton President Shirley Tilghman by John Hechinger (subscribers only). The interview is headed “The Tiger Roars” and run as part of the Journal’s “Boss Talk” series on corporate leaders. Here is Hechinger’s fawning introduction:

Shirley M. Tilghman, president of Princeton University, has a challenge most chief executives would envy: so much prestige and money that she’s looking for ways to expand the school’s mission.

While Princeton once lagged behind Harvard and Yale in the competition for top students, it now holds its own. For the past six years, it has taken the top spot in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, either on its own or tied with Harvard. Its $12.5 billion endowment amounts to $1.9 million a student, making it richer by that measure than any other major university.

Now, Ms. Tilghman is leading Princeton’s first big enrollment expansion since the 1970s, after the school started admitting women. By 2012, Princeton will have added 500 undergraduates, an 11% increase. She is also launching an alternative to the school’s famed eating clubs. Seventy percent of Princeton’s juniors and seniors eat their meals and do most of their socializing in the clubs, but some critics consider them bastions of elitism and discrimination.

Ms. Tilghman, 59 years old, is a rarity among top college presidents: a woman and a scientist. She often speaks of the challenge of raising her two children while pursuing a career as a molecular biologist. She broke ranks with the clubby Ivy League to publicly criticize former Harvard President Lawrence Summers for suggesting that innate gender differences might explain the relative scarcity of women with high-level academic careers in science and math.

She and Princeton are also fighting a lawsuit alleging that the university misspent money donated in 1961 to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The gift is now valued at $750 million, and the university could lose 6% of its endowment if the family that donated the money wins the right to spend it elsewhere.

In a recent interview, Ms. Tilghman spoke about Princeton’s plans, making the university more family friendly and whether she would consider a job as Mr. Summers’s successor.

The interview is more of the same. Here is President Tilghman on the Summers affair:

WSJ: You were outspoken in your criticism of Mr. Summers’s comments about women in the sciences. Why did you speak out?

Ms. Tilghman: There are 25 years of good social science that demonstrate the many cultural practices that act collectively to discourage women from entering and continuing careers in science and engineering. The research is overwhelming, and it is there for anybody to see. On the other hand, the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences are nonexistent.

President Tilghman’s take on President Summers’s thought crime goes over ground we have explored here previously, for example in “The $50 million misunderstanding.” That post was occasioned by Heather Mac Donald’s brilliant City Journal essay “Harvard’s diversity grovel.” I asked Heather if she would take a look at the Journal’s Tilghman interview and provide her comments. She kindly responded as follows:

Today’s Wall Street Journal provides a useful update on the war on truth raging in contemporary academia. Larry Summers is no longer president of Harvard University, thanks to his mentioning in January 2005 the scientific research on innate gender differences in mathematical skills. Shirley Tilghman, on the other hand, is firmly ensconced as head of Princeton after publicly denouncing Summers for referring to this ample body of work.

And from that august position, she tells the Wall Street Journal in an interview today that such research and data are “non-existent.” Such is the power of elite universities to determine what reality is.

Contrary to Tilghman’s remarkable claim, the evidence for innate gender differences at the highest reaches of abstract mathematical reasoning, as well as in core spatial capacity, is robust, as Harvard’s Steve Pinker has documented. It matters not. The Princeton faculty is on notice: Don’t even think of mentioning, much less studying, the distribution of science skills; you will be viewed as pursuing a patent falsehood, and thus, like Summers, unworthy of a university post.

Yet Tilghman has the gall to imply that there is no liberal bias at Princeton. Asked about a recent student resolution supporting non-politicized education, she responds that no student visiting her in her office has ever complained about a lack of balance in the curriculum or on the faculty. Well, that’s rather a narrow sample, isn’t it? Since when are students with the clout to gain access to the president’s chambers the only ones worth listening to? As in her attack on Summers’s math and science observations, Tilghman simply ducks the facts before her—that a majority of Princeton’s students want an academic bill of rights to foster academic balance on campus.

The Journal’s fawning interview contains other bitter pleasures as well. It is amusing to see Tilghman placed in the manager Q and A slot usually accorded to for-profit CEOs. The idea that Tilghman is engaged in tough corporate decision-making, maximizing value for shareholders, is ludicrous. Clueless Princeton alumni—like graduates everywhere–keep sending in millions of dollars to Princeton regardless of how well their alma mater lives up to the ideals of a non-partisan, transcendent education. Tilghman merely has to decide whether to squirrel away all or just most of those donations in the endowment.

Meanwhile, she happily soaks middle and upper class parents for the privilege of having a child attend Princeton. She’s not about to lower or eliminate tuition, she says, because half of Princeton parents “can afford” it. Compared to what? Certainly the very wealthy are not daunted by coughing up $200,000 for their child’s college education. But numerous middle and upper middle class families are working overtime, wives especially, to pay those fees-—thus creating the need for even more of those corporate “family friendly” policies that Tilghman advocates.

And what is that tuition going for? Some worthwhile projects, such as cutting-edge scientific research, to be sure. But Princeton, like every college and university, boasts numerous helping bureaucrats as well, dedicated to such cutting-edge issues as diversity and difference. If Tilghman really were the model manager that the Wall Street Journal makes her out to be, she would ruthlessly cut such waste and return the university to its original mission of enlightening students.

Sincere thanks to Heather Mac Donald for providing us her comments on President Tilghman’s Journal interview.


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