Sunday, November 27, 2005

From Alito's Past, a Window on Conservatives at Princeton

The New York Times

From Alito's Past, a Window on Conservatives at Princeton

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 - In the fall of 1985, Concerned Alumni of Princeton was entering a crisis.

The group's members at the time included Samuel A. Alito Jr., now President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, although there is no evidence that he played an active or prominent role.

The group had been founded in 1972, the year that Judge Alito graduated, by alumni upset that Princeton had recently begun admitting women. It published a magazine, Prospect, which persistently accused the administration of taking a permissive approach to student life, of promoting birth control and paying for abortions, and of diluting the explicitly Christian character of the school.

As Princeton admitted a growing number of minority students, Concerned Alumni charged repeatedly that the administration was lowering admission standards, undermining the university's distinctive traditions and admitting too few children of alumni. "Currently alumni children comprise 14 percent of each entering class, compared with an 11 percent quota for blacks and Hispanics," the group wrote in a 1985 fund-raising letter sent to all Princeton graduates.

By the mid-1980's, however, Princeton students and recent alumni were increasingly finding such statements anachronistic or worse.

"Is the issue the percentage of alumni children admitted or the percentage of minorities?" Jonathan Morgan, a conservative undergraduate working with the group, asked its board members that fall in an internal memorandum. "I don't see the relevance in comparing the two, except in a racist context (i.e. why do we let in so many minorities and not alumni children?)," he continued.

By 1987, the group had sputtered out.

Mr. Morgan's memorandum and other records of Concerned Alumni are contained at the Library of Congress in the papers of William A. Rusher, a leader of the group and a former publisher of National Review.

Those records and others at Mudd Library at Princeton give no indication that Judge Alito, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, was among the group's major donors. He was not an active leader of the group, and two of his classmates who were involved and Mr. Rusher said they did not remember his playing a role.

But in an application for a promotion in the Reagan administration in the fall of 1985, Judge Alito was asked to provide information about his "philosophical commitment" to administration policies and listed his membership in Concerned Alumni.

When the White House disclosed the application this month, liberal groups opposed to his nomination pounced on the connection. "The question for senators to consider and to ask is why Samuel Alito would brag about his membership in an organization known for its fervent hostility to the inclusion of women and minorities at Princeton," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way.

Steve Schmidt, a White House spokesman, declined to comment. But former leaders of Concerned Alumni say they do not remember the group objecting to the inclusion of minorities, only to the university's affirmative action policies.

Andrew P. Napolitano, a friend and Princeton classmate of Judge Alito, questioned the relevance of Judge Alito's association with the group. "His membership probably tells you that his social inclinations are conservative," said Mr. Napolitano, who became a leader of the group, "but he is so intellectually honest that he labored mightily to keep those inclinations from influencing his decisions on the bench."

As for how Judge Alito might rule as a Supreme Court justice, Mr. Napolitano, a former Superior Court judge in New Jersey, said, "Who knows what will happen?"

By 1985 Concerned Alumni had become well known in conservative circles. Financed in part by Shelby Cullom Davis, a member of the 1930 class and the ambassador to Switzerland in the Nixon administration, the group announced in an early fund-raising pamphlet that its goals included a less-liberal faculty and "a more traditional undergraduate population."

A pamphlet for parents suggested that "racial tensions" and loose oversight of campus social life were contributing to a spike in campus crime. A brochure for Princeton alumni warned, "The unannounced goal of the administration, now achieved, of a student population of approximately 40 percent women and minorities will largely vitiate the alumni body of the future."

In 1975, an alumni panel that included Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the current Republican leader and a 1974 Princeton graduate, concluded that Concerned Alumni had "presented a distorted, narrow and hostile view of the university that cannot help but have misinformed and even alarmed many alumni" and "undoubtedly generated adverse national publicity." (Mr. Frist could not be reached for comment.) In 1977, The New Yorker devoted 20 pages to a gently derisive history of the group's squabbles with the university.

By the 1980's, however, Concerned Alumni had added a new cause: the defense of the exclusive "eating clubs," where many upper class Princeton students took their meals, and especially the three all-male clubs. All now admit women.

As a student, Judge Alito had not joined any of the clubs, taking his meals at a dining hall. But the leaders of Concerned Alumni and the editors of Prospect regarded the clubs as pillars of the university's distinctive social life that were under attack by the Princeton administration.

When the administration proposed a new system of residential colleges with their own dining halls, Prospect denounced the idea as a potential threat to the system of eating clubs. The magazine charged that, like affirmative action, the plan was "intended to create racial harmony."

Prospect portrayed the proposal as an effort to end the de facto segregation of the campus in which black students were concentrated in one dormitory and mostly did not belong to the clubs. "Doubtless, there will be many who regard this as mere stalling, and prejudice by another name," an unsigned 1982 editorial argued in defense of the magazine's position. "If realistic approaches to problems must be called dirty names because we do not like them, well, there is no remedy for it."

The magazine's content also grew increasingly provocative under the editorship of conservative rising stars, including Dinesh D'Souza and later Laura Ingraham.

A March 1984 article by Mr. D'Souza told the story of a Puerto Rican first-year student whose mother sought to remove her from the school after learning that she was having sex with a male student and was receiving sex-education from the school. The magazine said the administration had increased the female student's financial aide to enable her to stay, and it accused Princeton of giving new meaning to the phrase "in loco parentis."

Hundreds of students signed a petition protesting the article as an invasion of privacy, and the campus debate received national attention.

Later that year, Concerned Alumni fund-raising letters to Princeton graduates charged that the director of the university's health clinic had "celebrated the fact that 31 out of 33 pregnant students had abortions after receiving counseling from Princeton's sex clinic."

In January 1985 - a few months before Judge Alito filled out his Reagan administration application - William G. Bowen, Princeton's president, issued a statement calling the letter "callous" and "outrageous."

In an interview, Ms. Ingraham said liberal groups were making too much of Judge Alito's membership. "Stop the presses!" she said. "Sam Alito, a conservative, was once a member of a conservative Princeton alumni group."

Mr. D'Souza said supporters of Concerned Alumni were motivated by a fear that "traditional values" at Princeton had come under attack, but their specific concerns varied from academic standards to the athletic program. Judge Alito's support for the group "might tell you something," he said, "but it is hard to know what."