century association biographical archive

Earliest Members of the Century Association

View all members

Andrew Fleming West

Dean of the Graduate School

Centurion, 1911–1943

Born 17 May 1853 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Died 27 December 1943 in Princeton, New Jersey

Buried Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, New Jersey

Proposed by M. Taylor Pyne and Edward Delavan Perry

Elected 2 December 1911 at age fifty-eight

Archivist’s Note: Father of Randolph West

Seconder of:

Century Memorial

Andrew Fleming West retired as Dean of the Graduate School at Princeton in 1927 and Centurions whose membership goes back less than fifteen years probably never saw him here in his habit as he lived. This is the more regrettable since few men possessed in fuller measure those qualities which endear them to their friends. Our younger members will have heard only the reverberations of the epic academic battles in which he was involved. Their elders feel that it would be unfair to leave them with the impression that “Andy” West was essentially cantankerous. It is true that it was in his nature greatly to find quarrel in a straw where he believed principles were at stake. In academic as in world wars the area of conflict sometimes spreads until original principles and issues become obscured. So it was here, but it would be a grievous error to assume that these controversies swallowed up the man. He rose above them. They were not his life but incidents in life. During them and after them he remained to his friends, who were legion, one of the great human beings of our time.

Dean West possessed, or perhaps rather was possessed by, a body of doctrine whose validity he never questioned. To him the great problem before university men was to provide a proper education for American youth and for the professors who were to train them. He held in the first place that professors should know better than undergraduates what is educationally sound. This was the basis of his lifelong battle against what he called the “lunch counter” free elective system of President Eliot. The core of his doctrine he found in those classical and Christian elements which provide the basis of our cultural tradition. It is a misrepresentation to say that the Dean was hostile to science. Scientific inquiry which leads to a deeper understanding of nature was to him an integral part of the Greek tradition and must be a part of any well-co-ordinated college curriculum. On the graduate level he objected to too early and too narrow specialization by students who lacked the training in fundamentals or the imagination to understand the bearing of their own investigations upon the central problems of man’s life and destiny. It was West’s command of his own language and the language of the Romans, the sympathetic and imaginative range of his own intelligence, which made him the acknowledged master of what the French call the lapidary style, the graven word. Probably no scholar of his time was more frequently called upon to provide appropriate inscriptions for public buildings and monuments.

In his working years he impressed even those who met him casually as a friendly giant. Built along generous lines, square-shouldered and square-jawed, he had a ready twinkle in his light blue eyes. He had that abounding vital energy which is so often the mark of our great teachers. He had life to give away and gave it to students and friends with the abandon of “wealthy men who care not how they give.”

The Dean cared little for outward honors. On ceremonial occasions he was, to be sure, happy to wear the red gown of Doctor of Literature which Oxford had bestowed upon him, but there was no chalk dust, academic fussiness or solemnity about him. After the Graduate College was well established the late Tait McKenzie was commissioned to make the bronze statue of West which now stands in the center of the quadrangle. The Dean made no secret of his hearty disapproval of such ante mortem statuary. Courtesy to his friend the sculptor forced him to attend the unveiling. But when the canvas was withdrawn to reveal his own likeness he grumbled audibly to his colleagues, “There’s only one good thing about that statue. He looks as if he had just sense enough to keep his mouth shut.”

Dean West was in years the oldest of the members who left us in 1943. The Romans never wrote of those who wrought wisely and well that they had died, and it seems unfitting even in a memorial to say it of one so vivid and vital. Rather we join in saying of him as the Romans surely would have said, he has lived. Vixit!

Geoffrey Parsons
1943 Century Memorials