In the fall of 1965 some 800 Princeton University freshmen were welcomed by the president, Robert F. Goheen, who gave his opening address at the University Chapel. In addition to the usual pearls of wisdom, Goheen offered a word of caution to this crop of post-war baby boomers. Things might not always be the same. The president quoted an alumnus from the Class of 1939:
“Every great advance has come about, and always will, because someone was frustrated by the status quo; because someone exercised the skepticism, the questioning, and the kind of curiosity which, to borrow a phrase, blows the lid off everything.”
The quotation was from William H. Whyte, author of the 1956 bestseller, “The Organization Man,” the book that defined a generation of men (and their wives) who committed themselves to the big corporations and other institutions where they expected to be employed until retirement.
No one in the Class of 1969 at Princeton could have imagined how frustrating the status quo would become in the next few years: The fact that there were no women in that freshman class, and no more than a dozen black students. The fact that, if you were a Princeton undergraduate, you would be expected to subject yourself to a capricious and superficial selection process known as Bicker in order to join an eating club and have a place to eat and socialize during your junior and senior years. The fact that the American political process was run by political machines and party operatives. The fact that the United States was drifting into a war in southeast Asia. The fact that the first tremors were being felt in what would soon become an explosive civil rights movement. A lot of lids were about to be blown off.
I was one of those freshmen in 1965. While I did not recall a word of the president’s speech until recently, while researching the life of William H. Whyte, I suspect that at the time I would have shrugged it off as rhetoric that had no application for me. I was literally still trying to find my way around campus, an environment that seemed like a foreign country to me. I wasn’t about to blow the lid off anything.
One of five kids whose parents both finished their formal education at the 12th grade, I had my heart set on Princeton since 10th grade, when a sports geek on my paper route told me about a sophomore at Princeton who was setting an NCAA record for most consecutive made free throws (Bill Bradley ’65, who hit 57 straight).
Call it the Princeton Promise: The place was big enough to include standout athletes like Bradley, literary stars like Whyte, politicos like Adlai Stevenson ’22, star architects like Robert Venturi ’47, and diplomats like George F. Kennan ’25, but it was also small enough to provide personal attention to individual students. No one got lost. And, despite all the tumult that was about to unfold, the university would ultimately deliver on the Princeton Promise to an extent that I never fully appreciated until the final term of my final year.
Even before I set off for college in September of 1965 there were glimmers of change, even visible to some us in suburban little Endwell, New York, part of the Triple Cities in the state’s southern tier. My parents, who had voted for Nixon in 1960, had converted to Kennedyism and were saddened by his assassination. Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali. A brash quarterback named Joe Namath received an outlandish bonus to sign with the New York Jets, and the seeds of a football merger and a future Super Bowl were sewn.
And several of my friends and I discovered the “protest” songs of Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. We debated which of the two were better and finally decided on Dylan. We liked his unadorned, raw, and edgy style. In July of 1965, before we went off to college, Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. We didn’t know what to think, but it was clear that the times were a changin’.
When I showed up on campus in September it was literally the first time I had set foot in town. Today I would be identified as a “first generation” college student and probably would be offered some sort of special orientation. Back then there was nothing special.
My first concern was financial. While my middle class parents may have been too cautious, it was nonetheless understandable that they — with four other kids to educate and feed — would expect me to pinch pennies at college. The guys in my hallway went in together to buy a refrigerator. Everyone pitched in, except me. I would do without cold sodas in the middle of the night, and I could save a few bucks. To ensure that I could have my afternoons and evenings free to try out for the student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, I took the oddball student jobs of going dorm to dorm on Friday nights to sell doughnuts, and then selling souvenirs at home football games on Saturday afternoons.
I was hired (at $1.50 an hour) to work the coat check at the annual Prince-Tiger dance the night before the annual game with Harvard or Yale. (Where would I ever find a date?) Along with two other freshmen, we put out a jar for tips, and reeled in a small fortune — around $100. As we were dividing the money, the senior who hired us came by, saw the cash, and snatched it up. “If you wanted to work for tips you should have said so,” he informed us. “You agreed to an hourly rate.” We meekly agreed. Freshmen still knew their place.
Every so often I trekked up to Witherspoon Street and the laundromat located about where Small World Coffee is today. Still penny pinching, I didn’t think I could afford to have my laundry picked up at my room by Blakely Cleaners. The laundry, for me, was another marker of the economic divide. A few kids from middle class backgrounds got the Blakely treatment. But all the guys from prep schools, or so it seemed to me, had Blakely at their door. (Today the Princeton dorms have their own laundry rooms, and the machines are free.)
The prep school kids, probably irrationally on my part, fueled a second area of concern in the early dawn of my college education. The prep school kids, I came to believe, had mastered the fine art of “ceptsmanship,” the process of impressing the faculty who led the “preceptorials,” the small classroom discussions promoted originally by Woodrow Wilson to complement the larger lectures. I was convinced I couldn’t say an intelligible word unless I had read and thoroughly comprehended every word of every reading assignment.
