Class Notes - September 10, 1998
CLASS NOTES FEATURES
Presidents bring pomp to P-rade
At their 45th reunion last June, five elegant gents pose for the Class of 1952's group photo. In keeping with the class's 250th Anniversary theme, the quintet dressed as Princeton presidents, broadly defined. From left: Bruce Coe (Woodrow Wilson 1879), Bill Murdoch (James McCosh), Don Malehorn (James Madison 1771), George Aman (George Washington, a Princeton parent), and Joe Bolster (John Witherspoon). Not shown is Bob Lamperti, who sans costume took the role of Harold Shapiro *64, an honorary classmate. The presidential impersonators garnered 1952 the Class of 1945 Banner for best presentation in the P-rade, an honor it shared with the Class of 1967.
A museum and a man
Micky Wolfson '63's eclectic collection that cost millions
What would you do if you had $84 million to spend? Travel the world and buy everything that interested you? Renovate a building in your hometown to display those items? Name that building after yourself, and hope it becomes an important institution? Get bored, or tired, or just low on funds, and withdraw your financial support?
Mitchell "Micky" Wolfson Jr. '63's whims, interests, and obsessions intersect nicely, if quirkily, in the heart of Miami's South Beach, at the Wolfsonian, a cultural institution, research center, and museum dedicated to European and American art and design from 1885 to 1945. The Wolfsonian's collection consists of more than 100,000 objects, including sculpture, paintings, furniture, ceramics, household appliances, and rare books that Wolfson collected over the last three decades, spending millions on acquisitions.
"I'm a born collector," Wolfson says. "It's an instinct. Whatever I could reach from the crib, I collected."
That instinct was later focused and honed, in part through his education at Princeton, where he studied art history and European civilization, and then at Johns Hopkins, where he attended the School of Advanced International Studies before working in the foreign service. "Princeton got me on my way, and I became interested in the relationship between art and power," he says.
Faith, optimism, a vision, and money are needed to create a cultural institution. To build an intellectual monument to the arts in the middle of South Beach--home to bikini-clad roller-bladers, hordes of club-goers intent on seeing and being seen, and throngs of tourists looking relentlessly for action--well, that takes blind faith and enormous optimism. So far, it's working, although not exactly as originally planned.
The Wolfsonian opened its doors in November 1995, after eight years of preparation. It's housed in a former storage center that, after a $12-million infusion, is an opulent, state-of-the-art edifice comprising galleries, a library, storage space, staff offices, an auditorium, and a gift shop. The institution's goal is to examine the meaning of the objects produced during the late 19th through mid-20th centuries. The objects in the Wolfsonian's holdings range from stunning to bizarre to ominous-items include an oak cabinet designed by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which Wolfson purchased for $300,000, an extensive matchbook collection assembled by Egypt's King Farouk, a coffeepot shaped like an airplane, and Mein Kampf in Braille. "It's not art for art's sake, but art as a function of ideas," Wolfson explains.
The Wolfsonian's opening exhibition was titled "The Arts of Reform and Persuasion, 1885-1945," a collection of 258 pieces that reflected the social, technological, and aesthetic issues of design in the industrial age. The exhibit, now on tour, and the institution itself, garnered considerable and favorable attention from the art world.
However, by the summer of 1996, as a cost-cutting measure, the museum had laid off half its staff and closed for a month; the founding director's contract was not renewed. Even before the opening, Wolfson had announced that he would not continue to be the Wolfsonian's sole financial support. He reduced his financial involvement to 25 percent of the operating costs for 1996, and did not support it at all in 1997.
"You support the child until it can support itself," Wolfson says. "Sometimes you have to nudge the child out." Like many children, this child will be going to a university. Florida International University (FIU) is acquiring the Wolfsonian after extensive negotiations and will be responsible for the financial health of the institution, now valued at $70 million. According to the Miami Herald, "this will be the largest gift to the Florida university system ever." Wolfson is pleased the museum will be affiliated with a university. "It is evolving in the right direction as a public resource," he says. "I never intended to hold on to the collection. I'm an intermediary; I always knew that was my role."
--Andrea Gollin '88
For Doug Racine, it's Jeeps and politics
As a Daily Princetonian photographer during the Vietnam era, Douglas A. Racine '74 challenged authority--and the police--by sneaking into the Institute for Defense Analyses to record the student protests there. A quarter-century later, Racine is authority, at least in the famously liberal state of Vermont. Last November, with five terms in the state senate under his belt, Racine, a Democrat, was elected lieutenant governor.
Racine, the son of a car dealer, grew up in Burlington, Vermont's biggest city. A politics major at Princeton, Racine was thinking about heading to law school when he got caught up in Patrick Leahy's first run for Senate in 1974. When Leahy won--as the first and only Democratic Senator ever to represent Vermont--he asked Racine to join his staff in Washington. Racine never looked back. After serving in the state senate, he decided in 1994 to run for lieutenant governor, a position mainly charged with presiding over the senate. He lost that race but ran again in 1996 and won.
