The Uprising at Columbia
Here are some impressions of, and reflections upon, the first phase of the Columbia crisis as it was experienced by a member of the faculty. That phase began with the student demonstrations of Tuesday, April 23 and ended with the big police raid during the early hours of Tuesday, April 30. The crisis still continues, having gone through further phases of relative quiet and of extreme violence. And despite resignations and replacements in the personnel of the administration, despite the work of reconstruction carried on by numerous committees, the disturbances threaten to break out once more when classes begin this month. Throughout the intervening months many new facts have emerged, and many facts established earlier have acquired new and startling implications. For these reasons the reflections that follow are necessarily subject to correction. As for the impressions, they are peculiarly, although I think not uniquely, my own. For if the Columbia ordeal has been primarily a collective shake-up, it has also amounted to an individual shake-up for most of us who have participated in the experience — an experience which, in its duration and its bitterness, its capacity to absorb every major issue now dividing the nation, is probably without precedent in the history of American universities.
A number of students and faculty members — chiefly Eric Lindermeyer, Sidney Morganbesser, and Terence Hopkins — have helped me to recall events and to understand their import. None of these individuals is, however, in any way responsible for what I write here.
During the early hours of Wednesday, April 24th, I was preparing for my Shakespeare class at 11 A.M. The subject that day was The Winter’s Tale; Coriolanus had gotten its final touches at the preceding session — “Just in time for the local mob scenes,” a student remarked later. I wasn’t happy about meeting any class that day. The show must go on, but I wished it could go on without me. For there was trouble on campus and I was by self-election a teacher and not a campus politician or a “trouble shooter.”
It was one of Columbia’s great virtues that it allowed its teachers this freedom of election, together with plenty of intellectual and social freedom and plenty of good students. It is true that my habitual detachment from campus politics had recently broken down as I saw the students growing more and more desperate under the pressures of the War. The War’s large evil was written small in the misery with which they pondered hour by hour the pitiful little list of their options: Vietnam or Canada or graduate school or jail! Naturally they were edgy, staying away from classes in droves and staging noisy demonstrations on campus. To all this, the Columbia Administration added further tension. Increasingly capricious in the exercise of its authority, it alternated, in the familiar American way, between the permissive gesture and the threatened crackdown.
So little unchallenged authority survives anywhere at present, even in the Vatican, that those who think they have authority tend to get “hung up” on it. Many of my fellow teachers shared the Administration’s “hang-up.” One of them said to me of the defiant students, “As with children, there comes a time when you have to say no to them.” But the defiant students weren’t children, and saying no meant exposing them to much more than “a good spanking.” The War was doing far more “violence” to the University than they were. Altogether, Columbia (especially the College where I teach and where the big April disturbances began) had been grim throughout the school year. And while nobody — not even the student radicals — expected any such explosion as actually occurred, I would not have been surprised if the year had ended with an epidemic of nervous breakdowns. On that Wednesday morning I was tired of the routines of teaching. I wanted neither to lecture on The Winter’s Tale nor cope with a student riot.
BUT I MUST GO back a day. The disturbances began at noon on Tuesday, April 23. That morning a College dean phoned and asked me, in a slightly anxious voice, to join him and others at a noonday rally called by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the Sundial. It was hoped, the dean said, that the demonstrators might be persuaded to adjourn to McMillin Theatre where they could discuss their grievances peacefully with David Truman, the former dean of Columbia College, now the University’s Vice-President. If persuasion worked, would I sit on the McMillin stage with other senior professors? I said I would attend the rally and see what happened.
It seemed doubtful that persuasion would work in this case. On March 27 the SDS had staged an indoor demonstration in open defiance of a ban on such demonstrations issued by President Kirk still earlier in the year. In itself the ban was acceptable to a majority of students and faculty, including myself — indoor demonstrations are disruptive — even though many of us thought it impolitic of the President (to put it mildly) to have made this important move without consulting formally any faculty or student body. Six student leaders who had participated in the March event were now subject to University discipline. The SDS claimed, first, that the six had been invidiously singled out; and second, that only a public trial conducted with due process could properly dispense justice in such cases. The Administration had denied both claims, in particular the second. The demand for a public trial challenged the right of this private university to conduct its disciplinary affairs by the in loco parentis principle that governed most of its relations with its students. Thus the issues behind the present rally combined, just as the issues presented by the demonstrators in the coming crisis were to do, a relatively superficial one (the disciplining of the six) with an absolutely fundamental one: the theory and practice of the University vis-à-vis its student body. “The University is not a democracy,” its officials announced, with a candor which, in the present state of unrest, was the opposite of disarming.
I went to the rally; access to the campus is quick and easy from my apartment on West 116th Street, a short half block from the Amsterdam Avenue gate to College Walk. The rally, I found, was already in progress on and around the Sundial. Columbia’s chief landmark, this squat cylinder of granite is capable of seating a dozen or so persons around its rim. It can also serve as a rostrum for a speaker and several associates if they all cling together. As rostrum, the Sundial was no occupied by a speaker and three or four associates, including (briefly) a couple of what I guessed were Barnard girls. The boys tended to be quite tall with hair wild, eyes haunted, lower jaws protruded, shoulders hunched: the SDS look; while the girls were short, dark, sternfaced, and had their hair pulled tight into knots at the back. The group didn’t look as scary to me as they were reputed to be, perhaps because a couple of them were students of mine—the family quarrel aspect of the coming crisis was already present. In the bright Spring sunlight, squinting watchfully across the expanses of the campus, the SDSers made a familiar, disarming, storybook or TV Western impression — that of an embattled cluster of frontiersmen and their women in Indian country. This image fitted in — too conveniently, I was to find — with what I knew of their ideology (or anti-ideology) which, despite its debts to Marcuse, Sorel, Camus, Mao, etc., seemed to me in essence radically American and populist, with Cuba as the latest frontier and the great Guevara as the tragic hero.
Now one of the taller youths — Mark Rudd, the SDS chairman — was making a speech to a crowd thickly gathered around the Sundial. Farther off, on Low Plaza, where I was standing, the crowd was more fluid. Unaffiliated students, faculty members, University officials, we moved around easily, exchanging campus pleasantries while keeping eyes and ears on the Sundial speaker. Beyond us, at the foot of the Low Library steps, was a line of picketers shouting “Stop SDS!” They were some of the Students for a Free Campus, a faction whose numbers were soon to multiply, and with them its potential for violence.
Something now went on at the Sundial which I couldn’t follow at that distance but learned about later. A College dean handed the speaker David Truman’s letter inviting the group to McMillin. The speaker read the letter aloud, went into a huddle with his associates, and then told the dean that they would go to McMillin if the meeting there were converted into a public trial of the six students under discipline. To this demand the dean replied, “Unthinkable.” A famous last word if there ever was one.
With that, the Sundial crowd broke and ran for the Security Entrance. One of the four smallish ground floor entrances to the bulky granite pile of Low Memorial Library, this entrance owes its name to the presence just inside of the campus police headquarters. The Security Entrance was locked. So, I believe, were the rest of the building’s doors. The SDSers were being thwarted in their attempt to stage an indoor demonstration and thus provoke a confrontation which the Administration couldn’t overlook, as it had overlooked others on various pretexts, hesitating to enforce a ban which it had imposed too rashly. What the authorities expected to accomplish by the present maneuver, at once so provocative and so petty, remains obscure. But for a few moments the lockout looked effective. The SDSers paused, consulted; and Mark Rudd, less impulsive than many of his followers, continued to ponder Truman’s letter as if hoping to find in it some negotiable item. Finally, without Rudd, the others rushed off in the direction of Morningside Park. There, ominously overlooking Harlem, construction of a gymnasium was under way in defiance of opinion not only in City Hall but in the University and among the militant elements of Harlem itself. At the gymnasium site, the demonstrators tore down a section of fence and briefly battled some patrolmen, who arrested one demonstrator.
