a PAW web exclusive column
Days of a Dean
A diary of student
life in the 1950s by the man who knew it best
by Bill Lippincott '41
(Reprinted from the February
29, 1972 issue of PAW)
When this story was first
published in PAW, the editors at the time printed Lippincott's observations
in italic type and included editorial observations printed in Roman
type. In reproducing this story in 2001, after Lippincott's death
on November 22, 2000, we have kept the same printing conventions.
EDITOR'S NOTE, 1972:
In the late 1950s, Bill Lippincott dictated an oral record of his
daily activities for several weeks as Princeton's dean of students.
For one reason or another, that diary never saw print and lay neglected
for more than a decade until Lippincott recently unearthed it in
his papers. We are printing several excerpts from Lippincott's diary
on these pages in italic type and have interspersed some editorial
observations of our own in roman type. When Lippincott read over
the diary early this month he remarked that it made him look "awfully
square" and noted that in later years he might have handled
the same cases differently. Nevertheless, the diary interests us
both as an example of recent history and as a splendid account of
a man going about his life's work - and enjoying it.
The diary suggests a
number of changes in a dean's job at Princeton during the past 15
years. One notices in the 1950s considerable attention to sexual
matters: One student wants to get married, another needs to fly
to California to see his fiancée, still another has kept
a woman in his room after hours. One also notices the large amount
of time consumed by rules that no longer exist: the car rule, the
chapel rule, parietal rules (all of which Lippincott later had a
hand in reforming). On the other hand, there is no sign of the many
difficulties that have become so much a part of a dean's job today.
Perhaps the most telling
change one notices is in the degree of mutual trust and respect
between student and dean. How extraordinary it was, then, that when
Lippincott retired in 1968, the Princetonian would hail him in an
affectionate editorial, noting his "sensitivity willingness
to listen," "the humor, frankness, and receptiveness of
a good friend." - ED.
FROM a distance, he was
a formidable figure. Standing slightly taller than his natural 6'
0", he surveyed the campus from a height that seemed a full
head above most undergraduates. During mass demonstrations and other
instances of student frivolity, he stood slightly to the side, impassively
looking over the crowd and drawing slowly on his omnipresent pipe.
A proctor would present himself and whisper his report; a slight
smile would cross the dean's face. Then, after a larger-than- usual
cloud of smoke erupted from his brier, his features would again
settle into a Buddha-like repose.
A closer look revealed
few more of the man's mysteries. His cheeks bore a healthy glow,
as if nipped by the morning's frost. He wore a yellow shirt, tweed
coat, and rep tie; all appeared to have been picked out that morning
at Langrock's. If he paused to refill his pipe, his face would drop
into apparent melancholy during his concentration. One could only
wonder what thoughts could trouble that imperturbable and awesome
presence. Perhaps a sophomore sent home that morning for some unspeakable
offense? 0r a senior in the midst of a momentous personal crisis?
Or could it be that the concerns of the dean's office simply passed
the sphere of student understanding altogether.
A senior came in this
morning looking as if the world had fallen on his head. He just
had to take off for a few days and fly to California because of
a crisis in his love life. His fiancée phoned last night
that she was not good enough for him and thought they should terminate
their relationship. The poor guy was really in bad shape - this
being the worst crisis of his life. I told him to check with his
instructors in regard to the academic work he might miss during
the next few days and then wished him good luck and Godspeed.
An undergraduate who
had been summoned to an audience with the dean would sometimes have
to wait for a brief period in his antechamber. It was then, while
a battery of secretaries briskly cranked letters into their typewriters,
that disturbing thoughts would rise in a student's mind. Had the
dean found out about his cutting a day's classes three weeks ago?
Perhaps his spies had trailed him down Route 1 during a forbidden
car ride. Had the proctors secreted themselves in bushes and photographed
his mother leaving his room five minutes past curfew? Could he possibly
have breached an unknown rule written in small type in the Undergraduate
Announcement? It was not a laughing matter. One flick of the dean's
finger, he was ready to believe, and any student would shortly be
on the PJ&B headed for Princeton Junction.
I have a proctor's
report here that a lady from Maplewood, N.J., called the local police
complaining about a picture which she saw in a recent issue of the
Alumni Weekly. One picture apparently showed an undergraduate gymnast
performing on the parallel bars. By a great stretch of the imagination,
she thought that he might have been lashed to the parallel bars.
