PAW readers remember Robert F. Goheen '40 *48
From reading "Memories of a leader who mastered the art of listening" (feature, May 14), I can see my most memorable experience of President Robert Goheen '40 *48 was right in character.
In early 1970 I founded a town/gown group called Princeton Ecology Action. True to the tenor of the times, we developed three "demands" that I took directly to ever-accessible President Goheen. We "demanded": 1. Close and allow us to reclaim a road that was eroding into Carnegie Lake; 2. Designate as a wild, natural area an area near faculty housing that was slated to be cleared for sports fields; and 3. Form a committee to plan a multidisciplinary ecology program.
In fact he did listen, and then, disarmingly, agreed immediately. For me this was psychological judo. With nothing to push against, I found myself looking back at myself in chagrin at my unnecessarily demanding attitude. That and his measured response to the sit-ins at the Institute for Defense Analyses, which I also participated in, won my everlasting admiration.
President Goheen was an extraordinary soul in the right place at the right time.
LARRY CAMPBELL '70
In the fall of 1952, I joined the Princeton admission staff under Bill Edwards '36. Joe Bolster and I were the only staffers. A few years later, Bob Goheen invited me to spend a couple of hours daily helping him with the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program – from 4 until 6 p.m., five days a week. And thereby hangs my tale.
In early 1957, I was invited to move to the University of Pittsburgh as that institution's first director of admission. I asked Bob for his advice and he encouraged me to accept the offer – in part because it would allow me to finish a Ph.D. in English, which I had begun six years earlier at Yale. Then came Bob's further response: "If I'm not promoted pretty soon (from assistant professor of classics) I'm going to start looking, too." About a year later, Bob was "promoted" – to president!
I've always been grateful to Bob – not only for his advice, but for the example he set. I did finish the doctorate and went on to be president of two small colleges, one private and one public.
Like all of you at Princeton, I'll miss him.
BERNARD S. ADAMS '50
Memories of President Goheen, a great Princetonian:
I was in his precept my sophomore year in Humanities 202. I experienced difficulties, especially in speaking in the precept. As he handed back our midterm exams, he handed me my paper face down and said humanely, “Come up and see me about it.”
My grade was very low. When we talked, he said, again diplomatically, “I am unhappy (or some such word) with the exam and all of your work in the course.” He then tried to help me improve in all areas, as positively as could be done. He was the only faculty member who dealt with me this way, although I needed such assistance many times. I barely passed the course, and managed to graduate.
Goheen smoked cigarettes frequently during the precept. He always used a Zippo lighter with a Princeton emblem on it.
JAY CRAWFORD ’54
Two memories of Dr. Goheen:
1) When the Student Committee on Mental Health was putting together the booklet "Psychedelics and the College Student," one of the members thought that it would be helpful for Dr. Goheen to meet with some of those on campus who had favorable opinions about street drug use. Dr. Goheen was interested in hearing these views, and spent an evening in one of the student dorm suites conversing with students who otherwise would not have had access to the administration. This was another illustration of his interest in a respect for intellectual dialogue, even in matters about which he had opposing views.
2) Dr. Goheen was the guest speaker in the Whig-Clio film program series in which a faculty member and students viewed and discussed the film Lord of the Flies. In the film, when the boys gathered to meet, the speaker held the group's ceremonial conch shell and the others were required to listen. Dr. Goheen was given the "Whig-Clio Conch," appropriately anointed with copious amounts of Old Spice aftershave to increase its aromatic authority. That evening, he repeatedly pointed out that "atomism and fragmentation" was a major societal danger, in our 1967-era world. This issue has continued to be a major cause of societal stress, compounded by the lack of appreciative discourse among opponents,which he also recently saw as problematic. I think that Dr. Goheen was widely admired and liked because he had an active interest in the experiences and opinions of Princeton students, all the while modeling the respect for opposing views.