I SAW the start of the rush to the Park and later in the day, when I went to Hamilton Hall, headquarters of Columbia College, for a 2 P.M. office hour, a sort of sit-in seemed to be developing in the lobby. At that moment the affair looked insignificant. However, coming down about 3:30 I found the crowd much larger and louder. Its spirit was still festive, though: there were guitars, far-out costumes, acrobatics. The walls were hung with posters of Che Guevara, etc. This quick transformation of the lobby’s drab expanses was remarkable. Compared to the radicals of the Thirties, so stodgy and uninventive, these youths seemed to unite the politics of a guerrilla chieftain with the aesthetic flair of a costumer and an interior decorator. Of course they could draw, as Depression radicals could not, on an affluent and elaborate popular culture which was more or less the exclusive property of their generation.
In the crowd were students I knew. They were excited, talkative, unapologetic, even rather proud of the show. About one feature of it they were, nevertheless, somewhat uneasy. This was the confinement of Dean Harry Coleman in his office about an hour earlier. One of the students maintained that Coleman had been forcibly detained, a bad deal. Another disputed this, saying that Coleman was free to leave at any time and that if he chose to stay that was his business.
Once out of Hamilton Hall I didn’t go back till the following day (Wednesday the 24th). But the radio had brought news of Hamilton’s occupation by the Blacks and of the seizure of President Kirk’s offices in Low Library by the whites. Hence my reluctance to go to the Shakespeare class — the classroom had been changed to Teachers College. Nevertheless I went, found about a third of the students present, asked some questions about The Winter’s Tale and got some answers, collected the term papers, which were due on that date, called the class off early, and on my way to Hamilton walked past the west wall of Low Library. Several large windows form a stately row along the second story of that wall. An incredible number of rebel students stood or sat in those windows, while others were climbing up to them, or down from them, by the wrought iron grilles conveniently fixed to the smaller windows on the ground floor. Some of the students, again, I recognized. All of them looked fatigued, bedraggled, and a little ghostly, as if they might be washed away by the rain that was beginning to fall. So that’s where Kirk’s office is, I thought, and only later wondered why, after some twenty-five years on the Columbia faculty, I had never known this before, or ever cared enough to inquire. A while later, I learned that some patrolmen had entered the President’s office earlier, not to remove the rebel students, as might have been expected, but to salvage a Rembrandt painting that hung in those offices. So it turned out that our art-impoverished University secreted a Rembrandt. The things one didn’t know!
I went on to the entrance of Hamilton Hall, where much of my academic existence has centered. The life-size bronze of the youthful Alexander Hamilton in front of the building had had his shoes painted red several days earlier — possibly a portent. They were still red; and he now supported a red flag, a placard, and an empty coke bottle. The three glass doors that form the entrance to Hamilton were blocked from within by benches, tables, stacks of mailboxes — familiar schoolhouse objects now converted to the uses of a barricade. Two very young, very serious Blacks perched on this uncomfortable pile behind the center door. They were guards.
What was going on farther inside could be seen by cupping one’s hands to the glass of the doors and unabashedly spying on one’s former domain. The lobby swarmed with busy Blacks. Our entire schoolhouse was now definitely their hive. While I watched, several more were let in: mostly adults, evidently members of the Harlem community. Loaded with shopping bags, blankets, towels, and bulky packages intended for the occupants, they were as casual about this traffic as if delivering provisions to the victims of a flood or fire, or helping a friend to stock his new home.
Rumors multiplied in the circle of watching whites. These packages might hold guns, grenades, ammunition, cans of gasoline! But the calm presence of all these Blacks might, I thought, argue something different from “Burn, baby, burn.” It could mean that Columbia’s student Blacks had completed their selftaught course in racial separatism and now, with the aid of Harlem brothers and sisters, were settling in, not for good, but for long enough to set the precedent for some lasting take-over in the future. It wouldn’t necessarily, or even probably, be a violent take-over It was conceivable that Columbia, half or more of whose income derives from public funds of one kind or another, could have its charter revoked by the State of New York, in which case it could become the Harlem branch of the State University system. In such a transformation there would be a certain rough justice. But would a preponderantly Black Columbia be any better, educationally, humanly, than the present preponderantly white Columbia? I didn’t think so.
Watching outside Hamilton I saw a professor approach the two guards with a grin and a “Hello!” He probably needed something in his office. Luckily I didn’t urgently need anything in mine: classes had been suspended for the rest of the week. The guards ignored the professor. No campus pleasantries or amenities for them. No visible reaction of any kind. And was it that day or later that a banner appeared over the entrance saying MALCOLM X UNIVERSITY? This message seemed a mixture of puton and — again — portent, especially if one remembered that angry shouts of “To Columbia!” had been heard during the disturbances in Harlem following Dr. King’s death three weeks earlier.
IT WAS CLEAR that the Blacks completely dominated the situation at Columbia. There were only about seventy active student Blacks at the University. But, organized into the Students Afro-American Society (SAS), and supported by Harlem CORE, SNCC, and the Mau Mau Society, the strength of each was as the strength of, say, a hundred whites. This weird imbalance of forces had been dramatized the night before in the muted power struggle between the SAS and the SDS-oriented whites in Hamilton. Some of the story of this struggle was in Wednesday’s Spectator, the undergraduate-edited newspaper; and the rest of it could be heard over WKCR, the student-run radio station. (These two local media were more reliable than the City dailies, and they continued to function admirably throughout the crisis.) What happened in Hamilton during the long, hot, sleepless night of Tuesday-Wednesday was, in its political essence, very much what had happened the year before at the Chicago Conference for a New Politics — a decisive Black-white split engineered by the Blacks, greatly to their advantage. But this time the split occurred, not only on the parliamentary level as at Chicago, but also on the level of action, intense, confused, beset by immediate perils for both factions. I doubt that American students had ever before, even at Berkeley, found themselves engaged in decisions and actions of such moment, locally and nationally.
The all-white demonstration in Hamilton had been gradually infiltrated by Blacks, including the professional outside organizers. “The Black community is taking over,” a SNCC man announced. Two separate caucuses developed. Those in the white caucus debated whether they should leave the building or stay and risk involvement with the Blacks, some of them reportedly armed, in an action of indeterminate magnitude and violence. Those whites who wanted to stay hoped for some limited form of action carried out on the basis of Black-white solidarity. At dawn, the Blacks settled the matter by asking — ordering — the divided whites to leave in a body. They did, very unhappily, their dreams of interracial solidarity disappointed.
There they were, some 300 of them, outside in the dawn light, shaken, exhausted, confused, the doors of Hamilton barricaded behind them. What then came into play among them was a kind of “challenge and response” psychology which was to operate throughout the entire crisis of the next few weeks. Some people have dismissed this mental state as the low-grade “chicken” psychology of gang warfare. But I think it is more accurately described as a system of competitive militancy. Their militancy challenged by that of the Blacks, the whites could only respond as militancy as possible. They were soon streaming across campus to the formidable bulk of Low Library, the University’s administrative and ceremonial center from which they had been locked out the day before. There they smashed through the Security Entrance and occupied the President’s suite. In doing so they incurred large temporary losses. About half of them fled at the noise of the door being smashed; a lot more leapt from the windows when the police arrived for the Rembrandt. But some forty-seven stayed, and many others returned later. Why did their occupancy of Low survive the removal of the Rembrandt? Because, as I understand it, the Administration feared that to evacuate the whites in Low would have been to invite reprisals from Hamilton and from a Harlem still smouldering in the aftermath of the King murder. Besides, Dean Coleman was still a Hamilton hostage.
