Student Politics and the University
"The university now suffers from the consequences of an untempered and irrational attack on American society, government, and university, one to which we as academics have contributed, and on which we have failed to give much light"
It is scarcely possible to write anything about students and the university crisis now without looking back at what one has written over the past five years—and I began to write on this subject in December, 1964, reviewing the first climax of the Berkeley student crisis.
This has the usual sobering effect on human presumption. It turns out one was about half wrong and half right. Both the areas where one was wrong and the areas where one was right are of some interest.
Where I was right: at the beginning I, and others, argued that the issue at Berkeley (and elsewhere) was not one of free speech. Free speech existed at Berkeley, and we argued that very early in the first crisis two other issues had in effect replaced it. One was, would the university become the protected recruiting and launching ground for radical political activity directed to various ends, among them the overthrow of the basic system of operation of a democratic society? And second, would the student tactics of disruption, mild as they appear now in the perspective of four and a half years of increasing escalation, be applied to the basic concerns of the university itself (teaching and research), as well as to such peripheral matters as the political activities permitted on campus?
Those of us who by December, 1964, had decided the free-speech issue was solved, and was then spurious, considered these two issues the dominant ones; those who opposed us thought we were ridiculously exaggerating the most distant possible dangers to free speech, free research, and free teaching. They emphasized on the contrary the facts (with which we all agreed) that the student rebels themselves strongly resisted any tendency toward totalitarianism or even central control in their own movement; that the student leaders had found their political orientation in fighting for the rights of Negroes in the South, and for job opportunities for them in the Bay Area; and that young radical civil libertarians, not Communists, were the center of the radical movement. And they pointed out—and this was a very powerful argument indeed —that the young rebels had brought a refreshing sense of community, one that joined students and faculty as well as student with student, into an institution that had been marked by a far too strong concern simply with professional and academic standards, and which had done almost nothing to feed essential needs for close sharing with others, participation, joint action, and common facing of dangers.
These were certainly serious arguments in those distant days, and I doubt that those who in the end voted against a faculty resolution which sanctioned the student revolution felt at all easy with their position. Could one really believe that these attractive young people, many of whom had risked their lives in the South, who had taken up so many causes without concern for their own personal future, themselves carried any possible danger to free speech, free teaching, free research? In the end, both sides consulted their feelings—those who had felt the chill of a conformity flowing from an ostensible commitment to freedom voted one way; those who felt the warmth of a community united in common action voted the other. (This is extravagant, of course; there were many other reasons for going one way or another.)
After these chaotic four and a half years, I have no doubt that on this point my friends and I were right. The Free Speech Movement, which stands at the beginning of the student rebellion in this country, seems now almost to mock its subsequent course. In recent years, the issue has been how to defend the speech, and the necessary associated actions, of others. The right of unpopular political figures to speak without disruption on campus; the right of professors to give courses and lectures without disruption that makes it impossible for others to listen or to engage in open discussion; the right of professors to engage in research they have freely chosen; the right of government and the corporations to come onto the campus to give information and to recruit personnel; the right of students to prepare themselves as officers on the campus: all these have been attacked by the young apostles of freedom and their heirs.
The organizations that defend academic freedom, the AAUP and the ACLU, and the others, which have so long pointed their heavy guns toward the outside—for defense against conservative trustees, newspapers, legislators, and vigilante communities—are now with some reluctance swinging them around so they face inward. Anyone who has experienced the concrete situation in American universities knows that the threat to free speech, free teaching, free research, comes from radical white students, from militant black students, and from their faculty defenders. The trustees of the University of California may deny credit to a course in which Eldridge Cleaver is the chief lecturer, but radical students in many places (including campuses of the University of California) have effectively intimidated professors so they cannot give courses they were prepared to give. It is a peculiar sign of the times that the denial of credit seems to many a more monstrous act than the denial of freedom to teach.
Thus, we were right in pointing to the dangers. Where were we wrong? Our gravest mistake was that we did not see what strength and plausibility would soon be attached to the argument that this country was ruled by a cruel and selfish oligarchy devoted to the extension of the power and privileges of the few and denying liberty and even life to the many; and to the further assertion that the university was an integral part of this evil system. It was not possible to predict, in December, 1964, that the spring of 1965 would see an enormous expansion of the American role in Vietnam, and would involve us in a large-scale war that was to be fought by this country with unparalleled, one-sided devastation of an innocent civilian population and its land. We had never been in this position before. Where we were overwhelmingly powerful—as against Spain in 1898—there was no occasion or opportunity or capacity to engage in such horrible destruction; where we were horribly destructive—as in Europe and Japan in 1944 and 1945—it was against powerful opponents who had, in the eyes of most Americans, well merited destruction. There were some excuses even for the atom bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were some mitigating circumstances. There were hardly any in Vietnam, unfortunately, except for the arguments, which became less and less impressive over time, that we were after all a democratic society, and had gotten involved in such a war through democratic processes; and the further arguments that our strategy was designed to save a small nation from subversion, and our tactics were intended to save American lives.
