President Robert F. Goheen ’40 *48, seated, was angered by antiwar protesters who noisily interrupted Interior Secretary Walter Hickel in 1970.
Princeton University Archives
That Was Then: March 1970

A student protester.
Barry A. Wechsler ’73/ Larry DuPraz Digital Archives/The Daily Princetonian
While some guest speakers raise eyebrows on campus, Walter Hickel, President Richard Nixon’s first secretary of the interior, raised a ruckus. Indeed, the repercussions of his visit were felt for weeks — not because of anything he said but because of the way he was received March 5, 1970.

Hickel headlined a conference on “Ecology and Politics in America’s Environmental Crisis,” but his speech, in which he asserted that “environmental concerns must be prominent in resource development,” was overwhelmed by student anger at the Vietnam War. While most of his listeners in Jadwin Gymnasium kept their views to themselves, a group of 75 hecklers unleashed a barrage of jibes, chants, and cries. 

Hickel tried to make himself heard above the din, which included defiant shouts of “Today’s pigs, tomorrow’s bacon! Nixon and Hickel better start shaking!” President Robert Goheen ’40 *48, who sat nearby, finally intervened, warning that any further disruptive behavior would be punished. The cacophony continued, and though Hickel soldiered on, Goheen felt compelled to cancel the question-and-answer session that should have followed.

Thirteen hecklers, strongly backed by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were brought before the Judicial Committee of the newly formed Council of the Princeton University Community, and after five days of contentious public hearings, a 24-page “verdict” was delivered. One student was acquitted, nine were placed on disciplinary probation, and three were suspended.

READ MORE Landon Y. Jones ’66’s in-depth coverage of the Hickel heckle and the ensuing trial

For Goheen, speaking to the Judicial Committee, the tactics of the hecklers “bring us no nearer an ending of the Vietnam war. ... They demean the whole idea of academic freedom. They seriously undercut the ability of the University community to govern itself.” For others, including the editorial leadership of The Daily Princetonian, because SDS “protested policies and political figures who deserve to be protested, its effects were far more good than bad, and the demonstration was justified.”

As for Hickel, he was fired by Nixon in the fall, in part for pressing the president to listen to young Americans.  

John S. Weeren is founding director of Princeton Writes and a former assistant University archivist.