BY WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON the group in Low felt secure enough to act as if this were no mere sit-in demonstration but a take-over demonstration. So, by way of making themselves at home, they went about doing all those things — daring, ingenious, outrageous — that everybody in the world was soon to hear about. They re-connected lights and phones, explored the President’s files for tell-tale documents, found his Xerox machine out of order and repaired it to copy the documents, discovered his World War II draft card and sent it back to his draft board, smoked his cigars, drank his sherry, worked at his desk, lined up to use his bathroom, inspected the books on his shelves, vacuumed the rugs, slept wherever a surface offered, held interminable meetings, climbed in and out of windows, and received guests. The guests included a distinguished professor of history. Wearing the academic robe in which he, uniquely at Columbia, conducts his classes, he arrived “like Batman” by the grille-and-windowsill route to urge their departure. But it was the brave, conscientious professor who did the departing.
They had — in their word — ”liberated” the President’s office and everything usable in it. By doing so they had also released in themselves latent energies of all kinds, from the creative to the euphoric to the malicious. Euphoric, it seemed to me, was the impulse that led them to read, copy, and publicize portions of the President’s correspondence. In the long run this procedure was self-defeating. It indulged the revolutionary delusions of the fanatical few in their own ranks, while submitting too many others to a test of political sophistication which they were glad to flunk.
The euphoria, I must add, was no overnight phenomenon. It persisted beyond the first dramatic hours in Low, consolidated itself as a political force on campus, became a contagion, spread to large numbers of students and younger teachers who, I would guess, by normal temper and conviction, were scarcely to be identified with the fanatical few. In other words, what had originated as a demonstration began to assume in their minds the stature of a revolution — a power seizure effected within a single institution which they regarded as a microcosm of the whole society. True, this delusion — as I fear it must be called — was unwittingly encouraged by the grim intransigence of the central Administration, which, becoming virtually invisible, refusing to negotiate with the rebels “under coercion,” threatening police action, was like an embattled government-in-exile. Their fear of the consequences of the demonstration seems to have amounted to sheer physical repugnance toward meeting its leaders in person. David Truman confided to a Newsweek interviewer that it made him “uncomfortable to be in the same room with” Mark Rudd. (It is reported, however, that David Truman did on at least one occasion try, without success, to make personal contact with the rebels in the President’s office.)
Still, the delusion remained a delusion, whatever its causes. And although industrious rebel researchers were able to come up with historical precedents for their “liberation” of the President’s letters (for example, Benjamin Franklin’s interception of the Governor Hutcheson letters in 1775), these precedents had the effect of further confusing the issue. The issue, as I saw it, was the precise function of demonstrations in the realm of radical politics. The leftist English critic, John Berger, writing in New Society (May 28, 1968), observes that “the aims of a demonstration are symbolic.” They are “rehearsals…of revolutionary awareness… The demonstrators’ view of the city surrounding their stage changes. By demonstrating, they manifest a greater freedom and independence — a greater creativity even, although the product is only symbolic — than they can ever achieve individually or collectively when pursuing their regular lives. In their regular pursuits they only modify circumstances; by demonstrating they symbolically oppose their very existence to circumstances.” Up to a point “the rehearsal of revolutionary awareness” at Columbia was the more effective in its symbolic character, the richer in “creativity,” because, unlike average street demonstrations — which, as Berger says, symbolize the revolutionary seizure of whole cities — the Columbia event took place almost entirely on the confined territory formed by the University’s walled-in Morningside campus. This territory became a kind of artificial city, but only an artificial one. To assume, as the extremists assumed, that the University could be subverted, as a city state or a national state can be subverted by large-scale revolutionary action, was to mistake the symbol for the reality, and thus to threaten the future of the University under any conceivable management. To my mind, the rifling and publicizing of the letters was a symbol of revolutionary hubris, not of revolutionary consciousness.
For the rest, the inventive zeal let loose by the Low demonstrators was to be a powerful force on campus for many days and nights. Columbia became the setting for a continuous “Happening,” in which the political content was fused with the generally antic form, and the meaning of the whole act was — or seemed to be — in the act itself. Reporters and photographers flocked to Morningside to record the scandalous comedy of it all. With raggle-taggle students draped all over its classic façades, the University’s austere campus had never before been so photogenic. But the actions were not always antic and their meaning was not wholly in the actions themselves. On the contrary they attracted many uncommitted students to the cause of the demonstrators.
Being “where the action is” had acquired political status. Meanwhile many other students were driven to extremes of opposition, an opposition which soon consolidated itself in the quasi-vigilante group known as the Majority Coalition. By Wednesday afternoon, moreover, the demonstrators were ready with a list of demands, duly mimeographed and distributed on campus. The demands boiled down to three: no gym in Morningside Park, no ties with the Institute for Defense Analysis, and amnesty for all the demonstrators in the present action as well as in that of March 27. But the amnesty demand was declared to be nonnegotiable: acceptance of it by the Administration was a condition for any transactions at all. Similarly, the Administration had announced itself to be opposed to amnesty as firmly as the demonstrators were for it. So the list of demands looked like a bid for further confrontations from both parties, culminating sooner or later, for the Administration, in the supreme confrontation of a police raid.
IT WAS, however, only the fearsome presence of the Hamilton Blacks that enabled the whites to hold out in Low, at least through the first day (Wednesday) of their occupancy. After Wednesday — since nothing succeeds like success or, in political terms, nothing makes for de facto legitimacy like staying put — they collected, as I said, enough moderate support to survive in Low more or less on their own, and presently to add three more buildings to their empire. With three entire buildings and a presidential suite for whites, and one entire building for Blacks, the rebels had, one sardonic professor noted, the makings of an independent “university complex,” duly separatist, and lacking nothing toward the inauguration of intramural sports except a gymnasium. Something like this possibility was to occur retrospectively to Archibald Cox of the Harvard Law School, who became the chairman of a fact-finding commission set up after the April 30 police raid. Questioning a witness, Cox asked: “Did it ever occur to the Administration to just leave the demonstrators in the buildings and go on with the university’s business?” “No,” replied the witness, “that was unthinkable.”
So a tenuous solidarity did actually exist between the two racial groups until the police raid. The declared demands of the Blacks coincided with those of the whites. After the raid the Blacks, making their own deal with the Administration, agreed to a peaceful evacuation of Hamilton under the auspices of the police, a couple of watchful city officials, and an elder statesman of the Black movement, Kenneth Clark. In the month-long student strike that ensued, the Blacks took no active part, and as a campus force they have seldom been visible since. Presumably, they decided — or it was decided for them — that their point had been sufficiently made by their occupying Hamilton for a week and leaving it neat as a pin. I mention the neatness because the authorities made so much of it in their propaganda, possibly by way of trying to justify their separate treatment of the Blacks. If so, their defense was, logically, rather vulnerable. It was as if the illegal occupation of buildings were somehow less illegal if the occupiers were good housekeepers. In any case, there was to be no special treatment for the whites, and no guard of honor to preside over their final dragging-out on April 30. If the authorities were less afraid of the whites, they were also, it seems, more determined to punish them, or at least to make certain of punishing their leaders. “Whatever happens, you’ll be expelled!” one high official impulsively shouted at Mark Rudd on a public occasion.
The official propaganda was one thing. The tightness of the spot the officials were on was another: fearful, pitiable, grotesque, perhaps tragic. Physically they were confined to substitute quarters on the ground floor of Low where they communed endlessly with representatives of the Trustees, of City Hall, of Harlem, of the police, of the faculty, of the moderate student body, etc. Emotionally and politically they were confined by less tangible but more serious considerations. Among these may have been: personal anger, understandable but unstatesmanly, at the invasion of presidential privacy by the demonstrators upstairs; belief that the rebellion was merely an extreme symptom of a debilitated and overly permissive society against which the President had inveighed in certain public addresses; inefficient operation of the complex Trustees-Kirk-Truman chain of command (three days notice was required to convene a meeting of the Trustees); refusal to appoint an emergency committee of faculty and students to advise Administration members, mediate between them and the demonstrators, keep them posted on campus affairs, above all on the rapidly swelling ranks of student protestors. The authorities’ lack of information on this last point, their persistence in the belief that only “a small disruptive minority” was involved, made great trouble for all, including the undermanned police contingent, when the April 30 raid occurred. Testifying weeks later to the Cox Commission, the Dean of the Graduate Faculties, who is third in command among Administration members, admitted that he had been “flabbergasted” at the multitude of demonstrators found in the buildings by the police. Instead of the estimated total of 350, he said, there had been 300 in Fayerweather alone.