The lady believes that this is very unfair treatment for undergraduates,
and if the police or the university don't do something to stop these
terrible practices, she was going to report it to the F.B.I. Oh,
Suddenly the student
would be seated in a chair opposite the dean's desk. The dean was
speaking. But the student was not listening; his attention was riveted
to one of the most extraordinary wooden arrangements he had ever
seen. It was a gargantuan pipe rack, seemingly stretching the full
breadth of the dean's desk. In it, arranged like so many cannons
in a double file, was an arsenal of pipes of every description.
There were straight ones and crooked ones, shiny ones and gnarled
ones, and small bowls and big bowls. All of these pipes were encrusted
with dottle that had apparently built up over the years during thousands
of sessions like this one. The psychological effect on the student
would be overwhelming. Could there be an undergraduate sin with
which he was not familiar? Worse, could there be an excuse that
he had not already heard? As the student's eyes glazed over, he
would barely hear the dean asking him to serve on a student-faculty
Having been alerted
by the St. Louis alumni group that a big shot father and son are
coming to look at the campus - father being a Yale man - we are
ready to roll out the red carpet and sell Princeton. Three of us
talked to the gentlemen and managed to waste about an hour slinging
aimless, but I suppose effective, bull at him, making the point
in our own inimitable ways that Princeton is the greatest educational
institution in the world, but without actually saying so. I believe
that he was impressed but might have detected a faint smell in the
office, as if a huckster from Madison Avenue had broken wind.
Asked what was his worst
single moment as dean, Lippincott thinks for a moment and makes
his choice. "It was the time in 1968 when a band of protesters
wanted to get into Nassau Hall for a trustee meeting. I had to stand
there at the door and tell them why they couldn't come in. One girl
really took after me; she gave me the worst sort of personal abuse
and profanity. Finally, I turned to some of the boys standing there
and said, 'Look, can one of you guys help me?' They all started
to laugh, and that seemed to defuse the situation."
This morning I spent
a good deal of time discussing and analyzing the disciplinary reports
turned in by the proctors over the weekend. In regard to today's
cases, my assistant Norm More will call in the boy in whose wastebasket
a fire was reported and also the freshman alumni son who was throwing
milk in Commons. I will see the five freshmen in Pyne Hall who created
a disturbance at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning by throwing beer cans
hither and yon and breaking glass. It appears that one of the group,
who has been in trouble before, was pretty much the ringleader.
He and I will have to come to an understanding once and for all.
Lippincott and some friends
were recently discussing another crisis Neil Rudenstine was facing
as dean of students. The former dean emitted an oracular puff of
smoke and said sadly: "I bet Neil is really sweating now."
Highlights of this
past day included a discipline case involving five freshmen having
caused a disturbance, noise, and some breakage in Pyne Hall. Four
of them were just noisy, and I reprimanded them. The fifth was the
one responsible for the breakage, and I suspended him indefinitely.
He will have to go home and explain it all to his old man. He will
be reinstated upon receipt of a satisfactory letter from his father
indicating that the boy has explained clearly the reason for his
suspension and requesting reinstatement.
As Lippincott well realizes,
the nature of discipline at college has changed drastically since
his tenure as dean of students. Except in the most severe cases,
discipline was once an informal, personalized process: a talk between
the student and the deans, perhaps supplemented by advice from a
professor or parents. Now the entire disciplinary process is encumbered
with a panoply of rules, procedures, committees, and legalisms.
The formal apparatus came about as a result of the politicization
of the campus and the gathering cry of student power. It is instructive,
perhaps, that Lippincott stepped down from the deanship not long
after a student reacted to a mild disciplinary action over a parietal
violation by announcing that he planned to organize a "sleep-in"
of girl friends and sisters to fight the parietal rules.
Today the discipline
committee kicked out two seniors and a junior for taking a car without
the owner's permission. They were under the heavy influence of alcohol.
This is a most unfortunate case since the two seniors are regular
Navy ROTC members and will be thrown out of the Navy program. Fundamentally,
all three are good boys who just made damn fools of themselves.
We'll take them back in next year, and I feel certain they will
go on to receive their degrees and will be better citizens for the
Lippincott believes that
the essential point of discipline is that the student leave with
the feeling that he has been treated fairly. "It's important
to spend a lot of time explaining why you said, 'No,' " he
says. "It was sometimes painful, but it always paid off."
To this day, Lippincott is visited by young men, many of whom he
has long ago forgotten, who look him up to thank him for a disciplinary
act that "straightened my life out."
