Inside "Concerned Alumni of Princeton"

Inside "Concerned Alumni of Princeton"

ABOUT THE ALITO HEARINGS, one thing is certain: If it had been the Concerned Alumni of Princeton that was up for confirmation, the nomination wouldn't even make it out of the Judiciary Committee. Democrats led by Sen. Edward Kennedy portrayed CAP as hostile to minorities and to coeducation and thus to women. And Republicans weren't about to get into a fight over CAP, which was formed in 1972, shortly after Princeton went coeducational and the same year Samuel Alito graduated. CAP went out of business in 1986.

CAP drew the interest of committee Democrats because Alito once identified himself as a member. Seeking a political position in the Reagan Justice Department in 1985, Alito, then a career attorney, noted on his job application his membership in CAP, which he described as "a conservative group." Before the hearings, Alito made clear that he was not an active member, and when, during the hearings, he was advised of certain things some people involved with CAP had said about women and minorities, Alito responded that he didn't have any knowledge of those statements and he emphatically disagreed with them.

Alito said on several occasions that he had "wracked his memory" but found "no specific recollection" of the group. A committee search of CAP documents belonging to former National Review publisher William Rusher and archived at the Library of Congress--a search demanded by Senator Kennedy--turned up no mention of Alito. When or why he had joined the group, Alito couldn't recall, though he said the reason might have involved ROTC, in which he was enrolled. "There were people who were strongly opposed to having [ROTC] on campus," he said in an exchange with Sen. Patrick Leahy. "And the attitude seemed to be that the military was a bad institution, and that Princeton was too good for the military, and that Princeton would somehow be sullied if people in uniform were walking about the campus, that the courses didn't merit getting credit, that the instructors shouldn't be viewed as part of the faculty." CAP strongly supported ROTC.

Sitting in the press section in Hart 226, mere feet away from the table where Sam Alito was insistently queried about CAP, I reflected on the oddity that I knew far more about CAP than Alito and his interrogators. Once upon a time, I drew a paycheck from CAP. I never thought I'd have occasion to write about those long ago days. But here I am.

It was July 1974, and after finishing a degree at Oxford, I had flown from London to New York City, where I was intent on finding a job writing for a magazine. My first choice (naturally) was Sports Illustrated, but it was fully staffed. I thought about approaching National Review, having read it for years, but opening a recent issue, I saw this classified ad:

Extraordinary opportunity for recent college graduate who is a conservative with experience in journalism. . . . Challenging work with magazine and organization that is active on Ivy League campus, will provide wide range of experience and opportunities for any young conservative who plans career in journalism, communications, business or politics. Working conditions ideal. Send resume, writing samples, and salary requirements to NR Box 1801.

I responded to the ad and was invited for an interview. The Ivy League campus, it turned out, was Princeton's. I took the train to New Jersey and was met by T. Harding Jones, who, like Alito, was a member of the class of 1972. Jones was CAP's executive director. He described CAP as a group of conservative alumni concerned about trends at their alma mater: a faculty tilting left, a curriculum going politically correct, academic standards declining. He told me about Shelby Cullom Davis, class of 1930, a wealthy businessman and ambassador to Switzerland in the Nixon administration, who was a founding chairman of CAP and its biggest contributor. CAP, of course, sponsored a magazine, Prospect, which was sent to all alumni, and it needed editorial help. Jones had edited the first issues, but his duties as executive director had grown such that he wanted a managing editor, someone to assign and edit stories, as well as write, and lay out and put to bed each issue. As I understood the magazine's purpose, it was to report and comment on developments at Princeton. The hope was that the administration would moderate its course.

A Vanderbilt graduate, I knew next to nothing about Princeton. Jones told me that he wanted a non-Princetonian in the job, someone who could look at things with a fresh eye. I didn't think much about whether it might be a stiff run uphill for an alumni group to try to influence the decisions of its alma mater. The job sounded interesting. It encompassed a range of editorial tasks--more than I had undertaken working for the Vanderbilt Hustler--and the experience would prepare me for my next job. When Jones offered me the position, I accepted, and it was understood that I'd work at least through the spring semester. I can't remember having a "requisite salary," but I was paid around $150 a week.

