Despite many practices that may contradict it, Princeton University is still first and foremost an educational institution. Being such an institution, its goal is to provide students with a solid intellectual basis for whatever they set out to do in life. Although a cut-throat deflationary grading system (or grading at all) is probably not the best way to go about it, I believe the Princeton liberal arts program does sufficiently develop intellectual capacity, at least for those who seek it. Princeton’s objectives do not stop there, however. Its official motto remains, “In the Nation’s Service, and in the Service of All Nations.” While graduates who use their education for bettering themselves and bettering society can effectively utilize the knowledge and skills accumulated during their four years at Princeton, they lack one key characteristic – the drive and aptitude for political and social activism. What good are intellect and smarts if this institution produces citizens who do not use them to generate and spread new ideas that shape our society, and instead are content with going to the ballot every few years just to choose between one of two (or more) Wall Street parties? I’d rather see them actively lobbying those parties.
Political and social activism do not necessarily mean protesting on the street or mic-checking JP Morgan-Chase recruitment sessions. Certain types of entrepreneurship, volunteer work, production of art, and journalism could all be perfectly legitimate applications of Princeton’s motto. And yes, many Princeton graduates engage in activism in its various forms. Yet, if the University wants to truly live up to its motto, its curriculum should focus not only on learning about the world, but also on learning how to change to world, through initiatives such as training in organization skills and adding a requirement for some sort of civic engagement or entrepreneurial project. Occupy Princeton and similar student groups should be treasured by the University – not because of the social, political, and economic issues they tackle, but because they provide the skills and experience crucial for activism, as well as the sense of self-empowerment that has been long lost in our consumer society.