The following correspondence between President Wilson ’79 and Andrew C. Imbrie ’95, the new Alumni Trustee, which is published here with the consent of the writers, sheds much light on the practical working out of the residential quad system outlined last June in the Report of the Committee of the Board of Trustees on the Social Coordination of the University. Mr. Imbrie has made a thorough analysis of the many questions which have arisen concerning the quad system in the minds of alumni generally, and President Wilson’s answers to those questions will be eagerly welcomed by readers of The Weekly as the first official statement since the publication of the report, setting forth the details of the application of the quad system to Princeton.

My. Imbrie’s Letter

Mr. Imbrie’s letter to President Wilson, who was spending the summer in the Adirondacks, was as follows:

New York, July 25, 1907

Dear Dr. Wilson,

Since I received your letter of July 15, (the receipt of which I have already acknowledged) I have talked over the question of “Residential Quadrangles” with a good many Princeton men here in New York. Several of them are influential members of the Boards of Governors of the more prominent upper-class clubs. Others were not members of clubs; but all of them are interested in the report of your committee, and while at the present time I can find practically no one who is ready to declare himself altogether in favor of the proposition, I think I may say that most of them are disposed to consider the question with an open mind.

However, many questions have arisen in our discussions which I have been unable to answer as I did not become a member of the Board until after the meeting at which the report of the committee was discussed. I will appreciate it if you will give me at your convenience, some information upon the following points.

  1. What is the proposed method of appointment or election to the several “quads?” Is it ever to be by the choice of the parent of the student? Under any circumstances will the student himself have a choice in the matter? Or is it to be by faculty appointment? If by faculty appointment what considerations will weigh with the individual member of the faculty or with the committee upon whom the responsibility will rest? Or are appointments to be made by lot as in the present assignment of rooms? Will the Freshman Commons in University Hall be continued or is it proposed to assign Freshmen to quads immediately after entering college?
  2. As to transfers from one quad to another. Under what circumstances are they to be permitted? Is an effort to be made to make all the quads as nearly as possible equally desirable? How is the natural tendency for congenial men to group themselves together to be regulated?
  3. If there should be in the University too many students to be accommodated in the quads, what will become of the surplus? What men will be left out? May a student live in town with his family? If so, what will prevent men choosing to live in town if they are assigned to quads which for one reason or another may be considered undesirable. Is it not conceivable that a number of men, if they had the means to do so, might “maintain residences” in their respective quads and actually live together in town?
  4. Are all four classes to have the use of the common room in each of the quads? Are they to sit by classes at meals, or is that a matter of detail which may be determined by each quads for itself? Will a student, by virtue of his membership in the University, have access for social purposes to all quads?
  5. As to the relations of the University with the present upper-class clubs. How can the University take over the property of the several clubs for the purpose of making quads of them? Suppose some or all of the clubs refuse to turn over their property. Is it proposed to forbid undergraduates joining them, and so to force the clubs to do one of three things: to cooperate with the quadrangle plan, or to become bankrupt, or to be maintained solely as graduate organizations?
  6. If the Ivy Club or the Cottage Club (for instance) should become a quad is it proposed to give sone or brothers or cousins or “friends” of former Ivy or Cottage men the privilege of entering such quads?
  7. If the quad plan is put into operation, and assuming that the clubs can be persuaded to cooperate with the University, is it proposed to enlarge some or all of the present buildings, or will they (at least temporarily) be severally used as the commons for particular dormitories on the campus?
  8. How is it proposed to begin the system? Are all the dormitories to be altered simultaneously to include dining rooms and common rooms? If we are to introduce the system by degrees, how is it to be determined who shall join the first quads? If it is to be done at one time, what is the estimated cost? Has anybody intimated that the funds for the establishment of the system will be forthcoming, or is it expected that the alumni at large will contribute as they have already contributed for the establishment of the Preceptorial System?
  9. In your letter of July 15, you state that the plan proposed by the committee was not primarily or even chiefly social; that it is academic and aims at the best university organization. You state further that the idea of the quad plan, while “adopted by the Board of Trustees as the policy of the University,” was nevertheless open to criticism and discussion on the part of everybody concerned. If I am a judge of the present temper of the alumni, I believe that we cannot over-estimate the difficulty of putting into operation the plan as proposed by the committee, in the face of the very serious opposition which we may expect from many thoughtful graduates upon whom we have hitherto depended for enthusiastic support. If a plan can be devised which will make use of the present club organizations and which will at the same time recognize more fully the natural tendency of men to find social relaxation among those who are congenial; a plan which will eradicate or at least minimize the objectionable features of the present club situation and at the same time provide for a more democratic mingling of the members of all classes – do you think that the Board would be likely to consider it? Or, do I understand from your letter than, having adopted the quad principle substantially as outlined in the report of the committee, they are open to argument only upon the question of ways and means, and that the splitting up of the University into small groups from which the elective principle has been barred out, and to which men are more or less arbitrarily as signed, has been finally and definitely adopted as the future organization of Princeton?

