Up Against the Ivy Wall; by Jerry L. Avorn and Columbia "Daily Spectator" staff members; Antheneum; 304 pages.
THE ISOLATION of Morningside Heights from the rest of New York begins on the IRT run uptown. All of the white-faced Columbia boys get off at 96th Street to board the Broadway local: three stops to Riverside Church and its hunchback bells, to the Chock Full O'Nuts, to Riverside Park Juilliard. The Lenox train that continues past on the other track is black.
The Heights were meant to be insular. Harlem flounders at the bottom of the cliffs in Morning-side Park while the real patrons of the city are quietly pushed out of the neighborhood as undesirables. On the Heights Columbia wanted room for "academic neutrality." Military solicitors hawked on campus under open recruitment. Ties with the Institute for Defense Analysis were muted, and Columbia continued to expand into the neighborhood, smiling business-will-be-business to the tenants forced to leave. It all blew apart last April.
Daily Spectator editors might have been the logical candidates to write a history of the Columbia affair. They were after all their own best example of the rate at which the campus's changing political climate overtook the administration by surprise --only a month before the first occupation of Hamilton Hall, the Spectator's editorial page still advised the Columbia administration to proceed with construction of the Morningside gym.
The editors enjoyed more tangible advantages also. The Cox Commission, meeting after the occupation as a Columbia-appointed group, could persuade neither the leaders of SDS nor Afro to testify before them. The Spectator editors knew Rudd and Cicero Wilson personally and mingled easily into demonstrations. Only they were allowed inside the meetings of the ad hoc Faculty Group that vainly tried to mediate the crisis.
The Spectator is also freer from the taint of establishment than Cox Commission members. Its anti-administration bias will be more palatable to some persuasions than the liberal witticisms that slip from the Cox group. (Cox harshly criticizes the five SDS leaders who refused to appear before Dean Platt in May when the campus was still seething.) "It is clear to us," Cox says, "that no student has a right or privilege under any circumstances to ignore a dean's summons [unless he is disabled by illness or other emergency]."
The Spectaror's advantages are not well exploited though. The Ivy Walls yields to the same eyewitness impulse that drives White House nannies to publish their memoirs. They are tempted to tell everything, "just as it happened." The streaming flaming narrative does lend flesh, bone, and color as the press blurb promises; it also jumbles events into a sequence as confusing as living it the first time through. The fine-honed skeleton of the Cox Report may stiffen in its structured divisions and categories, creak in its outline, but it does throw critical events into prominence and leave others in the gloom where they belong.
The Ivy Walls allows one indistinguishable chapter to fade into another. The story becomes a deja vue recounting of yet another round of position papers, unsure negotiations, and Rudd's explitives. The magnified detail often amuses--the story relates solemnly in a footnote how one of the authors was mistaken for an SDS negotiator and was handed a piece of rope. He hid it, he records for history, under a pile of monographs where it was soon forgotten.
The chapter headings don't clear the confusion any. They're clever (no Cox legalese like "Conditions Giving Rise to the Disturbances"), but hopelessly obscure. Oh so faintly does "Dick Greeman's Bloody Nose" presage the Administration's first attempt to call in the police in the middle of the next chapter. (Greeman, a faculty member, had his scalp split open when he stood between an advancing plainclothesman and the Low Library barricade. Vice-President Truman recalled Greeman's injury as a "bloody nose.")
The Ivy Wall needs weeding. But the more serious complaint against it is its revolutionary melodrama that most often fills the place of analysis. Chapters end with Drama (Is there no way to get Dean Coleman released? There is no way, says Truman.) and with Hope (a wedding scene on the steps of occupied Fayerweather: "I now pronounce you children of the new age," spins the saga of revolution).
ADOPTION of communal ideology sometimes causes the book to trip on its nose. We are to celebrate the liberated life within the occupied buildings, it says, life in which "the process of working together [has become] as important as the work itself." The book provides an example of the new purposefulness. "Anyone want to form an effigy committee?" "An effigy of what?" "Anything, man!") The book smiles on benevolently.
The sensationalism of the copy forestalls any extended attempt by the Spectator editors to explain why the Columbia campus was one of the earliest to erupt. Why, that is, beyond despair over the war and distaste for university bullying of the community, issues, common to all campuses. The Ivy Wall makes a flying reference that greater social awareness at Columbia and an insensitive administration might have triggered the crisis.
The best answer seems to be that the Columbia administration was unusually arbitrary in its decision-making, excluding faculty and students from its deliberations almost entirely. Kirk, comments Ted Kheel, the labor arbitrator, was a "typical weak manager afraid to confront his board of directors." Policy-making was a matter between Kirk and the trustees. It was not unnatural for him to withhold from release a student-faculty advisory policy on indoor demonstrations. Kirk substituted him won rule--a blanket ban on indoor picketing and demonstrations, whose enforcement against five SDS leaders in the IDA demonstration was the grievance of the first march against Low Library in April.
The voicelessness of the faculty only aided Kirk's assumption of power. Under Kirk's predecessor. Nicholas Butler, the various departments and professional schools increased their self-centered autonomy. No faculty body was broad enough to seriously challenge major administrative decisions. Divided into three branches, the undergraduate faculty, lacked even a joint senate in which to voice complaints. Arbitrary administration and an inactive faculty voice made hope of changing university policy in "normal" channels dismally dim. By then the wall was ready for the stick-up.