“The plan in its briefest terms is this: to draw the undergraduates together into residential quads in which they shall eat as well as lodge together, and in which they shall, under the presidency of a resident member of the Faculty, regulate their own corporate life by some simple method of self-government.” - Woodrow Wilson ’79

In presenting the above report, as chairman of the committee, President Wilson spoke, in substance, as follows:

Gentlemen of the Board of Trustees: I have never had occasion, I probably never shall have occasion, to lay a more important matter before you than the proposals contained in this report; and, full as that report is, I feel justified in detaining you to add some explanatory matter of my own.

The plan outlined in the report is not of hasty or recent conception, and its object is not primarily a social reorganization of the University. It is but part, - an indispensable part, - of the purpose we have steadfastly set ourselves to accomplish, namely, the reorganization and revitalization of the University as an academic body, whose objects are not primarily social but intellectual, and whose characteristic work can be accomplished only in organic fashion, without confusion of aims or of methods, and without regard to things which are immaterial to the main end in view. I have long foreseen the necessity of thus drawing the undergraduates together in genuinely residential groups in direct association with members of the Faculty, as an indispensable accompaniment and completing of preceptorial system and of all the other measures we have taken to quicken and mature the intellectual life of the University.

The upper-class clubs seem, in the report, to occupy the foreground of the entire picture, and to be somehow at the heart of the circumstances which render a social recoordination of the University necessary; but that is only an accident of our development. What the report proposes would in any case be necessary. It is in itself the best and most thoroughly tested means of drawing the social and intellectual life of any college together which desired to do the things it is our purpose and duty to do for Princeton. The clubs simply happen to stand in the way. They are not consciously doing anything to the detriment of the University. Their spirit, on the contrary, has, throughout the greater part of their existence, been singularly fine. The thoughtful men int hem have done everything in their power to prevent factional feeling in the university and a too keen rivalry between the clubs; and the clubs have always been centres of the most loyal feeling for the University. But, in spite of their admirable spirit and of every watchful effort they have made to the contrary, and by a process which neither they nor we could successfully control, a system of social life has grown up in the University by reason of their existence which divides classes, creates artificial groups for social purposes, and renders a wholesome university spirit impossible. Circumstances created, not by design, but by the inevitable operation of human nature, render a radical reorganization of our life imperative, if the main ends for which that life is meant are to be attained.

Intellectual and spiritual development, in the broadest sense of those terms, are the chief and, indeed, the only legitimate aims of university life. Not that sport and social pleasure are to be excluded: the ought, on the contrary, to be given the keener zest by being made parts, the natural accompaniments, of a life that is deeply stimulating and interesting. But a university is first of all a place of study, a place in which to acquire a certain mastery in the use of the mind, in which to throw off crudities and gain a habit of thoughtful comprehension which is very different from a knowledge of set “lessons” and a mastery of allotted tasks. This is our chief thought and ideal for Princeton; and if we can in any considerable degree realize it every other good thing will come in its train, - the companionships which stimulate and reward, the fun that clears the head and lightens the spirits, the zest of youth that is the true seed of real manhood. These things come only when a university is made a real community, its companionships academic and steeped in the atmosphere of a life so constituted as to feel all the deeper impulses of the place: a life in which teacher and pupil alike take a natural part on terms of spontaneous intimacy, and in which there is constant matter-of-course contact between men young and old. Contacts of mind become the common accompaniment of social pleasure in such a community. Such is the purpose of the residential quads; and there is the abundant proof of long experience that they will accomplish it.

Under our present social organization there is a constant, even an increasing, disconnection between the life and the work of the University, between its companionships and its duties: there is an almost entire disconnection of consciousness between its hours and its ideals of pleasure and its hours and ideals of work. The social activities of the place not only have no necessary connection with any of its serious tasks, but are, besides, exceedingly complex and absorbing; do in fact absorb the energies of the most active undergraduates in purely unacademic things. It has become common for Sophomores, as the end of the academic year approaches, to ask the advice of their instructors (now that there is some intimacy of counsel between them) as to which career they shall choose for the remainder of their course, the studious or the social, the life of the student or the life of the clubman, - and that not because there is in the clubs any cynical indifference to study but because the social activities into which their members are naturally and inevitably drawn are very many and very delightful and very engrossing, and study has to take its chance in competition with them.