e have to examine this moment in American history with the greatest care if we are ever to understand what happened afterward, why Berkeley 1964 did not remain an isolated incident, and why the nascent split that appeared there between liberals and radicals became a chasm which has divided American intellectuals more severely even than the issue of Stalinism and Communism in the thirties and forties. What happened to professors at Berkeley happened to liberals and radicals everywhere. And since intellectuals, including professors, played a far larger role in American society in the sixties than in the thirties and forties, this split became far more important than any possible argument among the intellectuals and their associated professors twenty-five years earlier. (One of the differences between the two periods was that so many intellectuals of the sixties, as against the earlier period, were in the universities. Compare the writers, circulation, and influence of Partisan Review with that of the New York Review of Books.)
It may be argued that no split really developed in 1964; that the intellectuals who approved of the United States were ambushed by new events that did not fit into their approach, and by an uprising of suppressed intellectuals who had been silenced by McCarthy, who had harbored for a long while some version of the Marxist view of the United States, and who now—by a series of disasters, mistakes, or demonstrations of the country's basic character and tendencies, take your pick—had been given their chance. This is in large measure true. But we forget how closely those who were to become so divided were linked before 1964.
Some political events of those days now seem so unlikely as to be hallucinatory; thus Paul Jacobs (who was to run in 1968 as a candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party), S. M. Lipset (the liberal sociologist of pluralism, now at Harvard), and Philip Selznick (the Berkeley sociologist who was to become one of the strong defenders of student protest at Berkeley) were linked in defending dissident members of Harry Bridges' union in San Francisco and in attacking what they considered the Communist proclivities of various groups in the Bay Area. Lewis Feuer, who became one of the most forceful critics of student radicalism (in his article in the Atlantic and in his book The Conflict of Generations), was in 1960 the chairman of a committee to defend the students who had put on a vocal (and, it was charged, a disruptive) demonstration against the House Un-American Activities Committee in San Francisco—this event is considered one of the important precursors of the Berkeley student rebellion. Or, if we want to mount a larger stage, consider who wrote for the New York Review of Books in its trial issues of 1963, and consider how many of them now see each other as political enemies.
Thus, to my mind, if we are to understand the student rebellion, we must go back to 1965 and reconstruct the enormous impact of Vietnam, and we will see that the same lines that began to divide friends on student rebellion reappeared to divide them on Vietnam.
Among all those who were horrified by the beginning of the bombing of the North, and by the increasingly destructive tactics in the South—the heavy bombing, the burning of villages, the defoliation of the countryside—a fissure rapidly developed. It could be seen when, for example, Berkeley radicals sat down in front of trains bringing recruits to the Oakland induction station. Those of us who opposed such tactics argued they would alienate the moderate potential opponents of the war, whose support was needed to bring a change in policy. We argued that to equate Johnson with Hitler and America with Nazi Germany would make it impossible to develop a wide alliance against the war. But actually, the principled basis of our opposition was more important. We did believe there were profound differences between this country and Nazi Germany, Johnson and Hitler, that we lived in a democracy, and that the authority of a democratic government, despite what it was engaged in in Vietnam, should not be undermined because only worse would follow: from the right, most likely, but also possibly from a general anarchy. Perhaps we were wrong. The reaction from the right was remarkably moderate. The radical tactics did reach large numbers and played finally a major role in changing American policy in Vietnam. But all the returns are not yet in: conceivably the erosion of the legitimacy of a democratic government is a greater loss than what was gained. Conceivably, too, a movement oriented to gaining wide support—along the lines of early SANE—might have been even more effective.
At Berkeley, the liberal split on Vietnam replicated the liberal split on student rebellion in the university and was paralleled by splits on the question of the summer riots and the whole problem of black violence. Again and again the issues were posed in terms of tactics—yes, we are for university reform of political rules, but we are against sit-ins and the degradation of university authorities; yes, we are against the war in Vietnam, but we will not attack or undermine the legitimacy of a democratic government; yes, we are for expanded opportunities and increased power and wealth for Negroes, but we are against violence and destruction to get them. But of course the split was not really over tactics.
