V. FGH, traditions and controversies

Peter Gillette

TL: Throughout the past few years, through Formal Group Housing, smoking, and streaking – various decisions have alienated one pocket of the campus or another.RW: Mm-hmm.

TL: As president, how do you anticipate and react to backlash?

RW: Yeah, you know, I think that I’m not going to play the George Bush role, “I don’t think I’ve ever made a mistake.” Clearly there are apologies that might be made for how this or that decision were implemented or communicated, or what communication about a decision was made in advance. You know, I’m not trying to sound at all high and mighty or absolutely self-assured, but take the whole issue of Formal Group Housing, particularly how it affected the fraternities, and this is dealing less with students perhaps than alumni. And some of them, you know, would say, “They’re going to stop giving to the college.” And my response to them was, “You don’t want to be associated with an institution that says, ‘Well, we’re going to get a protest about this, so we’re not going to do it.'” You do what you think is the right thing, and if the protests come, the protests come. To some extent, if I had my druthers, students would be more actively engaged in the politics of the community and the nation beyond this campus, and not protesting whether their going to a streak is a good idea or not. A lot of colleges have tackled that kind of issue and have come up with decisions or resolutions that have maybe alienated this or that group of students. But to identify one’s college career and campus culture on the fact that you get to run naked across campus has never struck me as being the high point of the undergraduate experience. I’m not trying to become a nanny, but I think in that case, there was a point where enough was enough, and it was getting, quote, “out of hand.”

TL: Not your favorite tradition then?

RW: Not my favorite tradition. There have been traditions that come and go. We had a guy who graduated here in the late 1970s named Penn Ritter. Penn started a tradition called Beach Day. He’d haul truckloads of sand and dump them in the Plantz parking lot in the spring. Students would show up with beach balls and bathing suits and beach umbrellas and blankets and have a beach party…Of course, we had to clean up the parking lot when Beach Day was over – happily, that tradition ended when Penn graduated. So, you know, there are different college traditions. A lot of college traditions that were around in the later 1960s just evaporated in the late 1960s and early 1970s… Spades and spoons, Outstanding Junior Man and Junior Woman, that’s long gone, things like that. So traditions, you know, whether trivia or…Well, a good example of a tradition that’s now defunct, I suppose, is Celebrate! That was a student-initiated activity growing out of a Renaissance fair that some students put on in the 1970s. Students decided they’re no longer interested in doing it, that tradition goes away. Not because we put a stamp on it or stamped it out, it’s just that the students didn’t want to do it.

Trivia, that became started as a, quote, “protest,” or something like it, against something called Encampment, where students used to go off with faculty and think great thoughts at some church camp someplace for a weekend in the winter. The students who didn’t go decided they would do something else, and so Trivia started. Encampment is long gone, although Bjorklunden is something of a reprise on that, but Trivia lives on.