The last two years have seen influences of this kind increase in strength at an extraordinary rate, and gain a momentum which makes this the imperative time of action. It is clearly evident to anyone who lives in Princeton and intimately touches the life of the place that these influences are now cutting at the root of a thing upon which we depend for the maintenance of some of the best things in our custom and tradition. They are splitting classes into factions, and endangering that class spirit upon which we depend for the maintenance of some of the best things in our custom and tradition. They are splitting classes into factions, and endangering that class spirit upon which we depend for our self-government and for the transmission of most of the loyal impulses of the University. The “politics” of candidacy for membership in the upper-class clubs not only produce a constant and very demoralizing distraction from university duties in Freshman and Sophomore years and enforce all sorts of questionable customs, putting the sanction of habit upon many understandings which seriously hamper the freedom and the personal development of lads who have good stuff of initiative in them: they cut deeper even than that. Group rivalries break the solidarity of the classes. The younger classes are at no point made conscious of the interests of the University: their whole thought is concentrated upon individual ambitions, upon means of preference, upon combinations to obtain selfish individual ends, and the welfare of the University, as against any particular bad custom which will serve that purpose, is ignored, labour as the upper classmen may to point it out and enforce it. Not only do men in all classes feel that too great absorption in study will involve a virtual disqualification for social preferment; they also feel that the chief objects of their happiness and their ambition are connected with their social affiliations, not with the general interests of the University. They strive against this, when they become Junior and Seniors, but they do not strive against it successfully; and when they are Freshmen and Sophomores they do not strive against it at all. Men who enter the University after Freshman year are generally thrown out of the running altogether and find themselves in the upper years isolated and lonely, to the still further weakening of the old-time class solidarity. If for nothing else than to keep the classes undivided in spirit, the new quad divisions would be preferable to the present club divisions. The present system of our life is artificial and unwholesome. Individuals and classes alike must be restored to that feeling of intimate and constant connection with the University as the University, as an organic, indivisible thing, their home and their atmosphere, upon which Princeton’s strength and prestige depend.

The facts are disputed by no one who knows our undergraduate life as it is now constituted. It is by common consent threatened with the loss of college feeling and of class feeling and it is entirely disconnected from the intellectual purposes of the place in its aims and organization. Debate turns, not upon the facts, but only upon the means and methods of reorganization. The finest evidence of the spirit of Princeton seems to me to lie in the fact that the undergraduates themselves have during the past year, come to recognize the situation in all its significance and to wish for an entire emancipation from it, by no matter how radical a remedy. The things they have foreseen and dreaded and tried to stave off have come upon them, and they are ready to accept any thoroughgoing reform.

The remedy proposed by the committee whose report I have read is radical, indeed, but not wholly out of line with the organization it is meant to replace. The associations formed in the quads, will be like the associations formed in the clubs; with the elective principle left out, indeed, but with all the opportunities for a natural selection of chums and companions that the larger number in residence will afford; and with an added dignity of association, under resident members of the Faculty, fitted for the association and for the function of leadership and example which will naturally fall to them. The elective principle in the clubs at present amounts to litte more than the right to choose groups of men (artificially enough formed, as every body knows) rather than individuals. And, whether the new plan is like the old or not, it is not the social side that our thought is dwelling on. We are not seeking to form better clubs, but academic communities. We are making a university, not devising a method of social pleasure. The social life of the quads will be all inclusive, and it will serve as the medium for things intellectual.

The question, How the transition from our present social organization to the new organization is to be effected, - with what adjustments, accommodations, measures of transformation, - is now our main subject of debate; and we can enter on that debate with a frankness and confidence in each other which I believe no other university in the world could hope for in an undertaking of such delicacy and magnitude. We have a body of alumni for whom the interests of the University as a whole, as they may be made to see those interests at any moment of action, take precedence over every other consideration, and over every rival sentiment. They are ready to be partners with the undergraduates and ourselves in accomplishing anything that may be necessary to give free and wholesome vigour to the life of the University and to secure to her the fame which she covets and must win, - the fame of distinct intellectual purpose and a clear knowledge of the means by which she proposes to attain them.

I take leave to say that Princeton is the only university in the country which has found itself, which has formulated a clear ideal and deliberately set about the synthesis of plan necessary to realize it. She has set the country an example in the methods of teaching necessary to give a great university the intimacy of contact and the direct efficiency of instruction hitherto supposed to belong only to the small college, and suited to create, besides, something which the small college has seldom known how to create, - a habit and freedom of independent reading which makes a “course” something more than the instruction of a single classroom or a single instructor; and now she must take the next step. She must organize her life in such a way that these contacts between the university and the student shall be stuff of daily habit, and not merely matters of formal appointment; not a thing of the classroom and conference merely, but a thing which may touch every hour, any hour, of the day, and fill seasons of leisure and enjoyment with a consciousness of what it is that vitalizes a university and makes it a force in the life of a great nation. Common counsel shall bring us to this consummation, - not without trouble, but without serious conflict of opinion or purpose, as a new exhibition of what love of Princeton can do for her regeneration when her sons set themselves to the tsk. The labour will be pleasant, and the abiding fame of it will belong to all of us in common.

