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Theodore J. Ziolkowski

Theodore Ziolkowski

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Theodore J.Ziolkowski (1932- ) was born 1932 in Birmingham, Alabama. He received an A.B. from Duke University in 1951, an A.M. from Duke in 1952 and, following studies at the University of Innsbruck, his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1957.

Theodore Ziolkowski

Teaching German

Following appointments at Yale and Columbia, he was called to Princeton University as professor of German in 1964. In 1969 he was appointed Class of 1900 Professor of German and Comparative Literature and, from 1979-92, Dean of the Graduate School. Since 2001 he was Professor Emeritus. A past president of the Modern Language Association (1985) and visiting professor at several universities (Yale, CUNY, Rutgers, Bristol, Munich, Lueneburg), he has received many awards for his books and honors in the United States and abroad, including the Goethe-Medaille of the Goeth-Institut, the Jacob-und-Wilhelm Grimm Preis (DAAD), the Forschungspreis of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Bundesverdienstkreuz (1. Klasse) of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the D.Phil.h.c. from the University of Greifswald. A member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences he is also a corresponding member of the Austrian Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Gottingen Akademie der Wissenschaften, and the Deutsche Akademie fur Sprache und Dichtung.

Theodore Ziolkowski

Dean of the Graduate School

From 1979-1992, Dean Ziolkowski served the second longest term as a Dean of the Graduate School and during that time was challenged by a number of issues facing Princeton’s graduate school population.

Graduate School Growth

At the end of his fifth year in office, Dean Ziolkowski noted that “the most difficult factor to control is growth.” Save for planned “corrections” in the early 1970s and through much of the 1990s, the Graduate School grew fairly consistently. From a low of 1,382 degree candidates in 1971, it inched up to a high of 1,866 in 1992 before being trimmed to some 1,734 at century’s end.

What accounted for Princeton’s growth was less the admission of larger first-year classes or proportionately more master’s degree students (though there was some of both) than doctoral students remaining enrolled in extended programs. In the 1950s, students had been expected to complete their coursework and research and to write their dissertations within three years, which proved marginally more feasible for scientists and engineers than for humanists and social scientists. By the late 1960s, four years was becoming the official norm. But to no avail, for by the late 1980s many departments had five-year programs. The rationale for this sanctioned “stretch-out” was two-fold: doctoral students needed to build sophisticated research equipment, acquire foreign languages, or pursue research in foreign archives; they also needed to prepare for bearish job markets, which increasingly demanded degrees in hand, teaching experience, and résumés with conference papers and published articles.

Committed to a “smaller but better” philosophy throughout most of the period, the Graduate School was little concerned with oscillations in applications because the quality of its matriculants remained gratifyingly high. When, for example, applications rose 67 percent during Dean Ziolkowski’s thirteen years in office, entering class sizes were largely maintained by admitting a smaller percentage of applicants (down to as few as 15 percent), especially when yields rose unexpectedly in previous years (52 percent being “at the high end of what the Graduate School considers normal range”). The Graduate School’s statistical sangfroid was certainly needed when applications shot up 13.5 percent for the penultimate entering class of the century. Although the jump was larger than that enjoyed by any of its chief rivals, some credit had to go to a new online application process and to the ability to pay by credit card a heavily discounted fee for submitting early applications.

Although the denizens of the Graduate School continued to clear its entrance hurdles with ease and proliferated within an acceptable range, their collective face underwent a major makeover. Women, then American minorities, and international students came to constitute significantly larger segments of the graduate student population.

Women Students

While women had finally achieved a substantial presence in the Graduate School (in line with their national presence in arts and sciences), they were still not distributed evenly across departments and divisions. Although Princeton had no professional schools that traditionally attracted women in numbers, her women graduate students tended to cluster in the humanities and social sciences rather than the sciences or engineering.

A study of women’s admissions and academic progress between 1982 and 1987 found that they were admitted at a higher rate than men, they accepted at the same rate, they completed their programs at comparable rates, and they received their doctorates above the male rate in five of eleven departments studied, but significantly below in five others where there were few or no female faculty members and where women constituted less than 22 percent of the departmental enrollment, which seemed to be the threshold for mutual support and an enabling “sense of belonging.” When they did finish their degrees, particularly before the hiring of women became an academic priority in the 1980s, they often had less success securing suitable positions. In 1983 several departments asked the Graduate School to sponsor a workshop on “Interviewing Skills for Women” because even their best women graduates were not receiving offers in deserving numbers.

In an effort to reduce graduate women’s sense of isolation, the Graduate School and, in particular, the newly appointed residence life coordinator established a number of talks and workshops devoted to women’s issues, often in conjunction with activities at the University’s Women’s Center. In the early 1990s, for instance, psychologist Joan Girgus spoke on women getting tenure, historian-administrator Alison Bernstein described her studies of American Indian women, and anthropologist Kay Warren (Ph.D. 1974) dissected the making of a racist film. Women’s and feminist reading and support groups also sprang up to probe the causes of, or to provide cures for, Graduate School anomie.