The reading load was overwhelming, especially to me, consumed by a five-day-a-week routine at the Daily Princetonian. Term papers’ due dates came and went without my submission. The low point came when the dean of the college, J. Merrill Knapp, summoned my parents to campus to discuss my lack of progress.
At some point, though, that Princeton Promise surfaced. I was sitting alone in the spartan student center, a between-class place for freshmen and sophomores who didn’t have their convivial eating clubs to hang out in, and one of my preceptors happened by (or more likely deliberately tracked me down). He joined me, asked me about a missing paper, and offered some encouragement and a deal. He would accept it late and would penalize me only by taking off some points for lateness. I managed to squeak by freshman year.
In our freshman year we sometimes seemed like a slice of the 1950s. In a move apparently intended to foster some old-fashioned class spirit and to generate some publicity, Paul G. Sittenfeld, the class president, announced that the class would enter a contestant in an annual intercollegiate elephant race in Fullerton, California. Possibly an early 1960s equivalent of goldfish swallowing, the elephant race had even attracted a team from Harvard four years earlier.
Still, Princeton? An elephant race? The other, ostensibly more sophisticated class officers vetoed the event. But a class poll showed overwhelming support and even a willingness to donate toward the $300 required to fly our classmate rider (to be chosen in a lottery) out to California and back. The issue became one of the will of the people against their elected officials. Sittenfeld and a large portion of the class were overruled. A few years later we might have had a sit-in.
As student protests against the Vietnam War mounted across the country, Princeton’s small band of left-leaning students found themselves as curio pieces held up as examples of how pervasive the student protest had become — as in so broad a movement that even Princeton, that bastion of conservatism, now had a branch of the Students for a Democratic Society. In late 1965 the Daily Princetonian reported on an anti-war “march on Washington” attended by 40,000 people including more than 30 Princeton undergraduates. They marched under a 10-foot-long, orange and black banner that proclaimed “Even Princeton.” As the Princetonian quoted one of the organizers of the Princeton SDS contingent, the banner “was very popular. People cheered and applauded.” And, the organizer added, in an aside that could only be appreciated in its fullest by the all-male readership of the undergraduate paper, “the girls wouldn’t leave us alone.”
In May of our freshman year, President Lyndon Johnson came to campus to dedicate Robertson Hall, the new headquarters of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy. Hundreds of students picketed the event. The night before the protest, marchers received phone calls telling them to dress in coats and ties. It was mainstream Princeton opposing the escalating war in Vietnam, not just some raffish, radical fringe.
But soon enough there were two cataclysmic events in my sophomore year that changed the way I viewed myself and the way I viewed Princeton. On the face of it, both events were disasters. But they both also proved to be positive transformations.
Bicker and the Clubs
Changes in the undergraduate social system at Princeton would pave the way for the biggest single change at the university in the late 1960s: coeducation.
As hard as it is to believe now, the club system in the early and mid-1960s was a bragging point for the university. The good news was that the club system wasn’t like the fraternity model. Instead of spending all your social time with the same small group of friends, Princeton upperclassmen (other than club officers) still lived in the dormitories, where they could forge other friendships having nothing to do with the clubs.
The bad news, not talked about so much, was that there was no “viable alternative” to the clubs. The upperclassmen warned sophomores that they should follow the crowd into the club. To not do so, to use the clubs’ analogy, would make you a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. With a few very expensive restaurants and several greasy spoons on Nassau Street, squirrels could have a long winter. On top of that students were not allowed to have cars. Another reality was that Princeton dorms had no kitchens, and hot plates were technically forbidden. And a quaint policy known as “parietals” forbade women in dorm rooms after 7 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.
Princeton lore was rife with complaints about the club system and Bicker, the process by which sophomores were admitted to the clubs. In 1949 about 20 percent of the sophomores bickering were left without bids, leading to a petition signed by 605 of 788 classmates demanding that all sophomores get bids. But nothing changed.
The 1958 Bicker became known nationally as the “Dirty Bicker,” one in which the majority of sophomores left without bids were Jewish. As Frank Deford, the late sportswriter and a 1962 Princeton alumnus, wrote in his 2012 memoir, “Over Time,” the New York papers made it a headline story, “and Princeton was labeled as anti-Semitic, which it could be, and certainly during Bicker.”
Geoffrey Wolff, the biographer and novelist and 1960 Princeton alumnus, was around during that “Dirty Bicker” and real-life events probably inspired his 1990 novel, “The Final Club.” His hero, whose mother was Jewish, tried to prep himself for Bicker, buying a Harris Tweed sport coat to help refine his look. He didn’t get a bid and had to rely on his wealthy roommates to get him into a club. In Wolff’s own case, the trauma might have been even more severe. After getting no bids he dropped out of college for the rest of the semester and reentered in the fall.