KIM J. MASTERS '68
I am deeply indebted to Bob Goheen, both professionally and personally. The first Greek course I took at Princeton was with him in the fall of 1954. In it we read Sophocles' Ajax. Before that time, I had never understood what reading a text really meant. The lessons I learned about paying careful attention to detail and at the same thinking about a text in a larger critical framework have stood me in good stead ever since. I had enrolled in the Special Program in the Humanities, which meant I had to finish all my requirements for my degree, except for the thesis, by the end of junior year. Since I had taken no classics as a freshman, the next two years were very busy. I enjoyed my major a great deal; the subjects were interesting and the teachers excellent. These years were a very happy period in my life and, not the least, because of the support Bob gave me. He was a very fine model for what a teacher should be.
In my senior year Bob was working very hard to establish the Woodrow Wilson fellowships. At that time there was a marked shortage of college teachers. The aim of the program was to provide graduate education for a year to see if students might continue and become college teachers. The program was then quite small, and I was very pleased when he suggested I apply. I did; a basic reason was my admiration for him and the other members of the classics department. After three years in the service, I went to Cornell on a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, took my degrees, and have had a very rewarding career teaching classics.
Much more important to me than any of these "professional" matters was the personal concern he gave me. In my sophomore year, I began baby-sitting for him. His family was a delight to visit, and I enjoyed being with his children. His wife, Margaret, showed me many personal kindnesses, especially so after the death of my mother. When I left the Navy in 1960, I came to Princeton to study during the summer before I went to Cornell. I found a room and started to settle in; a day or so later I met Bob on the street and told him what I was doing. He suggested that, since his family was away for the summer and he was only going to be about from time to time, that I move into Prospect. That I did, and it was a most pleasant change of quarters. He also allowed me to use his study and personal library. This was a great treat. I was able to enjoy his hospitality again the following summer. During both summers we would see one another from time to time, share a meal, and discuss our mutual interests. Bob was always interested in what I was reading and the graduate seminars I had taken. He did not have to do any of these things, but did so because he was a genuinely kind and thoughtful person.
I do hope he was pleased that I wrote my dissertation on Sophocles, the author
to whom he had introduced me and on whose Antigone he had written a fine study.
I was the deputy director at the Institute for Defense Analyses (Princeton) during the Vietnam War, and I would like to express my admiration for President Goheen's leadership of Princeton University at that time.
In the bull's-eye during that tumultuous period in the University's history, President Goheen walked a tightrope with dignity, grace, and great skill. For example, in the 1970 "strike" he withstood sustained pressure from students, alumni, faculty, IDA, townspeople, press, trustees, and more of whom I know not. He was firm or flexible when each was appropriate.
The measure of his success in navigating those dangerous waters is the way the University emerged afterward. It shook off the attacks from all sides and became the fine place it is today.
It was a remarkable performance, and I hope the great job he did will be included
among the many things for which he will be remembered.
This PAW cover of 31 years ago is still the best memory I have of Mr. Goheen!
DAVID NIMICK '46
I recall a second-hand story, something the late Bill McCleery told me. Or it may be a third-hand story, heard from someone who heard it from Bill. Anyway, I believe it says something about President Goheen's no-nonsense, essentially Presbyterian approach to work and life. I think of Goheen in some respects as a latter-day John Witherspoon, who once famously remarked to a visitor to his home who noticed that his garden contained only vegetables and no flowers, "Nay, and you'll find no flowers in me discourse, either."
Bill taught playwriting at Princeton for many years and was founding editor of the long-defunct University magazine. Bill was a sweet guy, sunny and outgoing, who loved to tell stories about his life in the theater and as a reporter and editor at the old PM magazine. I believe that Goheen recruited him to edit University, so Bill dealt with him on a regular basis. Once they traversed the campus together to attend a meeting and Goheen didn't utter a word — no effort at all to make small talk. McCleery had a great gift for gab but for maybe the first time in his life was too intimidated to speak, so they walked the entire way in silence.