The issues we put out included reported stories and opinion pieces. Richard K. Rein, a 1969 graduate of Princeton and chairman of The Daily Princetonian, and who would not have called himself a conservative, was a freelancer who did some of the reported pieces. I did some, too, including stories on problems in the athletic program (CAP members worried about its decline) and on a controversial tenure decision in the history department. Letter-writers worried about the future of ROTC on campus, the disproportionately liberal faculty, the use of race in admissions, and the demise of in loco parentis. I thought it would be good to include book reviews. In one issue I wrote about On Liberty and Liberalism: The Case of John Stuart Mill by the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. "One cannot dismiss her easily," I wrote with keen insight. Jones wrote a column, and we included messages from CAP. In my experience, CAP was not seeking a return to the male-only Princeton. A statement of objectives we published endorsed a student body of "young men and women" who would become leaders in the academy, business, government, and the military.

Still, Prospect wasn't a typical alumni magazine. It had the "standing-athwart-history" sensibility of National Review and the puckish quality of the American Spectator (then known as the Alternative). It was hardly above taking a few shots, which it did in a standing column titled "Shots from Cannon Green." Cannon Green is the expansive green behind Nassau Hall, where the administration is still located. The green was so named because in the middle of it is a half-buried cannon from the Revolutionary War.

It quickly became apparent to me that CAP was loathsome to the administration. The first issue of Prospect had declared that it was CAP's mission to provide constructive criticism of the university from "a group of dedicated alumni who are hopeful of an early consolidation--not of the old Princeton, not of what is being recognized as the new Princeton, but of the Best of All Possible Princetons." Prospect itself was "not to interfere [with] but to be of genuine service" to Princeton. But the administration saw CAP as wanting to recover the old Princeton, and not so much helpful as disloyal. The administration wasn't about to change course, and it had a certain imperial character, as though it were all-wise and could do no wrong. In this environment, I found it hard to get phone calls returned. On the other hand, the experience taught me the importance of perseverance--and of sources (they were out there) willing to help with a story.

CAP often was an object of ridicule. I didn't go to the 1974 Princeton-Harvard football game, but I heard about the half-time performance. As usual, the Princeton marching band detached itself into lines to form letters and spell out certain words, while a scripted commentary was read over the loud speakers. While playing "Stars and Stripes Forever," the band formed the letters C-A-P, with one part of the band organized as a floating "R." The commentator announced, "The Princeton University Band takes a long 'harding' look at concerned alumni." The trouble that CAP finds at Princeton, the commentator continued, really "comes from the pen of T. Harding Jones, a self-appointed theologian, philosopher, campus politico, sociologist, lawyer, and Great Right Hope. The band now gives CAP a right-handed compliment." At this point the "R," after trying to move between the "A" and the "P," finally settled in between the "C" and the "A." The band next paid tribute to Shelby Cullom Davis, who, the commentator said, supports "the students' favorite comic book, Prospect magazine."

Not surprisingly, Jones liked the band's "long harding look." He believed, as those practiced in the arts of publicity often do, that any attention is better than none. To Jones, "CRAP" was a sign that CAP had drawn blood.

Jones was a memorable character. A native of Middletown, Ohio, and the great nephew of two famous college football coaches, he drove around in one of those old Checker cabs with the roomy interior and extra seating. It was painted blue, as I recall. Often dressed to the nines, he wore a raccoon overcoat in winter. Like many young conservatives of that era, he sought to emulate Bill Buckley, whom he'd brought to campus as a speaker. He reached for seldom-used words, especially ones with lots of syllables, though the effect in his writing fell short of what it achieves for Buckley. Jones had a non-CAP life in music and theater. He sang some, and he acted, and he often drove up to New York City, his big car invariably loaded with passengers.

