On the Campus
March 7, 2007:
By Christian R. Burset ’07
How does one salute a bishop-elect? Like a cowboy.
On Jan. 21, Dean of Religious Life Thomas Breidenthal led his
final service at the University Chapel before leaving Princeton
to become bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of Southern Ohio. After
organist Eric Plutz finished the traditional postlude, he led the
congregation in a song of farewell to the outgoing dean: “Happy
trails to you, until we meet again…”
“I believe Dean Breidenthal’s efforts toward building
up this chapel and its congregation have been recognized by the
Lord,” Ephraim Chen ’09 had told the congregation earlier.
Breidenthal, who became dean in January 2002, attracted praise
for incorporating religious dialogue into many aspects of campus
Other students, however, criticized the dean for embracing an
excessively liberal theology and for trying to expand the Office
of Religious Life’s mission beyond strictly faith-based discussions.
The Princeton Tory, for instance, lambasted the ORL’s
association with the “dubiously religious LGBT Center”
and what it called “a sustained liberal tendency” in
the Religious Life Council, which it said waged “a relentless
propaganda war” against the Iraq war.
Nene Kalu ’07, a member of the Religious Life Council who
took a course with Breidenthal, praised Breidenthal’s “attitude
of true inclusiveness,” which she said fostered interfaith
dialogue while encouraging students to engage deeply with their
beliefs. “It’s going to be very hard to replace him,”
Bringing people together, Breidenthal said, was the hallmark of
his tenure at Princeton. He said his most important accomplishment
was encouraging the campus chaplains to work together as a single
His efforts toward inclusiveness were sometimes challenged and
sometimes enhanced by Princeton’s mix of religiosity and secularism.
“It can be a very creative tension,” Breidenthal said.
“Much of the secularism at Princeton is grounded in a passion
for things which religious people are also passionate about.”
Though he said his office has made great progress in giving religion
a broader role in campus life, Breidenthal worried that recent gains
might be reversed if the “creative tension” between
religiosity and secularism turns into an unfriendly opposition.
“The challenge for my successor will be … not to allow
[intolerantly secular] forces in the University to … push
religion further to the edge” of campus life, he said.
PRINCETONIANS put a lot of heft behind the honor
code. Two truckloads worth of food, to be precise.
As students hunkered down for finals in January, the Undergraduate
Honor Committee hosted a study break to publicize the honor code
and let students meet the people who administer it. To boost attendance,
the committee ordered hundreds of pounds of food and drink, including
90 cases of Honest Tea and enough Wendy’s hamburgers to feed
a thousand study-stunned students.
“We always feel that it’s good to give people as many
chances as possible to interact with the Honor Committee,”
said Jim Williamson ’07, senior class president and Honor
Committee chairman. “We don’t want to seem so distant
that people don’t ask questions.”
Though most students admitted they only came for the food —
a line started forming 15 minutes before the study break started
— many said they took pride in Princeton’s honor system.
“One of the things I tell my tours makes Princeton great
is that students trust each other enough to proctor their own exams,”
said Joe Zipkin ’07, an Orange Key guide.
The Honor Committee consists of nine students and three alternates
members. It’s entirely student-run, though a representative
from the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students serves as
Serving on the committee is “a way of feeling very connected
to Princeton,” Williamson said, though the service can be
taxing. “Absolutely no one enjoys that moment when we’ve
exhausted every possible way to find a student not guilty,”
Princeton undergraduates have abided by the honor code since 1893,
but the committee is “constantly working to make changes that
improve the process” of enforcement, said committee clerk
Bennett Glassman ’08. Last year, for instance, the committee
changed its constitution, so that the position of clerk –
who automatically becomes chair – is selected from all sophomore
members, rather than automatically filled by the sophomore class
Williamson, struggling to balance several boxes of four-cornered
cheeseburgers, said the honor system was one of Princeton’s
most important aspects.
“Twenty years from now, it’s not going to matter as
much whether I knew what this molecule looked like,” he said.
“But whether I knew how to do my own work, and how to conduct
myself honorably — that will matter.”
Burset ’07 is a history major from Bernardsville, N.J.
Photo by Hyunseok