Skip to comments.Columbia Defends Its Nazi Links: "Everyone Was Doing It"
Posted on 12/11/2006 6:27:28 PM PST by SJackson
NEW YORK Columbia University is coming under increasing criticism over revelations that it built friendly relations with Nazi Germany in the 1930's. Now Columbia's provost is firing back but he may have shot himself in the foot.
The controversy began last month when the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies publicized research by one of its scholars, Professor Stephen Norwood of the University of Oklahoma, revealing a series of steps taken by Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler during 1933-1937 to forge ties with the Hitler regime.
After first trying to avoid the issue, Columbia officials are now defending Butler's actions on the grounds that many other prominent individuals behaved similarly.
In 1933, Nazi Germany's ambassador to the United States, Hans Luther, was invited to speak on the Columbia campus.
Butler hosted a reception for the Nazi ambassador, whose remarks were devoted to defending Hitler's "peaceful intentions" toward the rest of Europe. Butler said that as a representative of "the government of a friendly people," Luther was "entitled to be received with the greatest courtesy and respect."
Columbia, like many American universities, continued its program of student exchanges with Germany even after the Nazis came to power.
Norwood points out that a top Nazi official at the time described German exchange students as "political soldiers of the Reich" who were doing Hitler's work abroad.
In 1936, President Butler sent a delegate to take part in anniversary celebrations at the Nazi-controlled University of Heidelberg. He did so even though the university had already fired all of its Jewish instructors, implemented a curriculum based on Nazi ideology, and even was host to a mass book-burning.
Butler defended his decision on the grounds that "academic relationships have no political implications." But Columbia students disputing that claim at the time held a mock book-burning on campus and a peaceful rally in front of Butler's residence.
In an episode that seems to have been unique in the history of American academia's responses to Nazism, Columbia expelled a student, Robert Burke, for leading that rally.
The administration's official charge against Burke was that he "spoke disrespectfully" about President Butler, which at that time was grounds for expulsion. Despite his excellent grades, Burke was never readmitted to the university.
In a series of articles in the Columbia student newspaper, The Spectator, and elsewhere, Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff has urged Columbia to apologize for its actions regarding the Nazis, and award an honorary degree to Burke "as an acknowledgment that Columbia was wrong, and that Burke was treated unjustly."
Professor Norwood, who is working on a book about how American universities responded to Hitler, described Columbia's actions in the 1930's as "shameful" and said they "helped legitimize the Nazi regime" in the West. Norwood earned his Ph.D. in history at Columbia.
The controversy at Columbia has attracted additional attention in recent weeks because another major institution, Brown University in Rhode Island, has been facing up to its own skeletons. A Brown University committee recently completed a three-year study of Brown's links to slave-holders. The committee urged the university to make amends by building a memorial to the slaves, establishing a center for the study of slavery, and recruiting more black students.
"We cannot change the past, but an institution can hold itself accountable for the past, accepting its burdens and responsibilities along with its benefits and privileges," Brown University president Ruth Simmons said. The Wyman Institute is urging Columbia "to follow Brown's example and face its own troubling past."
Columbia at first tried to duck the controversy. A Columbia spokesman told the New York Post last month that "the university was aware of the accusations, but the administration hasn't decided whether it will investigate them."
But in recent weeks, the controversy has snowballed, including a feature story in the online journal "Inside Higher Ed," a widely respected voice in the academic community.
Columbia provost Alan Brinkley has now responded, telling Inside Higher Ed, "If the events that Professor Norwood describes are examples of 'collaboration,' then the collaborators include many thousands of leaders and citizens of the United States, Britain, and many other nations."
"That kind of everyone-was-doing-it attitude is appalling," said Medoff. "Is that the kind of message that one of the most prominent universities in America wants to send to its students that if many people are doing something, it can't be so bad...?"
An associate dean at Columbia, Professor Michael Rosenthal, has also jumped into the fray. But his defense of Columbia and Butler is raising some eyebrows. Rosenthal is the author of a recent biography of President Butler, called "Nicholas Miraculous."
