Last week I tried to tell you how difficult it was — 30 years ago — for Princeton University to deal with the criticism launched by some conservative alumni, whose forces were joined very briefly by a conservative-minded member of the Class of 1972, now a potential Supreme Court justice, Sam Alito.
A few days ago some of that lingering liberal resentment flared up in a column in the Daily Princetonian, submitted by guest columnist Stephen R. Dujack, Princeton ‘76, who wrote critically about the Concerned Alumni of Princeton when he was an associate editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly from 1976 to 1980. Here’s Dujack’s most recent salvo:
“Almost 20 years ago, the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) collapsed like a modern House of Usher, so rotten from within from its own deceptions and peculiar madness that it could no longer sustain its own weight. For Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito ‘72, the reappearance of CAP in the national press last week because he included it on that now infamous 1985 job application must have been as shocking as the reappearance of Roderick Usher’s dead twin sister in Poe’s famous story.”
“Judge Alito will have to explain to the Senate Judiciary Committee why he paid dues to an outfit whose modus operandi was deceit and dirty tricks. He will have to explain how he permitted himself to belong to an organization that was overtly racist and sexist for its entire 14-year existence — at times passionately so, too.”
Dujack’s list of dirty tricks includes an attempt to “disrupt” Annual Giving by writing to alumni and urging them to withhold contributions and a 1979 report charging that Princeton’s athletic program was “the laughingstock” of the Ivy League when in fact Princeton had the best record in the Ivy League.
The idea that there could be two sides to a story never seemed possible for some thin-skinned liberal defenders of Old Nassau. Princeton’s administration bombards alumni with propaganda many times a year. Why shouldn’t someone send some opposing views now and then? As for athletics in 1979, if you counted fencing and field hockey, water polo and volleyball, Princeton was no doubt an Ivy League juggernaut. What the concerned alumni were concerned about was football. The fact is that Princeton football since coeducation has never been as successful as it was before coeducation, for whatever reason.
No doubt about it, the Concerned Alumni made lots of tactical errors in their battle against the administration. The New York Times, exploring the Alito connection in a story on Sunday, November 27, recounts a particularly nasty piece of advocacy that involved a freshman’s sexual relations and her family problems. But can this stopped clock ever be right?
Dujack says no. “In 2005 we know that in 1985 Alito belonged to a group that was dedicated to pointlessly interfering with the functioning of a university because its student body had representative numbers of women and minorities, as required by law. . . A lot of people were hurt in the process. A great university was damaged.”
Pointless? You might not agree with any of them, but this group always had more points than a porcupine. If Sam Alito today is worried about the erosion of the Constitution, as we can suspect he might be, then the Concerned Alumni of 30 years ago were worried about the erosion of the traditional liberal arts curriculum and the decline of religious values among the university community. Among the heroes of the young conservatives who put out Prospect magazine 30 years ago was William A. Rusher, a 1944 Princeton alumnus, publisher of Bill Buckley’s National Review, and member of the Concerned Alumni board.
Googling through “Concerned Alumni of Princeton” brings up Rusher’s name right away — his papers at the Library of Congress are said to include the records of the Concerned Alumni. Some liberal watchdog groups want to extract the papers for intellectual forensic analysis. And this same Google thread leads to this snippet, which sounds so much like the lofty rhetoric of those idealistic conservatives from 30 years ago:
“What conditions are necessary to sustain America’s experiment in ordered liberty? What is the proper relationship between government and civil society? What influence, if any, ought religion to have in public life? Are there objective principles of justice or other moral standards by which the decisions of public officials and citizens alike can be evaluated? What structures of government are most conducive to promoting the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence?
“In addressing these concerns, students and faculty . . . consider the contributions of thinkers who shaped the understanding that fed the American founding and continue to shape the American civic idea. Among these are Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, More, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, Sidney, and Locke, [and] Tocqueville, Churchill, and Solzhenitsyn.”
Hey, this isn’t Princeton, I thought at first. But then I realized that this rhetoric isn’t from the “pointless” conservatives of 30 years ago but rather from Princeton University of today, specifically from an academic program called the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions in the politics department. The Madison program, founded in 2000 and directed by professor Robert P. George, sponsors research and teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
And Princeton is hosting a three-day conference beginning Thursday, December 1, dedicated to “The Conservative Movement — Its Past, Present, and Future.” The conference will bring to town such conservative luminaries as George Will, William J. Bennett, Midge Decter, David Brooks, and — get this — William Rusher himself (now an octogenarian and a fellow at the Claremont Institute in California) appearing on the opening panel.
What the hell’s going on at Princeton? Rusher’s getting a hero’s welcome on campus. Ben Bernanke’s gone to help Bush (!) in Washington. Next time Annual Giving comes around, maybe the liberals can get together and send back some checks with all zeros. All’s fair in love and university politics.