By his own half-facetious account, Yale University's president, Kingman Brewster Jr. may be doing his trustees and the Eli alumni the ultimate old-school service by resigning to become President Carter's ambassador to Great Britain.
In fact, Brewster said in an interview in his office on Wednesday, the day before his appointment was announced, "various people" connected with Yale's current $370-million fund drive have suggested as much.
But he said he as no regrets about his tumultuous reign at Yale, and he believes that the 1970s have ushered in a refreshing spirit of reconciliation.
"My impression is that the generation gap is behind us, and that there is not only a reconciliation between fathers and sons but a new reconciliation between the university and its alumni," said Brewster, who for 13 years was identified by some older alumni as a cause of that gap.
Brewster, who incurred the wrath of Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon because of his widely publicized statements during the raucous antiwar years of the 60s, said some wealthy alumni may even open their pocket-books once he has left the campus.
He is known to have joked privately to members of the Yale Corp. The university's governing body, that he was willing to auction off his resignation to the highest bidder. To others, he is said to have estimated that his ambassadorial appointment is worth $100 million to the current Yale fund drive.
Brewster, who said he will leave Yale after the May 15 commencement, is resigning at a time of unparalleled financial crisis for the university.
Yale's budget deficit has totaled over $9 million in the past seven years, and its current fund-raising drive to bolster its sagging endowment has raised $181 million, or only half the goal with only nine months left in the three-year effort.
Most [WORD ILLEGIBLE] alumni trace their dissatisfaction back to the mid-'60s and to a long series of complaints about drastic changes in university policy during the Brewster administration: the admission of woen as undergraduates, increased minority representation, a shift of geographical distribution away from the Northeast and a sharp drop in the acceptance of sons of alumni.
But some alumni were even more troubled by Brewster's public statements during the turbulent antiwar years and by his implicit support of then-university chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. and assistant history professor Staughton Lynd after they visited Hanoi in 1965. A few alumni called for the resignation of Coffin and Lynd.
The worst suspicions of others were confirmed during the New Haven trial of black activist Bobby Seale and other Black Panther leaders for the murder of Panther Alex Rackley. About 12,000 demonstrators converged on the campus while the administration made classes optional for both faculty and students.
It was then that Brewster made his much-publicized statement that "I personally want to say that I'm appalled and ashamed that things should have come to such a pass that I am skeptical of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the U.S."
That comment, followed by Brewster's antiwar pilgrimage to Washington with 1,200 Yale demonstrators, encouraged Agnew to call for the Yale president's resignation.
In the interview, Brewster claimed that his remark, which he said was made privately in a faculty meeting, was misinterpreted and that what he had tried to convey was that it would be improper for the university to interfere in the Scale trial.
Brewster said he felt it is impossible to measure the impact of that and other controversial statements in terms of alumni attitudes toward the Yale administration.
"I know there were some people turned off by me, and that there were some people turned off by events, and some people turned off by people like Coffin . . . and I'm sure they zipped up their pockets as a result. Some were turned on by the fact that they thought the university was handling the situation correctly and I wouldn't begin to know what the balance of trade was between the two," Brewster said.
Looking back on that period, Brewster said. "This was a time when the generation gap was a real and not a metaphorical phenomenon . . . The activist students were sure the university was a tool of the military-industrial complex and the conservative parents were sure that the university was just a tool of the radic-libs."
While many alumni, whose median age has now dropped, to 30 years, supported his actions, some demonstrated that they were against any progressive change at the university, Brewster said.
"Those who are against change in society generally are going to be against change in the university . . . I'm not unaware of the fact that some members of the oldest generation are full of dismay at the changes they have seen in their lifetime and wish the world would stop spinning and wonder why their university can't stop it from spinning," Brewster said.
He said he interpreted this criticism not so much as a hostility toward him personally, but as a "very genuine loyalty to their view of the institution."
In spite of the seeming discontinuities at Yale, Brewster said he has been more impressed with "how much the place has remained the same as it was."
The admission of women to Yale, Brewster said, has made the university an infinitely more grown up, balanced and considerate community as a result of having (them) as part of the total crew, not just a weekend phenobenon. He said the advent of coeducational campus life had led to a "moral advantage" in which students demonstrate more considerateness by treating by opposite sex "as a neighbor" rather than a sex obpect.
Brewster said that had his nomination as ambassador to the Court of St. James's not been made, he would have left Yale within a few months anyway.
Recalling that he insisted that his term be reviewed at the end of seven years, Brewster said, "If I were reviewed now, I would simply have to say that I do not wish this to be my last job and therefore now is the time to change."
Several members of the Yale Corporation said they believed that Brewster had simply become tired of his job, a characterization that Brewster - although his 14 years as president seem to have etched lines of fatigue on his forehead - denied.
"It is not a fatigue problem or boredom problem, it is a problem just of age. That is, if you're not looking for retirement . . . and you are not all that marketable as the years tick off beyond the age of 57, then I am not unconscious of the fact that if I do want another 10 years or so of active academic life or institutional responsibility or public responsibility, now is the time to look around before it is too late," he said.
One Yale Corp. member suggested in an interview that the ambassadorship was "god for Brewster, good for Yale and good for the country." Like several other associates of Brewster, he pointed out that the Yale president is a serious Anglophile who has studied and vacationed in England and has great esteem for the country.