Goheen, just appointed president in 1957, negotiated a deal with the clubs that included the creation of a non-selective upperclass eating option known as the Woodrow Wilson Society. Other than that, nothing about Bicker changed substantially.
Nevertheless, most everyone in our class bought the club concept. As Bicker approached, I felt myself becoming ever more the glad hander and make-nice guy. During the intersession between fall and spring term, we organized ourselves in small groups that would hang out in a designated dorm room during the three or four evenings of Bicker. Club members would come by, interview you, and then go back to the club to either keep you in the running for a coveted bid, or make you another little guy holding a screw, as depicted in an iconic cartoon about Bicker published in the Prince in 1967.
I signed up with two other sophomores, who would become junior and senior year roommates. There was one problem. With that 1950s aura still lingering in the air, we needed to be dressed up in coats and ties. I needed something more preppy than what I had from Maine-Endwell High School. So I went to the least expensive clothing store on Nassau Street, Harry Ballot, and bought a new Harris Tweed. Quite preppy, or so I thought.
There was a hierarchy of clubs, with a widely accepted grouping of top, middle, and bottom-five clubs. At the very top were Ivy and Cottage, or maybe Cottage and Ivy. At the very bottom, in those days, was Key and Seal, located in one of the brick mansions farthest down Prospect Avenue. In a 1967 editorial the Princetonian described Key and Seal as “a catch-all for the casualties of Bicker,” and a club that served the elite clubs by allowing them to claim that, since everyone got into a club, Bicker couldn’t be that bad.
We had a steady stream of visitors to our room, but it did not mean there was an equal interest in all of us. As the process operated then, if a club was considering a bid to one person in the group, it had to send representatives to interview everyone in the group, even if the others had already been cut. And one of our group, a foreign student, had the right kind of cosmopolitan air to impress even the top five clubs. While those clubs interrogated him, they also engaged in small talk with the rest of us in the room. “So which would you rather be,” one clubbie asked me: “A big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?” Committed to making nice, I picked one at random.
The bids came in sealed envelopes. The foreign student got a slew of bids, including one from a top-five club. My other bicker-mate didn’t so as well, but he at least got several bids from lower-tier clubs to choose from. My envelope was pretty light as I opened it.
One bid: Key and Seal.
For a moment I must have been blown away. When I collected myself I had one immediate thought: If I sign in at Key and Seal that club name would be listed under my photo in the senior year Nassau Herald, the book that would define my Princeton career for posterity. My second thought was that maybe some clubs had dismissed me as Jewish (even though I am not). But that didn’t explain it because I knew plenty of Jewish guys (Jewish in a certain way, some would argue) in the top-tier clubs.
My final thought came after I checked out the bids that other guys got and discovered that the Bicker process had put lots of guys exactly where you would have expected. It didn’t put me anywhere, and maybe I was just not a club type, and maybe — more importantly — there was nothing wrong with that. The whole system needed to change, not just Bicker. I was mad at myself for not realizing it sooner.
The glad hander’s smile turned to the scowl that I would easily affect later for the Nassau Herald senior photo.
While I quickly resolved my own situation, no more Mr. Nice Guy for me, other people soon revealed just how deep the Bicker wounds could be.
An editor of the outgoing senior board of the Princetonian came by to offer his support. He had voted for me when my name came up at Campus Club, he said, but other guys argued that they shouldn’t waste a bid on me — I would probably go to a club “up the street,” or higher in the social hierarchy. He broke into tears as he recounted the scene. “Chrissake,” I thought, “I should be crying, not him. Maybe this Bicker outcome is worse than I thought.”
Soon after this exchange, I got a visit from John R. Alexander, not only the chairman of the Princetonian, the top job at the paper, but also a member of the prestigious Ivy Club who had just been named a Rhodes Scholar. “Don’t pay any attention to Bicker,” he told me. “Just remember that the Prince is bigger than any club.”
Given that advice, I reached out to friends on the paper, several of whom were in Colonial Club, which sometimes considered candidates who didn’t get a bid in Bicker but who got an impressive number of signatures on a petition requesting to be taken. I petitioned into the club and finally had a place to eat when I returned in the fall.
One problem remained. Bicker had determined that I wasn’t really a club guy, and confirmation of that view began to surface. At the first meal I took at Colonial Club, the officers pointed out that we used proper white cloth napkins, not paper napkins like some of the other (and presumably lesser) clubs did. The napkins were kept on rings and placed in a holder with a slot marked with our last name. At the end of the day, I figured, after three meals, the napkins would get washed and we would get clean ones. Cool. But it didn’t work that way. Our nouveau elegance only included a weekly laundering of those napkins.
Colonial, like most clubs, had a predominantly black wait staff, supervised by a black house manager, a kindly, avuncular gentleman named Griffin. In the first few days at the club I asked clubmates if Griffin was his first name or his last name. No one knew. And no one seemed to think it mattered.
