Sunday, November 26, 2006

Back when college was fun... 

The Princeton Packet, one of our two local papers, makes it a practice in every issue (Tuesdays and Fridays) to reproduce an amusing item from the paper's long archives. This short story, from the issue of November 22, 1956, made me wistful for the days when we weren't so concerned about getting in trouble, our permanent record, or the grumpy, whining bourgeoisie who complain to the cops if the town isn't as peaceful as the seat of a Swiss canton:

Police stymie night raid

Night raiders from New Haven staged a pre-dawn attack on the Princeton University campus last Friday. They were turned back by vigilent police and university proctors after one skirmish on Prospect Avenue. Three of the over-zealous Elis were arrested after a hair-raising chase down Stockton Street, and four others landed in jail for failure to give a good account of themselves. [We certainly need to bring back the night in the cooler for "failing to give a good account". - ed.] Proctors [Princeton University's campus security. - ed.] spotted three of the attackers painting large blue "Y's" on gates of Prospect Avenue eating clubs at 3 a.m. When the Yalies realized their handiwork had not gone unnoticed, they fled in a car. The trio was overtaken at 80 mph in front of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Am I the only person around here who wishes that we weren't so damned conservative?


By Anonymous Howard in Boston, at Sun Nov 26, 07:54:00 PM:

TH -

I understand where you're coming from... that does seem like a lot of fun. The pranks I pulled as an undergrad were somewhat tame by comparison (the police only got mildly involved once).

Still, I was a bit put off by your approving comment about "the days when we weren't so concerned about getting in trouble, our permanent record..." It seems to me that those Yalies were more care-free because their permanent records did not matter . They could undoubtedly get into all kinds of trouble and would still have cushy jobs awaiting them upon graduation because those were the kind of people who went to a school like Yale fifty years ago.

I would argue that the various improvements in the college admissions and job market process that have becmoe so much more meritocratic over the past 50 years (even while it's not as good as it could be) have also driven up the importance of such things as the "permanent record." I don't think you can separate these two.

This may not be so great for the elite children of today who could have coasted without a care had they gone to college 50 years ago. However, it's certainly great for people like me who would have bumped right up against that old world, system at Princeton back in the 1950s that also just happened to have a strict quota limiting the number of Jews.

No doubt, the country club world of the Ivies 50 years ago must have been great fun for those annointed few - but I'll take today's bundle of much greater egalitarianism and an obsession with the permanent record any day of the week.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Nov 26, 08:07:00 PM:

I agree with your comment, Howard -- good thinking. However, recognizing all of that, I wonder if the meritocracy correctly measures everything in the permanent record.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Nov 26, 08:21:00 PM:

I nailed the dean of the Crane School of Music with a water balloon.

Another guy in the dorm swiped the light bar off the top of one of the campus security patrol cars...

The Sisson dorm at Potsdam was a feisty bunch. In today's PC climate of course we'd have been hauled off in leg irons and charged with unspeakable crimes ;->  

By Anonymous Howard in Boston, at Sun Nov 26, 09:11:00 PM:

TH -

I have little doubt that our meritocracy does not correctly measure everything in the permanent record.

Let me pose an alternative way of thinking about this - risk aversion on the part of those who would use the permanent record to make decisions. Let's consider a job candidate who will be graduating from Princeton in 2007. Surely, some employers will look at hijinks like those found in the 1956 Packet story and conclude that those kids would be a lot of fun and would contribute to a positive work culture. Many others would disagree - likely questioning the expected maturity and professionalism.

When interviewing candidates for my firm, I know which way I'd likely go with an otherwise acceptable candidate. Simply put, not all hiring mistakes are created equal. I'd much rather mistakenly not hire a qualified candidate than mistakenly hire an unqualified one. Note that this is especially true in a more meritocratic system where I am more likely to identify a number of potentially acceptable candidates. This conservative posture is an appropriate one in many hiring decisions and smart job candidates surely realize it.

There is an inherent uncertainty in evaluating people and, of course, we all put different weights on different characteristics. While different meritocratic employers may reach different conclusions based on the same permanent record, the holder of this record will likely be worse off if there are a bunch of things that could potentially disqualify him. This is true even if none of those things accurately or fairly reflect how he our candidate from the class of 2007 will perform in the job. A candidate's recognition of this reality will certainly have a moderating impact on his behavior while in college.

Incidentally, you may be amused to learn that I wrote my senior thesis on this type of uncertainty in a job recruiting situation. It was titled "On Campus Recruiting as a Two-Sided Matching Problem or, How I Managed to Find a Job."  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Sun Nov 26, 11:21:00 PM:

Howard in Boston's comments are so germaine, so well reasoned, that I feel genuinely sophmoric in taking the low road, more in line with TH's original post, in laying claim to one of the most legendary pranks at Haverford College since Chevy Chase took a cow up to the 4th floor of one of the dorms (shades of Animal House).

There was a security shack in the dark woods between the main campus and the apartment complex acquired by the college for additional housing. We thought it would look better as a Fotomat (which for those of you under the age of 30 was a place located off on an island in a parking lot where you could drop off film for speedy processing - they're probably all ATM's, now).

We applied for student council funding for a campus beautification project and purchased rollers, paint, screws, and a long board on which we painted a FOTOMAT sign in its trademark blue on yellow. We timed our transformation for the 5 minute interval between 2:00 and 2:05 a.m. when the shift ended and the guard went back to security central. Out we swept from the shadows and had the whole thing painted and the sign in place when returning headlights through the trees warned us to retreat into the night.

They left it that way for over a month. Brightened the place right up.

Education is truly wasted on the young.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 27, 07:27:00 AM:

What seems to be missing here is that in 1956 there was no "permanent record." T. J. Watson was still counting the number of computers he could sell on the fingers on one hand. The odds that a prank executed in the sleepy backwater of Princeton, New Jersey, would get to an employer was remote. That is, unless the prospective employer was also a Yalie and the prank would then have been a badge of honor.


By Blogger Chester, at Mon Nov 27, 12:33:00 PM:

I for one, am of the belief that being a jackass is a calling. Practical jokes and pranks make life fun.


By Anonymous BIRD OF PARIDISE, at Mon Nov 27, 02:35:00 PM:

Is this what those YALE ruffians learned from the islamic radicals invited there? i hope they make then clean up their graffiti with a toothbrush and teacup and then i hope PRINCETON stomps YALE flat  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Nov 27, 07:58:00 PM:

Isn't the essence of this story, "Students arrested for vandalism"? Just because they intended it as a prank in a famous school rivalry doesn't mean that they shouldn't be punished if caught... it just justifies the attempt.

Don't get caught next time.  

By Anonymous BIRD OF PARIDISE, at Mon Nov 27, 09:04:00 PM:

Its time for vandals to be made to pay for the damages they do right out of their own pockets and no crying poor mouth after all if they have enough money to travel about and damage private or public property wether vandalizing or rioting then they should be made to pay the price for the irresponsible bahavior  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Nov 28, 04:21:00 PM:

I'm not sure the conservative-liberal axis is going to be much assistance here. Libertarian...maybe a little better.

PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster often made fond references to Boat Night, Gally Threepwood's misspent youth, and bread fights at the Drones Club. The literary trick is that the events were never quite specified, and so could be bathed in this warm glow of the pranksterism of young lads.

When we can look at these things generally, they look like harmless fun, and we wish there could be more of it. When you get into the details, however - 80mph in populated areas, and "failure to give a good account of themselves," likely means "lying to the police," then it doesn't look so attractive.

Keep it vague, and it's just fun.

Like the time at William and Mary when I climbed up the outside of Tri-Delt...  

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?