In a similar vein, Dan White '65, who worked at the Alumni Council in the 1960s and later became its director, has a story from that time about rendezvousing with Goheen at Newark Airport for an alumni trip. Each drove separately to the airport. Dan arrived before Goheen and parked in the short-term lot. He checked in and waited for Goheen ... and waited. Just as the passengers were boarding, he finally showed up. Once on the plane, he explained why he was late: He'd parked in the long-term economy lot and had a long walk to the terminal. Dan was hoping Goheen wouldn't ask where he had parked, and of course those were the next words out of his mouth. Curiously, Dave Rahr '60, another former Alumni Council director who worked there in the 1960s, tells a similar story. (In Dave's version, he leaves his car in "valet" parking.) Goheen must have been on to these guys, and his gentle needling of them suggests a subtle sense of humor that he seldom, if ever, revealed in public.
J.I. MERRITT '66
My only interaction with President Goheen during my undergraduate experience
came inside Marsh's, the former drugstore on Nassau Street. It took place
in May 1970, and if the man were mortal, he probably was there to pick up antacids. I
have no recollection of why I was there, but I walked down an aisle and saw who
it was. He looked up, saw a bushy-haired type who was not unlike those probably
making his day-to-day life a living hell, and I braced myself for a probably
well-deserved dismissal. Instead, he gave a warm smile and asked how I was
doing with a palpable sense of interest.
In the spring of 1995 my good friend, Chips Chester, and I stopped by to see our classmate, Bill Murdoch, in Princeton. It was a bright, warm spring morning. We parked our truck and horse trailer, containing three spirited, beautiful horses, against the curb in front of both Bill's and Dr. Goheen's houses on Orchard Circle. Art Collins, another illustrious classmate, Chips, and I had just ridden our horses down the green stripe on Fifth Avenue in New York City celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Dr. Goheen, a very good gardener, was in his yard behind his security fence working away, and normally would have paid a parked vehicle no mind. Whether a matter of intellectual curiosity or not, Dr. Goheen interrupted his work and walked out to see what the commotion in front of his house was about. Chips, a stickler for housekeeping and horse grooming, was in the trailer shoveling things out. Somewhat embarrassed, because the Township of Princeton does not encourage the indiscriminate dumping of horse manure, I greeted Princeton's former president and asked if he had any use for fresh fertilizer for the roses in his garden? The "no" reply was immediate but kindly. He explained that he once bought a whole truck load of horse manure to fertilize his garden, and that he spent the entire summer pulling weeds.
Clear-headed, decisive, and with both direct speech and warmth is the way I remember Robert Goheen '40.
ROBERT JIRANEK '52
The Class of 1930's 30th in 1960 found wives and children on the lawn under
a great bronze beech tree where the Woodrow Wilson School now stands. Through
'79 Arch with Woodrow Wilson's flag flying overhead swung the band, then, there,
at the top of the steps in full 20th reunion uniform, was the young president!
Unforgettable. (International graduate students were astounded!)
SILVIA S. BENNET w'30
Remembering Bob Goheen ’40 *48: The date was probably our class’s 60th reunion. It was my privilege to conduct our class Service of Remembrance that year. Near the end of the service, I invited those present to join me in the Lord’s Prayer. Afterward, Bob came up and asked me why I had prefaced that unison prayer with the invitation to use “trespasses,” rather than “debts” and “debtors.” Bob knew that I was Presbyterian and we traditionally use the latter. He had grown up in India, where his parents were missionaries under the Presbyterian Board of Missions. So his question to me was: “Why?” That is, why did I depart from my own tradition? And as I remember, he asked if it had anything to do with my having been a Navy chaplain during World War II.
My answer was something like this: Whenever I have had the rare opportunity to lead in that prayer in a public gathering, I simply tried to guess who were in the majority. So I guessed that at a Princeton reunion there were probably more Episcopalians, Methodists, roman Catholics, and Lutherans present than Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists in the gathering that day – well, you get the idea.
But now that I think about it, Bob was the only one who ever asked me that question. Perhaps he was one of the few who knew enough to ask it – or was interested enough. But in any case, it was another example of his “thorough thoughtfulness” that set bob apart from most of us in the way we go about living our lives.