In an interview with a Columbia students' website earlier this year, Rosenthal said that Butler "was in the forefront" of limiting the admission of Jews to Columbia, "but he was doing nothing that the other schools didn't do." Rosenthal said Butler "was anti-Semitic, but not in a rabid way." Rosenthal also said that Butler "supported Italian fascism" in the 1930's, but it was "a time when many people did ... the notion that he was a Fascist is absurd."
Regarding the current controversy over Butler and the Nazis, Rosenthal told Inside Higher Ed that Robert Burke was "expelled not for the anti-Nazi substance of his protest, but for the fact of the disturbance." He said "Butler was not necessarily one of those who appreciated students' expressions of views. Butler was an autocratic guy."
"More circling of the wagons," Medoff says. "Instead of just coming clean and admitting that Columbia was wrong to expel Burke, Professor Rosenthal offers what sounds like an attempt to rationalize the expulsion. I understand that this is embarrassing for Columbia, but after seventy years, one would have expected a more mature response."
"One of the reasons for writing the book is to develop more public awareness in these institutions, to get universities to address their pasts," Norwood told Inside Higher Ed.
"I think that universities should look at their pasts and examine them carefully and take steps when they can to acknowledge past injustices, and not give such priority to protecting their own reputations."
The Wyman Institute has initiated several successful efforts to persuade prominent institutions to acknowledge mistakes they made during the Hitler era.
Earlier this year, another Wyman-affiliated scholar, Professor Laurel Leff of Northeastern University, completed a study which found that America's top journalism schools and newspaper publishers refused to assist German Jewish refugee journalists who were trying to come to America to escape Hitler in the 1930's.
The Wyman Institute organized a petition signed by more than 80 prominent journalist, editors, and journalism school faculty members urging the Newspaper Association of America to express remorse for those actions.
The NAA issued a public apology, published Leff's findings in its journal, and invited her to address its board of directors.
In 2003, a leading British publisher, IPC Media, became embroiled in controversy when it tried to restrict public access to a pro-Hitler article that had appeared in one of its magazines, Homes & Gardens, in 1938.
After the Wyman Institute organized a petition by 75 Holocaust scholars from around the world, IPC Media publicly apologized, made the article accessible to the public, and even assigned its researchers to investigate whether its magazines had published any other articles sympathetic to Hitler. They found one: a 1936 article in Country Life magazine glorifying Hitler's summer home.
In 2004, Norwood was the keynote speaker at a Wyman Institute conference at Boston University, where he unveiled research concerning Harvard's relations with the Nazis. He revealed that Harvard president James Conant gave a friendly reception to Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstangl, Hitler's foreign press chief, when Hanfstangl visited the campus to attend his 25th class reunion in 1934. The Harvard student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, urged that Hanfstangl be awarded an honorary degree.
The current managing editor of the Harvard Crimson, Elisabeth Theodore, spoke at the Wyman Institute's conference and acknowledged that the Crimson's articles about Hanfstangl were "regrettable and abhorrent."
Harvard also hosted visits by Nazi ambassador Hans Luther in 1934 and the Nazi consul-general in Boston, Baron Kurt Von Tippelskirch, in 1935; sent a delegate to the 1936 Heidelberg event, and built relations with another Nazi-controlled university, Gottingen.
The current Harvard administration declined the Wyman Institute's invitation to send a representative to the conference to respond to Norwood's findings.
Yes, but did they have slavery links?
Same excuse Slick Willie and Hillary always use.
Do you know who it was that studied/founded 'eugenics', which was largely popularized by the Nazis?
William Randolph Hearst was sympathetic to Hitler's government also, until it became obvious that Hitler was a madman determined to eliminate the Jews from the Third Reich. Hearst even published and paid for essays written by Hitler and Mussolini.
So will there be scandals like this concerning presently liberal colleges 70+ years from now? We can only hope.
Many people, but I'll bet you're probably thinking of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.
Huh? He supports it but he is not it?
I wonder what ever happened to Robert Burke?