In order to complete the record of Commencement with regard to this important matter, we add the memorandum which Dr. Wilson sent to the presidents of the several upperclass clubs, in order to afford them an opportunity to discuss the project at their annual banquets, if they chose to do so, in a form which would be exact and not made up out of oral report. This memorandum, he gave it to be understood, emanated only from him individually and did not when it was issued rest upon any action of the Board of Trustees. Since he sent it out the Trustees have adopted the essential idea and purpose of the plan. The details embodied in the memorandum remain President Wilson’s individual suggestions.

Memorandum Concerning Residential Quads

I am very glad indeed to have an opportunity to explain a plan which, though certainly radical in character, can easily be so misunderstood as to seem much more radical than it is. It is a scheme I have long had in mind as a necessary means of giving Princeton not only social but also academic coordination and of making her new methods of study a vital part of her undergraduate life.

The plan in its briefest terms is this: to draw the undergraduates together into residential quads in which they shall eat as well as lodge together, and in which they shall, under the presidency of a resident member of the Faculty, regulate their own corporate life by some simple method of self-government. For this purpose it would be necessary to place all future dormitories in such relation to those already erected as to form close geographical units, and to erect in connection with each group a building which should contain a dining room, kitchens and serving rooms, a handsome common room for social purposes, and rooms for the member of the Faculty who shall preside in the quad. Every undergraduate would be required actually to live in his quad – that is, to take his meals there as well as lodge there; and the residents of each quad would be made up as nearly as might be of equal numbers of Seniors, Juniors, Sophomores, and Freshmen: because it is clear to every one that the life of the University can be best regulated and developed only when the underclassmen are in constant association with upper classmen upon such terms as to be formed and guided by them. The self-government of each group would naturally be vested in the Seniors, or in the Seniors and Juniors, who were members of the quad.

The objects of this arrangement would be (1)To place unmarried members of the Faculty in residence in the quads in order to bring them into close, habitual, natural association with the undergraduates and so intimately tie the intellectual and social life of the place into one another; (2) to associate the four classes in a genuinely organic manner and make of the University a real social body, to the exclusion of cliques and separate class social organizations: (3) to give to the University the kind of common consciousness which apparently comes from the closer sorts of social contact, to be had only outside the classroom, and most easily to be got about a common table, and in the contacts of a common life.

This plan directly affects the upper class clubs because, under it, it would be necessary to keep the most influential and efficient Seniors and Juniors in residence in the quads for their government and direction. It would be clearly out of the question to let them eat elsewhere and find their chief interests elsewhere, leaving the quads to Freshmen and Sophomores and a minority of upperclassmen who would be too few to play any true part of influence or control. The adoption of the plan would obviously make it necessary that the clubs should allow themselves to be absorbed into the University, by the natural process of becoming themselves residential quads, and so retaining their historical identity at the same time that they showed their devotion to the University by an act of supreme self-sacrifice. I cannot imagine a service to the University which would being more distinction, more éclat throughout the entire university would, or which would give to our present clubs a position of greater interest and importance in the history of academic life in America.

The details of the adjustments which would be necessary I have in large part thought out; but I do not wish them to be subject to change in my own mind. These complicated things cannot be wisely planned or executed except by the slow processes of common counsel; and I should wish the details of such a scheme of transformation to be worked out by the frank conference of all concerned.

But some things seem to be clear. I should hope that, in effecting the transition, each club would vest its property in the hands of a small board of trustees of its own choice who should be charged with administering it for the benefit of the University in association with the present university authorities; and that that board should have important powers of advice or confirmation in respect of the appointment of resident members of the Faculty and the regulations governing the assignment of students to the quad under its supervision, and with regard to all matters upon which they could retain a hold without embarrassing the uniform government of the University as a whole or the supreme authority of the Trustees of the University itself. And I see no reason why the graduate members of the several clubs might not retain all the privileges they now enjoy in respect of the use of the club property and meals at the club tables on their visits to Princeton. I see no reason why they should ever feel their relations to the clubs at all radically altered because the clubs had in effect become residential colleges.

Moreover, I should hope that it would be borne in mind that this scheme of social and academic coordination, which present conditions in the University seem to render imperatively necessary, is not a plan to prevent club life in Princeton. Club life is based upon social instincts and principles which it would be impossible to eradicate. But these natural instincts and tendencies would, under the new order of things, undoubtedly express themselves in a different way, a much better way than at present, - as they express themselves wherever men of congenial tastes find themselves in need of relaxation. Probably clubs of an entirely different character, not residential, but purely social organizations, would from time to time spring up; and I do not think that the university authorities would be jealous of that, provided such associations were sharply separated both in form and in tradition from the processes which have given us our present social strifes, perplexities, and divisions. No one can now predict just how the new developments would come or just what shapes they would take.

Woodrow Wilson ’79

This was originally published in the June 12, 1907 issue of PAW.