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The Goheen years

By Daily Princetonian Staff
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Published: Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Thursday, March 25, 1971 

In the fall of 1956 Robert Francis Goheen ’40, then a promising assistant professor of classics, met with a group of top-level trustees in a home near Princeton. He had been asked to present to them a report on the general needs of Princeton’s younger faculty. Goheen presented his case, answered a battery of questions, and then departed.

Shortly afterwards, the trustee committee made their decision: Robert F. Goheen was to be the 16th president of Princeton University.

The report had merely been a test. Goheen’s approval had awaited only that final proof that the 37-year-old assistant professor could react under pressure — perhaps what would amount to more pressure than had ever been put on a Princeton president.

The trustee committee decision both shocked and pleased the national academic community. Some persons had never heard of Goheen. Others knew him only as one of several bright, young scholars.

But President Goheen fit almost perfectly the qualities sought by the trustees when they organized a six-man faculty committee, headed by Professor Henry DeW. Smyth ’18, to pick a successor for Harold W. Dodds ’14.

President Goheen moved into One Nassau Hall in July, 1957. Waiting for direction was a $53-million fund-raising campaign conceived during the closing years of the Dodds administration.

At a meeting of top-level advisers, the consultant firm said it would take the job on one condition: that Goheen devote fully one-half his time to it. Goheen paused painfully for a moment, then said, “I’ll do that.”

The campaign was announced at the annual alumni luncheon in February, 1958, and when it was completed just three years later, Goheen was credited with a success beyond the wildest dreams of the campaign innovators: $61 million, $8 million more than the campaign target.

But the other side of Goheen’s initiation was trial by fire. “I don’t think we could have had more serious problems than we’ve had this year, at least in regard to Princeton’s standing in the public eye,” Goheen said of his first year in office.

Headache number one was campus Catholic Chaplain Hugh Halton, who lambasted the university from his off-campus ministry and on nationwide speaking tours.

In September of that year, Goheen put into effect a trustee option to deny Halton official university recognition.

When timeless Bicker wound up Goheen’s first year, he was stuck with one of Princeton’s worst public relations debacles of the decade. More than 20 students did not join the clubs, although they had at least one bid to an open book club, and the metropolitan papers played the story prominently and associated the problem to anti-Semitic discrimination.

Goheen blasted the charges as exaggerations which “obscure the plain facts,” but the impact had already been made.

Hardly had the Bicker question cooled when Life Magazine splashed Otto Butz’s “Unsilent Generation” across 11 pages. Goheen was upset when he heard of the plans to publish the frank views of some Princeton seniors.

“I tried to dissuade Butz, but refused to threaten him,” Goheen said. “I won’t accept the generalization that all students are … self-satisfied.”

But there were bright spots: alumni giving reached an all time high, new and prestigious faculty came to Princeton, and the alumni and trustees stood by the president though it all.

With funds coming in from the $53 million drive, the university made its first major move to provide an alternative to the clubs, which still enjoyed a monopoly, by including a social and eating center in a new dormitory complex.

While Goheen was out on the stump raising money, some students were grumbling about the chapel rule, parietals and the ban on cars, but it wasn’t until Goheen’s third year that the trustees took their first step at loosening Princeton’s rules by making every-other-week chapel attendance mandatory only for freshmen.

Goheen also had his first taste of an old-style Princeton riot that year as 1,000 students swarmed around his home, Prospect, and then tried to ignite the PJ&B terminal.

Goheen, a father of six children, took the issue-less protest in stride, lecturing students that “your spring sprits have been expressed, now settle down and get back to work.”

When 1962 came, the university proudly announced the triumph of the $53 million drive. Goheen sought to counter his newly established image as a bricks and mortar president at a speech at the annual Alumni Day luncheon:

“In whatever small niche of Princeton history I come to occupy, I devoutly hope not to be identified as a builder of plant, but rather as one who helped give added thrust and range to the work of this university.”

That year Goheen moved to expand the Graduate School to help America catch up with its demand for professors and skilled researchers in the space race following Sputnik.