Did Columbia and Brown break any laws? If not, that should be the end of it.
I wonder what Senator Kennedy has to say about all this.
Who said Columbia is "presently liberal" ~ they are, in fact, as antisemitic now as they were then.
Columbia is also the home of the Pulitzer that gave Duranty a Prize for covering up Communist Genocide in 1932
Two words: Walter Duranty.
What's Harvard's excuse gonna be?
I honestly don't see the point of re-visiting 70 year old "news".
My grandfather (born 1889) was a member of the Klan. Not especially relevant to me now.
Hey, Butler sounds just like a modern university official! Free speech for totalitarian thugs, PC for everyone else.
"So will there be scandals like this concerning presently liberal colleges 70+ years from now?"
There should have been scandals concerning liberal colleges published 30 years ago.
A lot of organizations sucked up to Stalin and I never here any crap about that.
Didn't Columbia University hold lectures by Iranian government officials???
Columbia Defends Its Nazi Links: "Everyone Was Doing It"
The sad fact is a great many people were "Doing It". That doesn't make it right however. Particularly in the 30's it was fashionable in certain circles to say that the day of democracy was over and Fascism or Socialism was the wave of the future.
Didn't some of the oldest Northeast colleges support, encourage and cheer on drowning witches? Universities "go with the flow" without regard for the morality. Drowning witches, communism, "diversity" or any other fad is the way of life of campus.
Nor to any other rational person.
The point here is that "these guys" will fall over each other to scrape and grovel about something that happened centuries ago, but something even more barbaric that happened within living memory is "No Big Deal. Everyone Was Doing It."
Hosting Hatemi, unlike maintaining good relations with some of the pre-eminent universities in the world even after their country was taken over by a regime of antisemitic thugs, takes a bit of explaining.
In considering Columbia and Harvard's behavior, one really must remember that Germany was the country that invented the Ph.D., and that most of the major advances in mathematics, physics, chemistry and medicine in the period between 1870 and 1935 took place German universities or had participants who had graduated from German universities.
Yep - and they allowed protestors to break up a Minuteman seminar organized by a school club.
Was this back when the left and commies in this country were supporting Hilter because of the Soviet-Nazi pact. If it was this is hilarious. But of coarse when Hilter went after their Red God Stalin they did a 189 degree turn about and all supported WW2. Hollyweird then made pro war movies not for the USA but for the survival of their Red God.
His father Joe was ambassador to England and an ardent, admirer and supporter of Hitler.
brownshirts at your alma mater
I see little no difference between national socialists (Nazis) and international socialists (Commies). They were both despicable. When this is recognized, we will have made progress. Until then, Nazi bashing is just a way to give cover to Commies.
Roosevelt, and others, called Stalin "Uncle Joe." Did anyone call Hitler "Uncle Adolph?" Now that would be parity.
And this is different from our educating Saudi students...just how?
So much of that (as far as I read) sounds exactly like what the Universities are doing with the Palis and Muzzies these days. It is really chilling to read that, to see the similarities.
You mean like universities that hired propaganda ministers from governments like the Taliban?
American Communists protested against efforts to go to war against Nazi Germany until Hitler betrayed their beloved Uncle Joe Stalin.
So yes they probably did like Uncle Adolph and Uncle Benito.
George Orwell found that Communist editors in England also put Soviet Russia into a separate class above the US and UK. Criticism of the US-UK governments, institutions, etc. was ok but there was to be no criticism of Uncle Joe or the USSR.
He goes into detail about this in a forward published in the 50th anniversary edition of Animal House.
It would be if you were running for office:
In Other News: Local Dem Dog Catcher Candidate Sings in AME Gospel Choir and Serves Food at local Gay Homeless Shelter
Columbia University was also the staging hub for the massive anti RNC Protests in 2004, and is used to stage UFPJ and ANSWER protests in NYC.
