Letters

 
 
   
The Spring issue of Columbia prompted more letters from our readers than has any other issue to date. Forty years after the events of 1968, both participants in the protests and those who weren’t even born yet hold strong views. Some of those views have become more nuanced over the years, and others have become more dogmatic.

Because most of the letters we received were thoughtful and informative, we have decided to devote an unusually large number of pages to these comments. — Ed.


1968: Still Stirred Up

I read with interest Paul Hond’s article about Paul Cronin and his documentary A Time to Stir (“Stir It Up,” Spring 2008). Cronin says he would be the last person to claim that he has created a definitive record of Columbia ’68. He is aware of the endless layers of the story. May I add one more?

In January 1967, I left an aircraft carrier cruising off the coast of Vietnam and was discharged from the U.S. Navy. In February, I enrolled at Columbia Business School, where a fair number of recent military veterans were in my class. While at Columbia, I was married at New York City Hall, graduated in June 1968, got a job, and on I went. Obviously, I was there during the Troubles, the Revolution, the Big Change.

Hond’s article, while descriptively accurate, barely mentions one of the most important causes of the events of 1968: the draft. Many people forget what a Damocles sword the draft was. I graduated from Bowdoin College in 1963 and applied to Columbia Business School during my senior year. There was no Vietnam War at the time, but the draft was still there. I decided to enlist in the Navy, go to Officer Candidate School, and do my time rather than go to graduate school immediately. Columbia allowed me to enroll after I finished my service.

When I finally got to Columbia, the world was changing. The Vietnam War was seen (correctly, in my opinion) as a horrible mistake. Very few men wanted to be drafted.

My fellow veterans and I understood this clearly. We empathized. However, we did not believe that the motives
of the protesters or activists were primarily altruistic. They said they wanted a better, more democratic, more perfect world. In reality, they didn’t want to take the chance of being killed, which was no less human or understandable than the other motives.

Many times we veterans were accosted and disparaged. It really didn’t bother us.

Because there is no draft today, the Iraq/Afghanistan war is not analogous to Vietnam. Today’s soldiers are volunteers. In 1968, at Columbia, almost nobody was.

Robert E. Bachman ’69BUS
Dallas, TX
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In early April 1968, I deposited the required five carbon copies of my PhD dissertation at Low Library. After years of working and reworking my manuscript, I finally had managed to complete it. I wisely kept an extra copy for myself, a precaution that spared me a lot of torment when, a few days later, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) “liberated” and trashed the building. My defense had been scheduled for 10 a.m., May 17. The “events,” as we all know, occurred during that time gap.

My sympathies were with the student rebels, not for ideological reasons, but because I saw their protest as a carnivalesque spring ritual, part of a global happening. There was, however, no way that anyone could stop me from going through that final initiation rite. My mentor, University Professor Michael Riffaterre ’55GSAS, was adamant that the University fulfill its responsibilities as usual. So unlike many examinations that were canceled during that period, mine would go on, no matter what.

The room that had been assigned for it was, I believe, in Mathematics Hall. When I arrived that morning, barricades and shouting demonstrators blocked the entrance. They were hurling insults at me (“Fascist pig!”), and I did feel threatened. One of the Columbia guards led me to the back of the building and helped me get in through a rear window. I found my way to the assigned room, where the five members of the committee were already waiting. The questions and answers began and, under the circumstances, the committee treated me with kid gloves. I would, in fact, have liked it to be more contentious. I was ready to roll.

I have often told my own PhD candidates this anecdote as they prepare to face their examiners. They are usually relieved to know that things could be both worse and funnier.

Peter W. Nesselroth ’68GSAS
Professor Emeritus
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario
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The events of 1968 were precipitated by a single stimulus and no other. This was the withdrawal of draft deferment for college students. Certainly, the peculiarities of Columbia could not explain the similar occurrences at Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Michigan, and Stanford (where the ROTC building was torched). The gym? Military research? Nonsense.

In all of the reporting concerning the anniversary, I read no significant insight into the precipitating events.