Behind that there was a more basic disagreement. What kind of society, government, and university did we have? what was owed to them? to what extent were they capable of reform and change without resort to civil disobedience, disruption, and violence? The history and analysis of this basic division have scarcely been begun. But there is hardly any question as to which side has won among intellectual youth. We have witnessed in the past four or five years one of the greatest and most rapid intellectual victories in history. In the press addressed to the young (whether that press is elite or mass or agitational) a single view of the society and what is needed to change it is presented. Violence is extolled in the New York Review of Books, which began with only literary ambitions; Tom Hayden, who urges his audiences to kill policemen, is treated as a hero by Esquire; Eldridge Cleaver merits an adulatory Playboy interview; and so it goes, all the way, I imagine, down to Eye.
hen I say we were wrong, I mean that we never dreamed that a radical critique of American society and government could develop such enormous power, to the point where it becomes simply the new convention. Even in the fraternities and sororities, conservative opinion has gone underground; the formerly hip conservatism of the National Review is as unfashionable on the campus as the intellectualism of Commentary. We were not only wrong in totally underestimating the power of radical thinking to seize large masses again; we were also in the position of William Phillips sputtering to Kenneth Tynan, "I know the answer to that, but I've forgotten it." We had forgotten the answers, it was so long ago. When the questions came up again—imperialism, capitalism, exploitation, alienation—those of us who believed that the Marxist and anarchist critiques of contemporary society were fundamentally wrong could not, it seems, find the answers—at least the ones that worked.
Of course, some of the intellectuals of the forties and fifties had never forgotten the old questions (Paul Goodman, Hannah Arendt), and while they looked with some distance, even from the beginning, at the new recruits to their old concerns, they managed with amazing intellectual success the precarious task of combining basic criticism of a liberal society with basic support of the liberal values of free development, human variety, and protection for the individual. Those who had really forgotten nothing, neither the problems nor the answers, such as Herbert Marcuse, have been, of course, even more successful in relating to radical youth.
But were we wrong only in underestimating the appeal of old and outworn political ideologies, or were we wrong in considering them outworn, inadequate explanations of the world? In other words, was the issue really some fundamental bent in American society that added up to military adventurism abroad, lack of concern with the rights or lives of those of other skin color, the overwhelming dominance of mindless bureaucracies in determining economic and political policies, the human meaninglessness of the roles these bureaucracies prescribed for people, and the inability of the society and the state to correct these bents under any pressures short of violence, destruction, and rebellion?
ne must begin, I am afraid, with these larger questions in speaking about the university today. One's attitude toward it, the role of students within it, and the danger of its possible destruction, as a collection of physical facilities and as an institution, can scarcely be determined without attention to these larger questions. For the university is implicated in the society. It is a rare university that can for any period of time stand aside from a society, following a totally independent and critical course. Universities are almost always to some extent independent (one wonders, though, about Russia, China, and Cuba), but their insatiable demands for resources inevitably impose on them the need to relate themselves to the major concerns and interests of the society.
Yet at the same time a university's work is in large measure quite independent of the faults or characteristics of any state or government. There is a realm of scholarship beyond political stands and divisions. The science that is taught in the United States is not very different from the science that is taught in the Soviet Union, or in Cuba, or even in China—though at that point we reach the limits of my generalization. Even the scholarship of the humanities bears a great deal in common. I have often been surprised by the degree to which the work of the universities is common across radically different political frontiers. The passion of the Russians and Chinese, under Communism, for archaeology, for the exact restoration of early buildings and structures, and for early philology is evidence of the scholarly and scientific validity and usefulness of archaeology, linguistic reconstruction, art history.
It is only when one approaches the social sciences that the cross-political scientific validity of research and teaching can successfully be challenged, for we do find enormous variations between social science under one political outlook and another. History is perhaps worst off. Consider how Russians or Americans, and among Americans, established or revisionist historians, interpret our past. Sociology is almost as badly off. Yet some parts of it (for example, the statistical methodology opinion research) seem to have developed wide acceptance across disparate political and cultural frontiers. Economics seems to share some of the universal acceptance of the natural sciences.
I record these truisms to emphasize that the university is not simply the creature of social and political systems, and that scientific and scholarly investigation and teaching have some general value divorced from politics, since totally opposed and distinct social systems accept its importance and give it support and prestige. (China is the once great society to break with this general acceptance, and we don't know whether this is only the alteration of a few years.) But certainly the university is in large measure the creature of distinct social and political systems. The degree to which higher education is considered a right of all; the degree to which its credentials are considered essential for jobs and positions of all kinds; the degree to which its research is affected by state determination and the availability of state support; the degree to which university education is seen as part of a service to the state, and to which it is integrated with other kinds of service, such as military service: all these show considerable variation between states, but most modern states tend to converge in answering these questions, and the convergence is in the form of a closer and more complex relationship between university, society, and state. And if one is impressed by fatal flaws in the society and state, one may not be overly impressed with whatever measure of university function is independent of deep involvement with a given society and a given political system. At that point, one may well see the university as only the soft underbelly of the society.
hat the liberal critics of student disruption in 1964 did not see was that a storm of violent antipathy to the United States—and indeed to any stable industrial society, which raises other questions—could be aroused in the youth and the intellectuals, and that it could be maintained and strengthened year after year until it became the underpinning of the dominant style, political and cultural, among the youth. The question I find harder to answer is whether we failed to see fundamental defects and faults both in the society and state and the associated universities which had inevitably to lead anyone committed to life and freedom to such a ferocious anger.