CONTRIBUTING crucially to the tightness of the spot the Administration was on was the urgency of the time element. This element, however, the Administration itself clearly introduced into the situation from the start. Early Wednesday, one official said, “There’s going to be a limit” on the time allowed the demonstrators; while another made the situation still clearer by saying, “We are making every effort to reach a solution without resorting to police action” (my italics). Only as the end approached did the active faculty — and, I think, many of the demonstrators — suspect that it had been more or less predetermined, both as to the date and to the means (i.e., police action). Meanwhile, faculty members and demonstrators had been consulting together in mediation sessions and, seemingly, in good faith, as if the end were not fully determined, as to either date or means.
What no one outside the Administration quite knew at the time, however, was the exact extent and nature of the outside pressure being exerted upon it to act quickly and firmly. The authorities did, it is true, make a great deal of the numerous letters and phone calls they received from other schools urging upon Columbia the kind of prompt and decisive action which would keep the infection of student revolt from spreading to their own premises. Out of these appeals, which no one doubts were many and impassioned, the authorities constructed for Columbia a messianic role. Columbia alone could save academic America! This was a terrible error. Columbia could best have helped to save academic America by first saving itself. Doing this required that the authorities move with all deliberate speed. They did the opposite, and by resorting to speed without sufficient deliberation they imperiled Columbia’s own future.
The severest pressure on the Administration seems to have come directly from the alumni—or rather from four members of the Board of Directors of the College Alumni Association who delegated to themselves the privilege of speaking for a total membership of about 25,000.
This point can be documented. Copies of a letter of April 27 addressed to President Kirk by the four alumni have circulated widely on campus. The letter formed a part of a document issued several weeks later by a group of sixteen athletes (including the all-star basketball players, David Newmark and James McMillian). The sixteen had been invited to attend an official alumni dinner to receive awards. But they were subsequently disinvited when, hearing about the alumni’s high-handed communications to Kirk, the athletes asked permission to read at the dinner a statement of their own position on the crisis. The letter of April 27 to President Kirk from the four alumni read, in part:
The take-over of Hamilton Hall and other University buildings, students ransacking and vandalizing your office, the complete disruption of the University—this is anarchy and mob rule and cannot and must not be tolerated.
Accordingly, we urge upon you the following considerations:
- The ultimatum of the demonstrators must be rejected:
- The Administration must retain the right to discipline and that right should not be surrendered or delegated in this situation;
- Discipline must be invoked and it must be swift, strong and appropriate to the circumstances.
We commend you and Dr. Truman for the firmness which you have shown in not capitulating to mob rule. We urge you to remain steadfast.
Any action short of the foregoing will, in our view, result in an invitation for further trouble of a higher order; further, the affection and support [my italics] which you have from the alumni will be lost.
It was only natural and decent for the alumni to express solidarity with the President in his distress. But to mingle threats with the sentiments of solidarity, and actually to specify, in their three points, the precise procedures he should use in settling the crisis, was to stage a “confrontation” of their own, and one which, as the word “support” probably implies, had important financial implications. But the fact is that the President, resentful though he may well have been at this rude intrusion into University affairs, accepted, for whatever reasons of his own, the alumni ultimatum. He acted in a manner that was “appropriate to the circumstances,” namely, called in the police.
The sixteen athletes refused to be excluded from the alumni dinner. While the alumni were drinking and dining and generally whooping it up (alumni fashion) inside the Columbia Club the sixteen picketed the building outside, wearing their C jackets, in a rainstorm — to be grudgingly admitted after a couple of hours on the insistence of younger alumni at the dinner. Another lockout of students had been enacted, this time not of radical students but of just ordinary ones. A New York Times sportswriter made a nice ironic little story out of the incident. Need I remark that a Charles Dickens would have done it better?
But the sixteen were not a band of helpless Dickensian waifs shut out in a storm by a lot of Mr. Podsnaps. They had had a Columbia education! — and on top of that a month-long extra-curricular course in crisis politics. The statement they had prepared for the alumni is headed WHY WE ARE HERE and is better formulated than most such documents issued during the Troubles by other groups, student or faculty or Administration. It has the further advantage, for me as the author of this article, that it documents fully the general state of opinion prevailing among those many students whom I have vaguely called the “moderates” and who were, and still are, a very effective force for good on campus. For all these reasons I include the important part of their statement in toto.
1) The “fundamental rights of free speech and assembly” were abrogated by the University Administration. President Kirk had issued an arbitrary ban on indoor demonstrations. But far more important than this, free speech is meaningless at Columbia when it exists in a vacuum and is unheeded by Administration officials.
2) One cannot divorce the issues from the events at Columbia. The issues here are the Institute for Defense Analysis, the gymnasium, and the restructuring of the University. The occupation of buildings by the demonstrators came after many attempts by students, faculty, and community members to oppose I.D.A. and the gym through legitimate channels. The Administration was repeatedly unresponsive to the demands of these groups.
3) The Administration must now delegate disciplinary powers to the students and faculty. Those most involved in student life are the most qualified to pass judgment on disciplinary affairs.
4) An overwhelming majority of students supported the demands of the demonstrators in a universitywide referendum conducted by the Ted Kremer Society and the Van Am Society [two undergraduate honor societies]. The Strike Committee now represents 5,000 students. The demonstrators and their supporters were never a “small militant minority.”
5) We find it deplorable that in the statement issued directly after the police action on campus, there was no mention whatsoever of the brutal and terrifying violence committed by the police who were called onto this campus by the Columbia Administration. By resorting to this police action the University once again displayed its intransigence and unwillingness to negotiate. This action inevitably resulted in the aggravation of the situation. In addition, many people, including faculty and innocent bystanders, were injured by the police. Do the members of the Alumni Association actually support police intervention on campus?
6) The Board of Directors of the Alumni Association has claimed to speak for 25,000 alumni. Do they represent your views accurately enough to threaten the Administration with loss of alumni support? This coercion may well have contributed to President Kirk’s decision to bring the police on campus.
1) We believe that the University exists for its faculty and its students. The University also exists within a community. These groups must play a significant role in the decision-making process of the University. The ultimate role of the Administration should be to implement and co-ordinate the will of students, faculty, and community.
2) Civil and criminal charges must be dropped against all demonstrators; discipline should be handled within the University by faculty and students.
3) The gym and I.D.A. are urgent and pressing considerations and action must be taken on them immediately. We do not want these issues to be submerged in committees for yet another year.
Considering the powerful and unique position occupied by the Alumni, we strongly urge you to help us to implement the necessary reforms in our University.
The sixteen signatures that follow I omit.
Because the Administration refused to negotiate “under coercion”—while, that is, the rebels remained in the buildings—the only other permanent University body with any claims to authority, and hence with any grounds for attempting negotiations, was the faculty. But the authority of the Columbia faculty is clearly defined only in respect to academic affairs. It is particularly amorphous in respect to administrative affairs. Moreover, the total Columbia faculty is actually made up of a number of individual and quite separate faculties (of Medicine, Law, Business, Engineering, etc.) which until the crisis had never been convened as a single body. Further, these several faculties have widely divergent interests and include members with differing ideas of their roles and responsibilities as teachers. In addition, the members of Columbia’s faculty system have recently been subjected to a complication of loyalties which if not peculiar to Columbia has become exceptionally acute here. On the one hand, our Vietnam-fevered students have been expecting — and getting — more sympathetic attention from us individually and as a body than ever before — attention which, on the war issue, can amount to outright identification. On the other hand, we have — or had — equally personal affinities with the Administration which, from the Vice President down to the local deans, is now packed with men who recently belonged to the faculty and who, as in the prime case of David Truman — elevated to his present rank only last year — we think of as colleagues still. Finally, as I have said, Columbia has had no faculty-administration committee or all-University senate, such as exists in certain other universities, to act in emergencies.
