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Rutgers alma matters

Remember how the Douglass Governing Council (Douglass is a women's residential campus at Rutgers for non-RU readers who may not be aware) passed a resolution back in March urging the school to change the lyrics to its alma mater?

On the Banks of the Old Raritan is Rutgers University's alma matter, and partially the inspiration for this site's name. The Raritan River cuts through the heart of the Rutgers campus, dividing the New Jersey municipalities New Brunswick and Piscataway. The song's lyrics were originally written in 1873, its music cribbed from another popular song of the time.

This is the first verse.

My father sent me to old Rutgers,
And resolv'd that I should be a man;
And so I settled down,
in that noisy college town,
On the banks of the old Raritan.

Back in March, this development appeared to be a total non-story. College governing councils pass non-binding resolutions all the time to little or no effect. Sure, the song's latter verses actually directly refer to hazing and womanizing, but anyone protesting the song is missing the point that it was originally written as a first person account of one student's experiences while on campus. In 1873, a father sent his son to Rutgers. That's a fact, and a matter of artistic license. Or, you can just look at it as innocuous gendered language (i.e., using "men" to refer to all human beings). I can't fathom how anyone could draw any further conclusions about campus gender equality there.

Now two (female) New Jersey state senators have introduced a bill in the New Jersey legislature urging Rutgers to rewrite the alma mater. Never mind that the lyrics were already rewritten in 1989 at the urging of then-university President Edward Bloustein. It's empty symbolism, but entirely unwelcome when the Rutgers community is far more concerned with large cuts to higher education in the proposed F.Y. 2011 budget.

Not that I (or any other alumnus, for that matter) is particularly attached to the thing or that worked up here, but anyone sincerely upset about the matter is being a tad over-dramatic, and should probably be more concerned with substantive issues of sexism. Whitewashing the lyrics serves no purpose, and besides, weird archaic humor does have its charm.