African American Students

Princeton’s recruitment of African-American graduates started slowly in the 1960s with the appointment of Conrad Snowden as assistant dean of the Graduate School. It was increasingly successful in the early 1970s, partly due to student agitation and various educational manifestations of the “black power” movement. Black enrollments reached a peak of seventy-nine in 1973 before they declined precipitously during 1975-1985. Part of the decline in numbers of black students was recouped by a widened interest in other minorities who had been left out of the American success story. As black enrollments hit bottom in 1983 with only twenty-five, they were joined by thirty Hispanics and forty-five Asian- Americans. By the last year of the century, the minority enrollment of the Graduate School stood at 12 percent, including 112 Asian-Americans, 52 Hispanics, 46 African-Americans, and 3 American Indians.

The Graduate School and its constituent departments saw no need to lower their admission standards, and most of Princeton’s minority students came well equipped to make the grade. Between 1969 and 1988, minorities dropped out at a rate slightly above that of women, but those who persisted received degrees, especially the Ph.D., much more quickly than did women. Like the women, they succeeded best in engineering and the natural sciences; although their numbers were small, they earned doctorates at rates of 75 and 65 percent respectively.

Their success was partly predicated on the hard work of the Graduate School deanery, which often expended prodigious energy seeking promising minority candidates and persuading them to apply. Deans, staff, students, and faculty members made recruiting trips to predominantly black campuses across the country. The University hosted summer research programs for minority undergraduates to prepare and inspire them for graduate work. The Graduate School and departments worked with potential feeder schools and colleagues to locate promising applicants. In 1979 the Association of Black Princeton Alumni established a graduate committee, and students formed a Black Graduate Caucus four years later to assist in recruitment. And, at the urging of Dean Ziolkowski, Nassau Hall created a number of generous President’s Fellowships to entice top minority candidates to Princeton, as well as to coax women into non-traditional fields.

At the end of the century African-Americans still constituted only 2.7 percent of the graduate population, far below their share of the national population. Had the Graduate School not been able to offer nearly forty full-support, long-term President’s Fellowships, it is likely that still fewer would have come. With some rivals offering full rides to all targeted minorities, not just their top-ranked black ones Princeton faced “very tough competition.” And the judicial and popular turn away from affirmative action at the end of the century suggested that, in spite of its efforts, Princeton’s share of minority talent was unlikely to improve markedly at the beginning of the next.

International Students

Although the Graduate School diversified its domestic student body slowly and with continuing difficulty, it also turned outward, admitting literally world-class talent. While minority recruitment enjoyed some success in the early 1970s, international enrollments dropped to a low of 178 students (17.7 percent) in 1976, due in part to a sharp decline in full fellowships and the ineligibility of foreign students for federally insured loans to supplement partial ones. But as domestic enrollments bottomed out a year later, international admissions began a steady climb that continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In the last year of the century, students from abroad numbered 664, more than 38 percent of degree candidates; 45 percent of the incoming class was non-American.

As foreign students flocked to Princeton, their countries of origin altered noticeably. In the late 1960s, most students came from English-speaking countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. By the mid-1980s, Asian conversations—Chinese, Indian, Korean— began to inflect Graduate College table talk. After 1987 the single largest contingent of foreign students came from the People’s Republic of China, which sought to modernize by sending students and scholars abroad to acquire Western knowledge and management skills. When Deng Xiaoping supplanted the Gang of Four, ended the regressive Cultural Revolution, and opened China’s doors to the West after 1978, Chinese governments—national, provincial, and local—began to send graduate students to the United States in numbers. Most of the students were directed toward programs in engineering and the various sciences, and only a handful to the humanities and social sciences. But many others, once their talents were discovered by visiting American scholars and recruiting consortia, were courted by American universities dangling their own fellowships and research assistantships. Operating with relatively few constraints, Princeton was among the leaders. Only three students from the People’s Republic of China applied in 1979, but a year later the number jumped to thirty-nine and the rush was on. In 1990, even after the Tiananmen Square crackdown the previous summer, 117 mainland Chinese applied.

For all the challenges they posed, Princeton’s international students conferred a distinct status upon the University. Although the surge in foreign admissions reflected a national trend, Princeton was a pacesetter. In his last report to the president in 1992, Dean Ziolkowski suggested that “In the last decade of the twentieth century, as the number of foreign degree holders from Princeton steadily grows and moves out into influential positions across the world, the motto of ‘Princeton in the Nation’s Service,’ coined at the end of the nineteenth century, appears increasingly parochial.” Later, Nassau Hall added “and in the Service of All Nations” to the University’s unofficial motto. Appropriately, the Centennial-year winner of the James Madison Medal to celebrate a distinguished public or academic career by a Graduate School alumnus was China-born Chang-Lin Tien, a 1959 Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and former chancellor of the University of California–Berkeley, one of Princeton’s toughest rivals.