Vietnam, of course, could justify anything. And yet the same ferocity can be seen in countries such as Germany, Italy, and Japan, which are really scarcely involved, allies though they are in other respects, in our war in Vietnam, and in a country like France, which actively disapproves of our role. Undoubtedly Vietnam has enormously strengthened the movement of antipathy and anger, and not only because our powerful nation was engaged in the destruction—whatever the reasons for it—of a small and poor one. There were other reasons. Vietnam placed youth in a morally insupportable position. The poor and the black were disproportionately subjected to the draft. The well-favored, as long as they stayed in school, and even out of it, were freed from it. The fortunate middle-class youth, with strong emotional and ideological reasons to oppose violently our war in Vietnam, could escape as long as they stayed in college, just as prisoners could escape as long as they were in jail. They undoubtedly felt guilty because those with whom they wanted to be allied, whom they hoped to help, had to go and fight in Vietnam. In this ridiculous moral position, the university became to many a repulsive prison, and prison riots were almost inevitable—whatever else contributed to them.
And yet, where there was no Vietnam, students could create their own, as in France, or the real Vietnam could serve to make them just as angry at their own, in this case hardly guilty, government.
But the question remains: how do we evaluate the role of Vietnam in directly creating frustrations that led to anger at the university? Did Vietnam strive to teach or remind students, with the assistance of critics of capitalism, that they lived in a corrupt society? Or was it itself the major irritant? How was Vietnam related to the larger society? Was it an appropriate symbol or summary of its major trends or characteristics? Or was it itself an aberration, correctable without "major social change"? The dominant tone of student radicalism was increasingly to take the first position—it reflected the society, and could be used as an issue to mobilize people against it.
Those of us who took the position we did in 1964 have stuck with it, and are stuck with it. We took a position of the defense of institutions that we thought worked well enough, which could be changed, and which in the face of radical attack could and would crumble, to be replaced with something worse. I will not defend this position here—I have done so elsewhere (in "The New Left and Its Limits," Commentary, July, 1968). I will admit to some discomfort with it. We seem to find it impossible to modify our inhuman tactics in Vietnam (even though I understand we adopt them to save American lives), we seem to find it impossible to reduce the enormous military budget or to make effective steps in reducing the atomic arms race (though I am aware another side is involved too), we seem to find it difficult or impossible to move rapidly in the reform of certain inadequate institutions—for example, the system of punishment, the welfare system, the public schools, the universities, the police—without the spur of the disruption and violence I decry. But the disruption and violence, even if they produce reforms, will in the end, I believe, produce a society that we would find less human than the unreformed society. So I have stuck to this not fully adequate position, for I find it sounder, more adapted to reality, and more congenial than the alternative: the despairing view that we have solved no problems, that selfish and overwhelmingly powerful forces prevent us from solving any, that the society and its institutions respond only to disruption and violence.
Of course, this position has never been one that was uncritical of universities and colleges. Many who defend universities and the institutions of a democratic society against the radicals—for example, Daniel Bell and David Riesman—have been among the most forceful critics of colleges and universities. (I myself wrote, a year or two before Berkeley, an article critical of college and university education, and joined the small band of educational reformers when I came to Berkeley in 1963.) But rarely was the main force of these critics linked to a basic criticism of the society. Their criticism was directed at the structure of the university or college; it spoke of the university as an educational institution and faulted it for educational failure. What this criticism did not do was to subordinate the educational criticism to a devastating criticism of the society, its distribution of power, forms of socialization, its role in the world.
arly in the American student revolt it seemed reasonable that educational issues were at the heart of the matter. People spoke of the size of Berkeley, the anonymity of the student, the dominance of education by the disciplines, and the graduate departments and their needs. But there was a key difference between the critics of higher education and the student radicals: to the critics educational reform was, if not of major or exclusive concern, a matter of some significance in itself, worth taking seriously on its own terms; to the student radicals, it was immediately subordinated to the larger social criticism—educational reform was valuable if it meant the universities could be moved toward becoming a training ground for revolutionaries, or if it meant that revolutionaries would achieve greater power within it, or if it meant that the university could be used so as to produce "radicalizing confrontations" with "reactionary" forces.
In other words, university reform was a tactic. I make the distinction too sharply, of course, because to many of the student radicals, university reform was not a tactic; it was a goal of value in itself. Among the student radicals were, and are, to be found many serious students and critics of university education, with strong commitment to change and experiment. And yet again and again the tactical use of educational change became dominant.
Thus, consider the case of the course in which Eldridge Cleaver was to lecture at Berkeley, a course organized under the liberalized procedures that permitted students to initiate courses of interest to them. The Regents moved, against this course, that lecturers not members of the regular faculty could give only one guest lecture a quarter in a given course. If the students wanted to hear Eldridge Cleaver give his planned nine lectures, they would have to take the course without credit.
