22: Columbia ’68: All Fall Down

ALMA Mater/Spring 2014
April 21, 2014


22. Columbia ’68: All Fall Down

The 50s ended in 1963 – Long decade
November 22, 1963 —  assassination of JFK
Freedom marches – summer of 1964
August 1964 — Tonkin Gulf attack on USS Maddox àr/military build-up
Sept-December — Berkeley Free Speech Protest movement in fall 1964

LBJ in White House – progress on civil rights – Voting Rights Act
Some academics/intellectuals attach to him – others resist the Texan’s  hugs…. àRobert Kennedy

LBJ detested “all the Harvards” in DC
Henry Graff – replaced ASchlesinger Jr as the White House academic

LBJ’s Howard University speech calling upon universities to do more to integrate AA into their world….
But meanwhile digging ever deeper into the Vietnam quagmire

Campus Teach-Ins in spring of 1965 – U Michigan — academics pronouncing/condemning  US military  policies;
At few places were these debates – organized by protesters; boycotted by defenders of policies

Columbia not a noticeable center for these activities
April 1965 — Students for Democratic Society (SDS)  chapter founded that fall
Commencement 1965 – protest at NROTC commissioning on South Field

1965-67 – SDS policy of recruitment and education – not confrontation  — 75 students or so
Made much of CU’s membership in IDA – Institute of Defense Analysis (Trustee and faculty)

Spring of 1968 – New leadership – Mark Rudd/Lewis Cole/….–> “bring the war home”

Columbia on the eve of its most testing challenge – one of survival

CU traditionally very undemanding of its constituencies’ loyalty or devotion:

An attractive feature/characteristic in peaceful times….less so in a crisis…

Students     [ditto for Barnard women – 111 there in the buildings when the cops came]
Many commuters; dormitories notably unwelcoming;  little in the way of Greek life; few campus traditions; little campus space; dinky undergraduate library; distractions of the City – or a particular campus activity _- “I majored in Spec”  à student theatre… off campus politics…. Off-campus jobs

Core curriculum not that much of a bonding experience/graduate students;  exposure to unhappy graduate students; little/none to distinguished faculty…. [better today]
Very few legacies; lots of first-in-family college goers; many very bright NYC kids for whom  CC as their safety – here because they didn’t get into Harvard or Yale….

Three subsets entering in mid-1960s:
Blacks starting in numbers in 1964—have their complaints
Set of high-risk admits (low grades/high SATs)
“Red Diaper” babies – kids of Old Left parents of the 1930s….

Only partially offset by the jocks, the kids from Catholic schools, yeshivas…

College “leaders” unhappy with administrative aloofness –CC student gov’t abolished in 1961
Grayson Kirk/Jacques Barzun little student interaction
David Truman more responsive – Herbert Deane – “The strawberry statement”

Relatively few had been CC undergraduates; more CU PhDs but this seldom an endearing experience
[Jack Garraty and his dissertation committee]
Some sense in may departments that they were living off past accomplishments….
BC faculty with CU PhDs – “second classers?”

Highly stratified:
— The pooh bahs/”mandarins’  – names in their field; holding open offers elsewhere; do their own negotiating with provost/president…have the Riverside and Claremont apartments….the best teaching schedules

— The non-stars and the untenured assistant professors – handling administrative chores….consigned to Hamilton hall at some distance froom the Grad Facs “grown-ups’

— The instructors, TAs, faculty consigned to Hamilton Hall and to the undergraduates

Professional School faculty – think all the problem is with CC and GSAS

Hard-working but distant and frosty – corporate without a corporation’s efficiency
Few faculty with any personal  ties to Kirk; a few more to Truman – “ No ‘King’s men”

Financially stretched – living year-to-year on federal/foundation  “soft money”
Committed to a first-ever university-wide capital campaign – $200 million — launched in 1966;
Required the campus to be an inviting, peaceable place for returning alums with checkbooks

– a mixed bag – several non-Columbians – not very informed; few with kids in the College…
The most involved heavily invested in doing more with athletics – especially football — and building a gym for CC undergraduates

project begun in late 1950s – Community OK in 1961 — long in the permission-securing and fund-raising  stages;  source of alumni dissatisfaction at the conditions imposed;
Engineering alums mad with closing of Camp Columbia summer program in 1964.
Alums the least catered to of all Ivy alums à disaffected (James Wechsler of NY Post every fall…)
McGill – “CC alums best known not for giving money, but unwanted advice…”
CU Club on 43rd St. cut loose; went under – no place for alums on campus…

SDS leadership decide in spring semester of 1968 – Tet Offensive underway in Vietnam —  to shift  to confronting/challenging the University’s leaders; to provoke retaliation that will expose CU’s  complicity in the war – their main concern
Evidence of complicity:  IDA/military recruitment on campus/cooperation with draft boards…

Recognize need to broaden their agenda – 25 ringleaders/75 members/100 sympathizers
Spring disruptions – against military recruitment on campus; — some SDS on probation….
Disruption of Low Library – terrorized the secretaries…. Low Library Six…

Neighborhood issues /grievances  – CU as landlord; CU as invader of parks;

Columbia Citizenship Council (CCC) — CU as hostile to black neighbors in Harlem; status of black students (Afro-American Society/SAS): Earl Hall groups/chaplains – Cannon/Starr/Bruce Goldman
Some non-SDS student and faculty groups and campus politicians groups – Columbia University Student Council

SDS co-op/highjack the black agenda – MLKing service  April 9 —  Rudd takes over microphone and blasts administration…

Rudd to Kirk – “Up against the wall, motherfucker; this is a stick up”

Call for a joint rally Tuesday, April 23, with black students (SAS)  at the Sun Dial – plan to storm Low Library?? Too many anti-protesters on the steps à On to the gym site – guarded by two NYC cops
Violence avoided by SDS leaders?

