Princeton Portrait | Andrew Clerk Imbrie 1895 (1875-1965)

Almost 130 years ago, a Princeton senior, Andrew Clerk Imbrie 1895, created a song that would become a core part of Princeton’s culture. This was the “Faculty Song,” a wisecracking tribute to the professors who, like the pelican on the sundial in McCosh Courtyard, tear at their own hearts to nourish the young. For almost a century, the “Faculty Song” celebrated the convivial, combative relationship between students and faculty.

The tradition that students called “senior singing” started in 1760. Every night around the time of Commencement, the graduating class would sing a medley of college songs and popular ditties on the steps of Nassau Hall. (Today, the seniors perform a one-night “step sing” on the steps of Blair Arch.)

In 1894, Imbrie met, during his summer vacation, a young man who was studying at Trinity College in Connecticut, and who explained a similar tradition that Trinity students had started.  

“I learned about its faculty song from him,” Imbrie later wrote. “So in the spring of 1895 I wrote some verses about members of the Princeton faculty, and they were printed for the Senior singing.” (The song took its tune from a Scottish ballad called “The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre.”)

The song was a hit. Thereafter, some 85 senior classes sang the “Faculty Song,” updating it every year with new verses to reflect new jokes and new faculty. Students would submit suggestions for verses to a student committee that would select the best ones; some verses were judged so funny that they remained unchanged for decades.

For Paul Ramsey, a professor of religion: “Ramsey’s a self-righteous gent / Who preaches from the Testament, / But beer does more than Ramsey can / To justify God’s faith in Man.”

For Walter Hall, who managed to become the most popular instructor on campus despite the notable disadvantage of having graduated from Yale: “Here’s to Eli Walter Hall, / If he had any dope at all, / He’d shoot that darned New Haven pup / And bring a Princeton Tiger up!”

For Albert Einstein, who gave lectures at the University, though his home was the Institute for Advanced Study: “The bright boys here all study math / And Albie Einstein points the path / Although he seldom takes the air, / We wish to God he’d cut his hair.” 

Students would submit suggestions for verses to a student committee that would select the best ones; some verses were judged so funny that they remained unchanged for decades.

For the math professor Solomon Lefschetz, who had a reputation for “kibitzing” at colleagues’ lectures: “Here’s to Lefschetz, Solomon L., / Unpredictable as hell; / When he’s laid beneath the sod, / He’ll then begin to heckle God.”

For Robert Russell Wicks, the Dean of the Chapel: “Here’s to Reverend Bobby Wicks, / Who knows the soul’s most inward tricks; / He teaches socialistic knowledge, / In this most capitalistic college.”

Imbrie, meanwhile, moved to New York City and joined his father’s business, Abbey & Imbrie, a company that manufactured fishing tackle. He became the secretary for his class, a noble service, and wrote many accounts of Princeton’s people and history. (This included writing a biography of James Collins Johnson, a former slave who had escaped captivity and, after a trial in 1843, kept his freedom and lived in Princeton for the rest of his life.)

Alums took joy in quoting the song everywhere from presidential biographies to the journal Science. The faculty, meanwhile, vacillated between grumbling and glee: “Getting into the Faculty Song is, to some of the faculty,” one alum wrote, “almost what making a club is to the sophomore.”

Sometime in the 1980s, the “Faculty Song” fell out of favor. But the spirit of the “Faculty Song,” the tributary teasing of teachers, will endure at Princeton for as long as the campus serves as the grand terrain for the seekers of knowledge and their guides.