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On Gaudino

Henry Bass ’57 shared these memories of Professor Robert Gaudino:

I well remember the excitement caused by the arrival of Bob Gaudino in the fall of 1955 when I was a junior. We were living in the complacent 50’s with the solidly conservative Ike as our president. And Williams was even more conservative than the US generally. There was a story in the national press at that time that a poll showed that Princeton students were only the second most Republican in the country, top honors having been taken by Williams.

Gaudino we soon learned was a radical not only in political philosophy but on campus issues. Soon after his arrival he sought me out knowing that I favored a radical solution to the fraternity problem and we had many long conversations on how to change campus life at Williams for the better. He very much wanted to get the student viewpoint, especially the students who thought campus life was less than perfect. He always showed great respect to us telling us we knew more about campus issues than he did.

Knowing how radical Gaudino was I knew early in the fall of ’55 there was only an amount of time, before there would be a public confrontation between Gaudino and President Baxter. Lively discussions of campus issues then took place in the new Baxter Hall. We did not have long to wait. I don’t remember what the argument was about. I do remember that it was quite heated and that Phinney soon showed signs of losing his temper. And acrimonious debates with the president of Williams did not happen in those days.

One thing you must understand about Williams of that day. That is how important Anne Baxter, Phinney’s wife was. Anne Baxter might well have been the most influential college president’s wife in the country. She was very bright and wonderful with dealing with people and President Baxter respected her immensely. She knew how to keep Phinney out of trouble with potential trouble-makers. She would invite any faculty or administration member with whom Phinney was having disagreements to lunch and would give the trouble- maker her ear and try to win the fellow over. And figure out how to defuse the situation.

As the discussion continued that night in Baxter, just minutes after that first confrontation between Gaudino and the president, Anne Baxter, went right over to Gaudino and started talking privately to him. No one knew what she whispered to him, but we guessed that after expressing partial agreement with his ideas, she invited him to lunch.

Anne Baxter went after Gaudino like no one she had ever courted. Meeting after meeting took place. She wanted to know exactly how he would like to change Williams. Gaudino was at first skeptical. But, soon became convinced she was really listening. And Gaudino was won over after she arranged for Gaudino to express his concerns directly to the president, who listened with respect.

I have little doubt that without Anne Baxter, Gaudino would have either been fired or that Gaudino would have soon left Williams in disgust. I suspect Anne Baxter convinced Phinney that Gaudino would be a wonderful addition to the community and convinced Gaudino that it would be worthwhile for him to devote his life to changing Williams.

Thanks to Henry for sharing these memories.

Did any readers have Gaudino as a professor?