The chairman and the
managing editor of the Princetonian appeared before me for the first
time this morning in a disciplinary context. The other night they
had served liquor at a party in the Princetonian building. Of course,
the serving of liquor in university buildings is strictly illegal.
They insisted that this had never been made clear to them, and I
must say that I feel that I am to blame because I have not made
this policy sufficiently clear. So I let it suffice to give them
a good bawling out and will make sure that the policy is clear from
here on out.
One administrator who
worked with Lippincott during his days as dean of students says
that Lippincott was never happier than when he was with students.
"He lights up when they walk into his office," he says.
"Even in the Alumni Council, when the paperwork is getting
him down, he'll drop everything and talk for hours with the kids
when they come in."
I like to think that
it's a sign of maturity and a sign of educational progress that
we begin to see a change as the boys near graduation. By and large,
freshmen will listen to you cooperatively. Sophomores and juniors
are feeling their oats. Seniors, though, are mellowing, and they're
willing to listen a little more.
As director of the Alumni
Council, Lippincott once spent most of an afternoon on long-distance
trying to calm an alumnus angered by the latest student outrage.
Afterwards, a friend asked Lippincott whom he had a harder time
dealing with, students or alumni. The eyebrows arched as he replied
with a smile, "Alumni."
I had to tell a junior
this afternoon that he could not have my permission to be married
this summer because of his age and that he could not get married
until he was 21, which he will not be until March of next year.
He was polite and respectful, but looked as if I had kicked him
in the stomach.
"It used to be that
every student who wanted to get married had to come into my office
and ask my permission," Lippincott recalls. "Most of the
time it was a simple matter. But there was the time when I got a
call at midnight one Saturday night. The guy said he was asking
my permission to get married on Sunday morning. In the background
I could hear music and what sounded like the clinking of glasses.
So I told him to hold off until Monday and talk to me then. He got
mad as hell and hung up.
"That Monday morning
we were all sitting around when this fellow burst into my office.
He looked at me sheepishly, said 'Thank you, sir' and turned around
and left. I never saw him again."
At the meeting of
the trustees' committee on undergraduate life earlier today in New
York, I was interested in the unanimous unofficial reaffirmation
of our long-standing policy of requiring freshmen and sophomores
to attend half the chapel services in a given academic year. While
I have been of two minds on this subject from time to time, I feel
that at this moment in history the policy is sound.
The chapel rule is only
one of a number of regulations that were once a seemingly inescapable
part of student life that now seem archaic. Lippincott worked to
reform many of these rules behind the scenes. There was the rule
forbidding the use of cars by students. Lippincott now says that
"I never did feel comfortable with it because it was almost
impossible to explain." He also notes that "There were
no more serious automobile accidents involving students after the
rule was lifted than before."
On the other hand, Lippincott
admits he also has difficulty explaining why Princeton no longer
has its parietal rules. "The only reasonable thing I can say
is that the parietals got us in one hell of a hypocritical situation.
We couldn't enforce them effectively, and hundreds of students went
free for every one that was suspended. And I'm convinced that there
is no more promiscuity without the rules than with them."
This afternoon I talked
to the Prince editors and climbed on them hard for their poor taste
in the April Fool's issue of the Princetonian in which they referred
to Harold Dodds playing golf instead of going to chapel. That probably
didn't improve the relationship between the university and the Princetonian,
but I felt that it just had to be done.
A journalist once wrote
that Lippincott "looks the way a Princeton type would look
if there were one." In many ways, Lippincott has personified
what was once known as the Princeton style: He came to Princeton
from Philadelphia and St. George's School; he played freshman football,
basketball, and squash (and later became class squash champion);
he was president of Ivy Club and president of the Interclub Committee;
he was graduated with honors in French.
His personal qualities
of modesty, tact, and dignity have caused him to be liked and admired
everywhere. Most important of his personal qualities, however, is
the unfailing good judgment he showed in his job as dean of students.
His colleagues on the Alumni Council still marvel at his clear thinking
and sense of justice. "We get a little carried away with ourselves
around here," says one. "But a talk with Lip usually clears
things up. He is a wise man, and there aren't many like him left."
Some of the members
of the Princeton University Band Council have gone out of their
minds and want to enter the band in the marching competition at
the Rose Bowl next year. I put a stop to that both in terms of the
exorbitant expense and in terms of our reluctance to become involved
in any way with commercialized athletics.
To the Alumni Council
Lippincott brought his great capacity for sympathy and sensitivity
coupled with good judgment. He undertook the unpopular job of explaining
coeducation to the alumni and expanded such successful programs
as the Alumni College.