In the present Columbia emergency, the gap was filled by a self-appointed body that came to be known as the Ad Hoc Faculty Group (AHFG). The nucleus of the AHFG met informally on Wednesday morning the 24th. Those present were greatly alarmed by the possibilities of destruction and bloodshed which seemed to be implicit in the Blacks’ occupation of Hamilton and the confinement of Dean Coleman. The discussion was agitated. Out of it emerged, in embryonic form, two considerations that were to become major issues in the later deliberations of the AHFG. One was the strongly felt necessity of forestalling police action. The other was the necessity of setting up some kind of body — students, faculty, administrators — to decide methods of disciplining the offenders in the present demonstration. Without such a body, disciplinary action would rest in the hands of the President, in whom all final powers — legislative, executive, and judicial — are vested by our 150-year-old statutes.
Both of these concerns were embodied in a resolution introduced by Daniel Bell to an emergency meeting of the College faculty Wednesday afternoon. The meeting was a curiously casual affair. At the start, more than a half hour was spent debating the first clause of the Bell resolution, which of necessity had been composed in haste. The first clause read: “A university exists as a community dedicated to rational discourse, and the use of communication and persuasion as the means of furthering discourse.”
Such an abstract appeal to first principles would be a luxury at any time. It was an absurdity just then, when the necessary corollary to it — the recognition that a university is also a social institution — was being luridly dramatized in several ways: by the fact that we were meeting in a science classroom instead of in our usual quarters, the elegant Faculty Room adjacent to the President’s now “liberated” offices; by the shouts of mutually hostile student groups outside; by the sudden arrival of Dean Coleman, just released from his round-the-clock confinement in a Hamilton Hall threatened — as it appeared — by an outbreak of fires and gun battles. Some “community”! Some “discourse”! The meeting did nonetheless pass the Bell resolution with several modifications. These represented compromises appropriate to a faculty now clearly divided into, roughly, right, left, and center contingents. In the resolution the demonstrators were condemned; amnesty was tacitly refused them; opposition to police action was cautiously affirmed; suspension of further work on the present gym site was urged pending the approval of “a group of community spokesmen to be appointed by the Mayor”; and the disciplinary body proposed at the morning meeting was voted in, having acquired the name of a “tripartite committee.”
President Kirk, who briefly chaired the meeting took occasion to remind us that “under the present statutes of the University, its role [that of the tripartite committee] would be purely advisory.” He made no mention at this time of any disposition to have the statutes changed by the Trustees, whose “property” they are; although later on, when the general situation was much worse, he did give vague indications of such a disposition. When, however, the tripartite committee was finally established (as the Joint Committee on Disciplinary Affairs), after the April 30 police raid, the President harassed its feeble infant existence to such an extent that the committee members made reluctant concessions which proved unfortunate all round.
Indeed, I have come to think that the whole tripartite committee issue as developed by the AHFG, which took it over from the College faculty meeting, was a mistake. For one thing, the motives behind it were mixed, or at least confused, in our minds at the time. On the one hand, the motives were both humane and politic. We wanted to make it as certain as possible that the disciplining of the demonstrators would not be so severe as to make for further strife on campus. On the other hand, we capitalized on the general emergency to attempt a cautious power play of our own by way of the proposed Tripartite Committee. It didn’t work, owing to Kirk’s stubborn shrewdness in defending the prerogatives of his office. Meanwhile the President’s qualified acceptance of the committee bred illusions among the membership concerning the reality of our little power. Further, those members of the AHFG who set about holding mediation sessions with the demonstrators were in the awkward position of using, however cautiously, this and other merely projected reforms as a bargaining point.
ON THURSDAY, April 25, the AHFG acquired its name, together with a steering committee of sixteen professors, many of them specialists in the relevant disciplines of government, law, history, and sociology. The AHFG also acquired a general membership composed of the approximately 200 professors (junior staff was later admitted) who signed the AHFG statement Wednesday afternoon. The statement’s contents approximated those of the College faculty resolution voted Wednesday afternoon, but the severity of the crisis was described in terms far more emphatic and authoritative. Point 4 read: “Until this crisis is settled, we will stand before the occupied buildings to prevent forcible entry by the police or others.” Finally, the AHFG acquired a regular place of meeting: the Graduate Students Lounge in 301 Philosophy Hall where the students are normally served tea and cookies and provided with other much needed forms of assistance. With its comfortable chairs and sofas in green leather, its immensely tall, heavily draped, windows extending around three sides, 301 Philosophy became our political clubroom throughout the April days. It was the scene of crowded gatherings; of reports from the members of the steering committee who were carrying on mediation sessions with the demonstrators; of endless speeches; of disputes which in a few cases (extreme left and extreme right) resulted in walk-outs; of rumors; of excited announcements of sudden emergencies on campus. In the long run, the AHFG’S efforts toward conciliation were a failure — or, as an original member of the Group, Professor of Anthropology Marvin Harris, has asserted in a brilliant and indispensable article (Nation, June 10, 1968), in effect a sell-out and a disaster because the faculty as a whole failed to act independently and decisively. In any case, mediation between the intransigent Administration and the intransigent “hard core” demonstrators proved futile in the circumstances. Amnesty remained non-negotiable for both sides. Hostility toward the mediators increased on both sides. On Saturday the 27th Mark Rudd rushed panting into 301 Philosophy to shout that the whole procedure was “bullshit.”
For me, however, the Group meetings were at least vastly instructive. While Marvin Harris’s drastic conclusions seem to rest on the assumption that Columbia’s faculty was capable of instant “politicalization,” my own reaction was the opposite. I was amazed at the extent to which we were “politicalized,” and within a single week. With this in mind, I believed that concerted and independent faculty action would be an achievement of the future, and despite many disappointments thus far, I cling to that belief, if only by my thumbs.
Listening to the chief speakers of the AHFG, I occasionally asked myself if they constituted any kind of an intellectually cohesive group which might be said to form a Columbia “elite.” Elite, yes, I decided, but without the overtones of exclusiveness attached to that word. No faculty group is so cohesive at Columbia as to constitute itself a ruling circle, even if it wanted to. Indeed, it is not unusual for an exceptional individual, such as the late Andrew Chiappe, to be thought of as an elite of one. Still, most of the Ad Hoc leaders shared enough intellectual common ground to cause, not the deliberate exclusion of others, but the necessity on the part of certain others to exclude themselves, to go their own way. One of these was the great mathematician and pioneer Columbia reformer, the lean gentle quixotic Serge Lang. Another was Marvin Harris, a powerful speaker, whose logic never lapsed, whose syntax never wavered, even when his face went literally black with passion. No, in the leaders’ eyes Lang and Harris were not politically “reliable.” From the start they were for granting amnesty or some rhetorical simulacrum of it. So was I (and so were many others) after about the third day. In the past my own differences with the “elite” had been a matter more of temperament than of fully formulated or expressed dissent on my part (I called them “the rebunkers”). From their point of view amnesty wasn’t a reliable position, politically; it was too simple to be arguable in an intellectual milieu where only the arguable was the possible. The mere thought of amnesty annihilated that universe of logics, structures, processes, continuities, compromises, pragmatic realism, anti-ideology “discourse,” and “dialogue” which most of the leaders inhabited by reason partly of the subjects they taught, partly of the generation they belonged to.
