Grads recall the traditionalists who roiled Princeton campus
TRENTON, N.J. — Samuel Alito says he has no memory of belonging to Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a conservative group that sought to limit admissions of women and minorities.
His fellow graduates, it turns out, have excellent recall.
Bailey Brower, the group’s former treasurer and co-chairman, talks about a membership 10,000-strong dedicated to combating “a lunatic fringe that was on campus” in the 1970s and 1980s.
“We raised well over $1 million, we published a book, we had an office and personnel,” Brower, Class of 1949, said Wednesday. “This isn’t a splinter or fringe group.”
Abigail Bok, Class of 1976, remembers the day she threw a chocolate-cream pie at a staff member of the group’s magazine, Prospect, because it had published a slanted portrayal of coed dorm life over the holidays, when the cleaning staff was gone.
“They took all these pictures of mess here and there, as though this were the normal state in this degenerate, coeducational, racially mixed living situation,” she said.
Alito, a Trenton native, graduated from Princeton in 1972, the year Concerned Alumni started publishing Prospect. In 1973, one of the group’s fundraising letters said the larger population of women and minorities “will largely vitiate the alumni body of the future.” Through 1986, the year Concerned Alumni was disbanded, Prospect continued to editorialize against female and minority admissions, drug use, casual sex and other perceived ills.
In 1985, Alito included his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton on an application submitted to the Reagan administration. But in paperwork submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly after his nomination, he noted: “I have no recollection of being a member, of attending meetings or otherwise participating in activities.”
In hearings this week, Alito told senators that he must have joined because he was unhappy that Princeton had expelled the ROTC from campus. He said he was “absolutely not” opposed to women and minorities and would not have joined had he known of the group’s views about them.
Princeton alumna Diane Weeks, Class of 1975, worked with Alito in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The Sam Alito I knew and still know is a man of unquestioned integrity with a first-class legal mind,” said Weeks, a Morris County, N.J., Democratic chairwoman and an attorney in private practice.
“His professed membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton puzzles me. Sam never displayed a scintilla of intent to discriminate against women and minorities, as CAP had done in the early Seventies when I was at Princeton. I can only say that his actions should speak more loudly than his words in 1985. And his actions have always been ones which treat all people as equals.”
Bok, part of Princeton’s third coed class, recalled a school that had not yet adapted to the presence of women and a campus where Prospect magazine could be found in the residence halls and academic buildings.
“In the English Department, if you had to go to the bathroom, it was across two quads and down two floors in the library,” Bok said. “The rugby team lived over Blair Arch and they would pee out the window on you if you walked up the stairs.
“There was still a lot of conversation about whether women should be there, the diversity goals, the kinds of changes they were trying to make. So, yeah, we waited to hear what (Concerned Alumni) would say next. We looked for the next issue of the magazine. People I knew mostly excoriated it.”
Some suggested otherwise. Concerned Alumni was, after all, a group for graduates, one easily overlooked by Ivy League students preoccupied with the Vietnam War, civil rights and the feminist movement.
“They were articulate and therefore provocative and therefore attracted media attention far in excess of the numbers of alumni,” said Ed Strauss, who graduated the same year as Alito but did not know him.
“My sense is that by the mid-1970s, there was general acceptance among the alumni body, both young and old, of the wisdom and benefits of the changes. The demonization of CAP has been greatly overblown. It existed at a certain point in time. Now it’s disappeared. It was a phenomenon of history.”
Others — particularly Brower, now deputy mayor of Chatham Township — said it was important to view Concerned Alumni of Princeton within the backdrop of history.
“It was a lunatic fringe that was on campus. It made a lot of students uncomfortable,” he said. “It was the era of student rioting. Dope was being sold actively on the campus. It took a lot of moxie to be able to stand up and try to express your views.”
Brower said it was true that Concerned Alumni wanted to preserve some traditions. But it was against admitting women mainly because that meant fewer men could attend, he said. As for minorities, he said, Concerned Alumni welcomed whoever was qualified, no matter the race.
“We’ve always felt that the legacy — a Princeton graduate’s son or daughter — should have some kind of preference over the rest (of the applicants),” he said. “Hell, we built the school. We had no obligation to teach anyone. We can determine who we take and who we can’t take. The only point CAP took was that there should not be racial preference. We were completely in favor of anybody getting into Princeton who can do the work and who can bring to the table a rounded personality or background, or someone who was outstanding in any field.”
He added: “I just deplore what’s going on with Alito.”
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This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.