Paul’s Perambulations

April 10, 2013

Princeton Graduate Psychology Reunion after 50 years, with examples of the influence of money/power and of revisionist history

Filed under: Education,Politics,Work — admin @ 3:12 pm

Fran and I recently attended a Graduate Psychology Reunion at Princeton.  Besides having an enjoyable time at the reunion, the event stimulated re-thinking of my experience there nearly a half-century ago.

My graduate experience was very positive and I am grateful to Princeton for that.  In addition to getting an excellent education, I benefited from the special recognition/prestige given to graduates of elite Universities (whether deserved or not), such that when I received my Ph.D. at age 23 I felt totally free and competent to be myself and not needing to prove anything to anybody. That’s a great feeling, but also somewhat scary, to be free with no one to blame for things that don’t turn out as you might have intended – can’t play the victim card.

What I did not realize when I was a student (well, I did, but I didn’t feel under the weight of it) was the significance/meaning of being part of a highly-selective, expensive and exclusive club.  But when much of the reunion is held at the Icahn building (thanks to that notorious corporate raider), and I recall that buildings named Frick and Firestone had contributed to my education and that I had often paddled on Lake Carnegie…well, it strikes home that Princeton was substantially built with the blood money of the rich and powerful robber-barons of American history and their kin. I truly appreciate the quality and beauty of the place, but in saying this I must also acknowledge treading on the backs of generations of oppressed laborers who never got to share in these fruits of their labors. There is great beauty and excellence and great injustice.  Justice for a few is not justice. Times have changed, but there is still a mad scramble for these select fruits, and while I credit the institution for its considerable striving to be just, the end product is not just and never can be while Princeton operates within a larger American system that is fundamentally unjust in so many ways.

Something else that got my attention was a symposium focused on the history of the Psychology Department over the past half-century.  Specifically, a panel of past faculty gave their impressions of how things had changed. Well, some things never change, and one highly-significant instance is that history is promulgated by the winners/survivors and in accord with the current culture.   And so we got our dose of revisionist history. A small group of us, representing the “elder” graduates from a half-century ago, sat at a front table and took open exception to some of the “facts” we were told, and our corrections were generally acknowledged. Maybe it was just sloppy preparation by some of the panelists (not acceptable), but whenever people are ignorant there is a tendency to turn personal memories, feelings, and intentions into historical fact. I believe there exists a latent sense of superiority of those who have succeeded at a place like Princeton that can lead to such unthinking and inaccurate self-congratulatory memories.

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