Under the Ivy
by Gregg Lange '70
November 8, 2006:
Goheen and his legacy
This young professor was 'the right man in the right
place at the right time'
By Gregg Lange '70
Tucked into the west side of the Firestone lobby
through December is an understated – all right, almost hidden
– exhibit celebrating the individual who has had more personal
impact on the University than anyone since the day in 1910 when
Andrew Fleming West 1874 drove Woodrow Wilson 1879 out of town.
In one sense Bob Goheen '40 *48 deserves more recognition, and in
years to come he most certainly will get far more. But in reality,
the entire current campus, its people, and a very great portion
of its humanity are his immediate legacy.
In a pivotal period of 15 years as president, he
took a still-insulated college that had begun to awaken in the aftermath
of World War II and transformed it into a world-class academic cauldron
comprising sexes, races, and nationalities undreamed of in earlier
times. Wilson coined "Princeton in the nation's service" in 1896,
then built a University to fulfill it. A hundred years later, Harold
Shapiro *64 added "in the service of all nations" to the motto.
Bob Goheen was the means by which that change had become real.
He is the ultimate outsider/insider. Born and raised
in another culture in another hemisphere, hardened by the brutality
of global war before he was 25, he has a worldview that seemingly
leaves him unflappable and remarkably objective in the most strained
circumstances. At the same time, he bleeds as orange and black as
anyone you will ever meet, right down to his selection of bowties.
Holder of three Princeton degrees, he went straight onto the faculty
here, and by the time he was named president nine years later knew
essentially every nook and cranny on campus, from Holder's basement
to the Faculty Room. The Firestone exhibit celebrates the 70th anniversary
of his arrival on campus. Coincidentally, he has recorded four hours
of recollections on his career; the videotapes now reside in the
Goheen is a very bright guy, and accomplished across
a striking range of fields. His main extracurricular interest was
soccer – he even coached the freshman team during his first
year of grad school – but he found time as president of Quadrangle
to chair an ICC committee resulting in the "Goheen reforms" to the
social fabric on Prospect Street. Co-winner of the Pyne Prize, he
graduated summa cum laude, got his classics doctorate in three years
(those were the days) and expanded his dissertation into a book
that caused a sensation in literary critical circles. Drafted as
an Army private, he left the service four years later as a lieutenant
colonel with the Legion of Merit and three Bronze Stars. He won
a Bicentennial Preceptorship for his teaching skills at 32 years
old, and became director of the National Woodrow Wilson Fellowship
Program at 34 while serving as an assistant professor before becoming
University president at 37.
He is famously, sometimes disturbingly, humble. Goheen
describes his Army life in Washington as "very unusual and really
soft," but fails to mention his subsequent Pacific service with
the First Cavalry. After his acclaimed book came out, he says, he
"suddenly got a scholarly reputation, which I didn't deserve." He
is apologetic for being late to the conviction that women and blacks
should be a more integral part of Princeton, and even that the infamous
"urban renewal" that destroyed much of the town's historically black
neighborhood occurred "on my watch." He readily credits the alumni
donors who allowed a missionary's child from India to come to Princeton
on full scholarship with his success. During his presidency, students
comfortably referred to him as "Bogo," while freely admitting he
was as bright a person as they had ever met.
He was the right man in the right place at the right
time. In the beginning, Goheen had to go to the trustees to get
even one woman admitted to the Graduate School. By the time he was
done, the CPUC was established, the faculty changed, the Ivies'
first black dean appointed, the building space almost doubled, non-selective
clubs in place, and the student body transformed into a multi-ethnic,
coeducational, public-school-majority medley. He had loud opposition
from various sides virtually every step of the way, and the burden
of the coincident Vietnam War distress to wrestle with. His contemporaries
at Harvard, Cornell, and Columbia suffered open, sometimes violent
revolts. Princeton had the first campus-wide colloquium in memory
to debate the war in the new Jadwin Gym; people waited their turn
and elocuted and voted. The closest he comes to describing how all
this came about: "I always believed in listening to people –
they thought I had patience. I'm sure I got this from my mom and
In a highly revealing reflection during his interview,
Goheen notes that he recently read The Guardians, written by Geoffrey
Kabaservice. "It deals with my generation of people coming out of
Yale: McGeorge Bundy, Bill Bundy, Eliot Richardson, and others,"
he says. "They looked on themselves as the guardians of American
culture and tradition, according to this young man who wrote the
book. I thought to myself, 'Well, look, Princetonians have never
looked on themselves as anything more than servants, rather than
guardians.' That's the basic difference between us."
Witherspoon, McCosh, and Wilson would doubtless
say the same.The University has produced a handsome 15-minute DVD incorporating
some of Goheen's interview and other images from his presidential
era, and the Alumni Council has made it available for the asking.
If you'd like a copy, send a note to Kathy
Taylor '74, who shepherded the entire project, and the Alumni
Council will send you one. Or go to http://www.princeton.edu/~vp/goheen.html to view it online.
Lange ’'70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and
the Alumni Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee
volunteer, and a trustee of WPRB radio.