The Colgate Scene
January 2008


The Scene welcomes letters. We reserve the right to decide whether a letter is acceptable for publication and to edit for accuracy, clarity, and length. Letters deemed potentially libelous or that malign a person or group will not be published.

Letters should not exceed 250 words. You can reach us by mail, or e-mail Please include your full name, class year if applicable, address, phone number, and/or e-mail address.

Dean William 'Bill' Griffith '33, before his retirement in 1975 [File photo]

. . . I noted with sadness that William `Bill' Griffith died recently (see Deaths).

In 1972 I was an air force officer who had resigned my commission to pursue graduate studies in counseling and higher education. An air force colleague, Dick Slimak MA'70, suggested that I look into the Colgate MA program. When visiting the area, I arranged an impromptu interview with Bill Griffith, who at the time was heading up Colgate's graduate programs.

I was disappointed when he told me that the formal MA program had ended the year before, but rather than sending me packing, we talked about my background, interests, and plans. By the time the conversation ended, he had agreed to consider admitting me to a special MA program, on the condition that I find a suitable internship in one of the offices in the then—dean of students division.

After another fortuitous meeting, with Robin Jaycox (who offered me an internship in the student aid office), I applied, Bill admitted me, and I had the best educational experience of my life, including taking Bill's Organizing the Student Personnel Program course and working as his assistant for the high ability seminar program for area high school students.

Following my graduation, I accepted a full-time position in the student aid office, and later moved to other positions in the student affairs division. I will retire this coming summer after a wonderful 35-year career at Colgate.

To say that Bill Griffith changed my life would be the supreme understatement. As I got to know him over the following few years before he retired, I found that he knew how to say "no" when "no" was the correct decision, but liked saying "yes" even if the decision seemed somewhat illogical at the time. He judged the person as much as the rule, and the clear consensus was that he was right a lot more often than he was wrong.

Bill Griffith was one of Colgate's mostly unsung giants, and I am sure that I join hundreds, maybe thousands of Colgate students who owe him a debt that we can never adequately repay. Rest in peace, Bill.

. . . I cannot let Bill Griffith's passing go by without a shared remembrance of what a fine man he was. Our first encounter occurred in the fall of 1963, when I was invited to be faculty chaperone at one of the winter parties. (All such events required at least one member of the faculty in attendance in those days.) With the invite came a long list of duties from the dean's office, among them periodically inspecting all rooms to make sure every door was open. (Well, the students did manage to pass an amendment allowing portal closure to within the width of a folded towel inserted in the doorjamb.) Having run into him in the hall the day before my difficult assignment, I inquired: "Mr. Dean, do you really expect me to physically examine every door in the place?" His retort: "Well, Tony, whose job doesn't involve doing one or two things that make little sense?"

"Willy the Griff" wore many Colgate caps, but I think the one he filled most admirably was that of dean of students, a post he held during one of the most crucial periods of transition at the college. Imagine engaging major curricular and calendrical reform — January Term, along with inklings of Freshman Seminar, September Term, the Colgate II Achievement Oriented Degree Program, and coeducation — all at the same time! And the sit-in, too!

On a number of occasions I helped present cases for transfer of course credit on behalf of some of our first women students. Bill was always fair and open-minded in his deliberations. I like to think his decisions had a lot to do with setting us off on the right foot concerning the quality of the admission of women to Colgate.

Editor's note: Established by his family and Colgate alumni, the Dean William Griffith '33 Endowed Memorial Scholarship will benefit a student with demonstrated financial need, with preference for a member of the Colgate Thirteen. To participate in the effort, or for more information, contact Thirza Dawkins, Director of Stewardship, Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, N.Y. 13346; 315-228-6776.

. . . I was disappointed to read that Ben Stein was a guest of Colgate during Welcome Week. Mr. Stein's latest project is a movie that (from its website's description) misinforms its audience about science and evolution. This attempt to promote Intelligent Design in the wake of the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision looks to me like reactionary conservatism, and not the actions of an intellectual fit to address the Colgate student body.

His statements about science on his websites (Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and ben stein for president) include: "In a scientific world gone mad," "the Neo-Darwinian machine," and "That freedom of speech and inquiry should be allowed about life's origins and about biology and that a wall should not be put up between faith and free speech and free inquiry." Such comments are clearly religiously driven and promote the teaching of religion in science classrooms.

For the next Welcome Week, I would encourage all student groups, the College Republicans, Student Lecture Forum, and Pre-Law Society in particular, to investigate the intellectual merit, agenda, and legitimacy of the speakers they sponsor. Mr. Stein would certainly not have made the cut.

. . . David Alvord appears confused about what conservatives see going on at college campuses that they find so disturbing (Letters, November Scene). He imagines that there can not possibly be a liberal bias at our universities, and that conservatives must be upset about not being able to produce a conservative bias. He opines that conservatives are benighted, reactionary, bible-thumping creationists who are "simply incapable of holding their own in a serious conversation."

This is patently absurd, and Alvord's missive ironically illustrates what the problem really is. It is the smug closed-mindedness that infuses many campuses today, the misguided notion that those who dare disagree with the liberal orthodoxy, such as those who do not believe that global warming will be a major problem, are dangerous imbeciles worthy of ridicule. While Alvord proclaims that "intellectual rigor" is paramount, the attitude he displays in his letter speaks the exact opposite as he simply dismisses positions that differ from his own out of hand.

What conservatives want is an open, respectful atmosphere where differing opinions can be critically discussed and analyzed. That is what a university education is for. In a nation where more than 90 percent of professors vote Democratic, that may be too much to ask. But, we can dream, can't we?

. . . The anti-Greek observations in recent Scene letters may provide satisfaction to some self-pitying intolerant alumni but, however strange it may seem to them, in the 1940s and for several decades thereafter, fraternity life at Colgate was joyful, convivial, and constructive.

In those eras undergraduate exuberance was bounded by the factors of nihil ad extremum and in loco parentis. It was commonly accepted that damage to property, injury to individuals, or driving under the influence of alcohol would not be tolerated. Anyone under the influence or who had become aggressive would be forcibly restrained by undergraduates. The ultimate restraint was an understanding that irresponsible conduct would be reviewed by the administration and swiftly penalized by censure, suspension, or expulsion.

The 1942 Salmagundi reported a new record had been set that March when 92 percent of the freshmen became pledges in 13 fraternities. At that time more than half of the Colgate faculty were members of those fraternities.

Since my undergraduate days Colgate has changed — not just a little. As undergraduates we noted the characteristics of Colgate's earlier days with interest, appreciation, and admiration. As grateful recipients of the Colgate Spirit we did not ridicule its heritage and think poorly of those who now do.

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