So I have, after all, characterized the Ad Hoc leaders, or a majority of them, as an intellectually cohesive group: the post New Deal, post World War II intelligentsia. Naturally, their own talents and good will, with a little help from the Zeitgeist, had made them influential — but, again, not wholly dominant — at Columbia. And naturally they chose to exercise their special talents and temperaments in those strenuous, and well-meaning, efforts at mediation with the radical students, even at the risk of their turning out to be — as in fact they were — as quixotic as Serge Lang. In any case it was a pleasure to study their several styles as speakers, together with their efforts, in some cases, to preserve their styles amid the terrible identity-devouring convulsions of the crisis: Allan Westin (Public Law and Government), with his man-of-destiny manner, his powerful compact figure, an artist of parliamentary procedure to the extent of audaciously violating procedure when he saw fit; Immanuel Wallerstein (Sociology), with his affecting wailingwall rhetoric and gesticulation; Allen Silver (Sociology), quiet, concentrated, intense, suffering, his considerable wit sounding as if it, too, were wrung from his world anguish; and Robert Belknap (Russian) whose perfect logic and selfless adherence to principle make him a one-man vindicator of liberalism.
If the mediation efforts were quixotic, so was another specialty of the AHFG: the patrols we organized, partly to keep the peace between the demonstrators and the Majority Coalitionists (or “jocks”), partly to manifest our opposition to the use of police in the crisis. This passionate opposition to the police was, I think, the one great stabilizing and unifying element in the AHFG. The impulse behind it would probably bear extensive analysis — legal, psychological, and phenomenological. On our parts, however, it was just a matter of instinct, But the instinct proved right. The police action resorted to by the authorities on April 30 — and again, on a smaller scale but with more vicious effects on May 22-23 — was catastrophic for the cause of peace and unity at Columbia.
WHEN, as a patrol member, you weren’t attending meetings in 301 Philosophy you were on the patrol line alongside some occupied building, wearing a white armband made out of a rolled up handkerchief like an improvised tourniquet. You worked in daily and nightly shifts. And, between your attendance at meetings and your presence on the patrol line, there was little time for sleep, reading, food, reflection. Memory failed; all happenings seemed somehow simultaneous in the mind. The passing days added up to a single unit of time, unbroken and seemingly endless.
The increasingly hallucinatory atmosphere of our lives was intensified by the unpredictableness of happenings on campus. There were continual emergencies that required your hasty departure from your apartment or from 301 Philosophy to the scene of action. Once it is the sudden arrival at the Broadway gate of some fifty members of the Mau Mau Society led by Charles X Kenyatta, many of them in jungle dress, the kids swinging bicycle chains, the whole band demanding entry to College Walk, while the jocks, a couple of hundred strong, demand their exclusion from campus, and Dean Coleman with the aid of the faculty patrol seeks to “cool it” — and finally does. Again, at about 10 P.M. on Thursday the 25th, it is the jocks again, this time moving on Fayerweather, determined to drag out the rebels who had earlier added this fourth building to their university-complex. No city police or campus police are on hand to intercede. So 301 Philosophy is largely emptied of Ad Hocs to serve as riot police. There is no bull-horn, but Seymour Melman (Industrial Engineering) has a voice (and spirit) of roughly equivalent carrying power. He uses it. The jocks hesitate, listen. An exchange of witticisms between Westin and a boy in the crowd relaxes things. Belknap — calm, sensible, teacherly — says, “I am Robert Belknap of the Russian Department, chairman of freshman humanities. You’ve read all those books by Plato and Aristotle and Thucydides. You know that violence is no good.” The crowd attends, but one youth slips around the corner to climb unseen on to a windowsill. “If you go inside you’ll have the blood on your mind for a lifetime,” somebody quietly says. The youth climbs down. The jocks are invited to send a delegation to the AHFG meeting. They agree to do so and the crowd disperses — for the time being.
Actual violence does briefly erupt early Friday, this time from the police. It is about 1 A.M. and I am just leaving Philosophy for some reason when I see David Truman striding into the building with a very grim face, and naturally I follow him back inside. Taking his stand at the rear of the crowd, he says, “Gentlemen, you’re not going to like what I have to tell you. Five minutes ago President Kirk was on the phone to call for the police.” Since the police call defies AHFG sentiment, Truman may have felt that he owed it to his old colleagues to at least warn them, at whatever cost to his dignity. If so, this is decent of him and the cost is great. He promptly leaves amid cries of “Shame,” “Liar,” and “I resign.” The meeting is in an uproar. Most of us rush outdoors, I to patrol Hamilton with about fifty others. There on the steps we form lines three deep, locking arms for warmth as well as solidarity. Inside Hamilton, the Blacks show no awareness of our presence. In front of us a crowd of student sympathizers masses, some of them passing us containers of coffee. Occasional hoots of derision and menace come out the windows of Hartley, the residence hall adjacent to Hamilton. The hooters are jocks, evidently. A cherry bomb explodes in the narrow court between the buildings, making loud reverberations. Out of the darkness, one by one, come several eminent visitors to pass along our line, reviewing the troops: City Hall men, an unidentified Harlemite, the sympathetic Paul O’Dwyer, shaking our hands as he passes. After a couple of hours somebody announces that the raid has been called off and work on the gym site suspended.
SO AT HAMILTON our heroism went unrewarded that night, except that our presence there, and the presence of faculty lines at other occupied buildings, notably at Low, where plainclothesmen did attack the line and injure one man, made the Administration call off the raid. Meanwhile, several AHFG members had gone inside Low to join Lindsay’s aides in urging restraint on the Administration. They report of finding Truman in a torment of indecision. One cause of his indecision may have been communicated to him by police officials: if the police were not used that night they would be unavailable in sufficient numbers until Sunday night at the earliest, because so many of them would be needed to control the Peace demonstrations and counter-demonstrations scheduled for the weekend (Saturday and Sunday the 27th and 28th) in several parts of the city.
The Administration seems to have tried to turn this delay to advantage. About noon on Friday a College dean remarked to me in a confidential tone, “We are educating the faculty.” He meant, I think, that the Administration was granting us time to exhaust our mediation efforts, with the expectation that we would then become reconciled to police action. By Saturday, when Rudd made his historic cry of “Bullshit,” the attempts at mediation, conducted as they were without substantial support from the administration, had failed. A number of perfectly conscientious professors were reconciled to police action. But a good many others were not reconciled to it. Communication between the AHFG and the Administration became increasingly strained. There were intemperate public outbursts from high University officials and members of the Board of Trustees. These were taken by many to mean that the few conciliatory gestures made by the University authorities were bluff. A fifth domain was added to the rebel empire: Mathematics Hall, with a red flag flying from the roof, and the professional SDS organizer, Tom Hayden, more or less in charge. By Saturday some 600 police were on and around the campus, despite the Peace demonstrations.
THE MEETINGS in 301 Philosophy became wilder and stranger, especially at night, with the room’s expanses taxed to capacity, the air dim with tobacco smoke. Outside, watchers pressed against the tall window in spectral masses. Along the north wall the row of windows was cut by a diagonal line made by the ramp leading up to Revlon Plaza outside. The watchers strung along the ramp diminished in size till, at the top, only their faces were visible, floating in air like disembodied cherubs or gargoyles. (The watchers at the top were lying prone on the ramp in order to see in.) Fingers slyly inserted themselves under the window frames to raise the frames so that our orations could be heard as well as seen. “Shut the windows, please,” Westin the chairman repeatedly and patiently directed. As public figures we commanded vaster and more excited audiences than any of us could ever have had, or wanted, as mere teachers!