Jones also took photographs for Prospect. He kept his eyes peeled for whatever he thought would outrage the Princeton establishment. The February 1975 issue contained an article of his describing what had happened to the old Princeton Inn since the administration had converted it into a residence for undergraduates and renamed it the Princeton College Inn. The change was not for the better, Jones thought, and to illustrate his point, he took photos that ran with the piece. One showed a less-than-well-kept ladies' room, another a dog's excrement on a stair landing. The essay and photo spread irritated one junior who lived there, Hilary Abigail Bok, a niece of the president of Harvard. She made an appointment to see Jones at our offices on Nassau Street and came armed with a chocolate cream pie. Hiding it in her tote bag, she managed to lift it out and land some of it in Jones's face. After she left, Jones emerged from his office. "You won't believe what happened," he said. Actually, I did believe, for it seemed that just about anything could happen whenever he was involved. In a long piece on CAP in 1977, the New Yorker reported that the residents of the Princeton College Inn later named their library after Norman Thomas, class of 1905, and their refurbished ladies' room after T. Harding Jones.

By the time the spring semester ended, I was ready to move on, and so I eventually took a job at the afternoon newspaper in Greensboro, N.C. I didn't keep up with CAP and Prospect, though later I learned about the non-Princetonians who succeeded me at the magazine--among them David Asman, Bob Royal, Dinesh D'Souza, and Laura Ingraham. Asman, along with Andrew Napolitano, a CAP board member, is now with Fox News. Royal is president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington. D'Souza has written book after book, and Ingraham, who clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, has a radio talk show with a national audience.

In 1983 I left daily journalism to take a job on the staff of President Reagan's first attorney general, William French Smith. A lawyer with an office down the hall from mine was Samuel Alito. At some point we met. What you see now is what he was then: very bright, very thoughtful, circumspect, and courteous. I was a political appointee, and it was two years later that Alito, in his application for the political job of deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, noted that he was a member of CAP.

In a recent story on the 1985 job application memo, the Daily Princetonian suggested that I might have had something to do with Alito's getting the job. The reporter indulged the assumption that I had assured Reagan's personnel people of Alito's conservative credentials, given his membership in CAP. "That would have been a good connection for Sam," said an individual whom the reporter identified as "familiar with the group" but "who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue." Had the reporter called, however, I would have told him that I played no part in the decision, that I didn't know Alito had applied for the job, and that I didn't know that Alito had gone to Princeton, much less had any association with CAP. I never saw or heard of him during my time at Prospect.

It is, of course, preposterous to think that Alito included CAP on that job application to set a trap for Judiciary Committee Democrats. But the reference certainly had that effect. Some Democrats--and outside interest groups--thought they might be able to use Alito's CAP membership to defeat him. Kennedy's argument was that Alito was proud of belonging to a group "fighting to turn back the clock on basic equality," that the "insensitivity" shown by his "boasting" of CAP membership can be seen in his record on civil rights cases, and that he cannot be trusted as a justice to do right in this area of the law. But for this argument to be plausible, Kennedy had to show that Alito had at least been involved with such a nefarious group, contrary to his testimony. Alito, it turns out, was a member of CAP but entirely uninvolved. Once the archives were searched, Kennedy, for a change, was speechless. CAP was no longer an issue.

Princeton, however, had a rough week. In his opening statement, Alito spoke warmly about the New Jersey community in which he grew up. There were few college graduates, and he went to public schools. But then he went 12 miles down the road to Princeton, where, he said, "I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly. And I couldn't help making a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community." And then there was Alito's testimony about ROTC at Princeton. He well remembered that his ROTC unit was expelled from campus during his junior year and that he had to go to Trenton State College to finish his ROTC classes. And he commented as to how that was "a very bad thing for Princeton to do." Not bad, but very bad.

You have to wonder how, back at Nassau Hall, they regard the prospect of Justice Alito.

Terry Eastland is the publisher of The Weekly Standard.

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