Originally published in the May 5, 1970, issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
Harold Kuhn [*50], Professor of Mathematical Economics, is a member of two separate departments of instruction: mathematics and economics. His field of special interest is the application of mathematical techniques to economics. This article is adapted from his talk on university governance delivered at this year’s Alumni Day. -ED.
The governance of academic institutions is a controversial subject. Universities that seemed to be the last haven of reason have become the center of a raging storm powered by all of the tensions and frustrations of our society. Violence has struck at many of them. Violence is always news, so the attention of the world outside has been riveted on the most extreme problems within academic walls. These problems have sprung from all of the major issues of our time. Racism, sexism, drugs, pollution, inflation, repression of dissent, uncontrolled violence, the Vietnam War: all of these engage academic communities and interact with their major purposes. Caught up in this storm, many great institutions have faltered in their attempts to govern themselves and have fallen back on the intervention of the police.
The choice before Princeton in this period has been a clear one: either we establish an effective private government on the campus or public forces external to the university will prevent the free pursuit of the real objectives of the university, which are: the transmission of knowledge, the development of students, the pursuit of truth, and through these, the advancement of the general welfare of society.
To theorize about an ideal government on a campus, one should be a de Tocqueville of 20th century American society. Even to observe it with any objectivity one should really be an informed and sensitive stranger-not someone who is as involved personally as a student, a faculty member, administrator, trustee, or even alumnus. However, for better or for worse, it is we who live here who bear the responsibility for developing institutions strong enough to survive the times. And it is our continuing task to explain our actions to the world outside, and especially to you, the devoted and interested alumni of the university.
I confess to being a biased observer, but my prejudices come from intense, first-hand experience of almost every major crisis of the past three years. In these years, I have attended every important demonstration or teach-in. After the crucial demonstration in front of Nassau Hall on May 2nd, 1968, I sat with the president and provost in the austere Faculty Room of Nassau Hall when they discussed the issues with the demonstration leaders. I was jostled with the dean of students in the lower lobby of the Woodrow Wilson School during the abortive attempt to block Marine recruiting. My diary shows 40 hours of policy meetings in the week between the occupation of New South and special meeting of the faculty that maintained the legitimacy of our judicial procedures and supported our policies limiting disruptive campus protests. That meeting, as many the faculty meetings of these years, saw larger attendance and more serious debate than has been seen in Princeton for many years. And through all of these crises, students have worked effectively side-by-side with faculty members, administrators and the president of the university, a president who has been exemplary in his visibility and devotion to justice.
Out of this experience, these are my biases: We cannot govern ourselves without a sense of community that is based on respect for individual rights and responsibilities. The real dangers to the university are these: failures to communicate, ideals professed and not acted upon, insensitivity to the rights of others, and the alienation from which violence springs. New forms of government alone cannot protect the campus against these dangers. However, unless our arrangements involve all groups on the campus in significant and relevant roles, we have no defense against them.
Having disqualified myself as a dispassionate observer, I would like to sketch a history of the recent past in a few broad strokes. Three major developments stand out that have changed the way Princeton governs itself. The first has been a marked increase in the participation of students. The second has been the consistent use of open discussion and public accountability when controversial decisions are in question. The third has been the work of the special committee on the structure of the university over the past 21 months, which has led to the establishment of the Council of the Princeton University Community. These three developments have brought major changes in the way that Princeton meets its problems, changes that are too slow for some who see the world with a horizon of four undergraduate years, changes that are too fast for some who still see a modern university as a business with the “trustees as partners, the faculty as salesmen, and the students, customers.”
In 1968, the faculty gave unanimous approval to arrangements by which students could participate more effectively in forming those policies that affect them directly. The policy document embodying these changes was presented to the faculty with the following words of introduction: “In a period when confrontation and conflict are the norms of university life, it is a pleasure to present ... a document that is the result of long and patient deliberation in which every segment of the university community played a responsible part. This deliberation was not undertaken reaction to demands or demonstrations but rather in recognition of the clear fact that the role of the student in the academic community deserved serious reconsideration and study.”
