Sweeping Political Renaissance Transforming Nation's Colleges
Civil Rights Activity Helps Obscure Campus Agitation on Local Issues
In twenty years only a few of the campus political activities of the 1960's will be remembered--the ones which are directly related to issues of national concern. Civil rights will stand far above all other issues, rivaled perhaps only by the Berkeley Free Speech movement. A few ad hoc issues will have popped up: disarmament in the beginning of the decade, Vietnam in the middle, perhaps Tanzania at the end.
What future political sociologists will forget is the second-level politics, the short-lived, purely campus agitation that does not catch on to the main wheel of history. These issues are enormously varied from college to college--sometimes ambiguous sometimes unimportant. Small numbers of people are involved. Because these activities are not dramatic enough to be widely publicized, they will be left out of the bound volume of political activity. Yet perhaps they will have a more immediate effect than the larger, better-known political currents.
A glance at college newspapers of the past month shows that there is agitation on local political issues on nearly every campus. Reflecting the civil rights spirit, movements to ban fraternities or at least to punish them for racial and religious discrimination have sprung into being at many colleges. At Duke a faculty-student committee is supervising the ban; at Ohio State and the University of Michigan individual fraternities are fighting it out. At Michigan--perhaps in a last-ditch battle for existence--the fraternities themselves have entered the civil rights fray: the Panhellenic Council recently endorsed an Ann Arbor civil rights march and scheduled civil rights as the topic of its annual symposium.
On other campuses, students are seeking to reform discriminatory practices allegedly practiced by the college administration. At Haverford, a letter to the college paper proposed that the college admit Negroes to fill 11 per cent of the incoming class, the national percentage, instead of the current one per cent. Writing to the Columbia Spectator one student decried the university's practice of purchasing slum buildings for the alleged purpose of "de-integrating" them.
One of the keynotes of the present wave of political activity is student-faculty cooperation against the administration. At St. John's, a Catholic college in New York, the faculty backed a student demand for permission to form political clubs, to invite controversial speakers (they wanted Malcolm X, Madame Nhu and Governor Rockefeller), and to end censorship of the newspaper and "paternalism" generally. In return, students supported the faculty's demand for higher salaries and greater participation on the school's governing board. Students have rallied in support of faculty against "the system" in tenure cases at numerous colleges, notably Yale and Berkeley.
This new student-faculty cooperation is often directed at a target outside the college. City College professors agreed last month to excuse from classes students who were picketing Governor Rockefeller's office to protest his impending vector of CCNY's free tuition bill. At Ohio the professors are organizing a lobby to protest the state legislature's plans for reapportionment. The University of Wisconsin has its Committee to Restore People to Politics, organized by students and faculty to spread information about Vietnam.
One new issue on campuses is the use of alumni money. At Berkeley the Daily Californian published a threat by a prominent alumnus to withhold a $2 million donation unless "the University gets rid of those Commie professors." The same alumnus, according to the paper, is responsible for the university's ban on certain controversial speakers recently.
A similar controversy has been raging at Ohio State since the Lantern announced that an alumnus is planning to donate $300,000 toward a new home for the college president. Numerous letters to the editor have urged that the money be used instead for employees' salaries, books, or new classrooms.
Another new focus of college politics is the battle against monopoly campus newspapers. At Rice it only takes the form of a letter from a sorority girl chiding the Thresher for not publishing anything about sororities. But the issue reaches larger proportions eleswhere. At Wisconsin, a Campus Newspaper Student Committee is investigating inequities in the Wisconsin Cardinal; at Berkeley an organization called Students for University Truth purchases space in the Daily Californian for vehement tirades against the newspaper.
Hurrah for Cinsburg!
Other specific issues which have set off protests have included the refusal of a professor to sign a loyalty oath at Brooklyn College, inflated prices at the cooperative bookstore at Boston University, the refusal to allow non-Baptists on the Board of Trustees at Wake Forest College in Illinois, a censorship of modern poetry at Oregon, and a proposed rent equalization at the University of Pennsylvania. Yalies have demonstrated in favor of coeducation, and students at Penn, Trinity, and New Mexico State are seeking more lenient social regulations.
Numerous conciliatory and liaison bodies have sprung up as a salve for all this agitation. Student groups for "university reform" have appeared at Illinois State, Michigan State, Farleigh Dickenson, and several West Virginia colleges. Faculty-student groups organized for "rapport" between the factions have been established at the University of Utah, Florida State, and Midland College in Nebraska.
What does this all add up to?
The answer is that students are now investigating their own campuses for specific abuses and then working to erase them. In so doing, they are straying beyond the traditionally limited horizons of American students into new and alien territory. They are applying civil rights principles to their own campuses--attacking both racial and religious discrimination. They are investigating issues like faculty salaries and tenure and the use of alumni money. And they are working closely with the faculty in a new coalition of interests which holds great promise for the future. In all, the activities are so varied it almost seems as though each college has its own form of political movement.
But, in another respect, the major thrust of the new generation's activity is in a common direction. Academic freedom, political freedom, Free Speech Movement, Freedom Now: all the multifaced, heterogeneous campus agitation ultimately returns to civil rights and to Berkeley. Under the banner of "Freedom," students across the country are experiencing a political renaissance.