JOHNNY WHALLON ’40
Thank you for your invitation to send stores about encounters with President Goheen. Mine are below, in no particular order:
Fall 1957. A night or two before the Dartmouth football game, some creative spray painters wrote “Ream the Green Goheen” on a few buildings and statues. Princeton won the Ivy championship that Saturday, led by Danny Sachs ’60. The Green was reamed by Goheen.
Late 1960s. Student war protests took place at most colleges and universities. Many were very violent. Some students held university administrators hostage in their offices. Not so at Princeton. The administration, led by President Goheen, listened, invited students to have teach-ins, and diffused the whole thing by letting the students have their say.
Early 1970s. I worked in the development office, responsible for foundation relations, and was asked to research and draft a proposal for President Goheen to review and hopefully sign. Very few written documents got by Bob Goheen. He had an assistant who would send back poorly written documents even before the president saw them. My proposal made it by both the assistant and President Goheen. The foundation granted the University the amount we asked for.
I asked President Goheen to sign the November 8, 2006, cover of PAW, which featured a picture of him. I have it as a treasure in my office.
ROBERT A. SELLERY JR. ’60
Robert Francis Goheen ’40 *48 g93 h72 h70
We honor the memory of our revered leader who gave us so much that was good and
right and ageless and who continues to make us proud to be Princetonians.
We Americans worship youth and are addicted to the next new thing. It’s the source of our vitality and enviable exuberance. But there’s a downside. We don’t have a tradition of venerating our tribal elders. And so in troubled times we resort instead to media pundits and their glib sound bites.
In 2001, still reeling from Sept. 11, I paid a visit to a man I considered a tribal elder. Robert Francis Goheen had led Princeton when I was an undergraduate with wisdom, tact, and grace. I was seeking a reassuring perspective and healing counsel.
I met Goheen at his office in the Woodrow Wilson School, where he was a senior fellow in public and international affairs. He was 82 then, still very much engaged and very much in character – humble and thoughtful, circumspect and compassionate, emanating, in Fitzgerald’s words, “a sense of the fundamental decencies,” a broad-shouldered, square-dealing honesty.
Taped to the wall was a large map of India, and his bookshelves were loaded with volumes about India, Pakistan, Islamic culture, and Arab civilization. For about 10 minutes, we talked about India, where Goheen spent his childhood, and its tense relations with Pakistan, and how “erratic” U.S. policy in that part of the world was undermining our interests.
All that was fascinating, but what I really wanted to know was how Sept. 11 had affected Goheen himself, and how he was coping.
“When a catastrophe like this occurs, I rely on ancient sources,” Goheen said. “The Stoic philosopher Epictetus urges us not to worry about things we can’t control. We should spend our energy instead on things over which we have influence.”
The very incomprehensibility of the event compelled Goheen to try to comprehend. In the wake of the attacks, he began reading more about Islam. He gestured to a book on his desk – Islam and the West – by Bernard Lewis, an emeritus professor of Near Eastern Studies.
“What I’ve discovered is deeply disturbing,” Goheen said. “The violent strain within Islam, the militant strain of fundamentalist Islam, has intellectual roots that go back to the 13th century, when the leading religious thinkers declared that it’s all right to kill infidels.”
What would he say to today’s undergraduates, I asked, whose sense of security has been shattered, who are scared of further attacks and worried about the future?
“It’s simply folly to despair,” Goheen said: The United States has faced more serious threats in the past – the double-barrel assault by Germany and Japan during World War II, the peril of nuclear annihilation during the coldest days of the Cold War.
“Just because we got clobbered on Sept. 11 and we’re now threatened by anthrax is no reason to give up,” Goheen said. “Terrorism can be brought under control, but it will be a long, slow process that will take patience on the part of the American people.”
And what would he say to people like me, I asked, people who have grown cynical about the possibility of human progress? The terrorist attacks make a mockery of what Princeton and other universities stand for – the value of education and the pursuit of knowledge. Where has all this learning gotten us? It seems like we’re back to square one, still hating and killing each other.