Yours faithfully,

Andrew C. Imbrie

Dr. Woodrow Wilson,

            St. Hubert’s Inn,

            Essex Co., N. Y.

President Wilson’s Reply

President Wilson’s reply to Mr. Imbrie’s letter was as follows:

            St. Hubert’s, Essex County, N. Y.,

            July 29th, 1907

My dear Mr. Imbrie:

I take real pleasure in replying to the questions contained in your letter of July 25th. I would say by way of preface that almost all of them concern matters which the committee of the Board deliberately intended to leave open to discussion. My answers to them, therefore, will be my personal judgments regarding them, subject to such revision as discussion may bring. I have naturally myself thought out these details, and none of the points you raise is therefore new to me.

1st. The freshman commons in University Hall would not be continued, but freshmen would be assigned to quads immediately after entering college. It would be best that assignments to the several quads should be made by a committee of the faculty. As a rule, such assignments would be virtually by lot, but I should hope that a very considerable degree of latitude and elasticity would be allowed in the matter. For example, I at present see no conclusive objection to allowing the choice of parents in the matter to have considerable weight. I should think it perfectly permissible to assign boys, for example, to quads in which brothers or near relatives were already living. The only thing to guard against would be any tendency for men of a particular kind to flock to a particular quad, and so give quads over to the occupation of particular “sets.”

2nd. As to transfers from one quad to another, I see no serious objection to allowing men in one quad to transfer to another, when that should prove possible by reason of the vacating of rooms, in order to be with special friends, though here again the same thing would have to be guarded against that I have mentioned in the last paragraph. An effort would certainly be made to make all the quads as nearly as possible equally desirable, and the main point of the regulations would certainly be to prevent any one quad or quads coming to seem particularly exclusive or desirable.

3rd. With regard to the possibility of there being too many students to be accommodated in the quads, I would say that it would be necessary to provide accommodation for everybody, if not immediately at any rate as soon as possible, and in the meantime to have men live only in places under some sort of direct supervision by the university authorities, as it were attached to particular quads. I am clear that all men ought to be obliged to live in the University in one or another of the quads, that the growth of a non-residential group or body of students would be highly undesirable, and that it would be necessary to limit the numbers admitted to the University to the accommodations available. I mean, of course, after the initial stages at which we had caught up with our numbers by additional dormitories.

4th. It would be my judgment that only juniors and seniors should have the use of the common rooms in each of the quads; that the way they should sit at meals would be a matter of detail to be determined by each quad for itself; and that every student, by virtue of his membership in the university, would of course have free access at all times to all quads.

5th. As regards the relation of the University to the present Upper-Class Clubs, should the clubs be unwilling to come into the new scheme, it would of course be necessary to forbid undergraduates to join them. This seems on the surface a harsh decision, but I think that it will be evident to anyone who thinks of it, that such a decision is necessarily involved in the adoption of the quad system. If the best men in the University were drawn off to the clubs, the new system would certainly lack both heart and vigor.

6th. If the Ivy Club or the Cottage Club, to take your example, should become a quad, I should certainly hope that sons or brothers of former Ivy or Cottage men might be given the preference in assignments to those quads.

