June 16, 2024

Fear-to-Peer, Art and Science at Princeton

Fear-to-Peer at Princeton: A Debate about Filesharing on Campus” will be held Friday, May 6, at 3:30 P.M., in Friend Center 101 on the Princeton campus. (directions) Dean Garfield, VP and Director of Legal Affairs at the MPAA, will square off against Wendy Seltzer, an intellectual property attorney with the EFF. I’ll be the moderator. The debate is open to the public, and we’re hoping to either webcast the debate or make a video available afterward.

The debate will be just down the hall from the amazing “Art of Science” exhibition that opened yesterday. There’s also an online version. Here’s an introduction:

This spring we asked the Princeton University community to submit imagery produced in the course of research or incorporating tools and concepts from science. The response was overwhelming: more than 200 entries from nearly 100 individuals in 15 departments. We selected 55 of these works to appear in the 2005 Art of Science Exhibition.

The resulting assembly of images presents a fascinating and beautiful cross section of the arts and sciences at Princeton. It celebrates the aesthetics of research and the ways in which science and art inform each other.

This is an especially good week to be at Princeton!

Frist Filibuster

Last night about 9:30 I was walking across campus, and I came across the Frist filibuster, an event that had until then existed only in the media for me, even though it has been going on for nearly a week, no more than 500 yards from my office.

The filibuster is a clever bit of political theater dreamed up by Princeton students. The idea is to mimic an old-time legislative filibuster in which people speak without interruption for heroic lengths of time (unlike the wimpy virtual filibusters one sees in the modern Senate), and to do it on the Princeton campus in front of the Frist Campus Center, which was donated by the Frist family, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is now deciding whether to ban or curtail filibusters in the U.S. Senate. The goal is to galvanize opposition to a change in the filibuster rules. In keeping with my usual nonpartisan policy, I’ll leave aside the merits of the Senate filibuster issue here, and focus on the campus filibuster.

A website has live webcam images of the filibuster.

Last night at 9:30, two people were keeping a lonely vigil in front of the Frist Center. One, a thirtyish man, was standing at a makeshift podium and reading softly from a book, into a microphone. The other, a younger man, was in a small tent structure nearby, sitting and watching behind a table that bore a modest supply of food and drink. After a few minutes a young woman, apparently a student, arrived and took over as speaker. She started reading aloud from a photocopied article, which might have been assigned reading for a course.

I caught up with the first speaker as he was leaving. He was a not a university person, just an interested citizen from a nearby community who had come by over the weekend and had signed up then for last night’s half-hour speaking gig. He said he had started by reading Brown v. Board of Education, which he said illustrated the importance of political balance on the Supreme Court. After that he read from Stephen Jay Gould’s Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History, because “Gould is my favorite biologist.” (The off-topic reading may seem odd, but I’m told it was common in old-time filibusters, where the goal was to fill time after all of the debating points had been made.)

Princeton has allowed the filibusterers to do their thing. This is clearly the right policy, notwithstanding the statements of a few commentators, some of whom should know better, that Princeton should send in the campus cops and break up the filibuster. Trying to ban a peaceful, nondisruptive, student-organized protest would be a terrible idea, and would quite possibly be illegal under Federal and/or New Jersey law.

Even crazier, in my view, is the claim that these events demonstrate inappropriate liberal bias at Princeton. Two things have happened: (1) a small subset of the student body has spoken against a change in the Senate filibuster rules, and (2) Princeton as an institution has decided to let them speak. Neither event demonstrates that Princeton as a whole has any political bias.

You may believe for other reasons that Princeton tilts to the left. That’s a topic for another day. But I don’t see how the filibuster, and Princeton’s response to it, shows any overall bias on campus. You may ask where the counter-protest is; and it’s true that there hasn’t been one. It’s part of the genius of the filibuster as political theater that there is no obvious counter-protest tactic. Holding a counter-filibuster would just draw more attention to filibustering.

Would Senator Frist want Princeton to stop the filibuster now? I doubt it. Even leaving aside the free-speech issue, the Senator is surely smart enough to see that a university clampdown is the perfect ending for the students’ political theater: the powerful authorities break the filibuster, suppressing the speech of a political minority, apparently to please a wealthy donor. That’s not an image the Senator would want associated with the anti-filibuster position.

And so the Frist filibuster goes on, and on, and on. They say they have speakers lined up at least through Thursday.

Student Writing Blog: "Information Technology and the Law"

This semester, I’m teaching “Information Technology and the Law”. We’re reading a series of articles and court decisions on important techno-legal issues.

I’ve created a student writing blog, on which students will post weekly essays on topics related to the course. Essays are 400-500 words in length, with due dates staggered through the week so that we get some new essays every day. (Some students writing under pseudonyms for privacy.)

The site is open to the public, for reading and comment. Please do drop in and join us.

Princeton Faculty Passes Grade Quota

Yesterday the Princeton faculty passed the proposed grade inflation resolution (discussed here), establishing a quota on A-level grades. From now on, no more than 35% of the course grades awarded by any department may be A-level grades, and no more than 55% of independent work grades may be A-level.

I had to miss the meeting due to travel, so I can’t report directly on the debate at the faculty meeting. I’ll update this post later if I hear anything interesting about the debate.

How Much Information Do Princeton Grades Convey?

One of the standard arguments against grade inflation is that inflated grades convey less information about students’ performaces to employers, graduate schools, and the students themselves.

In light of the grade inflation debate at Princeton, I decided to apply information theory, a branch of computer science theory, to the question of how much information is conveyed by students’ course grades. I report the results in a four-page memo, in which I conclude that Princeton grades convey 11% less information than they did thirty years ago, and that imposing a 35% quota on A-level grades, as Princeton is proposing doing, would increase the information content of grades by 10% at most.

I’m trying to convince the Dean of the Faculty to distribute my memo to the faculty before the Monday vote on the proposed A quota.

Today’s Daily Princetonian ran a story, by Alyson Zureick, about my study.