November 28, 2005
Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings Writes About Princeton and Judge Alito
Hilzoy (Princeton '1981) points out just what Samuel Alito was being proud of when he was proud of his membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton:
The fact that Samuel Alito was a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, and cited that fact on his 1985 job application, has been in the news recently; and it occurred to me that since I was a Princeton undergraduate (class of '81) while CAP was active, I might be able to provide some useful background on this one.
CAP is generally described as 'a conservative group'. But this is as misleading as calling the John Birch Society a 'conservative group' would be. There are lots of conservatives who are thoughtful and intelligent, and who have real intellectual integrity. Conservatives like this did not tend to join CAP. CAP was dedicated to finding outrages that it took to be caused by the horrible fact that women and minorities were being admitted to Princeton. The need to find outrages generally came first; any encounter with facts came later. For this reason, CAP tended to attract not conservatives per se, but the sort of conservative who is forever getting deeply hysterical about some perceived threat to a supposed previous golden age, who sees such threats everywhere, and who is willing to completely distort the truth in order to feed his (and it generally was 'his') obsessions.
(I mean: just ask yourself: what sort of person would devote time and energy to a group focussed entirely on combatting trends at his undergraduate institution, trends that the actual undergraduates of the time had no problem with? We used to wonder: don't these people have lives?)
CAP did a number of things to combat Princeton's slide into mediocrity and decadence, otherwise known as its decision to admit women and more than a token number of minorities. It published a magazine, Prospect, devoted to lurid stories about all that decadence and mediocrity and outraged editorials calling for a return to the halcyon days of the 1950s. These stories had the same relation to reality as the views of those fundamentalists who imagine that a life without Christ is necessarily composed of mindless and sordid sexual episodes, punctuated by periods in which one drugs oneself into a stupor, carried out in an attempt to avoid having to recognize one's own appalling inner emptiness: they were just plain false, and reveal more about the person who believes them than anything else. We used to read stories in Prospect aloud to one another for laughs. (CAP was very well funded, and copies of Prospect were everywhere.)
But CAP also did other things. The Daily Princetonian cites two:
"-- In 1973, CAP mailed a letter to parents of freshmen implying that their sons and daughters were living in "cohabitation," rather than simply coeducational dorms.
— In 1975, a CAP board member tried to disrupt Annual Giving by writing to alumni in the business community to consider whether their gifts were "being used to undermine, subvert, and otherwise discredit the very businesses which are helping fund private education.""
They really did mail letters to the parents of incoming freshman trashing the university, and they really did try to disrupt annual giving. These are serious things to do. About CAP's tactics generally, I agree with Stephen Dujack, who was Associate Editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly during the period when I was an undergrad:
"So in 2005, we know that in 1985, Alito belonged to a group that was dedicated to pointlessly interfering with the functioning of a university because its student body had representative numbers of women and minorities, as required by law. A group which, for its entire existence, used as its only tactics dissembling and dirty tricks; the list above doesn't begin to do justice in describing the organization's destructiveness. A lot of people were hurt in the process. A great university was damaged."
CAP would have been just a destructive joke had it not been for what the joke was about. Princeton only started to admit women in 1969. Moreover, Princeton had traditionally been the school where Southerners who wanted their sons to get an ivy league education sent them. Why? Because for a long time Princeton did not admit blacks, and until (iirc) 1967, admitted them only in very, very small numbers:
"A significant development, more recently, concerned blacks and other minority groups. Although a few blacks studied privately with President Witherspoon as early as 1774, and although, beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, black students occasionally earned University degrees, the first appreciable influx did not begin until the 1960s when the University adopted an active recruitment policy for minority students."
To understand CAP, you really have to understand that until the late 60s, the almost total absence of black students at Princeton was a feature, not a bug. It was one of the reasons people went there.
Consider, against this backdrop, the following quote:
""Prospect" was founded in October 1972 by the then-newly-formed CAP, which was co-chaired by Asa Bushnell '21 and Shelby Cullom Davis '30. The latter, who was the University's largest donor at the time, was a strong traditionalist, firmly opposed to the many of the new directions Princeton was taking, including coeducation.
He wrote in "Prospect": "May I recall, and with some nostalgia, my father's 50th reunion, a body of men, relatively homogenous in interests and backgrounds, who had known and liked each other over the years during which they had contributed much in spirit and substance to the greatness of Princeton," according to an account in "The Chosen," a book by Jerome Karabel on the history of admissions at Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
"I cannot envisage a similar happening in the future," Davis added, "with an undergraduate student population of approximately 40% women and minorities, such as the Administration has proposed." "
"An alumnus wrote in 1974 in CAP’s magazine that “We had trusted the admissions office to select young men who could and would become part of the great Princeton tradition. In my day, [Dean of Student Affairs] Andy Brown would have been called to task for his open love affair with minorities.”"
For a sense of Prospect's general level of discourse:
"People nowadays just don't seem to know their place," fretted a 1983 Prospect essay titled "In Defense of Elitism." "Everywhere one turns blacks and hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and hispanic, the physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports, and homosexuals are demanding that government vouchsafe them the right to bear children."
About coeducation, try this
"T. Harding Jones, Alito’s classmate and CAP’s executive director in 1974 (two years after they graduated) told the New York Times that “Co-education has ruined the mystique and the camaraderies that used to exist. Princeton has now given into the fad of the moment, and I think it’s going to prove to be a very unfortunate thing.”"
"CAP supported a quota system to ensure that the vast majority of students would continue to be men. Asa Bushnell, then chairman of CAP, told the New York Times in 1974 that “Many Princeton graduates are unhappy over the fact that the administration has seen fit to abrogate the virtual guarantee that 800 [out of roughly 1,100] would continue to be the number of males in each freshman class.”"
And for those conservatives who oppose affirmative action on the grounds that we should pay no attention to gender or ethnicity:
"Another article published that same year bemoaned the fact that "the makeup of the Princeton student body has changed drastically for the worse" in recent years--Princeton had begun admitting women in 1969--and wondered aloud what might happen if the university adopted a "sex-blind" policy "removing limits on the number of women." In an unsuccessful effort to forestall this frightening development, the executive committee of CAP published a statement in December 1973 that affirmed unequivocally, "Concerned Alumni of Princeton opposes adoption of a sex-blind admission policy.""
CAP was not about opposing affirmative action. It supported quotas that favored white men. CAP was about opposing the presence of women and minorities at Princeton. Period. Moreover, its tactics were despicable. In retrospect, it was one of the first instances of what has now become a familiar pattern: an extremely well-funded organization dedicated to spreading lies about some opponent in an effort to force that opponent to change course through the sheer volume of vitriol and harassment that a lot of money can buy. Samuel Alito pointed with pride to his membership in CAP in 1985. What relevance this should have now is open to debate; I just wanted to clarify what exactly it was that he was proud to be a part of.
Posted by DeLong at November 28, 2005 12:45 PM