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The Timid Generation
William Johnson
March 11, 1968
The popular view is that youth is in revolt, but a look at Duke University suggests that a professor there, Jack Preiss (right), is closer to the truth: quiet anxiety is the prevailing mood
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March 11, 1968

The Timid Generation

The popular view is that youth is in revolt, but a look at Duke University suggests that a professor there, Jack Preiss (right), is closer to the truth: quiet anxiety is the prevailing mood

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Part of the blame for this has been placed on the ultra- Ivy League background of Dr. Douglas M. Knight, who was hired as Duke's president in 1963. His arrival immediately made Duke football loyalists suspicious that a de-emphasis would be forthcoming. Then when Bill Murray, Wade's successor, quit in 1965 there was a wave of disappointment, for the new coach was not Bear Bryant or Darrell Royal or even Ace Parker, who had been Duke's backfield coach since 1947. The new man was bright, congenial Tom Harp, who once played quarterback at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, a school known to people outside New Concord largely because during John Glenn's space orbits the president of Muskingum would go on television to tell eager viewers how John's folks were feeling. And where was Tom Harp coaching when Duke hired him? In the Ivy League—at Cornell. Worse, his record in five years there was 19-23-3, and he was best known beyond Ithaca as the coach who had his players make a pyramid by climbing on each other's shoulders one Saturday in an attempt—unsuccessful, at that—to thwart a field goal by Princeton's never-miss kicker, Charlie Gogolak.

Since his arrival at Duke, Harp has convinced almost everyone that he does not intend to sit by idly while the school's football Blue Devils are converted to a nice, bland Ivy green. But, like topnotch colleges all over the country, Duke is beset by a certain ambivalence about how—or if—it can meld its admirable commitment to academic excellence with its longtime involvement in big-budget, big-recruiting, big-time college football.

As Glenn E. (Ted) Mann, Duke's sports-publicity chief for 30 years, puts it: "This is not de-emphasis at all. Duke is undertaking what I call a noble experiment. We are trying to keep our academic standards way up. At the same time we are trying to maintain a first-class football schedule, and that means playing a lot of schools that do not have such rigid entrance requirements. It's hardly equal competition, you know. But it just might work."

Maybe. Certainly Duke is committed to playing some tough teams for a long time to come. "Our schedule is complete through 1978," says Athletic Director Eddie Cameron. "We've got the Big Ten and schools like Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech and the service academies all the way through. You sure can't call that de-emphasis."

Playing tough teams and beating tough teams are two quite different things, and Dr. Robert Rankin, chairman of the Duke Athletic Council, says quite candidly, "Sure, when the administration raised the entrance requirements here a couple of years ago Eddie Cameron and I said we could live with them. Which we can. But I think from now on Duke may consider itself as having a relatively successful football season when it ends up with a 5-5 record. And I don't think we'll be getting many bowl invitations on that basis."

If you can get Duke undergraduates to talk about football at all—at the Celestial Omnibus or the "Yewjee" (University Grill) or in their fraternity parlors—they admit that they might work up a little resentment over the prospect of constant mediocrity on the football field. But should they begin to fret, the annoyance always quickly subsides under a salve of thoughts about basketball, for this winter Duke is once again a substantial factor in the national basketball scene.

Since Vic Bubas, the young, poised and polished coach who used to be assistant coach at nearby North Carolina State, arrived at Duke eight years ago he has amassed an impressive 196-52 record, and this year's team, which periodically edges its way into the top 10, is not going to hurt that won-lost average at all. At the start of this season it seemed that Bubas—one of the country's hardest-working, sweetest-talking recruiters—might have to wait until next year when some of his formidable freshmen could move up to the varsity. But suddenly last December, Mike Lewis, a senior center who is currently Duke's most-admired athlete, developed into an uncommonly good basketball player. The rest of the team meshed well around Lewis, and Duke's cramped and antiquated 9,000-seat gymnasium began to have an occasional full house (though by no means was it crammed to the rafters for game after game; there were five capacity crowds in the 10 games). "We go ape over basketball," says Bill Clifton, a senior from Waco, Texas. "And Vic Bubas is as close to an idol as there is on campus. But I suppose if the team were losing no one would care about basketball, or about Bubas either." It is a harsh thought, this suggestion that nobody would ever bother to hang Vic Bubas in effigy, but probably true.

Though turmoil—sports-oriented or otherwise—is rare these days at Duke, this is not because the students are lacking in imagination or energy or devilment or individuality. When they gather in their hangouts they argue as loudly as anyone else about Lyndon Johnson and the morality of Vietnam and the yeas and nays of marijuana. They dress with an almost determined dowdiness, the men wearing what look like Army surplus outfits, the coeds coming in neat, but far from Fifth Avenue, fashions.

True enough, the campus newspaper, the Chronicle, is run by a provocative faction of precocious junior journalists who gave all of page one of their Homecoming Day edition to stories and pictures of last fall's protest at the Pentagon, relegating everything about the fraternity-house decorations, queens and alumni affairs to the back page. But this was done partly sardonically, if partly in genuinely liberal concern over the Washington march. Yet most Duke students are a long way from fitting the popular conception (or maybe misconception is the word) of the militant Now Generation. "I would say that, at most, 10% of the student body is involved—at all—with what is going on beyond their own lives," says Alan Ray, associate editor of the Chronicle. And Tami Hultman, a pretty blonde minister's daughter from Cambridge, Md., says, "Most of the people here want to avoid conflict, and it isn't very hard for them to do it."

Around Duke there is an aura of well-mannered, upper-middle-class detachment, since that is Duke's particular mode these days. There are not enough pot smokers or antiwar pickets or beards or even Humphrey Bogart cultists to make the atmosphere seem a great deal different from the oft-deplored years of the '50s when the so-called Silent Generation was sitting around, mum and disenchanted. Duke is still very big for the Greek system and, even though fraternities and sororities are becoming much-maligned anachronisms at many other schools around the U.S., approximately 50% of Duke's students are members of some Alpha or Omega club, with a full portion of secret trappings and ritualistic vows, things that campus cynics refer to as "mystic goodies."

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