Web Exclusives: On the Campus

March 7, 2007:

Happy Trails

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 life.

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,” Kalu said.

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 group.

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 an adviser.

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,” he said.

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 president.

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.” 

Christian Burset ’07 Christian Burset ’07 is a history major from Bernardsville, N.J.

Photo by Hyunseok Shim ’08