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January 24, 2001:
The 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, well!

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 committee.

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 experience.

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 last week.

"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 all right."

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."