JG: What does it mean to be Dean of the College?
DM: Dean of the College means that I’m responsible for undergraduate education, curriculum, academic advising, academic regulations, the academic standing of the students, and then the offices I’m responsible for are admissions, financial aid, career services, teacher prep, the McGraw Center For Teaching and Learning, the Writing Program and the Residential Colleges.
JS: What’s your own academic background?
A: I’m a historian. I got a Ph.D. in History and I’m a professor in the History Department and before coming into the Dean’s Office I taught a course on 20th Century American History, and the scholarship I’ve done is mostly about civil rights and race relations… In 1969 when I joined the History Department as an Assistant Professor there were three women in the professorial ranks…
JS: What was that like?
DM: It was pretty interesting and a lot of people wanted to know what we were about, people invited you to participate in all sorts of things you wouldn’t have been invited to as a regular assistant professor….
JG: How have the professors’ impressions of the student body changed since you’ve been here, and where do they stand right now?
DM: Views are particular to individual faculty members. It would be very difficult to generalize. But we’ve all seen shifts. In the 70’s [students] were certainly more political, more expansive about what one could do with one’s life, less focused on making the right decisions now so you get to the right place later. [They were] more confident that something good would happen to you and that you ought to do what interests you… By the eighties or nineties people became more focused on making the right decisions, work so as to be in a good position to pursue admission to the law school or medical school they want to get into. I think that faculty recently have been impressed by the intellectual engagement and seriousness of the student body
JS: What do you think that Princeton graduates should be doing, ideally, after graduating? Should half the class go into I-banking?
DM: I think that they should do anything and everything in the world that their hearts and desires dictate. I think that having the imagination and creativity and initiative to pursue careers of all sorts and not only business but also the non-profit sector, public service, government, teaching – you name it. It seems to me that’s what people ought to be doing… Here are the realities: investment banks blanket this campus with full-page ads in the Daily Princetonian. They have the money to take out full-page ads, they have the money to rent suites at the Nassau Inn for interviews and they do all of that early in the year now. It looks, for all intents and purposes, like that’s what we’re endorsing, what Princetonians want to do… Non-profits in various states don’t have the money to fly here and so when Career Services organizes non-profit career fairs they pale in comparison… Students need to be a little realistic about the way the world of work works and understand that it isn’t that we’re promoting a particular kind of professional choice. We’re trying our damnedest to bring students and opportunities in many fields together but it’s harder in fields where recruiters don’t have the resources… Would I like us to be able to do more? Sure I would.
JG: In a recent email you sent out detailing the implementation of grading policy, you talked about contacting as many businesses and graduate schools as possible to inform them about the change. In terms of the private sector and graduate school: how much contact do you have with these sectors, and how much pressure or input from those sectors led to the decision to push the new policy forward?
DM: … I [asked] them, “If we were to change the way we grade, to bring grade inflation under better control, how would you feel about that, and would it work to the advantage or disadvantage of Princeton students?” At the same time I was making that inquiry, I said, “Tell me about the range of majors you’re looking at and if the assumptions that our students make: that they’ve got to major in Econ to go to Wall Street, got to major in Politics to go to law school, that sort of thing- is that true, or what are you looking for?” So I got a lot of feedback from them about how much they would like students to major in less common fields.
Q: [About posters on the wall. Dean Malkiel speaks about the presidential campaign.]
DM: I wish this campaign were being run better than it is. It seems to me that having the candidates focusing on whether we should credit Kerry for his service in Vietnam and whether we should credit George Bush for his service in the National Guard is frankly pointless given the gravity of the issues facing the country today. So I’m really disappointed in the tenor of the campaign and I’m also disappointed in the nastiness. It seems to me that the attacks are at a pretty low level and they’re pretty vicious and they ought to be talking about important policy issues that affect our country.
JG: What is the greatest existential problem facing this undergraduate school as an institution?
DM: What do you mean?
JS: Well, I can say that I was in this Atelier last spring and someone wanted to adapt “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” to make it into a little play, and I was in a room – and I know I’m not the smartest or most knowledgeable kid in world – but I was in this room with ten Princeton students, five were English majors, and of the ten – most of whom were seniors- only three people had ever even heard of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” And that made me wonder if Princeton is really accomplishing its goals in a liberal education for all of its undergrads. I was wondering if you think Princeton is in fact successful in that.
DM: Well I wouldn’t measure success by who has or hasn’t read “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
JS: Don’t you think there are certain things that everyone should –
DM: I don’t believe in a canon, I don’t believe any of our departments believe in a canon. Due to the explosion of knowledge in all of these fields it is such that they no longer operate that way. You should have a familiarity with, if you are an English major, different periods, different genres. It’s the same if you’re a history major. But it has long since passed since a department was willing to say confidently: “Here are the big books and you must’ve read those books.” Knowledge is too diverse and complicated in most fields to be able to do that anymore. I think that the biggest challenge is getting students better distributed among the departments. We have different levels of quality in education that our students receive while here because of the imbalance.
JS: A lighter note. What books have you read lately? What movies have you seen lately? Any suggestions?
DM: I really enjoyed The Rule of Four this summer. I thought that was a good read, and I read it against the Da Vinci Code. That was interesting…
JS: [It took you] six hours to read both.
DM: [chuckle] Movies. My husband would tell you we haven’t been to too many movies recently. I didn’t like Fahrenheit 9/11.
JS: What were your problems with it?
DM: I thought it was much too long, too heavy-handed, not subtle or interesting. And understand I didn’t find it offensive in what he was trying to say – it just struck me as not very interesting. [My husband and I] just saw Garden State. We thought that was fun. I liked that.
JG: How about faculty dog relations? Is there some kind of inner cabal of dog-in-the-office faculty?
DM: Inner cabal? [laugh] Not that I know of. We don’t know a lot of other dogs on campus. My dog knows people more than she knows dogs.