“That view is too pessimistic,” Goheen replied. “We have built a better, higher civilization than many that have preceded us. We have made undeniable progress in racial relations and respect for human rights. The creation of the United Nations is a significant human accomplishment. However imperfectly it functions, it’s tremendously important for the exchange of views and the moderation of conflict.
“Human progress is not linear. It moves up and down, in fits and starts. Just because we will never create a perfect civilization doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still try to make society better. There will never be a utopia, but it’s not bad to have utopia in mind as something to strive for.”
With the perspective of eight decades, this lifelong student of humanity saw a future that was hopeful, bright, and deserving of our best efforts.
“I think of myself as an Augustinian optimist,” Goheen said. “Saint Augustine thought that man, because of his self-centeredness, was basically sinful. His criteria were love of God versus love of self – amor Dei or amor sui. I hold the view that we are always in danger of favoring ourselves over others. And that leads to cruelty and injustice. My optimism lies in believing that with God’s help we can do better by our neighbor, who, in Christian terms, is everyone other than oneself. We can perhaps, bit by bit, even leave the world a little better than we found it.”
ART CAREY ’72
Art Carey ’72 is a staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. His class was the last whose diplomas were signed by Goheen. He treasures the autograph.
I met Robert Goheen once, in 1981. Our encounter lasted no more than a couple of minutes.
Dr. Goheen was the president of Princeton University during my four years as an undergraduate there, so I certainly knew who he was, but I never had occasion to meet him in that time. I knew several of the deans, and certainly most of the proctors, but not the president. I can’t even say that I had an opinion about him when I graduated in 1965. He was too far removed from my experience for me to form one.
Five years later, however, in the spring of 1970, I was very well aware that it was President Goheen who called off final exams and theses at Princeton and graduated everyone eligible. This was in order to give all Princeton students the time they needed to properly protest the war in Vietnam. It happened that I was in the Gulf of Tonkin myself that spring, flying reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam off the carrier USS America and being shot at on every trip. It was, in fact, my third and last tour of duty of this sort. My point of view, not surprisingly, was unsympathetic to the war protestors. I knew that Bob Goheen had badly sullied my heritage by openly siding with them, and I resented it deeply.
Fast forward 11 years to 1981. I was 37, a hungry young professional, scrambling to get ahead in the Big Apple. At that time, the Time-Life building in New York had, as it does today, a fancy restaurant on the top floor, which was, I think, the 50th floor. Elevators from the lobby, however, only went to the 47th floor, so to get to the restaurant on the 50th floor, you had to take a second, agonizingly slow, elevator. It took more than 80 seconds for that elevator to go those three floors.
So there I was, hustling out of a business lunch at the top of the Time-Life building, late for my next meeting – a young man on the move. As the door slowly closed, I saw that I was alone in the elevator with Bob Goheen, then in his 60s.
My mind, teeming with details of the business of the day, focused quickly. My long-awaited prey was trapped and helpless before me. I would make short work of him and proceed with my busy schedule.
“Dr. Goheen,” I said, rather coolly, or so I thought, “my name is Griff Sexton and I was in the Class of 1965 at Princeton. I am also a Vietnam veteran, and I want to take this opportunity to express to you my deep disappointment with the actions you took in the spring of 1970. I feel strongly that they shamed Princeton, and I have been unable to support the University since then.” I remember feeling rather pleased with the clarity of my little speech.
He looked at me intensely for a moment, apparently sizing me up. I was expecting a polite but firm brush-off. Then, he spoke.
“I am very sorry to hear that, Griff. I have heard your complaint before, and let me say that I understand and respect your point of view.” Despite my aggressive opening, there was nothing defensive in his tone. He addressed me by name, as though to assure me that he knew who I was and had heard everything I had said. He kept his eyes on mine. He intended to communicate with me.
