Four black students, representing the Union of African Student Organizations, staged a “takeover” at a recent Rutgers University conference on race relations. They grabbed the microphone and proceeded to criticize the audience for its thoughtlessness in not having invited them. In another age, when propriety existed and usurpation was decried, these students would have been censured. But these are the post-60’s, where demonstrations and takeovers have become institutionalized.
T. Edward Hollander, New Jersey’s Chancellor of Higher Education, said afterward that he was “delighted” to see the students take the stage. “It was familiar,” he noted, “and I’ve waited 10 years for students to show that kind of interest. They asked for five minutes to speak and I turned them down. But I knew if they wanted to say something they would. If this were 20 years ago the conference would have been taken over totally by students, and not one of us would have had a chance to speak.”
Does the chancellor—the highest authority on higher education in New Jersey—actually believe the student “interest” is evident in a takeover? If a request to speak is turned down, doesn’t that mean students do not have the right to speak, or is rejection merely a disingenuous wink at the practice of demonstration? Are we supposed to be satisfied with a partial student takeover of the conference as opposed to the total one, or is such a remark an obvious concession to those who employ nondemocratic methods in order to be heard?
Yet this is by no means the only example of accepting extremist methods. In February black students at the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts occupied a building and made numerous demands that were subsequently accepted by the administration. Both the university’s chancellor, Joseph D. Duffey, and the student leaders were satisfied with the agreement that included: increasing minority enrollment, revising the code of student conduct to specify the consequences of racial harassment, changing the name of the African-American studies building, creating new classes in history and culture to accommodate blacks, and studying the menus in the cafeterias to include ethnic food.
These extortionist sit-in methods, however, are nothing compared to Mr. Duffey’s reaction. Duffey said the students would not be punished for their actions. He described the confrontation as a “good education for them, and me as well. I would have liked to think these are things we would have done [in any case].” A student spokesman, Dwayne Warren, said he expected the chancellor to receive cooperation. “Some students are very enthusiastic about the whole process,” he said.
That these student violators of the law are not punished is hardly surprising. It is almost inconceivable that a university president would expel a black student for any infraction of what remains of the university’s behavior code, or the civic code for that matter. But what is surprising is the apparent belief of one of the nation’s leading educators that this confrontation with students was a good education for him. I wonder what it is that Mr. Duffey learned, or was it one of those “peak experiences” to which our New Age educators are so fond of referring? To contend that “these are things” that would have changed even if there were no sit-in is a transparent hedge. Clearly, Mr. Duffey gave in to the students. It is obvious from the statement of Mr. Warren that students are pleased with the result. Of course, any other response would have been irrational. The students got what they wanted—complete administrative surrender.
In his conciliation statement. Chancellor Duffey thanked the students for their protest. “During the past five days you have engaged in a dramatic act to express your concern for fundamental principles on behalf of faculty, staff, and students, and we are grateful to you for reminding us of obligations we share as members of a community of learning.” It might be hyperbole to describe Mr. Duffey as the Neville Chamberlain of higher education, but on one matter there can be no doubt: student demonstrators get their way.
In the past, there might have been some token resistance to the agitators. A university president would have felt obliged to say that the student demands were accepted because they were sensible, though their methods were deplorable. With the lessons of the post-60’s now firmly in place, even this dissimulation, this passing nod to social order, has been discarded. Nondemocratic methods are now acceptable, perhaps even expected. The learning that occurs outside the classroom takes the form of discovering how to get your way by disregarding civilized norms.
Hollander and Duffey are no worse than most college and university presidents who lack the courage and confidence to take on the demonstrators and teach them a lesson, literally and figuratively. What should be understood by the public off campus is that the legacy of the 60’s is entrenched. If campus disruptions don’t make headlines any more it is because the battle is over—the academic center did not hold, and colleges are in thralldom to the radical ethos, despite the yuppie infatuation with making a buck.
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