This led to the occupation of the building housing the offices of the College of Letters and Science and the philosophy department by unreconciled radicals (including the ubiquitous Tom Hayden, who can add to his honors his presence in Moses Hall at Berkeley as well as in the mathematics building at Columbia), and to considerable damage. The "revolutionary" slogan, the demands for which the radicals fought, were summed up on a button, "For credit, on campus, as planned!" It would be hard to argue that the radical students were moved by the opportunity to hear Eldridge Cleaver on campus, an opportunity that was available to them every day, if Cleaver had enough time or energy, and it seems quite clear that this educational innovation was now becoming a tactic, a counter in the revolutionary struggle that would (hopefully) activate the students to strike, to occupy buildings, and to disrupt the university.
If we go across the country, we can find a similar development in the enormously successful course that radical students conduct under the auspices of the social relations department of Harvard University, for credit. Some members of the department preferred to move the course elsewhere, into social sciences. The faculty member under whose formal authority the course was given denounced this as an effort to destroy the course, and he and those conducting sections in the course organized to fight the move, insisting it was political, and issued threats as to what would happen if the social relations department tried to disengage itself from this albatross. Thus, it was suggested, other social relations courses would be disrupted in protest.
Everything can be explained, if we are so inclined, as the effort of students devoted to education to save an experimental and rewarding course from destruction, and this certainly was part of the motivation. Reading the statements, I cannot escape the cynical conclusion that the course was being used as a club to threaten a "conservative" department, and the threat was being used to organize and radicalize students. There is enough to suggest that this objective loomed far larger in the minds of the organizers of the course than any concern with education as such.
Of course the organizers would argue, as student radicals argue everywhere, that there is no difference between radicalization and education. Everything else is "miseducation.'' To understand properly the nature of social relations, or power relations, of the structure of the society, the political system, and the economy is to become radical, and become imbued with the passion to destroy the status quo. Thus, they argue, any so-called "objective" or "scientific" education is really a fraud—if it's not educating people to overthrow the status quo, then it must be educating people to support it, for even inaction (when one could be active against) is a form of support. Thus, the outraged defenders of Social Relations 149 argued that all the other courses were conservative (clearly, or they weren't formally "radical"), and therefore their own radical course was a necessary and valuable effort to redress the balance.
The argument is not new. It is in effect the argument that was fought out in Russia over the question of whether all education and all science must reflect "dialectical materialism," and whether any scholarship that did not was by that fact alone "counterrevolutionary" and "bourgeois." Or the battle that was fought out in Nazi Germany over "Aryan" science and "non-Aryan" (and therefore "Jewish" science). It is understandable why we sputter, "I know the answers, but I've forgotten them." For these positions became so outrageous and untenable in the eyes of Western intellectuals that to have to defend again the possibility and reality of objective science and scholarship means to call into play parts of our minds that have long lain quiescent and unused. But called into play they must be, because the possibility of pursuing and disseminating knowledge freely is now quite seriously threatened.
e have to learn the answers to the arguments that are now used to defend attacks on freedom—they are widely used, and in the present cultural atmosphere are repeated in the same form on a hundred campuses. Thus, if ROTC is prevented from operating, and the argument is that students should be free to take it if they wish, the answer is, "But the South Vietnamese are not allowed their freedom—why should students be allowed the freedom to join ROTC and the armed forces, which deny the South Vietnamese their freedom?" If a faculty member is not allowed to give the course he has scheduled, and faculty members criticize the black students who have prevented him from teaching, the answer is, "But this has been a racist institution for a long time, and 'academic freedom' is only a ploy to defend racism and the status quo." If some students engage in violence against others, the argument is, "But the violence of the police at Chicago is far greater, and what about the silent violence of starvation in the South, not to mention the violence of ghetto merchants who overcharge, and of social investigators who ask degrading questions?" We must remember what we have forgotten—for example, the old joke about the man who is being shown the wonderful new Moscow subway, and after a while asks, "But where are the trains?" The Russian answers, "But what about lynching in the South?" It's no joke any longer.
In other words, when I think of the student rebellion today, and of the disasters threatening and in some measure already actual on the campuses today—the massed battles between students and police, the destruction of card catalogues and lecture halls (and the threat to major research libraries), the destruction of computer tapes and research notes, the arming of many black students and the terrorization in many cases of other black and white students—I do not think initially in terms of the major reforms that are required on the university campus, but I think of the politics, and even the tactics, that would defend the university. For I have made some commitments: that an orderly democracy is better than government by the expressive and violent outbursts of the most committed; that the university embodies values that transcend the given characteristics of a society or the specific disasters of an administration; that the faults of our society, grave as they are, do not require—indeed, would in no way be advanced by— the destruction of those fragile institutions which have been developed over centuries to transmit and expand knowledge. These are strongly held commitments, so strongly that my first reaction to student disruption—and it is not only an emotional one—is to consider how the disrupters can be isolated and weakened, how their influence, which is now enormous among students, can be reduced, how dissension among them can be encouraged, and how they can be finally removed from a community they wish to destroy.