“Indeed, that was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make as the president of Princeton. I understood that my decision carried great weight because of my position. But I have always felt that if a man is given the chance to make a difference in a matter of importance, he should not let the chance pass by simply because there are others whose opinions he respects that will disagree. I thought about that decision for a long time before I made it, and I have thought about it many times since. I take responsibility for it, and I would do it again. But I do regret the pain that my decision caused you. I hope that some day you will be able see this as my personal choice and renew your support for Princeton. She deserves your loyalty, and she certainly belongs to you as much as she does to me.”
The elevator stopped and the door slowly opened. We walked together to the next elevator and rode quickly to the bottom of the building without another word. My indignation, smoldering for 11 years, had been quenched with a few words. As we were leaving the elevator bank on the ground floor, I turned to him, far less sure of myself than I had been a few moments before, and said, “Dr. Goheen … Thank you for your service”
He turned toward me and smiled and said, “And thank you, Griff, for yours.”
Afterward, as is so often the case, it occurred to me that, of course, he must have practiced this exchange many times before. In hindsight, what seemed a chance encounter had actually been a setup! He easily vanquished his hapless ambusher in the elevator. He should have enjoyed it. He was, after all, a soldier once himself.
Yet, I did not perceive that our exchange gave him any satisfaction. Having caged me with such ease, it was as though he was determined to release me with dignity, to fight again with passion, and, perhaps, with greater wisdom.
I never saw or spoke with Bob Goheen again, and, of course, I still disagree with his actions in 1970. But my resentment toward him was turned to respect in those few moments of private conversation in the elevator. And, surely as he intended, my love affair with Princeton, interrupted for 11 years by my own foolishness, resumed.
O. GRIFFITH SEXTON ’65
I was saddened to receive my Princeton Alumni Weekly magazine this week with the news that Bob Goheen, my second cousin, had died on March 31. I last saw Bob and his wife, Margaret, at their Princeton home in November of 2006. I told Bob he was my closet cousin, since my brother and I have no first cousins. He was very proud to be the grandson of Sir James Ewing, who was also an educator and Presbyterian clergyman who spent 33 years in India presiding over Forman Christian College and seven years as vice chancellor of Punjab University. His grandfather was also a Knight Companion of the British Empire . In an e-mail to me in 2003 (which he sent by snail mail, since his computer failed to get it to mine), he related how his grandfather had been offered the presidency of Wooster College in Ohio at age 37 (coincidentally the same age Bob was offered the presidency of Princeton University). His grandfather turned it down to carry on his work in India.
Ironically, it was on the day I graduated from Princeton in 1955 that I first learned that there was a Robert Goheen. My mother after the graduation ceremony wondered if we "might get together with Bob Goheen." I asked, "Who's Bob Goheen?" Mother responded that he was one of our cousins (my mother and Bob's mother were first cousins) and that he taught at Princeton . Since I had never taken a course in classics, I did not know of Bob before that day, and my mother had never mentioned the family relationship previously. We got together several times over the course of the many subsequent years. Bob's and my views on a number of political and some other issues were considerably different. That fact in no wise detracts from my admiration for his distinguished career and nobility of character.
I look forward to renewing family ties with him, and discussing many topics in the Great Beyond.
JOHN E. ARCHIBOLD '55
The passing of President Goheen is sadly noted.
Although somewhat naive at the time, my game plan as a freshman at Princeton was to take as many gut courses as possible, collect a respectable number of gentleman Cs, and have an enjoyable experience skating through Princeton as a "goodtime Charlie." I happened at this time to take Lit 121, a Greek classics course taught by Goheen the year before he became president. I never if rarely was prepared for his two weekly precepts. He then took me aside one day and said, "Mr. Bednar, if you don't straighten up, you're going to flunk out of this great university." (Also at this time, Dean Lippincott and I got to know each other very well). It was then that I had an epiphany, so to speak. Several years later, as a senior when he was president, we came across each other. He remembered my name and that conversation, and was pleased to know that I had "straightened up."