7th. If the quad plan is put into operation, I should think that as a transitional provision it might be best to use the buildings of such of the clubs as were willing to come into the arrangement, as commons for particular dormitories or groups of dormitories on the campus until the complete arrangements of the system could be made.

8th. Your eighth question opens up what is, of course, the chief difficulty of the whole thing, the ways and means. I do not think that we can expect the alumni at large to defray the cost of establishing the new system. I shall hope that the money for it will all come from some one source, though nothing is at present pledged for it. To establish the system entire and at one time would probably cost $2,000,000. Personally, I do not doubt that the money can be found, but of course, if it cannot, the adoption of the system may have to be postponed. The dormitories will not be altered to include dining rooms and common rooms: it will be necessary to erect buildings containing dining rooms and common rooms, and add them to groups of dormitories. If it is necessary to introduce the system by degrees, a committee of the faculty would have to determine who should join the first quads.

9th. What I meant in my letter of July 15th by saying “that the plan proposed by the committee was not primarily or even chiefly social; that it is academic and aims at the best university organization,” was that the object of it was the embody the life lived by the undergraduates outside the classroom in an organization which should be a university organization and not a congeries of social organizations managed entirely by undergraduates and primarily for social purposes. I am sure that the Board would not only be willing, but glad to discuss any other plan that might be proposed, which had this or substantially this end in view, and I hope that the alumni may presently understand the temper in which we are approaching the whole matter. It is a temper which is as far as possible removed from a desire either to force the pace or to conclude the discussion before it is begun, and it is my very earnest desire that the utmost freedom of suggestion should be exercised. We could not see, in our discussion of this matter, any way of reaching our end which did not involve what the quad system involves, namely, he substitution for what the clubs now supply, of larger residential groups whose membership should not be made up by the process of undergraduate election and in which the life could be so arranged that, at any rate by the presence of many of its members, the influence of the faculty might constantly be felt. There is no thought, of course, of making these quadrangles like the residential houses of a school, under the authority of masters. They should be in the truest and most extensive sense possible self-governing, and the influence of the resident members of the faculty would be proportionate to their personal gifts and qualities.

As for myself, I feel that we are here debating, not only a plan, but an opportunity to solve a question common to all the colleges and obtain a leadership which it will not be within our choice to get again within our lifetime. The colleges of the country are looking to us for leadership in this matter, as in others, and if we disappoint them it will be an opportunity irretrievably lost. I have talked this subject over with a great many men from other universities, and I feel convinced that our solution will be accepted as the general solution, if we have strength and courage enough to act upon it.

I have no doubt that it is true, as you say, that in the present temper at any rate of some part of our body of alumni, it would be very difficult to put the plan in its integrity into operation, but we will devote as much time as necessary to the discussion of the matter before acting, and I for one confidently believe that the bulk of the alumni will in the long run be willing to do even this radical thing for their alma mater. I believe that all that is necessary is a clear understanding of the facts and a candid coming together in common counsel.

I very much appreciate the fine way in which you are handling this matter, and hope that you will not hesitate to call upon me at any time, even to come to New York if you should deem that necessary.

With warmest regard,

Faithfully yours,

Woodrow Wilson.

Mr. Andrew C. Imbrie.

President Wilson later, in conversation with the editor of The Weekly, added this comment upon the subject-matter of his letter:

“I have been very much surprised at the extraordinary misconception of the character of the proposed quadrangles that has got abroad. I am constantly spoken to about the ‘segregation’ which will be the result. I am at a real loss to understand what the critics who use this word in objection to the plan can mean. There is to be no more separation between the dormitories when they are grouped into quadrangles than there is now. Now the college dines together in groups of from fifteen to thirty; in the quads they will dine together in groups of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty. That will be the chief, almost the only, difference between the present life of the place and the quad system, so far as the separation of the men is concerned. They will be less segregated then than they are now, and the segregated pieces will not be rivals of one another. There will of course be absolute freedom of intercourse between all parts of the University, greater freedom in fact than there is now. The quads will not be places of confinement, but places of intercourse and freedom.”

This was originally published in the September 25, 1907 issue of PAW.