THOUSANDS of words have been written about the student sit-ins and take-overs that have spread across American colleges in the past several weeks. But no one has made the most obvious point--they work.
Nearly every one of these adventures in trespassing has proved successful in achieving its major aims. A notable exception so far has been Columbia, but in the end, this one should prove the most successful of all.
The reason for this success is that student radicals have finally learned how to play upon liberal sensibilities to get what they want. They understand that the predominant ethic at American universities is liberal and humanitarian. Instead of offending the academic community as they did in the past with raucous demonstrations and tyrannical statements, they have learned how to use liberalism to get what they want.
No doubt another important factor in the success eduation is Vietnam. These radical students were the ones who led their professors and school administrators to doubt the war. They were there first with their demonstrations and sacrifices. They have proved their legitimacy. University administrators find it hard to be on the authoritarian end of things. They don't want to be caught squashing another Montgomery sit-in.
With their opponents thus softened up. the radicals find that the rest is easy. They must be careful to pick "good issues," however. They must find aims that liberals sympathize with, or at least do not oppose--such as hiring more black professors. Then they must achieve these aims by working outside established university channels. and thus prove the illegitimacy of those channels.
What the radicals want to prove is that the university's System is illegitimate. The best way to do that is to show that it does not work. that it can be beaten. And at Northwestern, Michigan, Colgate, Trinity, Boston University. Howard, Oregon, and many other schools radicals have shown that it can be beaten.
This is a new sort of sophisticated pressure politics--pressure politics for the unrepresented. It is lobbying and bribery for those who are in no position to lobby or bride. No doubt other unrepresented groups will follow these tactics.
Clearly, the tactics cannot work without popular aims and a liberal humanitarian opponent, like a college administrator or Hale Champion of the B.R.A. Still, given these conditions, the new pressure politics can achieve nearly anything.
The alternative--bringing in police to rout the demonstrators--is simply too much for university administrators to stomach. Columbia proved that point perfectly. Unless administrations move quickly now to give students the representation they want--to put them in decision-making positions--the sit-ins and the take-overs will continue. And with good reason--they work.