Robert Goheen and the Open Mind

Robert F. Goheen
Robert F. Goheen

Robert F. Goheen was a professor of classics when he was selected, at the age of 37, to become the 16th president of Princeton University. When he began his term in 1957, Princeton was a good school. But it was also very much a southern men’s club. When he stepped down in 1972, Princeton was one of the world’s great universities, having grown greatly in size and budget; in research productivity; and in ethnic and racial diversity. And it had become coeducational.

That last change was probably the most traumatic. Princeton’s trustees voted in favor of coeducation in the spring of 1969. The first women to be admitted as freshmen in an incoming class arrived that fall, members of the class of 1973. I was a member of that class, and I remember the turmoil on campus, with television crews running all over asking everyone what they thought of the matter. Since I had attended a coed elementary school and a coed high school which had far more diversity than was found at Princeton in 1969, I didn’t see much novelty. In fact, with only one hundred women and about one thousand men in the class, I found the ratio disappointing!

Goheen had championed coeducation in spite of some fierce opposition, mostly — although not exclusively — from alumni who decried the loss of a tradition and threatened to withhold their monetary contributions in protest. Moreover, his support marked a reversal of his earlier position. In 1965, he opposed coeducation, but changed his mind four years later.

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