I know the faults of the universities as well as any of its critics do, and have worked and continue to work to correct them. But I take this position because I do not believe the character of the university as an institution—its teaching, its research, its government—is really the fundamental issue raised by student radicalism on the campus, or that changes in the government and education and research of the university, important as they are on many grounds, will do much to mitigate or deflect the radical onslaught. Again and again we have seen political uprisings on the campus—political acts based on a certain interpretation of American society to which one can either adhere or not, as one wishes, in the university—and in response to these political acts, we have seen an effort to shape a response in the educational or administrative area. This, I suggest, is a completely inappropriate and ineffective response.
Thus, if students attack Columbia for its ties to IDA and its building of a gymnasium in a park adjacent to Harlem, we end up by "restructuring" Columbia, with endless committees, with elected student representatives, with student participation being argued over in every setting, and all the rest—the university turned into committees and tribunals. Now, the fact is that the cause of the uprising was not dissatisfaction with the government of Columbia. The cause was the ceaseless search of the SDS to find means of attacking the basic character and mode of operation of a society and government they wished to transform, "by any means possible," to use the prevailing rhetoric. IDA and the gymnasium we have been told by SDS activists—and we must take this seriously—were tactical.
The cause of the uprising at Columbia was not the system of government, for any system of government for that university might in the fifties and sixties have involved ties with IDA and might have undertaken the building of a gymnasium in the park. (Who, after all, objected to these things when they were begun?) And indeed, even Columbia's system of government, archaic as it was, was quite capable of responding to changed attitudes, and was engaged in the process of cutting the ties to IDA, before the student uprising. As to the gymnasium, the fact was that aside from the protests of defenders of New York parkland and design (I am among them), who objected violently to the gymnasium, there was little other protest. Even the Harlem community was either indifferent to or actually supported the project.
With IDA and the gymnasium alone, as we all now know, the SDS at Columbia would have gotten nowhere. But then there comes the illegal seizure, the successful confrontation, the battle with the police, and new issues arise. The radicals are now joined by the liberals. The latter are concerned with due process, with government, with participation, with education. The liberals are much less concerned with the revolutionary change in the society that the radicals insist is necessary. The liberals demand amnesty for the protesters, due process before punishment, a new role for students and faculty, a change in "governance."
The script was played out before Columbia, at Berkeley in 1964 and 1966, and it is now being played out at Harvard. In 1966 at Berkeley, radical students blocked military recruiters. Police were called onto the campus to eject and arrest them. What was the faculty's response? To set up a commission on governance.
he logic of these events is truly wonderful. The blocking of recruiters on campus has nothing to do with the governance of an educational institution. Whether it was run by the state, the trustees, the faculty, the students, or the janitors, any university might consider it reasonable to give space for recruiters to talk to students, and if these were blocked, any administration might well decide at some point to call police. But then the liberal students and faculty move into action. First, shocked at the calling of police, they demand that new governance arrangements be created. Then, because they dislike the tactics chosen to remove the disrupters, they demand amnesty for them. Finally, because they have been forced into a tactical alliance with the disrupters—after all, the liberals are defending them against the administration—they begin to find the original positions of the disrupters, with which the liberals had very possibly originally disagreed, more attractive.
We are all aware that calling in the police radicalizes the students and faculty (so aware that many students and faculty protesting President Pusey's action at Harvard said, "Why did he do it, he knows it radicalizes us"—they spoke as if they knew that, according to the scenario, they were supposed to be outraged, and they were). We are less aware that the radicalization extends not only to the police issue and the governance issue but to the content of the original demands. A demand to which one can remain indifferent or opposed suddenly gains enormously greater moral authority after one has been hit on the head by the police for it. Thus, the first mass meeting of the moderate student element after the police bust, in Memorial Church, refused to take a position on ROTC and asked only for a student referendum, and referenda, as we know, generally turn out in favor of retaining ROTC in some form on campus. It is for this as well as for other reasons that SDS denounces votes and majority rule as "counterrevolutionary." But the second meeting of the moderate students, in the Soldiers Field Stadium a few days later, adopted a far more stringent position, hardly different from SDS's. And a few days after that, the distinguished faculty, which had devoted such lengthy attention to ROTC only a short time before, returned to discuss it again, and also took a more severe position.
The recourse to violence by the radical students at Harvard was therefore successful. The issue of ROTC, which was apparently closed, was reopened. The issue of university expansion, which excited few people, became a major one. The issue of black studies, which everyone had thought had been settled for a time, and decently, with the acceptance of the Rosovsky report, was reopened by the black students. It might have been anyway, but certainly the SDS action encouraged the reopening.