Within a few weeks of privileged club membership, I was ready to quit and strike out on my own as an “independent,” a squirrel “gathering nuts for the winter” as pro-club propaganda would have it. I mentioned it to my roommates and they felt the same way. Soon the three of us were all free of the clubs and frequenting places like the Annex restaurant, in the basement at Nassau and Tulane, and Rosso’s Cafe on Spring Street, Princeton’s only integrated workingman’s bar at the time. Some of the guys hanging out there were waiters at the clubs. We got to know them by name, first and last.
I can’t say there was a cause and effect, but certainly people in our class took note of our deviation from the normal social path. Later in the fall, two classmates, Paul Sittenfeld, the class president who had lobbied for the elephant race our freshman year, and Chris Thomforde, the highly respected center on the basketball team (and future minister), approached the university administrators with an idea to turn 91 Prospect Avenue, the former location of the recently failed Court Club, into an open admission eating club.
The two undergraduates represented the extremes of the Bicker experience. Thomforde had a slew of bids and entered the prestigious Ivy Club. Sittenfeld had a Bicker path identical to mine (I only discovered recently): One bid to Key and Seal, and the petition path into Colonial. But Thomforde and Sittenfeld had come to the same conclusion about Bicker and the clubs.
Sittenfeld told Goheen he wanted to name the new club in honor of Adlai Stevenson ’22, the two-time presidential challenger to Dwight Eisenhower. Goheen said please don’t, the university was still studying how it wanted to memorialize the man, who had died in 1965. A few years earlier that argument might have swayed a college kid. But not in the late 1960s. Sittenfeld insisted on Stevenson Hall, which it is still named today.
Sittenfeld and Thomforde mined their faculty connections and got commitments from star professors (and their wives) to serve as fellows at the new eating facility, which also took over the neighboring club, Key and Seal, when it went under. Stevenson was an overnight success that broke the dominance of the private eating clubs. One year later, when it was the Class of 1970’s turn to Bicker, only about 70 percent of the class participated, as compared to 91 percent our year. More than 220 opted out of Bicker and more than 100 of them signed up for Stevenson Hall.
Bicker, which had survived its controversies of the 1940s and 1950s, and had been the subject of negative commentary in the Daily Princetonian throughout the early 1960s, finally lost its grip in the late 1960s. Today there are just 11 clubs, only six of them selective. The university has six residential colleges that feed a substantial number of students who may have never given Bicker a thought. I would never want the clubs to vanish from Princeton — they have a rich social history that dates back to the 19th century, and they are a viable option for some students today. Now they contribute to, but no longer define, the social order of Princeton’s undergraduate body.
Breaking up the club monolith was a radical change. Imagine how smoothly coeducation at Princeton would have gone if prospective women undergraduates had been told they would have no choice but to endure a personality pageant (if not an outright beauty pageant in their case) to find a place to eat during their junior and senior years.
By sophomore year, 1966-’67, I was still overwhelmed by the academic challenge at Princeton, and I was still spending 40 hours a week at the Daily Princetonian. I figured I couldn’t read every assigned novel in an English course. So I picked the easier ones and skipped the hard ones. When “Bleak House,” the 800-plus-page novel by Charles Dickens, showed up as assigned reading for one week in a particular course, I knew I would pass on it.
When the precept rolled around — on a Monday morning, as I recall — it quickly became obvious that even the prep school kids were not prepared. Ten minutes into the class, the preceptor, Albert Wertheim, called a halt to the discussion and asked each of us to tell him how much of the book we had read. The answers began at the end of the table opposite me. I would be the last one called. Answers flowed like effluent through a well pitched pipe.
“Well, sir, I read the first two chapters, skimmed through to the end, and read the last two chapters very carefully.”
Next: “I read the first three or four pages of each chapter.”
Finally the question came to me. No longer the glad-hander of my pre-Bicker days, I decided to be the first honest man in the room. “I didn’t read the book, sir.”
That was the final straw for Wertheim. “Rein, pack up your things and leave this precept.”
My jaw dropped. It was the first time in my life I had ever been kicked out of a class.
The next day brought with it another trace of the Princeton Promise. I got a postcard (no e-mail then) from Wertheim: If you show up at the precept on a Friday, [as I recall], I will consider that a fresh start on this assignment.
I took the offer. Putting the newspaper work on the back burner, I plunged into “Bleak House,” spending every waking hour reading the damn thing. I showed up at the next precept prepared — for one of the few times in my college career up to that point — and came to a surprising realization: the slick prep school guys who had seemed so polished in their presentations, in fact, were no smarter than me.
Suddenly I started getting a few decent marks. After a year and a half, I was finally ready to be a student, as well as a student journalist.
Having been hooked on journalism thanks to a summer job at the Binghamton Evening Press after I graduated from high school, I threw myself into the Daily Princetonian. I was not an instant success. When I suggested writing and reporting strategies based on what the professionals were doing, I got some sharp reprimands. “That’s not the way we do it.” If I had read Whyte’s “Organization Man” I would have seen that coming.