In 1963 the biggest news was the “annual spring riot” which was the “worst ever,” according to veteran proctor Axel Peterson. A mob of 1500 students caused $5,500 worth of damage in town and on campus plus innumerable headaches for Goheen.

When the New York Times took a soft attitude toward the protestors, humorously suggesting proctors teach rioting courses, Goheen felt obliged to hurray off a blistering reply.

Two students had to serve jail terms, 47 were suspended by the university and President Goheen was hanged in effigy by displeased undergraduates.

In 1964 concern for civil rights spread to the campus, but the high point of that quiet year may have been Goheen’s third-place finish in WABC’s “Principal of the Year contest. (He was beaten by Ruth Adams of Douglass College and Columbia’s crusty Grayson Kirk.)

The big news in 1965 was the announcement of gifts to the University totaling $38 million, including the $27 million gift from Mrs. Stanley P. Jadwin, the largest single grant in the university’s history.

President Goheen also announced the formation of a ten-year $125 million capital fund drive that will end in 1975.

The first rumblings for coeducation were being heard. The Princetonian editorialized about “a profound unhealthiness of the Princeton undergraduate’s social life with women.”

But Goheen said, “Princeton doesn’t have any social problems that coeducation would cure.”

While history professor Arno J. Mayer led preponderant faculty displeasure with the Vietnam war, during the summer of 1965 President Goheen joined 47 leading citizens in the formation of a Committee for Effective and Durable Peace in Asia supporting President Johnson’s “proposals to bring about a viable peace in Vietnam.”

“A university president is not a political eunuch,” Goheen responded to alumni disturbed about his initiative.

Students rooted Bill Bradley and the basketball team on to third place in the NCAA’s, but 1965 also became the first year Princeton students demonstrated against the war.

Meanwhile, the faculty abolished the last of the chapel requirement, passed a plan to allow students to take up to four courses on a pass-fail basis and changed a required option between taking math or a language to 107-level language requirement.

1966 was a dull year, but demonstrations against the Vietnam war amplified when President Johnson appeared on campus in May to receive an honorary degree and dedicate the Woodrow Wilson School building.

Course loads were reduced, audit and pass-fail options were offered on a broad basis, and the faculty launched a pilot study for a perfected university-wide program of teacher evaluation and examination of the entire “Princeton experience.”

Coeducation …

In March, 1966, early rumblings of coeducation had appeared. The Yale Daily News began a 19-part series on the possibility of bringing a women’s college to Yale.

The News sent a questionnaire to Goheen, who responded, “Princeton has been able to combine high standards with a lively and interesting campus life without coeducation, and we are not at present disposed to trade what we have for a different pattern.”

However, he said, “If someone wished to leave $50 million for the express purpose of developing a girls’ college across Lake Carnegie, it would probably be a good development.”

A year later, the Undergraduate Council passed a resolution supporting a coordinate college and asking for the university’s position. Goheen responded that it was a “significant issue that requires careful and serious investigation.”

Then Princetonian reporter Robert K. Durkee ’69 caught the entire campus, including Goheen, by surprise with a story quoting Goheen saying coeducation was “inevitable.”

‘… is inevitable’

“It is inevitable that, at some point in the future, Princeton is going to move into the education of women. The only questions now are those of strategy, priority and timing,” Goheen said.

Goheen claimed the Durkee interview was off the record, but Durkee denied any impropriety. He was vindicated nine days later when Goheen wrote a letter to Professor of Economics Gardner Patterson, then on leave in Switzerland, asking him to chair what was to become the Patterson committee on coeducation.

Goheen took his case to the trustees in June. “We should as soon as possible direct more of our attention to … the general quality of life at Princeton,” he said.

Supporting coeducation, Goheen cited “the more extensive and active role of women in the modern world … Can one think of an all-male Princeton 20 years hence and see it as other than anachronistic? I submit the answer must be ‘No’.”

The trustees granted Goheen permission for Patterson to study coeducation’s desirability and feasibility — and the now familiar era of the “New Princeton” had begun.

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