STEPHEN J. BEDNAR '60
While attending an alumni-studies course on campus, chance led to my being in the men's room at adjacent sinks with Robert Goheen. With a one-on-one situation with such a notable personage, I felt compelled to say something to him. I asked him what he wished to be called in view of his many earned appellations. Did he want to be called Doctor, Professor, Mr. Ambassador, or Mr. President? Without a moment's hesitation, this accomplished and humble man answered, "Oh, just call me Bob."
WALTER JACOBOWITZ '54 p'85
Robert F. Goheen was a professor of classics when he was selected, at the age of 37, to become the 16th president of Princeton University. When he began his term in 1957, Princeton was a good school. But it was also very much a southern men's club. When he stepped down in 1972, Princeton was one of the world's great universities, having grown greatly in size and budget, in research productivity, and in ethnic and racial diversity. And it had become coeducational.
That last change was probably the most traumatic. Princeton's trustees voted in favor of coeducation in the spring of 1969. The first women to be admitted as freshmen in an incoming class arrived that fall, members of the Class of 1973. I was a member of that class, and I remember the turmoil on campus, with television crews running all over asking everyone what they thought of the matter. Since I had attended a coed elementary school and a coed high school that had far more diversity than was found at Princeton in 1969, I didn't see much novelty. In fact, with only 100 women and about 1,000 men in the class, I found the ratio disappointing!
Goheen had championed coeducation in spite of some fierce opposition, mostly – although not exclusively – from alumni who decried the loss of a tradition and threatened to withhold their monetary contributions in protest. Moreover, his support marked a reversal of his earlier position. In 1965, he had opposed coeducation, but he changed his mind four years later.
I asked him about this in 1972, when I interviewed him just prior to his retirement from the presidency for a news program I had on WPRB, Princeton's radio station. Why, I wanted to know, had he changed his mind? "Because I was wrong," he answered, and stopped. I remember my surprised, "That's it?" He went on to explain that during the four intervening years he had talked to literally hundreds of people and had become convinced that by remaining a male-only institution, Princeton not only would miss out on the numerous benefits of having bright young women in the college, but also would lose the opportunity to attract a significant number of young men and faculty who were not interested in a segregated environment.
"What you want to do when you realize you have made a mistake," he said, "is admit it, explain your reasoning, and move on."
This brings us to the reason for telling this story. Not being a classics major, and not having much of a talent for Latin, I never sat as a student in one of Goheen's classes. Yet as I reflect on the impression he made on me some 35 years ago, I realize that Robert Goheen, who died this week at the age of 88, was one of my best teachers.
The lesson I learned is to encourage discussion and to keep an open mind. Goheen's point was that there is no such thing as a bad idea, and we are better served if everyone has an opportunity to express his or her views. Goheen's example was not limited to the issue of coeducation. Those were turbulent times in the nation and especially on college campuses. The war in Vietnam, civil rights, women's rights – all were controversial and divisive issues, and many universities saw violent, disruptive protest. At Princeton, Goheen promoted debate, allowed peaceful protest, and took steps to allow participation in the discussion by all members of the community. I credit his leadership for the fact that protests at Princeton remained peaceful and that the University remained open and operating.
Today we live in an age where much of our daily discourse is dominated by those who have the loudest voices. They may be political leaders or corporate CEOs, television talk pundits, op-ed columnists, or just people you meet on the street. They spend far more time talking than listening. Their minds are permanently made up. And their strategy is generally to preach only to people of like mind and to demonize anyone with an opposing view.
It is, I think, a counterproductive strategy.
Goheen's tenure as president ended in 1972, but in no way did he retire. He served as president of the Council on Foundations and for three years was the U.S. ambassador to India. At his death, he was still teaching as a senior fellow at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Princeton has had three presidents since Goheen, and all have continued the policies he spearheaded. The University has continued to grow in size and in the diversity of both students and faculty. Women in the college are on an equal basis with the men and have achieved every distinction, academic, athletic and extra-curricular. Princeton's current president, Shirley Tilghman, I should note, is also its first female chief executive.