Fortunately I pulled back on that front and threw myself into reporting. At one point in freshman year I had seven bylined features in one month, plus who knows how much unbylined office duties and evenings working on the crew at the printing press on Chambers Street, where I endured the boot camp of Larry Dupraz (who in 1984 help me produce the first issue of U.S. 1).
When the sports beats were handed out in the late fall of our sophomore year, I didn’t get the coveted basketball beat, a big deal with memories of Bill Bradley still so fresh. Instead I got hockey, and I covertly introduced a form of coverage that was outside the Daily Princetonian’s style. While the reporters covering other sports dutifully filled their copy with predictable post-game comments from the head coach, I decided that the more interesting comments would come from the players themselves. The hockey coach was a battle-tested veteran of the NHL, Johnny Wilson, a man with no Ivy League pretensions. He had no problem with me chatting up the players after the game. “From where I’m sitting on the bench I don’t know what’s going on,” he said (as I recall it now). “Ask the players.”
I recently re-read those articles. The players were informative, candid, and colorful. I hardly bothered the coach again.
In the spring term of sophomore year, the Prince senior board assigned news beats. Once again the coveted beat, covering Nassau Hall and President Goheen, went to someone else, Bob Durkee. When the senior board suggested some lesser beat to me — it might have been reporting on the dean of students — I countered with another idea. Make me a general assignment reporter, basically covering any stories that fell outside the normal beat assignments. It was a novel approach, but the chairman and his managing editor liked the idea.
In October, 1967, the general assignment beat became important. We received word at the newspaper that a group of anti-war protesters had organized a sit-in at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), which operated independently of the university, but which did top-secret work for the Defense Department. While IDA rented its building from the university (and while some of its staff enjoyed positions in academic departments such as mathematics), its building on Prospect Avenue, near where Bowen Hall is now, was not technically part of the campus. When the confrontation got physical, the police were called. I was on the scene, hanging out near President Goheen.
As the police swooped in, I heard Goheen mutter, “this isn’t Princeton.”
My lead in the next day’s paper:
“A spectacular and tradition-shattering attempt by the Princeton SDS to thwart the activities of the Institute for Defense Analyses led to a showdown yesterday between the student protesters and the borough police. Police prevailed. The demonstrators, some of whom had been blocking the entrance to the IDA since 7:30 a.m. yesterday, were arrested en masse at 1:58 p.m. Thirty-one of them were transported to police headquarters for booking. All but 11 had to be pushed, dragged, and in some cases literally thrown into the bus which transported them there.”
Later in the piece I quoted Goheen’s “this isn’t Princeton” observation. That phrase became as resonant as the “even Princeton” phrase of just a year or two earlier. Lots of people took it as a statement by a frustrated administrator who couldn’t keep up with the changing times. I never did. It could have been an expression of the reality that the IDA was not part of Princeton University. More likely, it was a statement that this was not the way Princeton handled disagreements. Only a year and a half earlier, after all, students had put on coats and ties to protest the Lyndon Johnson visit. And nine years before that Goheen had worked with the clubs to resolve the crisis of Dirty Bicker.
But within seven months Goheen had initiated a major overhaul of the university’s governing process, with students involved in every phase, including the setting of budget priorities.
In the fall of 1967, we juniors were jockeying for positions on the next senior board of the Prince. In the Prince’s way of doing things, the favorite for chairman was almost always the guy who had the most prestigious beats leading up to the election in December, the guy who covered the president’s office, the football team, and the basketball team. But not always.
As I recall about six of us juniors ran for chairman in the election, held on a Friday afternoon and evening in December, 1967. Bob Durkee not only had covered all the prestigious beats, but he had also scored an impressive scoop in the spring of 1967 by getting President Goheen to admit that coeducation was inevitable. In that same year Durkee wrote an article titled “A new era for the Negro at Princeton?” that later won a national award. By all conventional Daily Princetonian logic and tradition, Durkee was the heavy favorite. In my mind two or three of us may have had a very slim chance.
At least one and possibly two votes were taken that eliminated candidates but did not yield a final winner. As the also-rans were summoned back to the office, three or four of us remained in a nearby dorm room. One of the other finalists asked Durkee whom he would appoint to the other board positions if he won. Durkee went down the line, and then asked the other guy whom he would pick for what position if he won. As they went through their lists, I thought about who my choices would be, and got ready to present them. But my chance never came — the others never asked me. I knew I was a very long shot.
Eventually the outgoing chairman and his managing editor came over to the dorm room and made the announcement: “Congratulations, Rein, you’re the new chairman.”
As I soon found out, the sentiment of the voters was that the Princetonian had to change with the times. At a time when the eating clubs and Bicker were still contentious issues, my status as an independent rather than a club member helped my candidacy. The Prince election tradition, like other conventions, did not hold during the tumultuous 1960s.
The first semester of our term in office, spring of 1968, could not have been a wilder ride.
