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Song of Hayakawa

Brass Tacks

By James M. Fallows

IF MORRIS ABRAM thinks are getting tough, he should talk to S. I. Hayakawa. For as Hayakawa enters his second embattled month as president of San Francisco State College, he is beginning to look back nostalgically to the days when the college could solve its problems by merely acceding to black student demands.

The problems at SF State began, of course, with clashes between college administrators and the Black Student Union (BSU); and the escalation from initial demands to final confrontation set a pattern that has been duplicated at Brown, Brandeis, and Swarthmore. But S.F. State now faces a unique predicament; the BSU strike continues, but it is only one of the problems that now paralyze the college. A labor strike and a symbolic showdown between Governor Ronald Reagan and the state's dissatisfied students add to the trouble, and these extra problems make it look like peace at S.F. State is still far away.

The problems began to surface early this fall, when black students sank into another round of frustrating negotiations with Robert R. Smith. Smith, who was then riding the hot seat as S.F. State's president, had the unenviable job of convincing the BSU that the college couldn't accept plans to admit all black applicants or immediately set up an Afro-American studies department.

The talks were cut short, however, when Smith had to fire George Murray, an S.F. State teaching fellow. Murray, who in his spare time was Minister of Education for the local Black Panther chapter, had angered Reagan-appointed state college administrators by urging black students to carry guns and to guard themselves against local police. Smith didn't want to fire Murray, and for nearly a week he defied orders from State College Chancellor Glenn Dumke to get rid of him. But in early November, he gave in, and the student reaction followed.

ON NOVEMBER 6, the BSU called for a student strike and issued a list of ten demands. Before black students would return to campus, the BSU said, the college would have to give in to all ten points--including rehiring Murray, creating an autonomous black studies department, and automatically admitting any blacks who applied to the college. Another group of irate students--the menacingly-named Third World Liberation Front--joined the strike and came up with its own list of five similar demands.

From then on, S.F. State was gripped in a steady escalation of violence. Students seized buildings, police swung clubs, and administrators looked on in dismay.

Shortly before Christmas vacation, Smith decided to resign. His desire to escape the horror world of the college was understandable; but Smith made it clear as he left that he was not just trying to evade an unpleasant situation. He had been hamstrung in his negotiations, Smith said, by a close-minded state government. And unless Governor Reagan and his men on the state college governing board were willing to back him in his compromises with the students, Smith saw no point in even trying to restore peace.

With Smith's departure, the problems at S.F. State shifted from black student demands to more fundamental questions of radical student power. Reagan quickly appointed S. I. Hayakawa to take Smith's place. Hayakawa, a semanticist who was well-respected in his field but virtually unknown in the outside world, made his position clear from the beginning. He would negotiate with the students, he said, and he would make concessions if they seemed appropriate. But above all, he would keep the college open. "We're not going to let this college be closed down by anybody," Hayakawa said. Reagan echoed him, making television speeches to the people of his state. "I ask you to join me in this commitment," he said, "to protect those students who want to learn. We must rid the campuses of criminal anarchists and latter-day Fascists."

REAGAN'S statements were not calculated to soothe the student feeling, and the backlash was predictable. White students who had ignored the BSU-led strike before now joined the picket lines. And with the "Black Studies Now" signs there suddenly appeared posters to "Shut the College Down."

Christmas vacation offered a temporary lull, but a showdown of brute student power was looming. In late December, Hayakawa became a permanent fixture on evening newscasts in California. Wearing his perpetual tam o'shanter ("a symbol of courage," he said), he toured his college and swore that it would open peacefully in January. Reagan and Dumke said they would back him, and hordes of businessmen and housewives in the rest of the state began wearing Hayakawa tam o'shanters as a gesture of support.

As the January 6 opening day drew near, it became obvious that substantive questions of black student demands were being lost in the face of Hayakawa's challenge to the students' physical power. When Hayakawa none-too-subtly announced that hundreds of city police would be on hand to enforce "orderly opening" of the college, groups of students--BSU members, Third Worlders, and unaffiliated students--said that the college would not open.

The student picket lines that formed on January 6 were different from the ones before Hayakawa's take-over. Although most of the protestors were black, there were no "Black Studies" signs visible. The only chant was "Shut it down; shut it down."

That wasn't the only change that greeted Hayakawa. Members of the American Federation of Teachers--who make up nearly one fourth of the school's 1100 teachers--had called a strike. While most of the striking teachers unofficially backed the protesting students, the teachers' strike was officially aimed at traditional labor issues like pay raises and working conditions.

Hayakawa had a quick comeback to the teachers' move. Claiming that "a militant minority of the faculty has hitchhiked on the miltant student violence-ridden strike for a vicious power-grab," Hayakawa cannily announced that under state college rules, any teacher who missed classes for five consecutive days "automatically resigned." But Hayakawa soon lost the upper hand when the teachers' strike received some unexpected backing. The San Francisco area Labor Council voted to approve the teachers' strike and forbade its members from crossing the picket line. Many of the labor leaders had led local Wallace forces during the Presidential campaign, and they were quick to point out that their move was "in no way supporting the demands of students protestors." But by supporting the teachers' walkout, the labor unions were, of course, bolstering the students as well.

AS THE FIVE days till "automatic resignation" ticked off, Hayakawa discovered another problem. Even though most of the college's teachers were not on strike, most of the departments refused to release any attendance figures on absent professors. And so last Monday, when Hayakawa thought he would be able to out the striking teachers, he found himself clutching at batches of harmless "Full Attendance" reports.

It is hard to see many hopeful signs in the San Francicso deadlock. Hayakawa claims that he is reaching "meaningful stages of negotiations" with the BSU, but few black students are ready to give up their strike. The teachers' strike is no nearer to solution than it was last week; as Reagan, Dumke, and Hayakawa have remained intractable, the teachers have won backing from other labor unions and other groups of teachers in the State College chain. And although there have been fewer violent clashes in the last few days than earlier, growing numbers of students seem committed to proving that they do indeed have enough force to close the college.

Things could get worse for S. I. Hayawaka and S.F. State, but right now it's hard to imagine how.

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