A personal reminiscence of the 1968 student uprising at Columbia University. I was an active participant, but not a member of any particular faction (the only organization I belonged to was Veterans Against the War). I wrote this article for publication in the "Columbia Librarian" at the request of Columbia's Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian, Elaine Sloan (then my boss's boss), on the 30th anniversary of the student rebellion (a). In 1968 I was an Army veteran working my way through a Columbia degree with a part-time job in the library; now I work in Academic Information Systems (the academic half of what used to be called the Computer Center), which, since 1986, is part of the University Library; hence the library connection.
Because this article was written for a Columbia audience, familiarity with the Columbia campus and setting are assumed. The article was HTMLized for the Web and slightly updated in February 2001, with periodic updates after that. Pictures were added in June 2001, which you can view by following the links; I hope to find and add more pictures as time goes on. While this is a personal recollection and not an attempt at a definitive history, corrections, comments, additional information, and especially photos are welcome, and will be acknowledged.
Life was different at Columbia University in 1968. There was a war and a draft. Up until the previous year, the University had routinely furnished class rank lists to the draft board (b), so if you had poor grades, off you went (of course, privileged Columbia students still had it better than the many kids drafted right out of high school, but that's another story). There were ROTC drills on South Field, military and CIA recruiters on campus, and classified military research in the labs (c). The Civil Rights movement had become the Black Liberation movement, and Black Panthers and Young Lords -- and Soul music -- captured students' imaginations. The women's movement was beginning to shake everybody up, especially guys who thought they were already progressive enough. Dr. King had just been killed and the cities were in flames. You couldn't ignore all this.
Throughout the mid-to-late 60s there was all sorts of political activity on campus -- teach-ins on Pentagon economics, Sundial rallies against the war, demonstrations against class rank reporting, confrontations with military recruiters, etc. It was an era of bullhorns. Amidst all this, the University was constructing a new gym in Morningside Park -- the barrier separating Columbia from Harlem -- with a "back door" on the Harlem side. This offended many people, and one day in April some students went to Morningside Drive and tore down the fence, attempting to break into the construction site. They were restrained by police and some were arrested. The ensuing Sundial rally wandered into Hamilton Hall and stayed the night. The original idea was that the united student body, or at least the considerable left wing of it (how times have changed) would occupy Hamilton until the charges against the students were dropped and some other demands were met. Various factions debated tactics and what the demands should be. Eventually six demands were formulated. Their thrust was against Columbia's complicity the war, against racism, and for better and more responsible relations with the surrounding communities.
The First Building Occupations
About 6:00am the white students left Hamilton and moved into the President's office in Low Library, while the Black students remained in Hamilton. This was the result of an agreement reached between leaders of SDS, PL, SWP, YAWF, etc (the predominantly white groups), on the one hand, and SAS on the other, behind closed doors and reflective of the tenor of times . Over the next few days the various mostly-white factions branched out to other buildings -- SDS to Math (which flew the splendid red flag featured on the cover of Spring 1968 Columbia College Today, an issue devoted to the uprising with lots of great photos and much grouchy commentary), the Trotskyites to Avery, the anarcho-syndicalists to Fayerweather, etc (or something like that). In all, five buildings were occupied for a week. The history is written elsewhere such as the souvenir-bound editions of Spectator, and there is also a locally-produced film, Columbia Revolt (shot in large part by the legendary wall-scaling Melvin), that is trotted out on special occasions. When I took my son to see it at the 20th anniversary get-together in Earl Hall in 1988, it was already crumbling. (As of February 2003, there seems to be a copy available for viewing and downloading at Archive.Org; see Links.)
I spent the week in Low Library. There was a carnival atmosphere the first day, with press photographers and reporters from magazines, the local newspapers, etc (the Post was fair, the News was atrocious, but the Times was beyond belief -- small wonder, considering the connections (d)). There was an unforgettable, Felliniesque visit from a faculty member who swooped through the window in full academic regalia, Batmanlike, to "reason" with us. Security guards and office workers brought us snacks. Life magazine (May 10, 1968) ran a cover story featuring pictures taken in Low, including my favorite: a group of us seated on the carpet, each with a Grayson Kirk face, complete with pipe (from President Kirk's desk drawer, which was stocked with dozens of 8x10 glossy book-jacket poses).
