“The Future Princeton Is Whatever Emerges from the Battle Now Joined”: The Concerned Alumni of Princeton, 1972-1986

By Mario Garcia ’18

In the aftermath of various social movements that transformed the United States throughout the 1960s, the late 1960s and early 1970s served as its own transformative era for Princeton University: with the introduction of undergraduate coeducation, increased enrollment of racial minorities, and formation of the first recognized student group for gay rights (Gay Alliance of Princeton (GAP)), the community began to expand in a way that challenged historical notions of who belonged at Princeton. In opposition to such momentous changes, a particularly vocal group called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) arose in 1972 with the goal of influencing an administration that they thought—by moving the student body in a direction that had neglected many alumni’s vision of what it meant to be a Princetonian—had led the University to its decline. CAP hoped to vocalize alumni dissent to the administration’s actions through the publication of Prospect, a magazine that the organization would periodically send to alumni. Reflecting CAP’s disapproval of Princeton’s efforts to alter its demographic makeup, Prospect would often reify structural sexism, racism, and homophobia. As CAP founder T. Harding Jones ’72 declared to the student body in the Daily Princetonian:

alumni are concerned, upset, enraged, sickened, or doubtful about some or all of the following: admissions policy, coeducation, athletics, radicals on campus, the Gay Alliance of Princeton, the refusal to allow alumni trustee candidates to speak out on the issues, the abolishment of almost all rules, the oneness of mind of the Board of Trustees and their apparent failure to act independently of President Bowen, the Alumni Council’s ties with the administration rather than its existence as an independent entity, the Alumni Weekly, and the failure of the administration to take the leadership in the moral and spiritual development of undergraduates.

As reflected in a Prospect article detailing the organization’s main objectives published on April 11, 1977, many members of CAP judged that the administration lacked “an understanding of and respect for what it has meant to be a Princeton scholar and a Princeton gentleman”: they believed that administration had lost sight of who made Princeton a world-class institution and had ignored those alumni who had retained this understanding and respect.

Summer 1981 cover of Prospect. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 16.

Other alumni expressed opposition to CAP’s objectives. Future U.S. Senator William Bradley ’65, who had initially joined the organization’s Alumni Advisory Board with the belief that CAP would present “both sides of an issue” in its statements, denounced Prospect after its first few issues as a publication “filled with innuendo and unsupported allegations.” In 1975, another future U.S. Senator agreed with Bradley’s sentiments. William Frist ’74, alongside the Trustee Committee on Alumni Affairs, submitted a report to the Board of Trustees that—after CAP had called upon alumni to withhold their annual donations to Princeton as an expression of discontent—derided CAP for promoting “a distorted, narrow and hostile view of the University.” The Board of Trustees then unanimously adopted this report. In more recent years, the organization received national attention due to the membership of current Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ’72. Though Alito listed his CAP membership on an application for a promotion while working in the Reagan administration, during his confirmation hearings in 2006 Alito said that the organization’s support of ROTC on Princeton’s campus might have drawn him in—not the organization’s exclusionary intentions concerning women and racial minorities at the University. “I deplore those statements,” he told the Senate. “I would never be a member of an organization that took those positions.”

Spring 1982 cover of Prospect. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 16.

Naturally, CAP’s efforts to maintain Princeton’s historical white, male, and heterosexual dominance influenced the experiences of marginalized students whose presence challenged this past. For example, an article in the Daily Princetonian recorded a case of CAP’s influence on the administration in 1976: when Provost Albert Rees rejected the Gay Alliance of Princeton’s request for the administration to declare that it did not discriminate on the basis of one’s sexual orientation, he did so on the grounds that such an action would displease members of CAP: “Have you thought a little bit about how Prospect magazine would think about that?” Furthermore, as the Daily Princetonian noted that same year, Prospect retained a significant readership within the student body on campus, “Of the 330 randomly selected undergraduates polled…77 per cent reported that they had ‘looked through a copy’ of Prospect.” With such a considerable presence on campus, CAP’s published exclusionary views may have contributed to many marginalized students’ feelings of isolation from the past University that CAP sought to recreate. Many women, racial minorities, and members of the gay community at Princeton would later reflect on this sense of isolation that they had felt during their college years (see Bibbins, Chiang, and Stephenson for reflections on Princeton by female alumni; see also “We Hunger,” by Michele Parris ’90).

March 15, 1976 cover of Prospect. The top photograph depicts the slashed Gay Alliance of Princeton banner Ariana Natalie Myers GS blogged about last year. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 15.

In the mid-1980s, CAP began a steady decline due to administrative power struggles and financial problems. As the Princeton Alumni Weekly and Daily Princetonian both noted at the time, Prospect magazine underwent numerous changes in editorial management within its final years—and all subsequent editors who followed T. Harding Jones ’72 were not alumni of Princeton University. Though CAP claimed that it would make a comeback from its fundraising struggles, the closing of the organization’s headquarters in the fall of 1986 signaled its demise. The organization would publish its last issue of Prospect later that year.

Sources:

Bibbins, Kirsten, Allen Chiang, and Heather Stephenson. Women Reflect About Princeton. Princeton University Office of Communications/Publications: Princeton, NJ. 1989.

Board of Trustees Records (AC 120)

Concerned Alumni of Princeton Records (AC305)

Daily Princetonian

Princeton Alumni Weekly

Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364)

2 thoughts on ““The Future Princeton Is Whatever Emerges from the Battle Now Joined”: The Concerned Alumni of Princeton, 1972-1986

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