The radio station, WPRB, has taken to playing music that gives me a headache. But what the heck, I still have an open mind.
SCOTT GURVEY '73
As an entering freshman with the Class of 1961, I arrived at Princeton not long after Robert Goheen took the helm. We all were there together as the '60s began to "rock and roll" the establishment. I will always remember Goheen's tolerance and unstated support as we brought hip artists to Whig-Clio and beatnik poets to Alexander Hall for candlelight "café" readings, the early "ban the bomb" movement, and, not so many years later, the Vietnam protests. Two particularly keen Goheen memories:
1) Confused, frustrated, and not sure what I wanted to do with my life and my studies, I wanted to take what's now called a "gap year"' in the middle of my time at Princeton to travel, think about life, and gain perspective. Though common now, that was not done in 1960. My father drove down from New England, and together we went to see President Goheen and propose I be permitted to take a year's leave of absence. Goheen was persuaded, I went to Denmark to build wooden boats, and the now common "year off" became an accepted option – later enthusiastically endorsed by Dean of Admission Fred Hargedon and commonplace today. Goheen's trust was not unfounded. I did sort my life out, returned to Princeton, graduated with the Class of 1962, and went on to join the first wave of the Peace Corps on the first step of an international career path that began with Goheen's blessing of my year of boat-building.
2) Back at Princeton after my boat-building sojourn, I was one of the first residents of a rather boring set of new dorms, living on the ground floor off a dark corridor marked by a large wall of cinder blocks. My flame of the year, an artist, got rebellious one evening and painted that wall with a dark mural of a bleak landscape. Somber as it was, it was a great improvement over the dreary cinder block, brightening both my spirits and the local environment. All too soon, however, our custodian informed me that the University was scheduled to repaint the wall at my expense. Immediately I sought out my best buddy in the classics department, Terry Shultz '62, and together we created and printed on the antique hand-printing press in Firestone's graphic arts room a formal apology in perfect Latin.
Tracking down President Goheen reading his New York Times in the student center, I approached quietly and handed him the printed apology without comment. Peering up over his half-glasses, he smiled and inquired, "And what is it, pray tell, that you are apologizing for?" I briefly outlined the situation, the art, and my request that the mural be allowed to stay. "I'll look into it," he said with a wry smile, returning to his paper. That evening, returning to my room, I was intercepted by the custodian. "The mural stays!" he said with delight. "The president appeared here this afternoon, looked it over, and gave the order to Buildings and Grounds that the mural stay. We won!"
Always a gentleman, always thoughtful, and with grace and dignity, Robert Goheen steered Princeton through some very difficult and creative times. I doubt that our mural lasted many more years, but his gift to me of the year off, like Robert Frost's road dividing in a snowy wood, "made all the difference."
MALCOLM J. ODELL JR. '62
One warm evening in May 1960, hundreds of Princeton students rioted. At one point, the rioters invaded the sacrosanct grounds of Prospect (then the official residence of Princeton's presidents), chanting, among other things, "We want Uncle Bob." In due course, "Uncle Bob" appeared on the balcony and told us he was ashamed of our behavior and that we should disperse. Still full of defiant energy, the rioters departed Prospect and headed down the hill toward the Dinky Station (then known universally as the PJ & B – Princeton Junction and Back).
There dozens of us grabbed hold of the Dinky and tilted it so that the wheels on the near side were lifted slightly off the tracks. Since actually turning it over was well beyond our strength, we desisted and began heading back up the hill looking for targets of opportunity. I found myself standing near a diminutive member of the Class of '63 who was still shouting, "We want Uncle Bob!" Over his head, I could see President Goheen advancing. He tapped the young man on the shoulder and said: "Here I am. What is it that you want?" The terrified freshman bolted. Goheen then looked me in the eye and smiled broadly. He seemed pleased that his words had such an impact. I wanted to introduce myself and shake his hand, but such a gesture seemed out of place under the circumstances. Now I wish I had.
C. THOMAS CORWIN '62
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