After the first day, activities grew more structured, and thenceforth the occupation was one long meeting governed by Robert's Rules of Order, interpreted creatively ("point of obfuscation!"), interspersed by housework. Contrary to popular belief and press reports, the President's suite of offices was kept immaculate and orderly after the chaotic first day (e). Cleanup detail included vacuuming, shaking out blankets, scrubbing the bathroom, etc. The administration's fears of vandalism (and their special concern for the Rembrandt hanging above President Kirk's desk) were poorly founded, at least in Low.
Outside, a system of rings developed around Low Library. Opponents ("jocks") formed the inner ring; student supporters (known, along with us, as "pukes") formed an outer ring, and later concerned faculty formed an intermediate buffer ring. Each group wore distinctive armbands, not that they were needed: jocks (Columbia light blue) looked like jocks; pukes (red) were scruffy; faculty (white) wore tweed with elbow patches. Black armbands came later. Beyond the rings were crowds of onlookers and press. The outside pukes would try to send food up to us, but the jocks intercepted most of it and made a great show of wolfing it down con mucho gusto as we looked on with envy (most food didn't throw well and fell short; what little got through was mainly oranges and baloney packets). One day a tall stranger with waist-length hair appeared at the distant fringe of the crowd (almost all the way to Earl Hall) and began to hurl five-pound bags of home-made fried chicken our way, one after another, with perfect aim, over the jocks' heads and right into our windows. What an arm! (The chicken was cooked by Mrs. Gloria Sánchez of the Bronx, and it was delicious; I never learned the identity of the mysterious stranger.)
. . . Until June 1, 2001, when I had a call from Jerry Kisslinger of Columbia's Office of University Development and Alumni Relations, who recognized the waist-length hair and powerful arm of John Taylor, son of Nürnberg prosecutor and Columbia Law Professor Telford Taylor (who declined to lend his name to a statement signed by most other Law School faculty, which said the student protests exceeded the "allowable limits" of civil disobedience [New York Times, 24 May 1998]). Thanks to both John and his dad!
Aside from the meetings and work details, a concerted effort was made to rifle through the many file cabinets and turn up evidence of covert links with the war machine and defense contractors, large corporations planning to divide up the spoils in Viet Nam, etc, all of which were to be found in abundance. These were photocopied and later published in the East Village underground newspaper, Rat. Some items were picked up by the mainstream press, resulting in some embarrassment among the rich and powerful, which quickly passed.
The First Bust
After a few days, the NYC Tactical Police Force (TPF, of distinctive leather cladding)(f) muscled through the crowd and the rings to form a new inner ring just below our feet as we congregated on the ledges and windowsills. Police on Campus! Academia violated! (A famous photo shows Alma Mater holding a sign, "Raped by Cops".) We fortified the entrances to the occupied buildings, especially through the tunnels, against the expected assault (more about the tunnels HERE).
Which, inevitably, came. After the final warning to vacate or be arrested, we discussed (still observing proper parliamentary procedure) whether to resist or go peacefully. Opinion was divided and many variations were proposed. After much discussion, consensus converged on civil-rights-movement-style passive resistance; we would go limp and the police would have to carry us out.
We devoted the final moments to preparations -- the Defense Committee piled furniture up against door, while the rest of us picked up trash, vacuumed, and scrubbed so the President's suite would be left in pristine condition, better than we had found it (except for tape criss-crossed on the window glass and the jimmied file-cabinet locks). Those with pierced earrings took them off (a routine precaution in those days of police actions) and then we formed a 100-person, 10,000-pound clump singing "We Shall Not Be Moved", knowing that we would.
Soon axes were crashing through the door, the barricade was breached, and an army of TPF piled in, first prying apart the singing clump of us, then forming a gauntlet to pass our limp bodies down the corridors, whacking our heads with flashlights along the way, and dragging us by the feet down the marble steps so our heads bounced. Superficial head wounds are harmless but they bleed a lot, and journalists got some terrific photos of us on our way to the paddy wagons waiting on College Walk.