It is important to note that these words were spoken in early May of 1968, when Columbia University had been brought to its knees by violence and disruption. The peace on our own campus was fragile. Resolution of the issues that divided us was only possible then because regular consultation between administration, faculty, and students was already an established fact.
Two significant changes were made in student participation at that time. First, committees elected by undergraduate majors were to be established in all departments to “encourage students to . . . initiate proposals and to seek discussion of any issue of general departmental importance.” During the last academic year, these committees have been elected in almost all departments. They have brought forward many constructive proposals. Changes have resulted from this consultation in at least 15 departments: changes in courses offered, the character of junior independent work, the basis for awarding honors, and the nature of the comprehensive examination.
The second change in the formal role of students that came last year was that, by joint action of the president and the officers of the UGA, student members have been sitting with the committees on admission, library, course of study, and examinations and standing. In addition, the undergraduate and faculty committees on policy have confronted many problems in joint meetings.
Students meeting with faculty committees has a long tradition at Princeton. As long ago as 1927, the trustees authorized representatives of the then Undergraduate Council to sit with the discipline committee and the committee on nonathletic activities. According to the late Dean Gauss, writing in 1947, although the students were given the right to make their views public when there was a split decision, this had only happened four times in 20 years. I believe that the students’ experience recently has confirmed what many faculty members have long known, that power does not lie in votes in these committees but in reasoned argument and in the outlets for expression when policy is being made.
The use of public discussion and justification of controversial policies was essential for the general acceptance of the decisions regarding IDA, South Africa, and coeducation. If I were asked to pick one occasion to mark the beginning of a new spirit of community on this campus, it would be the evening of the open meeting on IDA, a meeting that filled McCosh 50, and which brought together parts of the university that had seldom met in public before. Decisions on such matters cannot be made by public referenda but they must be informed by such opinions as are widely held. Unexplained and arbitrary administrative actions have no place in a modern university. It must be said that following a policy of public accountability requires an administration that is convinced of its reasons and courageous enough to defend them. We are fortunate that our administration has never shirked this duty.
The work of the special committee on the structure of the university, popularly known as the Kelley committee after its chairman, Professor Stanley Kelley, may be called many things but none of them is “hasty.” Since we were elected in May of 1968, we have held between 80 and 90 meetings, at most of which all 15 members were present. We have worked so long that several undergraduate members have graduated-one to a Rhodes scholarship, two more to law school-and one of the two women on the committee has changed from a graduate student to a lecturer in politics. A final report is scheduled for release this spring.
The major reform to come about thus far as the result of the Kelley committee’s labors has been the founding of the Council of the Princeton University Community. This infant on the campus scene has 57 members drawn from all parts of the university, including four members from the alumni. In no university in the country will you find a more broadly representative group deliberating the welfare of an academic institution.
What has the Council done this year? It has met monthly since October and has had all of the natural problems of organizing itself. It has debated and rejected by a large majority a proposal to postpone the football game with Yale on the occasion of the November Moratorium. It has deplored the secret character of a meeting held by an outside group on the campus, and it has condemned the denial of a visa by the Justice Department to Professor Mandel, who had been invited to speak on the campus. It is investigating the adequacy of the University Store. However, its major work is carried on through its charter committees. The priorities committee has been treated to an intensive course in the economics of education by Provost Bowen in the course of its review of the budget. Bill Bowen whips his committee so hard that he has gained the title of “Vince Lombardi.” The resources committee has reviewed a policy document on the redefinition of endowment income, which has been acted upon by the trustees. The committee on relations with the local community has helped initiate a highly successful Saturday program for town youth in Jadwin Gymnasium and cosponsored a successful workshop that may well herald a new era in town-gown relationships. The committee on governance has proposed a set of priorities to be considered in choosing new trustees. The judicial committee has framed its procedures with the greatest of care and has heard its first appeal case. Last, but not least, the committee on rights and rules is engaged in a thorough review and codification of all rules of conduct on the campus.
