Student, Scholar, and President: Four Hours with Robert Goheen

It did not take long after coming to Princeton in 1994 for me to appreciate the importance of Robert Goheen and his place in University history. During his time in the president’s office, the University was transformed physically, socially, and academically and became the modern University it is today. But as I studied the records in the University Archives and came up to speed with his administration’s accomplishments, I had no sense of the man who oversaw this watershed era until one day Goheen visited Mudd Library to conduct research himself.

Expecting an oversize character on the order of Yale’s Kingman Brewster—Goheen’s contemporary who was a caricature in Doonesbury—I found just the opposite. He was a quiet, unassuming man who, if not for knowing his name from the daily log, I would have assumed to be just another of the many senior scholars who visited the library and dutifully went about their work. He did not ask for nor expect any special treatment, nor did his demeanor call attention to himself in any way. I would learn that was the essence of Bob Goheen.

In the coming years, there were a number of occasions where I crossed paths with Goheen, including one spring day when I went to his house to pick up his non-Princeton papers.  Later, Secretary of the University Robert Durkee asked me to conduct a video oral history interview with Goheen with the Alumni Council’s Kathy Taylor serving as producer. The four, hour-long videos here are the result of our efforts, and they document the man’s remarkable 72-year association with Princeton as a student, faculty member, and president.

All four interviews are described in a finding aid that contains links to the transcripts of the interviews.  (The transcripts also have time stamps which closely correspond with the video time stamp.)

The first interview, conducted on October 21, 2004, covers Goheen’s early life, his undergraduate, graduate, and faculty careers at Princeton, and his selection as University President at age 37. He also reflects on his mentor, Professor Whitney Oates, long-serving trustee Dean Mathey, his predecessor Harold Dodds, and Freddie Fox. (In each interview, I asked Goheen to discuss various people with whom he crossed paths. He freely admited that recalling specific anecdotes is not one of his strengths, and so these tend to be impressionistic.)   (Read the transcript.)

In the second interview (conducted on October 26, 2004), Goheen discussed the state of the University upon becoming president, the $53 Million Campaign, the growth and allocation of the University budget, coeducation, the eating clubs, and his contemporary Ivy League presidents. Of special note is his discussion of the 1963 Spring riots (15:35) as they related to the civil rights demonstrations in the South.  (Read the transcript.)

In the third interview (November 4, 2004), Goheen discusses coeducation in more detail, campus architecture, the establishment of the Provost’s Office, William Bowen, the growth of the graduate school, and changes in University governance and the Kelley Committee. (Read the transcript.)

The final interview (January 6, 2005) covers the creation of the Council on the Princeton University Community (CPUC), the Vietnam War and campus unrest including the campus strike of 1970, the Board of Trustees, his decision to resign as president, and his life afterwards, including his foundation work and his time as Ambassador to India. (Read the transcript.)

Generally speaking, as an archivist, I am concerned with preserving records, not generating them. But in interviewing Goheen, it was a chance to not only create what I hope will be a useful documentation of his long association with Princeton, it was also an honor and a pleasure.
Dan Linke
University Archivist