As a liberal, Racine ranks himself somewhere in the middle of Vermont's ideological extremes. To his right is Governor Howard Dean, who despite being a Democrat is rated by the libertarian Cato Institute as more fiscally conservative than 25 Republican governors. To Racine's left is Vermont's only congressman, former Burlington mayor Bernie Sanders. The equally popular Sanders--who's a "progressive" independent, not a Democrat--is Congress's only socialist.
"The governor is fond of saying, 'Doug's more liberal than I am,' and I'm fond of saying that the governor is more conservative than I am," Racine says. "We're perceived as allies, but there are times when we've parted ways and gone off on our own. Since he's been in office, he's made clear that any legislation that includes an income tax increase would be met with a veto. I don't have the same antipathy to an income tax increase, but at the same time I don't go out and make a big deal of it. I approach politics from a very pragmatic point of view."
Even after entering politics, Racine continued to run Willie Racine's Jeep/Eagle in South Burlington; indeed, that's the title he lists in Princeton's alumni directory, and it's not just a pitch for modesty. Old-fashioned Vermont--whose capital city, Montpelier, is the nation's smallest--mandates that most of its politicians remain strictly part-time. (Racine gets about $36,000 a year for a job that occupies the bulk of his time from January to May or June, and then only sporadically afterwards.)
Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire are the only states that put their governors (and lieutenant governors) up for reelection every two years. "It keeps us close to our constituents," Racine says. "Voters like the two-year terms-they can throw the bums out if they don't like them."
Racine, who is single, childless, and a resident of Richmond, halfway between Burlington and Montpelier, says that in retrospect he would have enjoyed Princeton more if he'd had less of "an attitude." He recalls that he sympathized with the IDA protesters he was photographing, but didn't exactly join their crusade. A perfect hedge, some would suggest, for a future politician.
--Louis Jacobson '92
(Lou Jacobson writes about politics and policy for National Journal magazine.)
A visit with... Robert Ahdieh '94 on Russia and its legal culture
Robert B. Ahdieh '94 is author of Russia's Constitutional Revolution: Legal Consciousness and the Transition to Democracy, 1985-1996 (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997). Ahdieh, a Woodrow Wilson School major, also earned a certificate in the Program in Russian Studies. He received his J.D. this spring from Yale Law School. He was, and continues to be, active in the Baha'i Faith, a religion he shares with six million people throughout the world.
Q. How did you become interested in Russia?
A. I was admitted with the Class of 1993, but chose to spend a pre-Princeton year of service volunteering at the Baha'i World Center in Israel. At the end of that period, I spent three months traveling in the USSR, meeting Russians and sharing the Baha'i message. That trip to Russia gave me a love of the country and the people, and hence, my academic focus. At Princeton, I learned as much about Russia as I could. My book began as my senior thesis.
Q. While noting recent democratic reforms, you observe that Russia has failed to create a constitutional order. Why is this so?
A. Because Russia lacks what I call "legal consciousness"-a legal culture that supports legal institutions. Russia used Western democracy as a guide, but you can't simply impose such institutions as the presidency, a parliament, democratic elections, and national courts without grounding them in the society. People have to understand the institutions, trust them, believe they are important. Changes in constitutional structures can be effective only in tandem with efforts to redress weaknesses in the legal culture.
Q. Can you give an example?
A. The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, established in 1991 to pronounce on constitutional matters, collapsed in 1993. Money was poured into the Court that would have been better spent on increasing the prestige of lower courts. People need to know on a very local level that if they have a dispute, they can take it to a forum where it will be fairly adjudicated. Absent grass roots respect for the law, a national court cannot accomplish very much.
Q. What enabled you to make observations and draw conclusions about Russian institutions?
A. Since my first visit in 1990, I've spent a total of about a year and a half in Russia. The most important element of the book is approximately 150 interviews I conducted in Russia-with all kinds of people, from cab drivers to Gorbachev, to get a sense of their perspective on the place of law in their society.
Q. You spoke with a number of high ranking government officials. How did you manage that?
A. Persistence. If Mr. X wasn't available, I'd ask "Is he free tomorrow? Or perhaps the next day?" I'd just keep trying. Russians are warmhearted, and eventually most people said, "Yes." Also, I'd speak to low level bureaucrats, then their bosses, and work my way up to agency heads.
Q. And Gorbachev?
A. Gorbachev was speaking at the University of Pennsylvania in early 1993. I knew his assistant, Pavel Palazchenko, so I asked all the security people, as if it were an urgent matter, "Have you seen Pavel? Where's Pavel?" They let me through. When I saw Gorbachev, I said, "President Gorbachev, I'm Robert Ahdieh, a student at Princeton University, and I'd really like to work at the Gorbachev Foundation," which is his think-tank in Moscow. I faxed him a résumé, and I worked there during the summer before senior year.
Q. At Princeton you were a spokesperson for the Baha'i Faith. Is the Faith still an important part of your life?
A. It is my life. Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), who founded the Baha'i Faith in Persia, said, "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." We work for world peace, but don't beat people over the head with a book. I think part of my interest in law stems from its commonalities with religion. Both create and regulate social relations. At Yale, I've focused on international law, through which I hope I can better serve the cause of world peace.
Q. Plans for the immediate future?
A. I'll be clerking for a Federal Appeals Court judge in California for a year. Then I hope to teach at a law school.