Soon we were in the Tombs [the jail and criminal court building at 100 Centre Street]. I was in a cell with six others including Tom Hayden (one of many luminaries who visited and/or sat in with us -- others included H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael, Charles 37X Kenyatta, I forget who else -- Angela Davis? Che Guevara?). Later, students from the other buildings began to arrive, much bloodier than we were. The students in Math (some of whom -- the ones who weren't killed in the 1970 East 11th Street townhouse explosion -- later went on to the Democratic convention in Chicago, and then formed the Weather Underground) (deep breath...) received less gentle treatment -- one student was thrown from a second-story window and landed on a professor (Jim Shenton), breaking the professor's arm.
In December 2001 I received the following email from Thomas Gucciardi: "My dad, Frank Gucciardi, was a cop during the riots. He was paralyzed from the waist down for 3 years. (A student jumped off a building into the crowd) He has had a miraculous recovery & still enjoys a fairly active life. I just found your site & commend you on it. My dad till this day loved his job & he does understand the students uprising. He holds no grudges at all for what the students did to him at 34 years of age & having 3 children. Thank you for your website." Later Thomas sent copies of newspaper clippings that told how Patrolman Gucciardi had been inured when an unidentified white student jumped from the balcony of Hamilton Hall, landing on the officer's back as he bent over to pick up his hat, and of the operations on his spine over the next several years. A series of articles by columnist Martin Gershen in the NY Times, the Long Island Press, and other papers, followed his progress and gained national attention. Also injured was Officer Bernard Wease, kicked in the chest by a student in Fayerweather Hall while giving the vacate-or-be-arrested order, causing damage to his heart.
While an article in the LA Times, 9 September 1969, quotes Mayor Lindsay as acknowledging that some police used "excessive force" and states that "news reports quoted witnesses as having seen nonuniformed policemen punching and kicking both male and female students... one blond girl was said to have been beaten unconscious on the sidewalk in front of Avery Hall... a boy left writhing in front of Ferris Booth Hall with his nose smashed...", the only two injuries serious enough to require prolonged hospitalization were to Officers Gucciardi and Wease.
Many of the later arrivals to the Tombs were bystanders. All hell had broken loose after we left, with mounted police charging through the crowds on South Field, swinging their "batons" at all nearby heads like rampaging Cossacks (NEED PHOTO). Subsequent investigative commissions called it a "police riot." The combat spilled out to Broadway and down the side streets towards Riverside Park, horses galloping after fleeing pedestrians -- it must have been quite a sight (too bad I missed it), and it was a "radicalizing experience" for many former sideliners. Ed Kent (UTS BD 1959, Columbia PhD 1965, currently professor of moral / political / legal philosophy at Brooklyn College, CUNY) recalls:
I made sure that I put on a coat and tie -- it was about 1 a.m. and I had been alerted by a colleague at Hunter who had heard the bust was imminent. I then joined the cop assigned to the gate who was entirely sympathetic to the students and we watched with horror as the cops beat up kids that had come out of their dorms to find out what all the ruckus was about (Those occupying buildings had been taken out through the tunnels earlier.). I will never forget one small sized student being chased by a group of cops with clubs intent on beating him up -- he finally took refuge on top of a car where he tried to avoid their swings. They finally knocked him off and pounced with their clubs. The next day many faculty and students were treated for head and other injuries -- all of them innocent of any connection with the actual building occupations. Incidentally at the Cox hearings I heard the dean [Henry Coleman] who had supposedly been imprisoned by the students in Hamilton admit in response to a question by Anthony Amsterdam that he had in fact been ordered by the President to remain in his office and had been treated with entire courtesy by the students throughout and could have unlocked his office door (and relocked it to protect student records) and left at any time. This was given as the excuse for the police action and Sidney Hook refused to take it out of his book account (I got his galleys to pre-view) although I personally drew his attention to his mis-reporting there. Hook had become very right wing by then.