Early in our first semester as editors, we took on what became some favorite bete noires: Cannon Club, the eating club that made one think of “Animal House,” and the parietal rules, governing when women were and were not allowed in dorm rooms (still 7 p.m. on weeknights, midnight on weekends).
We considered Bicker and the clubs matters of serious concern. I created a schism on my board when I re-assigned an editorial page editor who ran to be class officer. I thought that was an apparent, if not actual, conflict of interest. I made him a special projects editor instead. The opposing faction on our board appealed to the Prince trustees to reverse my decision. I was summoned by Edmund S. DeLong, Class of 1922, and Norvell B. (Red) Samuels, Class of 1924, to discuss the matter at the Nassau Club. It was the cocktail hour and they asked me to join them for a drink. Of course. By the second round the insurrection was over. It was a 1960s controversy, resolved with 1950s diplomacy.
By March national politics were beginning to seep into our pages. We put Eugene McCarthy’s strong showing against Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire presidential primary on the front page, and within a week were also reporting on a Students for Kennedy group. While we were on spring break, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection as president.
Our edition for Friday, April 5, was a carefully planned issue previewing an upcoming trustees meeting in which our call for the abolition of parietal rules might be considered. At a time when the Prince was still being composed on Linotype machines with pages assembled by hand, remaking the front page was difficult. But somehow the lower right corner of page one was carved out with a report on the assassination of Martin Luther King.
The next Monday’s paper announced that classes were cancelled on Tuesday to permit a day of meetings and discussions, many of them led by the Association of Black Collegians (ABC). As luck would have it, I had left campus over the weekend to visit a friend at Cornell. That left Bob Durkee, the second in command, to handle a contingent of ABC members demanding various items be included in the next day’s paper. I’m not sure how the negotiations unfolded, but the next morning’s front page was a healthy mix of statements from the ABC and from President Goheen, along with our own staff reporting. On the editorial page we even had room for a letter from a conservative student critical of the ABC’s rhetoric.
I have thought later that Durkee, who is retiring this year after 45 years as a top aide to four different Princeton University presidents, may have gotten his first trial coping with college crises in that moment. There was certainly no Prince — or Princeton — tradition for handling an event such as the King assassination.
Two days later the director of admission announced that the number of blacks admitted to the freshman class had tripled. A few days after that the first black student was elected to be president of a Princeton class.
The King aftermath quickly gave way to a coverage of the student takeover at Columbia University, where the Prince had two reporters on the scene, including one dictating his stories by phone from the desk of the Columbia president, Grayson Kirk. A few days later we were reporting on a throng of 1,000 to 1,500 students on the front lawn of Nassau Hall, a protest that ended without any occupation of Goheen’s office.
As we closed out our first semester in office, our senior board endorsed Gene McCarthy over the latecomer, Bobby Kennedy, for the Democratic nomination in Chicago in August. I went home to get some sleep before I would have to produce the Reunions issue of the Princetonian. Stocked with old standby features that would fill the space and please the old farts and the advertisers, the issue was so predictable I would be able to put it out singlehandedly. All the the other Prince staffers had left for summer jobs. At around 4 in the morning my father awakened me. “Bobby Kennedy’s been shot.”
I hustled back to Princeton, and produced a 16-page special Reunions issue. As I was wrapping it up the phone rang at our office at 48 University Place. It was Bobby Kennedy’s campaign office. Ethel Kennedy wanted to make sure college journalists were at the funeral at St. Patrick’s and on the train to Washington and Arlington Memorial Cemetery. I went on a ride I will never forget.
And a few days after that I headed off to my summer job, in the Chicago bureau of Time magazine. It was one more chance to witness some history in the making.
With my 20-20 hindsight, 50 years in the making, I can say that sometimes we called out institutions and individuals with the best of reasoned opinion behind us. We attacked one of the eating clubs, Cannon Club, for bullying and lewd behavior. Our indictment was pretty harsh, and some Cannon members objected, saying it was only a few guys in the club who were out of control. I responded in a column arguing that the behavior was unacceptable, even if only one person was responsible.
Another instance involved the annual undergraduate music revue, Triangle. As tradition dictated, the chairman of the Princetonian reviewed the show on opening night, dashed off a notice for the next morning’s paper, and that same night, the president of the Triangle Club came by the printing press, got a copy hot off the press, and ran it back the opening night cast party to read it aloud.
But this being 1968, I dared to be different. My review, while mostly positive, took an oblique approach. That year’s production, called “A Different Kick,” made its own promise to break with tradition (this was 1968). Maybe so, I wrote, but if you thought Triangle was going to lose all the classic elements that made it so loveable, not to worry. They were still there. Nice, but not exactly a rave. The headline made the review sound more negative than it was: “Different Kick, same Triangle: Tradition overshadows creativity.” The Triangle president, Granville Burgess, has never let me forget it.
On other occasions, we voiced outrage partly for the sake of being outrageous. Our December 4, 1968, editorial proclaiming that Goheen was “not fit to be president of Princeton today” was a case in point. That editorial sparked a rebuttal in the next day’s paper written by Bob Durkee.
