A place for family, friends and colleagues of Robert F. Goheen

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Robert F. Goheen, president of Princeton University from 1957 to 1972 during a period of transformative growth and change, died of heart failure Monday, March 31, at the University Medical Center at Princeton. He was 88.

Goheen was an assistant professor of classics when, at age 37, he was selected to become Princeton’s 16th president. During his tenure Princeton became coeducational, increased its ethnic and racial diversity and coped with protests against the war in Vietnam. The University expanded its commitment to research, its annual budget quadrupled, alumni contributions more than doubled and 25 new buildings were constructed on the main campus.

"With the passage of time, it becomes more and more clear that Bob Goheen was one of the great presidents of Princeton history," said President Shirley M. Tilghman. "He demonstrated remarkable courage in all he did, from introducing coeducation and increasing the diversity of the student body to strengthening the faculty and leading the University successfully through a time of societal upheaval in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was greatly admired and respected for his leadership and vision and attentiveness to the views of others, and widely beloved among Princetonians for the values and personal qualities that were evident from the day he arrived on campus as a freshman and throughout his life."
This blog is intended to honor the life and legacy of Robert F. Goheen and is open to all of those who wish to share comments and stories that capture the spirit of one of Princeton’s most beloved members. To add your thoughts, click on the Comments link above.

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I had the incredible good fortune of taking an independent study with President Goheen as a junior in 1986. To me, that class was the embodiment of Princeton's best characteristic: its deep commitment, not only to undergraduate education, but to the flourishing and development of young men and women.

That I had the opportunity to take the class at all is an extraordinary story. As a history major, I was required to write a junior paper and found myself fascinated by the contrast between the modern histories of China and India. I'd taken courses on China, but couldn't find anything similar on India. So I went to the chair of the History Department, told him about my idea, and asked him whether I could take an independent study on Indian history. The chair said that he didn't have anyone in the department who could teach the course. I had been to a talk by President Goheen and knew that he'd been ambassador to India. Without knowing anything else about him, I asked, "Could President Goheen teach it?" The chair looked at me for a long minute, and then said, "He'd be perfect, and I'll ask him."

A week later, President Goheen had agreed to teach me, and the next semester I met with him for two hours every other week, reading through the history of India from the Vedic Age through independence and partition. He was erudite, gently but firmly rigorous, and focused on my questions. Only twenty years later do I realize, as a professor myself, the commitment of time he made to a student he knew nothing about, for no better reason than that I wanted to learn. I was not going to be, and am not now, an India specialist, a Foreign Service officer, an entrepreneur with some marvelous scheme, an activist for human rights; I made no claim that his time was an investment towards some greater good. No matter; he believed that my interest was its own justification.

Princeton taught me a great deal about history and the other liberal arts, and gave me a superb foundation for doctoral work. But its most precious gift to a young woman on the cusp of adulthood was this: that if you have the confidence to pursue your dreams, those around you will do their best to help. I remember Princeton as a place of astounding generosity to its undergraduates, not just because of its facilities and resources, but because of the commitment that its faculty and staff showed to their students' dreams, no matter how small. My small dream - one independent study in one semester for one undergraduate -- is nothing in the tally of President Goheen's contributions to Princeton: the buildings, the faculty research, the very composition of the student body. But he gave my dream the same nurturing, the same attention, that he gave his great achievements; and doing so, displayed the greatness of spirit that is Princeton at its best.