The principle that now guides the making of rules of conduct for all resident members of the university community can be stated in a single sentence: “Self-government is ideal government.” This revolutionary thought with its echoes of “Power to the people” was not first shouted at a rally on the steps of Nassau Hall nor presented in a set of non-negotiable demands. It is quoted from the inaugural presidential address of Francis Landey Patton on the 20th of June, 1888! A remarkable man, Patton touched on many problems in that speech that are with us today. The sentence I have quoted comes from a passage dealing with the conduct of students in which he also said: “A wise man knows better than to treat a grown man like a child. What laws we need in college will depend on circumstances. … What regulations are necessary is a matter of time, place and circumstances. Self-government is ideal government. Spontaneous obedience to a self-imposed law that supersedes law imposed by another is ideal life.” It must be admitted that he went on to say that he feared that “it will take at least another administration to bring the Princeton undergraduate up to that standard.”
Eighty-two years and four administrations have passed before President Patton’s ideal became a reality. This reality finds its legislative expression in a passage from the charter of the Council that gives the Council the authority to make rules of conduct for all resident members of the university but also says that this authority shall normally be delegated to bodies representative of groups most affected by those rules. In practical and immediate terms, this means that responsibility for conduct in the dormitories now belongs to the Undergraduate Assembly and its dormitory council. This does not mean that the university community has given carte blanche to these groups to do whatever they please. The Council is responsible for representing the interests of the entire university community in this area. It has the duty to maintain a careful oversight of the making and applying of rules of conduct and has the authority to impose or revise regulations if the groups concerned have failed to protect the rights of individuals or have ignored the legitimate interests of the university.
It is natural that rules and regulations should change with time. The laws of the College of New Jersey pertaining to students of President Patton’s time prohibited dueling, hazing, uncleanness, and the frequenting of “any place where intoxicating liquors are sold as a beverage.” None of these seem necessary today. The current undergraduate regulations devote as much space to “Bonfires and Celebrations” as they do to disruptive demonstrations. One of the student members of the rights and rules committee has aptly remarked that this preoccupation with bonfires smacks more of F. Scott Fitzgerald than of the 1970’s. We intend to cure this with a new general regulation concerning damage to university property that will apply to students and faculty alike.
Far from relinquishing control over the problems of conduct on the campus, not for many years has so much time and effort been devoted by faculty and students to a thoughtful reevaluation of our rules and regulations. In doing so, we have made significant progress in recognizing certain basic civil rights on campus. Contrast the following rule from the 1890’s with the practice today:
“Any student who may be required so to do, shall open the door of his room to any officer of the college; and if he refuses the officer may break it open, and the expense of repairing it shall be defrayed by the student, who shall also be punished for disobedience.” The present policy reads:
“The university respects the right to privacy of students and will undertake to secure them and their ‘quarters from unreasonable entry and search.”
These changes parallel an increase in judicial review of disciplinary actions in state universities that has extended to students the legal protection of the Bill of Rights and the requirements of due process. Although it is not yet clear what the law requires of a “private” university, it is unthinkable that we should stop short at the bare minimum demanded of “public” universities by the courts. When we have expanded procedural safeguards and made explicit rights which have been present on the campus for many years, we have not done this because we were forced to do it by law but because it is right.
Let us return to the inauguration of President Patton on that June day in 1888. Henry van Dyke, who spoke for the alumni as President of the Princeton Club of New York, ended his introduction of the new president with the following words: “Alumni, don’t talk to the man at the wheel! Let him steer. But say ‘God speed the ship,’ and bear a hand.” I am certain that every president of Princeton from that day to this has, on occasion, wished that this advice had been followed literally, although it hardly describes the proper role of alumni in our times. You, by your presence at the meetings today, represent the many alumni of Princeton who want to learn at first hand what is really happening. I believe that you have seen a university that has changed, not to buy internal tranquility at any price, but to foster academic excellence and intellectual ferment and to realize by actions the ideals it professes. If you are critical, then you are more likely to be critical of the reality here rather than of general unrest at large in our country. We in the resident community are accountable to you and to the world outside. We recognize that we not only must govern ourselves but must be seen to govern ourselves. We do not need or want a silent alumni body. You can “bear a hand” today by knowing your university well, by explaining its needs and policies to the wider public, and by defending its freedom to govern itself.