Gerald H. Klingon ’42CC
New York, NY
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I greatly enjoyed the Spring 2008 edition’s collection of 1968-related pieces, a useful reminder of what the campus was like then and in the years immediately before. Even then, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other generators of self-righteous revolutionary blather often poisoned discourse that had little to do with their avowed causes, such as ending the Vietnam War, but instead sought opportunities for confrontation with establishment symbols.

In the spring of 1966, I came to Columbia to recruit for the Foreign Service, certainly not as a spokesman for the Johnson administration or the Vietnam War. I also went to Syracuse, CCNY, NYU, and Colgate. Only at Columbia was I prevented from speaking, by a noisy group that accused me of being a CIA plant and a bomber of innocent civilians. I left, disappointed but not really surprised. I had met similar groups on campus in 1955–56, when I was studying on the Korean War GI Bill. To supplement this rather austere stipend, I had remained a Marine Corps Reserve officer, and occasionally wore a uniform on campus on the way to a Reserve meeting. The catcalls were not as virulent or as loud, but otherwise much the same — unpleasant, and not really what Columbia was supposed to be about. Professor Wm.
Theodore de Bary had it right in his “My Columbia” essay.

Thomas J. Hirschfeld ’56GSAS
Alexandria, VA
--

Comments about “shattered idealism” do not explain the motivation of the student radicals of 1968. No one to my knowledge has pointed out that these students were children of leftist activists, were subject to a media diet of anti-Americanism, and went to secondary schools that told them they were an elite with the right to boss everyone else around. Conceited, self-appointed dictators, all in a spirit of college fun.

Peter Cortland ’60GSAS
Wallingford, CT
--

Forty years ago we wandered around the campus, wondering what was going to happen next. The students were occupying the buildings; the police were at the gates. We got bored, gave up, went home to bed, and missed getting our heads beaten.

What a loss!

What a loss for Columbia that it took a decade to build itself back into a citadel of liberal education, free speech, and open inquiry. What a loss for progressive politics that the moral passion and political movement of the ’60s, particularly the civil rights movement, were hijacked by photo-op activists.

By 1967, great strides had been made in opening Columbia as a truly value-neutral community. As an officer of the University Student Council, I was involved in the successful effort to persuade the administration to eliminate class rank from draft-status decisions, thus severing students’ academic careers from the needs of the military. I remember the five gay and lesbian students willing to openly declare their sexuality in order for the Student Homophile League to be recognized as the first such student organization in the country. I remember the establishment of a drop-in center on the top floor of Journalism, where students could take some time out from the achievement-only track that had gotten them into Columbia.

But, with the hormonal surges of the spring of 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., all of this was obliterated, and almost forgotten, in the adolescent acts of some self-aggrandizing authoritarian anarchists.

What a loss!

Walter Jonas ’67GS
Milton, MA
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Your lively story about Paul Cronin’s documentary on Columbia ’68 took me back 40 years to when two university undergraduates, Steve Weinberg ’66CC, ’68GSAPP, ’90HON and Roger Lehecka ’67CC, ’74GSAS (later to be dean of students), talked Columbia College dean David Truman and charismatic history professor Jim Shenton into sponsoring Project Double Discovery on Columbia’s summer campus in 1965.

Double Discovery meant learning about the world outside the run-down neighborhoods of New York City’s five boroughs — and learning about one’s self. The Board of Education’s high-school superintendent, Jack Zack, bought into the program that allowed bright but poor high-school pupils from Harlem and Bed-Sty, for example, to live in the college dormitories each summer, to take a variety of challenging courses taught by the cream of the city’s faculties, to be counseled by undergraduates, to read widely, and to learn about the cultural life outside their neighborhoods. (One of the counselors for the program was Ted Gold ’68CC, later to lose his life while preparing a bomb that exploded in a Greenwich Village house.)
As a newly appointed high-school principal, I was authorized to develop a curriculum and hire teachers from the five college-bound city programs. Double Discovery was, and remains, an idyllic undertaking that changed the lives for the better of the few hundred youngsters who spent their Julys and Augusts in Butler Library, Ferris Booth Hall, Hamilton Hall, and all over the historic campus.

Columbia can truly be proud of its role in inviting those promising teenagers to see another world outside the depressed communities in which many of them lived — and to learn about their own potential.