Ann Chih Lin '87
Associate Professor, Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan

thank you so much from one of the 4 daughters who maybe helped raised his consciousnes-- Trudi Goheen Swain

My late father always referred to his longtime friend as Bob, and would do so now, but to me he will always be ‘President Goheen’--and I'm fortunate that he was so for my first three years at Princeton--for he is quite simply the Princeton President of my lifetime, and remains in Shakespeare's lovely phrase ‘the constant image’ of scholar, teacher, President, and Christian gentleman. I'll never forget how thrilled I was to discover, through President Goheen's letter to me two summers ago, that the motto my dad gave me at the beginning of senior year ('Lux Umbra Dei'--'Light is the Shadow of God') came from the Latin inscription on the astrolabe that President Goheen was given by colleagues and friends at Nassau Hall at a retirement ceremony a few months earlier. Yes, Lux Umbra Dei--and no one reflected that light with greater clarity or brilliance than President Goheen --Charles Scribner III '73*77

I entered Princeton in September 1956 as one of the earliest graduate students in Electrical Engineering Department, which was opposite to the Firestone Library. I was one of the very few students from India. Dr. Goheen was an assistant professor of classics. Being born and had his early education in India, Dr. and Mrs. Goheen used to invite the four or five Indian students on campus to his home in Orchard Circle. We used to enjoy these meetings and mingle with his children. Later that year we heard an announcement that Dr. Goheen will be the next President of Princeton when Harold Willis Dodds retired. It came as a total surprise to everybody, how such a young assistant professor of classics could be elevated as President of a great university. I still remember that this news was the talk of the town. I graduated with a Master's degree from Princeton in 1958 with the diploma signed by Robert Francis Goheen and this is still my prized possession. I went on to University of Pennsylvania and took my doctorate in Electrical Engineering. I always came back to Princeton during the early years and vigorously campaigned for John F. Kennedy.

Dr. Goheen had laid the foundations for Princeton to be one of the greatest universities making innovative changes by admitting women. I watched with awe the moving of the old Woodrow Wilson School to accommodate the new Woodrow Wilson School with the beautiful architecture of Minoru Yamasaki.

I went back to India and I heard that Dr. Goheen was appointed as Ambassador to India from the US. I wrote to him from Bangalore, a letter welcoming him to India as the emissary of USA. He graciously responded to my letter and to my surprise even remembered me!

Dr. Goheen was indeed a very gracious man with endearing mannerisms.
We will sorely miss him.

Venkatarama Krishnan *59
Professor Emeritus Electrical Engineering, UMass Lowell

During 1930's 30th reunion in 1960 found wives and children were established on the lawn where Woodrow Wilson now stands, under a great bronze beech tree. Through 79 Arch with Woodrow Wilson's flag flying overhead swung the band, then, there at the top of the steps in full 20th Reunion uniform, was the young President! Unforgettable.
(Foreign graduate students were astounded!)

During an Alumni Day when wives were invited to the forums I had a chance meeting with the President. I said to him, "Thank you for including us." With amazement he replied, "Why ever not?" We recall what happened not long thereafter.

In May 1970 - Princeton's white gala banner hung from Blair Arch "Even Princeton." A packed chapel. Packed Jadwin, the whole Princeton University Community. The vote to strike - then days of hard study as graduate and undergraduate students prepared to meet their Congressmen. The Crew Team at the big meet with strike emblems on their shirts. Then the FitzRandolph Gates opened at Commencement. Back of it all a quiet man kept academic peace.

I entered Princeton in 1971. Personally, this was a watershed year in my life. I was among the first groupings of women admitted to Princeton, I was also one of a handful of Hispanic women admitted that year, and given my upbringing I had no inkling about the “Ivy League” experience that I was about to embark upon. I was, at that time, the beneficiary of President Goheen’s introduction of coeducation and commitment to increase the diversity of the student body. Little did I understand, at that time, how Princeton would change my life forever. Today, I am a shareholder in a San Francisco law firm, thousands of miles from Princeton and from where I grew up. As I write on this blog, I fully recognize and am personally appreciative of the vision and initiative shown by President Goheen. His efforts not only touched and changed my life, but those of many others. He will be missed.

He was a gentleman in the very best sense of the word. He exuded a fundamental decency and a commitment to the best of the University’s values. Although we only spoke a few times, I will miss him dearly. His family and university should be very proud.

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