Robert Francis Goheen ’40, the university’s 16th president, died of heart failure at PMC, Tuesday, March 31. He was 88.
By midnight Tuesday, the New York Times had published a full profile of Goheen, linked from the site’s homepage, which describes him as an innovative and revolutionary leader.
Goheen is best known for his then-controversial tenure as one of the University’s youngest presidents, serving from 1957 to 1972. During this time he oversaw the admission of the first co-ed class, campus outcries against the war in Vietnam, and the American offensive in Cambodia, among other transformative times for the school.
A. Scott Berg ’71, who graduated in one of Goheen’s final years as president, once recalled an early Vietnam-centered protest in which university students marched bearing a sign reading “Even Princeton.”
Current President Shirley Tilghman spoke of Goheen Tuesday afternoon as “the architect of the modern Princeton we have today,” and ranked him as the school’s fourth most influential leader, behind James McCosh (1868), Woodrow Wilson (1902), and John Witherspoon (1768) (here listed alphabetically).
Goheen’s death and, more significantly, his accomplishments were covered almost immediately in myriad venues for international news, including the Turkish Daily News, which picked up the story on the AP wire.
Goheen was born in 1919 in Vengurla, India, as is mentioned in the profile published on Princeton.edu, to medical missionaries, and moved to New Jersey in 1934 to study at the Lawrenceville School.
Goheen was a double-legacy at Princeton, and matriculated here at 17, graduating Phi Beta Kappa (and winning the Pyne Prize) in the class of 1940, after which, like many alumni at the time, he served as an intelligence officer and later as a Lieutenant Colonel for the armed forces.
Upon his discharge after the war, Goheen came back to Princeton to obtain first and MA and, one year later, a PhD (in 1948) from the Classics Department. Goheen remained at Princeton as a member of the Classics faculty until his appointment as president in 1957, making him the youngest Princeton president since the 18th century, according to the school’s website.
During his term as president, Goheen worked actively, and frequently against the wishes of concerned alumni, to diversify the racial, gender, and socioeconomic makeup of Princeton’s students and faculty members. According to AP, under Goheen, the school’s budget expanded by 400%, allowing for substantially more research. Tilghman references Goheen as one of the reasons for Princeton’s reputation as a “leader in the business of the generation of knowledge.”
After his tenure at Princeton, which ended in 1972, Goheen served as the president of the Council on Foundations, a non-profit association of over 2,000 grant-writing companies and non-profit groups.
Goheen became US Ambassador to India, his home country, in 1977 and remained at that post through 1980, whereupon he returned to the Woodrow Wilson School as a senior fellow in public policy and international affairs. Goheen for the most part maintained his residency in Princeton until his death.
In 2006, Firestone Library honored Goheen’s seven decades of affiliation with the university in the exhibition “Student, Scholar, President: Robert F. Goheen at Princeton: 1936-2006.”
Before serving as president, Goheen directed the Woodrow Wilson fellowship program–from 1953-56–and he is widely recognized for his inclination to incorporate Wilson’s phrase and the school’s motto, “in the nation’s service, in the service of all nations” into the fundamental architecture of the university.
In the exhibit commemorating his commitment to the school and in his papers–-many of which are now in the collection of the Mudd Manuscript Library, occupying 6.3 linear feet of shelf space-–Goheen often spoke of his efforts to diversify the school socioeconomically, racially, politically. He cited the advancement of social equality as one of his proudest accomplishments. For this, we thank him, and hope that his labors endure and expand.
Instead of flowers, Goheen’s family has asked that memorial contributions be made to Princeton University’s Annual Giving program.
A link to a blog for those who wish to share memories of Robert F. Goheen will be posted on the Princeton website on Tuesday, April 1. More information about President Goheen can be found on the Mudd Library website, at