Meanwhile, back in jail... Escorting a group of incoming wounded was a fellow worker from Butler Library, now wearing a badge. In Butler, posing as a student library assistant, he had been trying to recruit us to "blow stuff up". Luckily he had been an inspiration to no one, but the episode served well for many years in discussions of leftist paranoia. The librarians, to their credit, were shocked to learn they had hired an agent provocateur and fired him immediately, not so very inhumane considering his better-paying day job.
Some 700 people were arrested that night, a logistical nightmare, involving at least 20 precincts and much transportation. We were arraigned and released over the next day or two, with court dates set that would stretch for years into the future, a story in itself. Back on campus... what a mess! The morning's newspapers were full of it. The Times ran a front-page story with a photo of a police officer standing in the President's Office, which was a total wreck (mean-spirited graffiti sprayed on the walls, bookshelves toppled, etc), gesturing sorrowfully towards a mound of mangled books, a forlorn tear in his eye: "The world's knowledge was in those books...". Ironic because it was not us who made the mess and sprayed the graffiti! We caught the author of the story on campus and asked why he had written such dreck when he had been witness to the whole episode -- he freely admitted it was a pack of lies and recommended we complain to his boss (a Columbia trustee). Luckily for posterity, whoever wrecked the office after we left overlooked the Rembrandt.
The Second and Third Busts
In the following weeks, regular classes were replaced by "Liberation classes" on the lawns (NEED PHOTO). There were no grades that year. Picket lines were thrown up in front of every building. The Grateful Dead played on Ferris Booth terrace. A student batallion marched up Amsterdam Avenue to City College to make noise and "link up". Organizers for progressive labor unions began circulating pledge cards among supporting staff (this cost me my Butler Library job). A contingent from the French student/worker uprising handed out those famous posters (unfortunately printed on cheap paper, now disintegrated) from the "Ex-Ecole des Beaux Arts", and we also had visits from student representatives of many of the other universities that followed Columbia's energetic lead that year, who raised clenched fists and gave rousing speeches. (Later some of us visited other student uprisings in progress, notably in Mexico City, where police and military actions made the Columbia arrests look like a lovefest.)
Community issues loomed large -- an apartment building on 114th Street was the scene of a second occupation a couple weeks later, in which several hundred of the newly radicalized onlookers from South Field took part and were promptly arrested (I don't recall exactly what the issue was, but housing has always been a touchy topic at Columbia). On May 22nd, sensing no movement in the administration on the issues of the strike, we went back into Hamilton (déjà vu was the rallying cry). This time the police were summoned onto campus without hesitation, and back we all went to jail (there were 1100 arrests in all). By now it was like commuting. Again, campus erupted after we left -- this time, 15-foot-high barricades were erected at the main gates and set ablaze (NEED PHOTO), windows were smashed, cars crushed, crowds surged back and forth, and many heads were bashed -- most of them attached to innocent bystanders. As in the first bust, the police also did a fair amount of mischief aimed at discrediting the strikers.
Commencement and Beyond
The year ended with most of the Class of '68 walking out of graduation, which was at Saint John's that year, on a prearranged signal -- students carried radios under their gowns and walked out when WKCR played "The Times They Are A'Changin'" -- to a countercommencement on Low Plaza, accompanied by loud rock music, and from there to Morningside Park for a big picnic that turned out rather well.
At Columbia, classified war research was halted, the gym was canceled, ROTC left campus, military and CIA recruiting stopped, and (not that anybody asked for it) the Senate was established. Robert Kennedy, the antiwar presidential candidate, was killed in June 1968, and later that month the French uprising was "voted away" in a national referendum. Mexican students and supporters were slaughtered wholesale in October, in La Noche de Tlatelolco. Columbia antiwar rallies continued, and large Columbia contingents chartered buses for the huge demonstrations in Washington, of which there were to be far too many -- the war dragged on for another seven years. To this day, I don't know if all the antiwar activities combined had as much affect as the Vietnamese figuring out how to shoot down the American B-52s that were carpet-bombing their cities.