When we were outside on patrol the fantastic nature of our operations became unmistakable. Politically, this patrolling was a delicate business. We could be — and were — accused of, on the one hand protecting the demonstrators and, on the other hand, of sealing them off. In fact our platonic neutrality was almost impossible to maintain. Physical nearness to the rebels brought us closer to them in sympathy, hardship for hardship, danger for danger. And qualm for qualm, too (assuming they felt any), because their illegal acts were forcing us to engage in acts which if not illegal were certainly unconventional, turning teachers into cop watchers. Just as the demonstrators constantly improvised, so did we. Indeed certain of the Religious Counselors in our ranks excelled at improvisation, verbal and acrobatic, making some of us wish that God hadn’t died. So, day and night, as violence threatened and the number of cops on campus steadily multiplied, and my block of West 116th Street filled up with squad cars, mobile information units, busloads of bored and waiting patrolmen, limousines bearing policewomen in chic uniforms and high-heels, splendidly mounted police from (presumably) the theater district, our ambiguous patrolling went on.
Along the west wall of Low, on Sunday and Monday, real action threatened. Several hundred members of the Majority Coalition, their original ranks increased by the arrival of girl friends and of graduate recruits from Business and Law, moved in to block further deliveries of food to the demonstrators occupying the President’s offices. The Ad Hoc patrol was strung along a narrow ledge (an architectural not a geological ledge) beneath the demonstrators’ windows. A twelve-foot strip of turf separated us from a low-clipped privet hedge bordering a brick walk where the Coalitionists first gathered. On this accidental playground a heady three cornered game commenced at close quarters. It got tougher when, after several impatient hours, the Coalitionists suddenly leaped the hedge en masse and gathered on the turf between ledge and hedge, within grabbing distance of the patrol — if either party, patrol or Coalitionists, had wished to do any grabbing. How the Ad Hoc group tried — and failed — to set up rules for this game may be seen from the following instructions, drafted and mimeographed at about 3 A.M. Sunday the 28th.
POLICY ON PATROLLING LOW LIBRARY
28 April, 1968
- Faculty will not permit ingress of persons [i.e. demonstrators and sympathizers] except for specially designated couriers accompanied by a mediator or a member of the Steering Committee of the Ad Hoc Faculty Group.
- If an individual reaches the ledge with food, he may hand it up; however, he may not approach the ledge via the steps.
- Faculty will not assist individuals to run a blockade at the hedge.
- Blockaders at the hedge will not be permitted on the ledge.
- Faculty will aid the ingress of required medical supplies.
The hedge-ledge affair has become historic at Columbia. It epitomized, among other things, the eccentric uses to which our exuberant neo-Renaissance architecture (as full of inviting surfaces, ascents, and footholds as a jungle gym) and not so exuberant landscaping were being put, not to mention the eccentric roles now adopted by faculty members vis-à-vis the fiercely polarized bands of their students.
THE GAME got still gamier as Sunday passed into Monday. Then rebels from the Math commune started tossing groceries to rebels in Low over the heads of the Coalitionists and the faculty patrol, while the athletic Coalitionists — barehanded or with bats, tennis rackets, and food trays from the dining hall — sought to intercept the groceries in their flight. Fights broke out — which members of the patrol or other peace-makers usually cooled. For a while my post was at one end of the ledge, adjoining a ground floor entrance to Low which some of the jocks were impatient to enter. From there I stared down into the leaders’ imploring or defiant faces. “If they ever caught Rudd they’d tear him to pieces,” another patrol member said in my ear. Though unbelieving, I knew that his remark was definitely in the bleaker mood of the moment.
Other moods were grotesquely orchestrated with that one. The weather — that weekend as throughout most of the crisis — was ideally the weather for a ball game, a sail, a picnic, a wedding — the sky deeply blue, the spring sunlight inexhaustibly benign. Below me the strip between hedge and ledge was full of sturdy pink tulips, and “Don’t step on the tulips!” was one slogan everybody took up. The tulips stayed intact until two very little Black boys sneaked onto the ledge from somewhere. Could they pick some flowers? So they pulled several up by the bulbous roots, shouting, “Look, they got onions on them!” Just above me, a student I knew settled in an open window and began to thumb a guitar. In the other windows other rebels began to sing “Solidarity Forever.” Briefly, the yearning innocence of the oldtime Labor song, and of the singers’ voices, silenced the crowd below. For me, momentarily, hedge, ledge, jocks, rebels, faculty, tulips, pickaninnies, newsmen, and sunlight all resolved themselves into the constituents of a painted scene, unforgettable.
The scene inside the occupied buildings was, we knew, less idyllic during that weekend. The occupants were getting ready for the police raid that was generally thought imminent. Barricades were strengthened. Precautions were taken against possible assaults with chemical MACE. Individually each demonstrator pondered where he (or she) would take his stand and whether he would accept or resist arrest, or maybe “split” beforehand. A Fayerweather student writing in Rat (May 3-16) says, “each liberated area was different, ours being wracked with political debate, wrangling and tension… Anyone who wanted could have left.” The Fayerweather tensions came about because many occupants wanted, primarily, not a reformed world, but a reformed Columbia, one in which more self-determination would be possible for all, including workers in the University cafeterias.
In Fayerweather, too, a faction questioned the wisdom of the total amnesty demand and showed some willingness to consider an alternative — uniform, or collective, discipline — proposed by Ad Hoc mediators. Similar differences were possible, even in militant Math, where the commune spirit was especially exalted. But the several liberated areas finally stuck together, thanks chiefly to the persistence of the competitive militancy I have mentioned, with the supremely cohesive Hamilton Blacks setting the pace for all the liberated areas, from Low to Math, to Avery, to Fayerweather.
AT DAWN on Sunday the 28th a Western Union operator waked me to read on the phone the text of a telegram from President Kirk that was sent to all members of the Morningside faculties. The convening of these traditionally separate entities in a joint meeting was unprecedented. President Kirk evidently wished to explore the sentiment and/or solicit the approval of faculties (Law, Business, Journalism, Engineering) whose members were not so likely to be found among the liberal arts activists who made up the Ad Hoc group’s majority. There had been advance knowledge of this joint meeting. For presentation to it, the Ad Hoc steering committee had drafted a document known formally as The April 28th Resolution and informally as the “bitter pill” because it proposed solutions to the crisis which exacted hard sacrifices from all parties, not excluding the Administration. The heart of the resolution was in the first and fourth of the clauses.
I… We believe that the dimensions and complexity of the current crisis demand that a new approach of collective responsibility be adopted, and in this light insist that uniform penalties be applied to all violators of the discipline of the University.
IV. These proposals being in our judgment a just solution to the crisis our University is presently undergoing, we pledge that
a. If the President will not adopt these proposals, we shall take all measures within our several consciences to prevent the use of force to vacate these buildings.
b. If the President does accept our proposals but the students in the buildings refuse to evacuate these buildings, we shall refuse further to interpose ourselves between the Administration and the students.
The resolution was accepted by a huge majority of the Ad Hoc membership meeting, at 9 A.M. on that same Sunday. It was then introduced into the Joint Faculties meeting at 10 A.M., with rhetorical skill and passion, by Allan Westin in conjunction with Immanuel Wallerstein (Sociology) and Dankwart Rustow (International Forces). The clause advocating collective punishment was debated pro and con on the floor. There appeared to be an increase in sentiment favorable to this promising compromise between, on the one hand, blanket amnesty, and on the other, a policy of graded individual punishments. The latter would require many separate trials for which acceptable evidence might be hard to produce. It would also thicken the punitive atmosphere on campus. Nonetheless Westin & Co. failed to bring our resolution to a vote. They decided, as I understand it, that a vote taken in this heterogeneous body might result in present cleavages which would lessen the chances of greater unity in the future. Instead, a substitute resolution was introduced by another group. Conciliatory toward all parties except the demonstrators, empty of any positive proposals, it was passed by a huge majority. I should add, the “greater unity” was never to materialize, the students eventually facing trials were to number some 900, and the punitive atmosphere on campus was to thicken and thicken.