The SDS takes the position that these are no victories—by the nature of their analysis of the structure of society, government, and university in this country, there can be no victories, short of the final, indefinable "basic social change." Thus, the fact that the university faculty and corporation have now adopted a resolution which will remove ROTC from campus entirely (even the rental of facilities, according to the mover of the new faculty resolution, would be improper) demonstrates, according to SDS, that the university has not given an inch. Why? Because the resolution says the university will facilitate student efforts to take ROTC as an outside activity, off campus, presumably in the way it facilitates student efforts to find jobs or nearby churches. "Abolish ROTC," the SDS ROTC slogan, it now appears, means that not only must students not be allowed to take ROTC on campus; the university must not give them the address where they might take it off campus. One can be sure that if this "facilitating" clause were not in the resolution, the SDS would find other means of claiming that the university is intransigent by definition, the power structure must be—and that there has been no victory.
On university expansion, the corporation and the various schools of the university have come up with the most detailed account to demonstrate that the direct impact of the university on housing has been minor and moderated. The indirect impact is hardly controllable—psychoanalysts want to live in Cambridge, millionaires' children want to live in Cambridge (and some of those after all contribute to radicals' causes), students want to live there, and faculty members want to live there. Any reasonable attempt to moderate the situation—as, for example, Harvard's effort to build low-cost or moderate-cost housing—is denounced by the radicals. Could there be any more convincing demonstration that the demands are tactical, not designed to improve the housing situation (if it were, it might prevent the anger that hopefully leads to the revolution), but serve as a rallying slogan whereby liberals can be turned into radicals?
The issue of the black demands is a different matter; these are raised by the black students and not tactical. They are deeply felt, if often misguided. Thus, the key demand of formal student equality in recruiting faculty goes against one of the basic and most deeply held principles of the university—that the faculty consists of a body of scholars who recruit themselves without outside interference, whether from government, trustees, or students. For the purpose of maintaining a body of scholars, students are an "outside" force—they are not part of the body of scholars. But if the black demands are not raised tactically by the black students, they are adopted tactically by the white radicals—as they were at Harvard, with the indescribably simple phrase, "accept all Afro demands."
Once again, this is the kind of slogan that is guaranteed to create the broadest measure of disruption, disorder, and radicalization. Just as in the case of ''abolish ROTC" or "no expansion," "accept all Afro demands" has a wonderful accordionlike character, so that no matter what the university does in response, the SDS can insist that nothing really has been accomplished, the ruling class and the corporation still stand supreme, and the work of building toward the revolution must continue.
There is only one result of a radical action that means success for the radicals—making new radicals. In this sense, the Harvard action has been an enormous success. Those who know something of the history of Marxism and Leninism will be surprised to see this rather esoteric definition of success for true radical movements now emerging full-blown in the midst of the SDS, which began so proudly only a few years ago by breaking with all previous ideology and dogma. "Build the cadres" was the old slogan: "build the cadres," because any reform will only make the peasants and workers happier or more content with their lot, and will thus delay the final and inevitable revolution.
The aim of action, therefore, is never its ostensible end—the slogan is only a tactic—but further radicalization, "building the cadres," now "the movement." The terrible effect of such an approach is to introduce corruption into the heart of the movement, and into the hearts of those who work for it, because the "insiders" know that the ostensible slogans are only tactical, that one can demand anything no matter how nonsensical, self-contradictory, and destructive, because the aim is not the fulfillment of demands, but the creation of new radicals who result from the process that follows the putting forward of such demands: violence by the revolutionaries, counterviolence by the authorities, radicalization therefore of the bystanders, and the further "building of the movement."
What justifies this process, of course, is the irredeemable corruption of the society and all its institutions, and therefore the legitimacy of any means to bring it all down.
iberals like to make the distinction between themselves and radicals by saying to radicals, "We approve of your aims but disapprove of your means." This in effect is what the liberal student body and faculty of Harvard did. It disagreed with the occupation of University Hall, the physical ejection of the deans, the breaking into the files. But it said, in effect, by its actions, we think the issues you raised are legitimate ones. Thus, we will revise our carefully thought out position on ROTC, and we will change our position on black studies.
On university expansion, the faculty acted just as a faculty should; it accepted the proposals of a committee that had been set up some time before, a committee on the university and the city, chaired by Professor James Q. Wilson. It followed its agenda and its procedures rather than the agenda set for it by the radicals. It received neither more nor less abuse for this action than for its efforts to accommodate radical demands on ROTC. I think the proper liberal response was: "We disagree totally with your means, which we find abhorrent, we disagree totally with your ends, which are the destruction of any free and civil society; some of the slogans you have raised to advance your ends nevertheless point to real faults which should be corrected by this institution, which has shown by its past actions on various issues that it is capable of rational change without the assistance of violence from those who wish to destroy it, and we will consider them."