Today was a beauty,
to say the least. I suspended one young man for using a false identification
card at the local liquor store. I spent an hour this afternoon trying
to straighten out a most unhealthy situation resulting from two
juniors and a sophomore having beaten up a freshman. I climbed on
them all quite hard for their behavior, and I believe they all took
it well, realizing that they had acted like damn fools.
Lippincott says that
in his last few years as dean he noticed several interesting changes
in the disciplinary area. One was a slight decrease in instances
of student intoxication. Another was a similar decrease in cases
of wanton destruction of property (the all-time record was set during
the Great Spring Riot of '63).
I'm off for home now.
By and by the phone will ring, announcing God knows what problem,
which, at that time, is bound to seem to be the most important problem
in the world to the student making the call.
Another of Lippincott's
friends talks of his depth of character. One of the most difficult
of a dean's tasks is informing people of a death in the family -
sometimes telling a student about a parent, other times telling
parents that their son had died. At those times, Lippincott became
a source of strength to the individuals faced with tragedy. "I
don't know how Bill did it as often as he did," the friend
says. "And every time he felt their sorrow as much as they
did; when other people suffer, Bill suffers."
Oh my God! I notice
on tomorrow's calendar that another boy is coming in to ask permission
to get married. I'm sure it was not like this 15 or 20 years ago
- or is it that I'm getting old? Young people seem to be looking
much more these days for the security they can get from each other.
I hope this isn't one that has to get married. We had that problem
"Lip dreads speeches
and the limelight in general," says one friend. "He is
a genuinely modest and humble person. I think people sense that,
as well as his underlying strengths, and that's one of the reasons
they like him." One sign of the respect Lippincott commands
among the alumni is that even the most implacable foes of recent
changes within the university still have great affection for him.
"They like him because he likes them," one administrator
explains. "And they think that if Bill Lippincott says that
things are all right at Princeton, then, well, they probably are
My, this has been
a stimulating week, and I feel sincerely excited about the work
I'm doing. I've felt this way before. A week from now I'll probably
wish I were eight million miles away from here.
Lippincott likes to tell
the story about the time he was giving a speech before an alumni
group in a Southern city. Midway through his explication of campus
life, he noted that there had recently been many deep and sweeping
sociological changes in the United States. At that, a challenging
voice came from the back of the room: "Oh, yeah! Name one!"
Afterwards, he smiles
and puffs on his pipe. "For a moment, my mind went completely
blank. I couldn't think of a single change." Yet he must have
succeeded, for by the end of the speech, he had made a few more
friends for Princeton.
Not the least significant
of my reactions to last week's alumni conference is related to the
never-ending, wonderful support and enthusiasm for this institution
from our alumni. Where does it come from? How is it nurtured? I
know it starts here on campus when they are undergraduates, but
I have never been able to put my finger on just how or why.
Lippincott says that
the mood of the alumni is much better now than it was two years
ago. "Coeducation had got many of them upset, and I think many
more were concerned about what they took to be the university's
permissiveness in handling student protests. I personally feel -
and I hope more and more alumni will agree - that the university
has handled students recently in a masterful way. They have been
both understanding and firm, and that's remarkable."
At 10:30 I had the
pleasure of addressing the Old Guard in Firestone Library. This
is quite an appealing group of older retired men, some former members
of the faculty, alumni living in town, and other retired teachers
and businessmen. They meet once a week and have quite a time of
it. This morning I talked to them for about a half hour about undergraduate
life and then answered a number of good questions. It's fascinating
to be exposed to points of view of men of that generation. They
can't help being affected by their past experience and their tendency
not to recognize that there have been some changes in the world
in the last 40 years. All in all it was a delightful experience,
except for a couple of old fellows who climbed on my back again
about Alger Hiss having spoken at Princeton last spring. Will they
ever stop beating that one?
One friend recently asked
Lippincott what he would answer if an alumnus were to corner him
at a reception, throw an arm around his shoulders, and say, "Bill,
what's the old place coming to?"
"First of all,"
Lippincott replied, drawing on his pipe, "I would reassure
him that Princeton is not going to hell. On the contrary, I would
say that it's performing its mis-sions better than ever. I would
also mention that there is an awful lot of devotion to Princeton
among our most recently graduated classes. Finally, I think that
the vast majority of our young people - at Princeton and elsewhere
- deserve our confidence, and I would tell him so."