On the Other Hand At What Cost

( The following represents the opinion of a minority of the CRIMSON editorial board, and was written by William R. Galeota, David Blumenthal, and James M. Fallows. )

THE MILITANT actions planned for this week at M.I.T. raise important questions about the present activities of American universities. They suggest, however, even more disturbing questions about the radical movements which are currently trying to change those universities.

Briefly stated, the radical argument for actions such as those of the November Action Coalition (NAC) is that certain projects within a university should be "stopped" because they serve an evil function-usually aiding the United States in suppressing people's liberation movements throughout the world. The task of radicals, therefore, is to build a movement which will become powerful enough to "stop" those projects. Tactics-violent or non-violent-cannot be considered on an a priori basis. but only in terms of what will most aid the building of the movement at a given point.

The arguments along these lines-by the NAC and others-have pointed out one question which should be of concern to those outside their ranks: Have American universities. through design or by chance. undertaken functions-such as the development of operational weapons systems-which are incompatible with the broader humanistic values universities generally presume to promote?

The radical treatment of the question of proper university activities often consists of a dogmatic classification of the "good" and "bad" activities, judging them too heavily on the basis of whether they help or hinder a given end. In some cases. This could lead to assaults on activities vital to a university's educational function, which also give some vague support to an end radicals attack.


In an extreme example. a radical might argue that since ROTC, the Center for International Affairs, and a professor who attacks theories about American imperialism all serve the same basic. "bad" function, he will fight ROTC, blow up the Center, and make sure that the professor's views are suppressed. Such extreme escalation of targets and such tactics are few at present. This is fortunate since no university can continue. however imperfectly, to educate through a free exchange of views when its classes are disrupted and its professors shouted down if they happen to espouse the "wrong" views.

Rather than making such quick classifications of "good" and "bad" activities, one may envisage a court of continuum, with fine gradations from activities largely incompatible with a university's humanist nature to activities compatible with that nature though disagreeable to some individuals. Even the Seven Demands of the NAC, for example. though advanced as a minimum program, cover a wide range of this continuum.

Some would argue that it is impossible to make distinctions along the continuum, that in order to protect essential university activities, academic freedom must be extended to cover the entire continuum including even such projects as MIRV. Yet human beings spend much of their lives making just such fine distinctions: though it may be difficult, it is not impossible to decide what a university should and should not do. The distinctions thus made can be upheld-and the essential activities of a university protected-only if they are made rationally, through a continuing debate striving for a wide agreement by all concerned groups.

PEACEFUL demonstrations are clearly appropriate and necessary forms of protest against such abuses of university resources as MIRV and ABM research. But movements such as NAC too often appear to depend on crude forms of power polities to make distinctions about appropriate university activities. The tone of NAC statements suggests that they are willing to move as far along the continuum as their power allows in stopping "objectionable" university practices. "Building a movement" implies creating a political force which will at some point have enough strength to coerce other segments of the university into ending certain activities.

This approach to university politics threatens that aspect of a university which makes it, insofar as it is a political system, one of the more humane ones. The university is not purely an arena of competing forces; it supports a sphere of rationality, sometimes only a small one, above and beyond power relations. Not everything is settled by toting up the firepower of each side; sometimes men do meet, analyze a question on its merits, and decide accordingly. The power politics approach of current radical movements, however, tends to lessen and even to destroy this sphere of rational political discussion and decision. In the long run, it makes the university a replica of the worst, most power-oriented institutions the outside world has to offer.

Besides preserving the integrity of the university, peaceful demonstration and persuasion will best serve the radical cause. The NAC procest will never "stop" research on MIRV. though it may-if it gains enough power and exacts the necessary price from the university-stop MIRV research at M.I.T. The same individuals who are doing research on MIRV at M.I.T., however, can do so equally well at other institutions-ones similar to say. the Rand Corporation-where they will be free from interference from protesting students.

The only way to end permanently such indefensible activities is to convince the men undertaking them to stop. That cannot be done by coercion or hints at coercion; threats might make researchers more attached to their work, and more willing to pursue it elsewhere.

Success in the seven demands, at the cost of essential values of a university, can hardly be a satisfactory victory.