The Ad Hoc resolution was not buried. It went to President Kirk with a request for a prompt reply. On Monday the 29th the reply came, in graciously phrased prose. Examined carefully, however, the phrasing was seen to be full of legal quibbles. There followed an agitated meeting of the Ad Hoc general membership that went on almost continuously until Monday midnight. One speaker, well known to all, urged us to trust in the President’s good intentions. He seemed to be in the President’s confidence. He suggested that the President’s reply was as candid as possible under the circumstances. The President could not have said more without violating the University’s statutes and exceeding the authority vested in him by the Trustees. In itself this appeal to trust was moving. But to go along with it meant trusting not only the President, whose conduct thus far was not reassuring. It also meant trusting the speaker’s impressions of the President’s mind. Finally it meant our asking the students to trust our impressions of the speaker’s impressions of the President’s mind. It all sounded like some improbable argument out of Alice in Wonderland. The President’s reply was, in effect, rejected.
LATER, as the evening wore on to midnight, our immediate concern was with the probable imminence of a police raid. Nobody seemed to know for certain that a raid would or wouldn’t occur that night. It was known that the President had appointed a three-man “notification committee” to act if and when the Administration decided to call the police — a decision which, it was also known, required giving Commissioner Leary at least five hours to collect and deploy his forces. But the notification committee’s function was, evidently, to advise the Administration and not to notify us. We had to rely on news brought us by members of the patrol coming off duty. Some reported that the number of police on campus was increasing. One man rushed in to announce that they were already in the tunnels, Columbia’s far-flung network of underground passages created for the innocent purpose of housing cables, heating pipes, and other utilities. The announcement was premature, but only by a couple of hours!
In the meeting we could only try to dream up last-ditch solutions. The room was more packed than ever, the air dimmer with smoke, the watchers outside the windows a spectral multitude. Should we immediately appeal to the Trustees to stop the raid? Yes, but did anybody know a trustee? Somebody knew Trustee Buttenwieser’s son. How about Lindsay? No, he had probably washed his hands of the Columbia mess. Or Governor Rockefeller — for after all Columbia was chartered by the State of New York? A telegram to the Governor was actually drafted, offstage so to speak. But whether it was ever sent I don’t know, and it didn’t matter.
Around midnight many of us left 301 Philosophy to join various patrol lines or simply to wander and look around. The appearance of the night-bound campus differed little from its appearance the night before, when predictions of a bust had proved false. For an hour or so I managed to hold in suspension the certainty that tonight wasn’t the night and the certainty that tonight wasn’t the night. This divided state probably registered some deeper tension in me between dread and desire — desire, I truly confess, that my suspicions of the Administration would be confirmed by a raid. But if they were confirmed, should I, aged sixty-three, really “interpose” myself between the students and the police, as, in a way, our patrol duties thus far, and clause III B of the Bitter Pill Resolution, prescribed that we should do? I wavered, and even when the decision came, it did so through a conjunction of impulse and accident.
As I see it now, the intervening hours intensified the impulse. Such a lot of things were going on everywhere. You felt quite lost, as when you go alone to a movie in the afternoon and emerge afterwards, blinking, confused, and anonymous in the glare and racket of the city. It was as if I were two distinct persons, one of them almost stifling in the blackout of his usual “style,” character, profession, identity; the other vaguely exulting in the strange feeling of freedom consequent upon the same feeling of loss.
This was a panic reaction and soon subsided. Joining the patrol on the crowded ledge at Low I found a couple of lively English instructors at the far end. They had got hold of a telephone connected to a long extension cord that snaked mysteriously through a half-open window into whatever dark office was inside. Neither of them knew how the phone got out there on the ledge, but one of them was calling his wife to tell her not to worry. We thought it amusing that the University’s “facilities” were available to us in this outlandish situation. Below us were the milling jocks and their girls who, in the course of a couple of days and nights, had become fixtures on the scene. Farther off, in the dark gaps between Lewisohn and Earl, and Earl and Math, battalions of patrolmen moved in and took stands under the tall trees in that quarter of the campus. Perhaps, we said, they were only changing guard again. They too had become fixtures within the artificial eternity of the past few days. Above us, however, the windows of the presidential suite were completely black and there was no sign or sound from the demonstrators within. So one feature of the scene appeared to be absent. (I learned later that they had decided to wait for the police in darkness.) It was disturbing.
I WAS COLD. The Low patrol was more than adequately staffed. I left to go home for a sweater. On College Walk, however, I stopped for a time. From there much of the whole campus spectacle could be seen in its sinister grandeur. It held me: the glare of floodlights coming from the television crews who were setting up their equipment in front of Low; the winking of flashlights at several points in the dark reaches of South Field; the fluttering of the little candles, sheltered in cups, among the sprawl of students who had come to be known as the Sundial People; the stars that spattered the high, cold New York sky. A police lieutenant passed, unconcernedly checking with a pencil something attached to a clipboard — surely a map of the campus. I joined a couple of English department friends on the fringes of the Sundial crowd. The Sundial People were neither for God nor for his enemies (the Kirkites or the Ruddites), only against the police. Boys and girls, they lay around on dormitory blankets making talk, and music. “It would be a good night to get laid,” said one of my English department friends. Another reported the news from 301 Philosophy. There the band of faithful secretaries, who for days had been supplying us with coffee and sandwiches, was about to set up an emergency First Aid station, since there was no sign that the University had itself made any provision for treating the injured. The secretaries were tearing up sheets for bandages—sheets commandeered, I believe, from one of the dormitories.
Something now occurred to me that had occurred earlier during the crisis but never before with such force. Just about everything on campus was being thoroughly put to use or would probably soon be put to use, although not for the purposes for which the things were intended. Blankets, sheets, ledges, window sills, lawns, walks, tunnels, the trees students perched in to see better, the roofs lined with watching students—or were they police? All were blithely liberated — the word was true — from their usual functions. What had been University or individual property was now almost anyone’s property to make of what he liked in this charmed circle of pure improvisation. It was exhilarating.
I went home for a sweater. The warmth of the apartment was inviting. I hesitated whether to stay there or return to duty on campus. Suddenly the phone rang and my wife, calling from the country, said she had heard on the radio that the Bust was about to begin. I rushed out and, wearing a bulky ski sweater, was able to pass as one of fifty or so bulky plainclothesmen who were just then piling out of a bus and filing through the Amsterdam gate, which I heard banging shut behind me, or should I, considering my latest disguise, say “us”? The big bust of April 30 was started.
THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY (May 3) I met my Shakespeare students for the first time in ten days. About half of the class (forty) was present. Several wore bandages, one was on crutches, one had his arm in a sling, and the teacher had a black eye. A well organized student strike was strongly in force. There was great resentment of the police and still more resentment of an Administration which had been unable to solve the University’s problems without resorting to force. The strike was supported — or in the prevailing euphemism — ”respected” by large numbers of faculty members. Respecting the strike meant primarily holding class meetings in off-campus buildings, or on the lawn, or in the apartments of faculty members — anywhere except in regularly scheduled classrooms. This I, like many others, was delighted to do, and I asked the Shakespeare students to scribble down notes on what they wanted to do in class and where they wanted to do it. They were told that they could sign their notes or not as they pleased. All signed and with only two exceptions seemed to be pro-strike. Here are some representative responses:
No formal classes, nothing under University auspices. Off-campus meetings.
Classes: pure, unliberated Shakespeare.
Shakespeare is relevant to nearly everything, even the past week. I feel we should meet in any way possible — but without opposing or violating the strike.
Class should be kept as much as possible on Shakespeare. My saturation point for police and Trustee invective is very near.
After six days in the liberated building, which seems like two years ago, I would like to re-connect with Western Civilization’s past, after a rather exhausting vision of the future.
The only studying I have been able to do in the past ten days has been to read The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale. Classes off-campus!
© F.W. Dupee/New York Review of Books
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