Graduate Student Curriculum

Applicants who accepted Princeton’s offer of admission did so primarily because of the intellectual quality of its graduate departments, programs, and faculty. What made Princeton most attractive in the first place was the high ranking of most of its graduate departments in national assessments, even though the University has always had relatively few and fairly small departments—the great majority in the arts and sciences—compared to its much larger Dwarf and state university rivals, and none of the traditional professional schools in law, medicine, or business that can attract funds, brains, and news coverage. Moreover, its academic offerings had usually been state-of-the-art, not faddish or merely fashionable but up-to-date and in tune with, if not ahead of, “international intellectual developments.” But in responding to those trends and to other internal and external stimuli, Deans West and Ziolkowski were wont to say, the Graduate School is “the true speculum universitatis,” mirror of the university, the graduate curriculum instead “tends to mirror the growth of academic disciplines and areas of intellectual research.”

With improved fiscal stability in the 1980s and 1990s, the areas of greatest growth were in the life sciences and engineering. From a small biochemical sciences department and an aging biology department, the University in 1983 created a world-class Department of Molecular Biology, which was soon housed in the new postmodern Lewis Thomas Laboratory. By 1998 it was one of only two departments with more than a hundred graduate students. The other was electrical engineering, which remade itself and grew into the largest doctoral program despite the hiving off of computer science as a separate department in 1985.

Because of its size, “it has long been Princeton’s philosophy to concentrate on trying to do a relatively small number of things well.” But at the same time, President Bowen argued in his important 1981 report, Graduate Education in the Arts and Sciences, the University “must continue to be prepared, even under the most difficult conditions, to move into carefully chosen new fields (or recombinations of old fields) as new ideas, and new branches of knowledge, evolve.” One of the chief ways Princeton was able to achieve quality without undue quantity was by replacing older departments with more viable new ones, rather than simply adding them, and by creating flexible, non-degree-granting programs, centers, and institutes to serve the increasingly imaginative interests of existing students and faculty between and around more traditional disciplines.

Toward the end of the century, the intellectual world had grown much more complicated, and the list of departments acquired such new specialties as applied and computational mathematics, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and public affairs and demography with a large number of interdisciplinary programs available to graduate students. Only six of twenty-four interdisciplinary programs survived from 1973. The rest included such luxuriant growths as plasma science and technology, polymer science and materials, and statistics and operations research. More recognizable, if no less reticulate, were programs in East Asian studies, the philosophy of science, and the ancient world, which since its formation in 1986 had made Princeton “the place in North America to study late antiquity.”

Beginning in the late 1980s, the departments were joined by a host of even more focused and acronymic research institutes and centers, which embodied new ideas about how to conduct research and scholarship outside the boundaries of traditional disciplines and yet preserve the basic structure of academic departments. Such creations appeared not only in the sciences and engineering but in the humanities and social sciences as well. POEM was not a literary bloom but the Center for Photonics and Optoelectronic Materials that sprouted in 1989 in the School of Engineering, where it occupied a specially built new wing. P.M.I., the Princeton Materials Institute, followed a year later and was housed in the new purple-hued Bowen Hall. More than fifty faculty from a dozen departments, and their graduate students, had become affiliated with the Institute. In 1994 the faculty took advantage of national interest and funding to establish the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), which absorbed the spirit and interests of the older Center for Energy and Environmental Studies (CEES).

Since 1966 to the end of the century, four major national assessments measured Princeton’s graduate programs and faculty against the competition. All of these studies relied heavily on the reputations of the various departments in the thinking of several thousand faculty members in those fields. The last two studies, published in 1982 and 1995, went beyond mere reputation and factored in a variety of more objective measures of academic quality, such as library holdings and faculty publications, awards, and fellowships. In all of these studies, Princeton was rated the sixth or seventh best in the country, behind only much larger Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and M.I.T., a remarkable testament to the management of Princeton’s Graduate School reputation during Dean Ziolkowski’s tenure.

Primary Source:

Rounding Out a Century: The Princeton Graduate School, 1969-2000 by James Axtell (This article originally appeared in Willard Thorp et al., The Princeton Graduate School: A History, ed. Patricia H. Marks. Princeton, NJ.: Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni, 2000), pp. 321-362)

Other References:

Princeton University Library

Princeton University German Department

New Dean at Princeton

Princeton Academia Theodore Ziolkowski

Theodore J. Ziolkowski