There’s a petition circulating around Caltech to remove Robert Millikan’s name and image from campus buildings and fixtures. Millikan won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his oil drop experiment and was the founding president of Caltech. But, it turns out he was also a proponent of eugenics, and that is Unacceptable.
I’m reminded of an incident a couple years ago, when one very woke Stanford student urged the university to rename Terman Library. You see, Lewis Terman was a eugenics supporter, and that kind of hate has no place on a diverse and inclusive campus like Stanford University.
That was all well received, until someone informed the kid that Terman was in fact named after Frederick Terman, the former Dean of Engineering and cofounder of Stanford Research Park. That’s why Terman is the name of the Engineering library and not the Race Science library. Lewis Terman, the eugenicist, was Frederick’s dad.
This mistake has happened multiple times.
I’m also reminded of that time the Palo Alto school board decided to rename Terman Middle School (this time they got the right Terman). A board committee chose the name Yamamoto Middle School, in honor of Fred Yamamoto, a Japanese-American who was sent to FDR’s concentration camps during WWII. Staunchly loyal to the country (or inordinately optimistic), Yamamoto later enlisted in the Army and died in battle.
A hero and inspiration to us all. BUT —
The school board somehow overlooked the fact that Fred shares a surname with another famous Yamamoto — Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who led the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Parents complained, and the school board swapped in the name of a Holocaust survivor, Ellen Fletcher. Fletcher Middle School it is.
Maybe the lesson here is that building names are stupid. It’s not an honor to have a namesake if names change with the latest Radical Chic. And if names are so impermanent, it’s stupid to affix one to a building. Just put a Victim-of-the-Month placard on the front entrance, if that’s what you’re trying to do.
I’m not surprised to see this kind of bullshit go down at Stanford, where they have multiple departments dedicated to Grievance Studies. But I always had higher expectations for Caltech. No athletic recruits, no diversity quotas, no humanities department. That’s what a real university should look like.
Many years ago, when Quora was still a thing, I answered a query: “Does Caltech have the hardest undergraduate experience in the world?”
It’s all a matter of perspective: To a Caltech student, the Feynman Lectures might be a little bit hard. To a Stanford student, 8th grade algebra might be hard.
Having volunteered on the Caltech admissions committee, I know that every single student admitted to the university has the background and capability to take on Caltech’s curriculum.
Hans pointed out that most of the undergraduates were 1st or 2nd in their high school class. This is true. Caltech’s student body is not diverse. Because of the uniformity of academic backgrounds, Caltech can optimize its course curriculum to a very specific and high-achieving demographic.
Why are there are no introductory classes? Caltech does not admit students who need introductory classes. Freshman Math starts with multivariable calculus. If you need a bit more handholding when it comes to partial differential equations, you go to MIT.
When comparing average course offerings between universities, Caltech might seem hard. In reality, Caltech puts highly-capable students on track to achieve the best of their potential.
Then there’s the other type of “hard” – not in terms of academic rigor, but in sheer number of hours. Yes, with 130+ units of core curriculum in the hard sciences, the course requirements are indeed hard work.
This is the part that usually causes students to become jaded. The long hours consumed by coursework leaves little time for socializing or exploration. Caltech has a relatively low graduation rate compared to other top-ranked universities. The students who end up leaving, generally do so because their priorities are no longer academic — not because the school was “too hard”.
Hard as in demanding, time-consuming, you-must-surrender-your-soul. You’re not left with spare bandwidth to notice microaggressions, and it doesn’t matter because Demoralization is a Feature, not a Bug — That overwhelming sense of inadequacy is exactly how you’re supposed to feel when contemplating the Poincaré conjecture! There’s an old Caltech webcomic called Crippling Depression, which basically sums up the nature of scientific research and life at Caltech.
We always thought it was the challenging coursework that crushed our egos, but hey maybe it was actually the racist building names. The students should demand reparations.