Thinking back to our freshman week, and Robert Goheen’s call for us to challenge the status quo, causes me to rethink my opinion of the man. The son of a Presbyterian missionary in India, an all-around star with the Class of 1940, and perennially decked out in bowties and tweeds, Goheen could easily be seen as a bulwark against the changes affecting higher education in general.
But in fact, Goheen had either challenged, or quietly facilitated the challenges to, various elements of Princeton’s status quo as it existed in the fall of 1965. A classmate of mine, Jim Floyd, recently came up with a list of changes that were initiated under Goheen’s tenure as president. I have already mentioned several and here are some more that happened from 1965 to 1969:
An increase in the percentage of public school students; pass-fail courses; the hiring of the first woman faculty member and the first black administrator; and the addition of young alumni to the trustees. The first one chosen was Brent Henry, one of the dozen or so black students in our class who eventually became a vice chairman of the board. And the biggest change of all: Coeducation.
No change at Princeton was more hotly debated than coeducation. (It was later the subject of a book, “Keep the Damn Women Out,” by Nancy Weiss Malkiel, and the era has been chronicled in an exhibit now on view at the Mudd Library.) Goheen had foreshadowed the events of 1969 in his interview with Durkee in 1967. I suspect that Goheen’s words were chosen carefully. “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.”
His comment provoked a fusillade of angry comments from alumni, and some concern from trustees. But Goheen, this still being 1967, with a touch of the 1950s still lingering in the air, had to keep playing the role of the keeper of traditions. A month later, addressing the graduating Class of 1967, Goheen gave some fatherly advice to the new graduates. “One word of caution — as one alumnus to another. You must exercise extreme cunning in introducing your wife to the mystique of Princeton alumni enthusiasm. The days of your life will be far happier if — early in your marriage — you perform an adequate ‘snow job’ for Princeton. If you don’t do this, you may even find yourself tramping about her campus, when you might be here.”
That was 1967, and a touch of the 1950s was still in the air.
But in 1968, the race to become coeducational was on. In November of 1968 Yale had announced that it would admit women in the fall of 1969. While Goheen and other administrators were appeasing alarmed alumni by saying their views would be strongly considered, the inevitable part of Goheen’s 1967 interview loomed large.
By the Christmas-New Year break in the academic calendar, I was nearing the end of my run as Daily Princetonian chairman. Back home for the break, I was invited by the Princeton Club of Binghamton to be the speaker at the annual holiday luncheon.
After a cocktail or two with the alumni, I took the podium and emphasized the impending arrival of coeducation, probably sooner rather than later, I reported. As I was speaking, I heard grumblings from one of the “old Guard” in the audience, Tom Wilson, Class of 1913, who had been a mayor of Binghamton. Now he was approaching 80 and a retired banker. As I made the case for coeducation’s inevitability Wilson’s protestations grew louder.
Finally he shouted out: “So where are they going to put the home for unwed mothers?”
I didn’t skip a beat. “On the other side of Lake Carnegie, Tom. It’s already under construction.”
With ample holiday cheer surging through both of our bloodstreams, Wilson rose to challenge me: “Do you believe in America, do you believe in God, and do you believe in Princeton?” — a question posed in inverse order of importance to him, or so I thought.
Before I had a chance to launch a vitriolic response, we combatants were interrupted by Tom’s nephew, Nick Wilson, Class of 1951 (and now living back in Princeton and faithfully reading U.S. 1). Nick adroitly defused the situation – an act for which I have been forever grateful. The hostile exchange, nonetheless, may provide some sense of what Goheen was navigating in those days.
I continued to foment disruptive events at the Daily Princetonian through the end of our term. We circumvented our normal staff recruitment process to accept one of the women in the Critical Languages program onto our staff. A few of us encouraged a sophomore to run for the next year’s chairman, instead of a junior as tradition dictated. That attack on convention ended when the sophomore had a change of heart.
As we were wrapping up our time as editors, a story broke that caused us to print a special Saturday edition. The football coach, Dick Colman, had resigned to become athletic director at Middlebury College. Colman, a Quaker, openly opposed the Vietnam War. But in the late 1960s, that didn’t guarantee a free pass. In the resignation issue, we reported on charges of racism against him by several black players on the team.
Even our senior banquet broke a few traditions. We gave the annual Daily Princetonian award, usually awarded to some big man on campus, to Don Hazen, a football player who had quit the team in his senior year to work at an anti-poverty program in Harlem.
The Prince banquet had always been a men-only affair — the undergraduates and their fathers. We already had added a woman to our staff, a Critical Language student who was fast tracked through our staff selection process. She was invited. Then the girlfriend of one of my non-Princetonian friends heard that our speaker would be the author George Plimpton. She was a huge fan. Could she come? In 1969, why not?
The Prince’s discordant approach did not always resonate positively. At the annual Alumni Day in February of 1969, President Goheen’s address characterized our board as “fuming zealots,” who were “not a little crusty and perversely ill-tempered.”