Oddly enough, the discussion of the ostensible aims, even though the liberal position was that the aims were valid, was terribly muted. The liberals were hampered in their discussion first by lack of knowledge of the issues (how many had gone into the intricacies of relocation and the provision of housing for the poor?), and second by the feeling that some of these issues were not really the business of the faculty. In the case of ROTC, the key issue, the faculty tried to find an "educational" component to justify the action that might assuage the passions of student radicals. Thus, the argument on ROTC was carefully separated from any position on the Vietnam War, and a resolution was passed ostensibly for educational purposes, simply because it had been determined that ROTC did not have any place in a university.
This was nonsense. The educational reasons for action against ROTC were settled when it was determined the courses should not get academic credit and the ROTC instructors should not get faculty standing. Why was it necessary to go on and specify that no facilities should be provided? Space is given or rented for all sorts of noneducational purposes on the campus—religious, athletic, social, and so on. What had happened was that under the guise of responding as an educational body to political demands, the faculty had accepted a good part of the political demands, and implicitly a good part of the political analysis, that led to them. It would have been more honest to denounce the Vietnam War than to remove ROTC. After all, what role has ROTC played in getting us into that quagmire? It was civilians, such as Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, who did that.
By denying to students the right previously established to take military training on the campus the faculty was in effect taking the position that all the works of the United States government, and in particular its military branches, are abhorrent which is exactly the position that SDS wishes to establish. It wishes to alienate students from their society and government to the point that they do not consider how it can be reformed, how it can be changed, how it can be prevented from making mistakes and doing evil, but only how people can be made to hate it.
This may appear an extravagant view of the action of the Harvard College faculty, and yet the fact is that there was little faculty debate on the demands. The liberals implicitly took the stand, "We agree with your aims, we disagree only with your tactics," and in taking this stand were themselves then required to figure out how by their procedures they could reach those aims without violence.
But the aims themselves were really never discussed. The "Abolish ROTC" slogan was never analyzed by the faculty. It was only acted upon. All the interesting things wrapped up in that slogan were left unexplored: the rejection of majority rule (explicit in SDS's rejection of the legitimacy of a referendum on ROTC); the implication that American foreign policy is made by the military; the assumption that the American military is engaged in only vile actions; the hope that by denying the government access to the campus it can be turned into a pariah—and once we manage to turn someone by our actions into a pariah, we can be sure the proper emotions will follow.
The expansion demand was never really discussed, or at any rate insufficiently discussed. It never became clear how different elements contributed to the housing shortage and to the rise of rents in Cambridge. It was never pointed out that the popular demand for rent control would inevitably mean under-the-table operations in which the wealthier Harvard students and faculty could continue to outbid the aged and the workers. The issues of the inevitable conflicts over alternative land uses, and the means whereby they could be justly and rationally resolved, were never taken up.
The faculty did most to argue against the new demand for equal student participation in the committee developing the program of Afro-American studies and recruiting faculty. Even there, one can hardly be impressed with the scale and detail of the faculty discussion, though individual statements, such as Henry Rosovsky's speech, were impressive and persuasive. The key questions of the nature of a university, the role of students within it, the inevitable limits that must be set on democracy and participation if an institution designed to achieve the best, in scholarship and in teaching, is to carry out its functions—all these played hardly any role in the discussion. The students were not educated. To their eyes, reasonable sensible demands were imposed by force on a reluctant faculty. They were right about the force. This was hardly a manly posture for the faculty—at least they should have argued.
There was thus to my mind a serious educational failure at Harvard. All the education, after the occupation and the police bust, was carried on by the radicals. They spoke to the issues they had raised; others did not, or countered them poorly. They established that these issues were important, and thus in the minds of many students their tactics were justified. By student, faculty, and corporation response, their view that the university reacts only to violent tactics was given credence. If this was a failure, of course the chief blame must rest on the faculty. It is their function to educate the students, and the corporation follows their lead and their analysis, when they give one.
There were of course administration failures, too, in not consulting sufficiently widely with students and faculty, and perhaps in calling the police. But these did not justify the faculty in its failure to analyze and argue with the radical demands, and in giving up positions it had just adopted.
I agree with the SDS that the issues should have been discussed—ROTC, campus expansion, black demands. But more than that should have been discussed. The reasons SDS had raised the issues should have been discussed. The basic analysis they present of society and government should have been discussed. The consequences of their analysis and the actions they take to achieve their demands should have been discussed. They should have been engaged in debate. They were not. Instead, they were given an open field and all possible facilities for spreading their view of the world, a view that to my mind is deficient in logic, based on ignorance and passion, contradictory, committed to unattainable aims, and one in which a free university could not possibly operate.
The university now suffers from the consequences of an untempered and irrational attack on American society, government, and university, one to which we as academics have contributed, and on which we have failed to give much light. The students who sat in, threw out the deans, and fought with the police have, after all, been taught by American academics such as C. Wright Mills, Herbert Marcuse, Noam Chomsky, and many, many others. All these explained how the world operated, and we failed to answer effectively. Or we had forgotten the answers. We have to start remembering and start answering.