Web Exclusives: Under the Ivy
by Gregg Lange '70

November 8, 2006:
Bob 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 Archives.

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 dad."

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.P

Lange '70Gregg 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.