Back to campus and into Hamilton – a sit-in??
Dean in his office – Henry Coleman
Protesters decide to camp out there overnight – Blacks decide this will be where they take their stand – at 5:00 AM tell whites to leave à “Go get your own building. This is ours.”

SDSers approach Low – easily get in side door – figure they’ve got at most a coup[le hours before being rousted by cops – rifling files, smoking cigars, posing for pictures
Rudd out the window before 8:00 – set up in Ferris Booth Hall
Some SDSers stay on, awaiting eviction – it doesn’t happen!

First of a series of administrative inactions premised on notion that protesters could be talked down (this was Provost Truman)  — Won’t need the cops
Wednesday afternoon – 2 buildings occupied – Hamilton and part of Low
That evening – Avery (more a sit-in) and later,  Fayerweather (not an SDS action; more one of those-not-able-to-stay-out-of-the-action graduate students)


Wednesday evening – Faculty  weigh in
Philosophy 301 – evicted Hamilton Hallers à
Ad Hoc Faculty Group – to get between inept administration and excitable students
Not the pooh bahs – Those tenured but without influence with administration – and below;
late at night mostly instructors/TAs….
Want students to leave; want disciplinary action minimal; OK with stopping gym; Fine with getting out of IDA;  don’t want the cops on campus….; if cops come, faculty to interpose/  get between them and students….

Thursday – Hardliners in Fayerweather leave the happy campers (including the wedding couple and the Episcopal minister) for Mathematics, where the real revolutionaries gravitated thereafter.”
No sex, no drugs, no rock and roll music….

1500 hundred or so students/outsiders/in the five buildings at prime occupancy hours…. More over the weekend; the place to be….
Armed blacks in Hamilton??

Kirk ready on Tuesday for cops immediately to clear Hamilton – Coleman  thought unnecessary
Wednesday  — Truman thinks  not needed
Thursday – AHFG faculty to talk down occupiers
Friday – Cops – We’re otherwise occupied
Weekend – everybody in authority telling Kirk to clear the buildings (including Kingman Brewster at Yale); and refuse to demands for “amnesty”

Rudd and Strike Committee students – insisting on “amnesty” – no disciplinary action against any of the protesters; anything less, Rudd told sympathetic  AHFGers, is bullshit.

Two besetting/disabling  Administration fears:

1. Black students getting themselves in position where Harlem activists would flood the campus
– town/gown confrontation in black and white

2. Anti-protesters would mix it up with the protesters – Majority Coalition

Neither happened.
Blacks in Hamilton not suicidal…    [Sherry Suttles BC ’69 memoir]
Anti- protesters – The Majority Coalition – listened to coaches/faculty urging restraint…


Sunday noontime – surreal
Food being tossed in to Low occupiers by sympathizers – outer ring
Anti-protest students middle ring
Against Low Library – some faculty interposing themselves
Columbia College Alumni Association with catered lunch for anti-protesting Majority Coalition


AHFG last ditch “bitter pill” ultimatum on Sunday;
Gym out
IDA out
Tripartite disciplinary procedures
Collective discipline only
Faculty to condemn rejecting party (if students, OK with cops coming??)

Administration taking it under advisement – Didn’t reject out of hand
Majority Coalition accept
Strike Committee rejects

Monday – pretty clear the cops coming  — NYPD calling the shots ….

Hamilton —  2:15 – 86 occupiers march out peacefully – cops in from tunnel
Low – 2:25 – passive resistance à 93 occupiers
Avery 2:30 – front door break in – minor resistance – 42 occupiers
Fayerweather  2:45 – more resistance – cop paralyzed à 286 occupiers
Mathematics – 3:15? – soaped stairs/chir barricades  — several injuries à 203 occupiers

148 injuries

Charge on South Field spectators – “police riot” ?? – ruined an otherwise surgical police action…; turned public sentiment against the police action and the administration’s call for it

Arrests – 700 plus – sprung with bail money – BC students by a trustee…

Classes suspended until following Monday – rest of semester pretty well shot (Pass/Fail in CC/BC)
Press reaction damning all sides – NY Times charged with biased reporting  [AOSulzberger CU trustee]

Calls for firing of Kirk and Truman
Capital Campaign suspended – monied trustees resigning [Lawrence Wien??]
Admitted students wanting their deposits  refunded….
Business school students threatening suits on withholding of services…
Parents of arrested students complaining that university put their kids in harms way…
Already packed faculty exercising their offers (Daniel  Bell/Peter Gay /Wm. Leuchtenberg/ Trilling to Oxford?

Smart money on Columbia not making it
Me hired by BC in March 1969 – impeccable timing  — conversation with Oscar Handlin – Columbia no longer a major player….

Last updated; April 21, 2014




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