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Vol. LXII, No. 14
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
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Robert F. Goheen

Robert F. Goheen, Innovative University President, Dies at 88

Robert F. Goheen, the Princeton University president who ushered the University through coeducation, encouraged an increase in minority faculty members, and worked to increase community ties by spending several years of his retirement examining town-gown transformation on and off campus, died Monday at the University Medical Center at Princeton. He was 88.

The cause was heart failure, according to a University statement.

Mr. Goheen was an assistant professor of classics when, at age 37, he was selected to become Princeton’s 16th president, and the youngest since the Revolutionary War. During his tenure, in addition to enrolling women, increasing its ethnic and racial diversity, and coping 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 in Princeton history,” said Shirley M. Tilghman, Princeton’s president since 2001.

After retiring from the presidency, he left the University to serve in a number of positions, including president of the Council on Foundations and ambassador to India. He returned to Princeton in 1981 as a senior fellow in public and international affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and continued to be an active member of the University and local community, most notably as a co-founder of Princeton Future, a community-based organization that examines social, economic, and developmental aspects of town growth. In a letter to Mr. Goheen’s widow, Margaret Goheen, the Princeton Future Council acknowledged her husband’s work on and off campus. “Bob cared deeply about the community. He made the most singular contribution to the founding of this organization: he went over every word, every comma of our founding statement. He ensured honesty and humility without sacrificing the need to be progressive and definite. He spoke out forcefully in public on what is right,” the letter read.

Sheldon Sturges, Princeton Future managing director, called him “a real fighter for social justice.”


Robert F. Goheen was born August 15, 1919, in Vengurla, India, where his parents were serving as Presbyterian medical missionaries. He moved to the United States in 1934 to finish his high school education at the Lawrenceville School, and graduated with honors in two years. At age 17 he entered Princeton, the alma mater of both his grandfather and his brother, as a member of the class of 1940. His family recalls him as a lifelong fan of Princeton athletics and an avid fisherman and gardener. After earning an A.B. in classics, he enrolled in Princeton’s Graduate School to continue his study in the field. However, his work was interrupted by his induction into the Army in the buildup to World War II. He served in the intelligence section of the 1st Cavalry Division for more than four years, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He re-enrolled in 1945 and combined his graduate studies with work as a part-time preceptor and tutor. He earned his M.A. in 1947 and his Ph.D. in 1948, both in classics. He continued teaching classics at Princeton and was named an assistant professor in 1950. From 1953 to 1956, he was the director of the National Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program.

In 1956, he was selected to become Princeton’s 16th president and, when he assumed office in July 1957, he was the third youngest president in the University’s history.

Mr. Goheen’s own thoughts and recollections about his time at Princeton recently were videotaped and placed on file in the University’s Mudd Manuscript Library. On them, he said that he was most proud of his efforts to diversify the campus. Princeton first opened its doors to women as graduate students in 1961 and as regular members of the undergraduate student body in 1969. Under his leadership, it also implemented measures to attract a more racially and ethnically diverse group of students and faculty. “Diversity, pushing the effort to get more blacks and other minorities into the University body, whether it be student body or faculty, and then the women — I think both of those changed the character of Princeton for the better,” he said.

He also was known for his efforts to incorporate more faculty and student voices into University governance. This priority became most important during the early 1970s, as many campuses erupted in protests. After the American invasion in Cambodia, student protests culminated in a general strike at Princeton. he spoke at the assembly of students, faculty and staff on May 4, 1970. Many attributed the relatively peaceful way the campus dealt with the issues to the wisdom and flexibility of his administration. He also led the University’s first capital fundraising drive, the $53 Million for Princeton University Campaign launched on February 21, 1959. The three-year effort ultimately raised more than $60 million to strengthen the endowment and finance new buildings — notably the expansion of the Engineering Quadrangle. Also built during his presidency were Jadwin Gymnasium, the University Art Museum, the Woolworth Center of Musical Studies, the Architecture Building, and Robertson, Fine, Jadwin, and Peyton halls.

Harold T. Shapiro, president of Princeton from 1988 to 2001, also described him as “the first architect of today’s Princeton. He started us on the path to what Princeton is today: a coeducational, diverse, research university of great international stature. It wasn’t easy to lead Princeton through these transformations, but Bob Goheen was a man of enormous personal courage and integrity who could admit when he was wrong, who listened carefully to others, and who had a clear understanding of the University’s core values and highest priorities.”

After retiring as president of Princeton, he served as president of the Council on Foundations from 1972 to 1976 and as president of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation from January through April 1977. President Jimmy Carter then appointed him ambassador to India, where he served from May 1977 through December 1980. Having been born and raised in India,he described his appointment as an opportunity to return to his first home. Upon returning to Princeton in 1981, he began teaching in the Woodrow Wilson School. He also directed the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship Program in the Humanities for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Over the years, he served as a board member of numerous organizations, ranging from American University of Beirut to the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to the Village Charter School in Trenton. He was also active in the American Philosophical Society.


Survivors include his wife of 66 years, Margaret; six children, Anne Goheen Crane of Ridgewood, Trudi Goheen Swain of Amherst, Mass., Stephen S. Goheen of Corvallis, Mont., Megan Goheen Lower of Baltimore, Elizabeth Goheen of Princeton and Charley R. Goheen of Wellesley, Mass.; 18 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Burial will be private. A service of remembrance and celebration will take place at a later date in the University Chapel. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that memorial contributions be made to Princeton University’s Annual Giving program.

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