July 16, 2019 | 71° F

GLASS: New lyrics of ‘On the Banks of the Old Raritan’ are poor

Opinions Column: Extra Curricula

Rutgers was fortunate in having several students who were brilliant collegiate song writers. The 1873 contribution by Howard Newton Fuller was a funny take on student life at Rutgers that deservedly became its alma mater. The first verse was:

“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.”

Like many old songs, some lyrics became dated. So, improvements have been made over the years. In 1989 “my boys” was changed to “my friends” in the chorus to include co-ed. Also, a contest was opened up to the entire Rutgers community to write new verses to recognize the Newark and Camden campuses. So, today “on the banks of the old Delaware” is sung in Camden.

This was how things were done in the recent past when Rutgers was still viewed as a community by its administrative staff. Decisions about University traditions were made collectively by the community rather than by the administrative fiat. 

But, we are in a new age at Rutgers. Without warning, at the start of the 2013 football season, new lyrics appeared on the scoreboard and everyone was supposed to fall in line and sing them.

“From far and near we came to Rutgers, And resolved to learn all that we can. And so we settled down, In that noisy college town, On the Banks of the Old Raritan.”

If the new lyrics were as good as the old, then the change might have been beneficial. But, the new lyrics are terrible. They are not grammatically correct ("can" should be "could") and are difficult to sing. They turn a personal memoir, (My father sent to old Rutgers, and resolv’d that I should be a man) into a bland, generic description (From far and near we came to Rutgers, And resolved to learn all that we can). The new lyrics were attributed to Rutgers Director of Choral Activities Patrick Gardner, and the justification for them was that they de-sexed the song by getting rid of the word "man." There are several things to say in response to this justification.

First, if de-sexing lyrics was of overriding importance, then getting rid of the word "man" would not be sufficient. Rutgers could no longer have an alma mater because "mater" means mother. It would have to be satisfied with having a school song. Also, the chorus lyric "has she not stood" would have to be changed to "has it not stood." But, these changes were not made because there are other values besides gender neutrality, such as the value of an appealing lyric. 

Given that one wants to recognize that Rutgers is co-ed, there were other alternatives along the model of the additional verses added for Newark and Camden. Over the past hundred years, many funny lyrics have been written for "On the Banks" about reasons women have settled down at Rutgers. The student body could have voted on which one they wanted to add, and two verses rather than one could appear on the scoreboard at sports events without wearing everyone out. 

A funny stopgap that had been used over the years was to have "On the Banks" sung by a mixed-sex choir, and to have the women loudly over-sing “woman” when the men sing “man.” 

Being inclusive and obliterating difference are not the same thing. Changing the “I” to “we” does not recognize the female students at Rutgers. It reduces the student body to an undifferentiated mass. The equivalent change for the Newark and Camden issue would have been to change "On the Banks of the Old Raritan" to "Someplace in New Jersey" to create a common song that could be sung on all three campuses.

It is also very sad to see that today’s students have become completely alienated from the traditions and community life created by the students that preceded them. College athletics, school songs and school clubs were all created by students for their own amusement without any input from faculty or administrators. It was all part of an effort to create their own world in which they could thrive. So, if there is anyone who has no right to alter traditions like alma maters, it is the successors of administrators who played no role in their creation or acceptance.

Arnold Glass is a professor in the Rutgers Department of  Psychology. His column, "Extra Curricula," normally runs on alternate  Thursdays. 


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes  submissions from all readers. Due to space limitations in our print  newspaper, letters to the editor must not exceed 500 words. Guest  columns and commentaries must be between 700 and 850 words. All authors  must include their name, phone number, class year and college  affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please  submit via email to oped@dailytargum.com by 4 p.m. to be considered for  the following day’s publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not  necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its  staff.

Arnold Glass

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Targum.