As he prepared for freshman orientation 40 years ago — 1968 — the special advisor to the president of Yale faced another tough decision.

“Showers?” wondered Henry “Sam” Chauncey Jr. “Or baths?”

“Bathtubs, of course,” his sister, the designated advice-giver, suggested. “Women prefer them.”

So Yale University purchased dozens of Bulldog bathtubs.

And returned them one year later. Women, it was soon discovered, shower, too.

That girls bathe standing up was not the only lesson administrators learned when the class of 1972 arrived. President Kingman Brewster Jr., who initially dragged his feet in integrating women to the University but later relented at the urging of Chauncey, among others, had decided that females would fill only a fraction of the student body.

But that same student body — men included — pushed back.

“In almost every plan that has been proposed so far, the assumption is that Yale will remain a MALE institution, with a decorate coterie of females,” the Co-Ed Steering Committee and Co-Ed Action Group wrote in a joint report now housed in Yale’s archives. “To us this represents a continuation of male chauvinism. Why is it so important to perpetuate the myth of male superiority, and to maintain the system of male domination of society?”

Again, the class of 1972 set the University straight: Women should not be discriminated against in the admissions process. Before long, they were equals — at least in numbers.

Exactly 40 years later, the class of 2012 finds itself in a similar spot.

With all due respect to the classes of 1982, 1992 and 2002, it is the crop of eager-eyed Elis who hit Old Campus today that is truly burdened — some would say privileged — with the Herculean task of being The Ones to guide the United States’ paradigmatic university — ol’ Yale — through its impending rethinking and remodeling.

When you graduate, freshmen, you will likely be the first class to leave a Yale with 14 residential colleges — the largest upgrade since the admission of women. And as Peter Salovey suggested in his address at Luce Hall on Wednesday upon being named provost, or second-in-command, of the University, you will be leaving newfangled faculty behind, too — one better attune to the sciences and, if Salovey has his way, one that is also more diverse.

Tune out to administrative-level changes, though, and you will still find yourself leading change at Yale.

After all, the heart of this place is its unique extracurricular scene: drama; art; politics; journalism; tutoring; New Haven community service; fraternities; religious organizations; cultural groups; initiation ceremonies; intensity; passion. And if the experience of the class of 1972 is any indication, the class of 2012 will leave a permanent impact on these groups by preparing — and updating them — for a new century of Bulldog pride. (The Yale Daily News, for one, might have to seriously consider opening a satellite bureau on Science Hill.)

Every year, the YDN, among other organizations and upperclassmen, urge freshmen to explore the magic of Yale and New Haven, particularly through the extracurricular bazaar (this Sunday), until they find the one or two activities or pursuits that speak to them.

This year, that call comes with a twist.

Whereas most classes merely use the facilities here, you may find yourself doing something more … meaningful.

“Showers?” the class of 2012 will have to decide, “Or tubs?”