The Cox commission produced a report on the disturbances. Springtime building occupations continued for the next few years, but eventually were replaced by disco. Then came the 80s and 90s: the rich became richer at the expense of everyone else; organized labor was squashed; most real jobs were exported; drugs and greed ruled; social awareness was replaced by political correctness, student activism by ambition, and real work by sitting in front of a PC clicking on investments.
After a semester's suspension and dozens of court appearances (but no hard time -- thanks National Lawyers Guild!), I received my BA in 1970, held a number of odd jobs (taxi driver, etc; nobody pays you to save the world), and eventually wound up back at Columbia getting a graduate degree in computer science and working in what was called the Computer Center, where I still work today. And now, thanks to the Information Age, the Computer Center has been absorbed by the University Library and I suppose that brings us full circle(g).
Much can be said (and has been!) about the strike's effects on Columbia University. Of course it hurt the University in many ways -- applications, endowment, contracts & grants, gifts, and so on. It took at least 20 years to fully recover. Perhaps it strengthened the University in other ways, who knows.
Most press accounts of the time focus on the strike leaders, their affiliations and temperaments and hairstyles, but honestly, I don't recall them being a major force, except on the first night when they decided the white students should leave Hamilton Hall. They certainly didn't choreograph the events after that. Actions were either taken spontaneously, or discussed to death by EVERYBODY until consensus was reached, in the manner of the day (and night!). In Low library, leadership meant nothing more than fairly moderating the open discussion and applying Robert's Rules -- a process not nearly as interesting to the media as sound bites from high-profile personalities.
I never felt the strike was motivated primarily by antipathy towards Columbia. After all, students came here voluntarily and received good educations (often obtaining their introduction to radical thought from their own professors) and -- even in those days -- the student body, if not faculty and administration, was among the most diverse anywhere. Community relations were not all bad: many of us were Project Double Discovery counselors or involved in various Columbia-sponsored Harlem community action projects.
Rather, it was a case of students doing the best they could in the place where they were to stop the war in Viet Nam and fight racism at home, just as they hoped others would do in other places: in the streets, factories, offices, other universities, the military itself, the court of world opinion, and finally in the seats of government. Whether this was the best way to do it is debatable, but it is clear that the more polite methods of previous years were not working, and every DAY that passed cost 2000 lives in Southeast Asia. So to the extent that the Columbia strike hastened the end of the war, it was worthwhile. As to racism and community relations, it's not my place to judge.
1. Naison, Mark D., White Boy, Temple University Press, Philadelphia (2002). This book includes the most vivid, accurate, and honest account of the Columbia scene in the 1960s that I have encountered. By focusing on the painful racial issues behind the events of 1968, it shows not just what happened, but why, and it captures the passions, stresses, sights, sounds, and smells of that time and place like nothing else I've read.
2. Who Rules Columbia?, North American Congress on Latin America, 475 Riverside Drive, NYC (1970). "If you depended on major media, all you knew about Columbia University in 1968 was that Mark Rudd, SDS, and some long-haired students became spontaneously restless. In fact, a major study of Columbia's role in the community and in the world was produced by these students. This is NACLA's reprint of the original 1968 edition. 'Strawberry Statement' is cute, but here's the beef." (NameBase, A Cumulative Index of Books and Clippings)
3. McCaughey, Robert A., Stand Columbia, A History of Columbia University in The City of New York, 1754-2004, Columbia University Press (2003), esp. Chapter 15: "Riding the Whirlwind: Columbia '68".
4. Kurlansky, Mark, 1968, The Year that Rocked the World, Ballentine Books, New York (2004), esp. Chapters 11 and 20.
Think tank helps Giuliani set his agenda (1998)
(article mentions participators in the Columbia U antiwar riot now being at Manhattan Institute)
>>>In reading Carter's statements, I was reminded of the bad
old Harvard of the nineteen thirties, which continued to
honor Nazi academics after the anti-Semitic policies of
Hitler's government became clear. Harvard of the nineteen
thirties was complicit in evil.<<<<
Some things never change. They welcomed Nazis back then and they welcome Islamofascists today.
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