At some point in the spring semester I visited with my successor, Stan Pieringer ’70, who had held all the beats on the traditional “chairman-track.” We reflected on the Princetonian as an institution. “Rich,” said Pieringer, in his slow Texas drawl, “you were the worst chairman the Prince has ever had.”
My respect for Pieringer immediately grew — he had an opinion and he wasn’t afraid to voice it.
Late in the spring term the senior class poll was released. It was filled with categories of bests, worsts, and thinks he is. The best newspaper: New Yok Times. Worst: The Prince. I would have been disappointed if it had been any other.
The Promise of Princeton materialized one more time for me. In the spring of senior year I handed over the chairman’s whip to my successor, and then turned my attention to the dreaded senior thesis. My advisor was the chairman of the no-nonsense English department, A. Walton Litz, also a Princeton alumnus and a Rhodes Scholar. In another example of Princeton being big enough to have a star or two, but small enough so that no one got lost (not even the struggling English major), I made a deal with Litz. I would try to crank out one chapter of my thesis each week, and I would turn it in to him Monday morning as he walked from his home up McCosh Walk and past my room in Little Hall. In return he would critique each chapter, giving me suggestions for rewrites.
English department theses weren’t supposed to blather on. Mine was projected to be just four chapters, about 80 typewritten pages. On the fourth Monday I turned in the last chapter and realized I still had three weeks until the deadline. I — the ne’er do well student who had almost never turned anything in on time — was about to have the biggest academic project of all completed early. On McCosh Walk, I asked Litz if I had missed something. It couldn’t be this easy.
“Mr. Rein,” he said. “That’s the dirty little secret of academe. It really is easy. But some people make it look hard.” (Or, I thought, some people like Litz make it look easy even when it is hard.)
When the theses were returned, with critical commentary and the final grade sealed in an envelope, most of the English seniors gathered at the Annex, the basement bar across the street from the library. Once everyone had beers in hand, we began to compare grades. It soon became clear that only a few guys had received grades at the upper end of the scale. But then I spoke up: I also had received one of the top grades. The group broke into laughter. Good joke, Rein, what did you really get?
I repeated the grade. They didn’t believe it and made me produce the professor’s critique. It was an envelope that I happily opened.
As we were leaving campus, the university was preparing for the first wave of women students. The university also launched an orientation program for low-income, first-generation college students — something I could have used.
Weeks after graduation in 1969, nearly half a million young people gathered for the Woodstock Festival. It seemed like the age of aquarius would last forever. But by the next May, 1970, an anti-war demonstration at Kent State in Ohio resulted in the fatal shooting of four undergraduates by the National Guard. As the one-year anniversary approached, I was working for Time magazine in Chicago. I suggested to the bureau chief that we send a reporter to the campus to cover what I thought could be some newsworthy protests. Forget it, he said, you won’t hear a peep from any Kent State kids.
He was right. The killings of four classmates took a lot of wind out of the protest sails. A year later Nixon scored one of the biggest landslides in presidential history.
I returned to Princeton in 1972 for a one-semester gig. I ended up staying and going to a lot of Reunions and class functions. Whether or not it was caused by our common passage through such turbulent times, our class seems more cohesive than I would have imagined in 1969. I’ve made many new friends from the class, and I have no idea what club they were in.
As I move into my encore career, writing about urbanism and working on a biography of William H. Whyte, I have become associated with Princeton Future, a non-profit that tries to engage residents and its elected and appointed officials in addressing critical planning issues. It appeals to people frustrated by the status quo who want to exercise the skepticism, questioning, and curiosity recommended by Whyte in that quotation from the opening ceremonies in 1965. Princeton Future was co-founded, incidentally, by the college president who quoted Whyte and who would call me out later for being “perversely ill-tempered,” but in the spirit of the ’60s would still tolerate me. Thank you, Bob Goheen.
Reunions at Princeton are more than beer and bands. Among many forums and panels, Jon Taplin, Class of 1969, and Professor Nigel Smith will present “The Times They Are A-Changin’: Bob Dylan 1964-1974” on Thursday, May 30, at 3 p.m. in McCosh 10.
Given the role of the Princeton eating clubs in the tumultuous 1960s, readers might be interested in a discussion on the origins and “architectural grandeur” of the clubs by Clifford Zink, author of “The Princeton Eating Clubs,” on Friday, May 31, at 10:30 a.m. at Lewis Thomas Laboratory, Room 003.
Frances Arnold ’79, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry, will be among the panelists speaking on “New Frontiers in Science and Technology” Saturday, June 1, at 8:45 a.m. in Alexander Hall.
“Ethics, Faith, and the Business of Football in the NFL” will be led by Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett ’89 on Saturday, June 1, at 10:30 a.m. at 185 Nassau Street, Room 110.
The annual P-Rade begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday. For a complete schedule visit reunions.princeton.edu.