Murray Bromberg ’51GSAS
Bellmore, NY
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I very much enjoyed reading your Spring issue and the feature on the 1968 movie. In that same issue, Thulani Davis ’70BC shared an excerpt from a journal she kept during the takeover of Hamilton Hall. Despite the uplifting rhetoric of the time, not all occupiers were considered to be equal by the demonstrators. Davis mentions that the preparation and distribution of food was led by a crew of “10 girls” and the infirmary was left to another set of “9 to 10 girls.” Not to disparage these caretaking responsibilities, but it appears that the more heady, tactical, and policy matters were in the boys’ domain.

Let us hope that we have moved beyond these stereotypes, although sometimes one does wonder.

Peggy Backman ’60BC, ’70TC/GSAS
East Hampton, NY
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Paul Hond’s review of Paul Cronin’s documentary misrepresents the demand that Columbia Students for a Democratic Society actually made between April 1967 and May 1968 regarding Columbia University’s institutional membership in the Pentagon’s Institute for Defense Analyses’s (IDA) weapons research think tank, which continues to develop weapons for the Pentagon.

Demand 3 of the 1968 Columbia student strike was that “the University sever all ties with the Institute for Defense Analyses and that President Grayson Kirk and Trustee William Burden [’26GSAS] resign their positions on the executive committee of that institution immediately” — not that “the University scrap its IDA contracts,” as the review inaccurately states.

As Columbia University’s institutional representatives on IDA’s executive committee, Kirk and Burden personally “approved all work conducted by IDA, including classified projects directly related to the prosecution of the Vietnam War,” according to the Cox Commission’s “Crisis at Columbia: Report of the Fact-Finding Commission Appointed to Investigate the Disturbances at Columbia University in April and May 1968.”

One such secret IDA weapons research project was the automated electronic battlefield development project of IDA’s Jason Division of U.S. university professors, which led to the wounding or killing of between 20,000 to 40,000 Indo-Chinese civilians per year between 1968 and 1973.

Interestingly, during this current 21st-century era of “permanent war,” Columbia University continues to do contract research work for Pentagon-linked organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Joint Warfare Analysis Center.

Bob Feldman ’69CC
Former member
Columbia SDS Steering Committee
Boston, MA

“Revolution, Ink.,” the discussion in College Walk of two emblematic books that reported the events of spring 1968, omitted a worthy candidate: Dotson Rader’s I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore!

Rader came to the event as a committed radical. He writes with more passion for the cause and less bemusement at finding himself in the thick of things than Jim Kunen. His book has a strong, clear voice, not the somewhat muted resonance of the multiauthored Up Against the Ivy Wall.

For this reader at least, Rader presents the most compelling account of both the events and context of those weeks.

Charles Saydah ’67CC
Nanuet, NY
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The articles and pictures on the student revolution of 1968 brought back vivid memories of this historic and tragic occurrence. I was a student working on my doctorate in library science at the time. I was a resident in one of the women’s dorms on the campus, and I remember hearing the shouting and uproar in the street outside. When I went out on the roof and looked down on the street, I saw students yelling and carrying on. I wondered if the student revolution in California had spread to New York.

It wasn’t long before the revolutionists closed the gates to the campus and would not let anyone other than their group enter. They began invading buildings, faculty offices, and even the quarters of President Grayson Kirk. It kept getting worse by the hour. One faculty member was pulled off the balcony of his building and ended up in the hospital.
Somehow, a group of us library science grad students got together and decided we would defend the card catalogue.
I could not afford to be barred from the library. I stood at the gate and demanded that they let me in. Somehow, I won my appeal.

I received my master’s degree in library science from Columbia in 1955 and was finally able to get my doctorate in 1975. Columbia will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you so much for your articles. I shall keep this issue of Columbia magazine, which is so special.

Jane Ellen Carstens ’75LS
Lafayette, LA
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The pieces in the Spring issue on 1968 were interesting but did not depict the range of people involved in the demonstrations, nor the mood and energy on the campus at that time. There are many perspectives and stories around 1968, and not all are represented by the more vocal students, such as Mark Rudd, nor by those who share Wm. Theodore de Bary’s point of view.

As a professional staff member in the computing center at that time, I saw many faculty and professionals at campus demonstrations; they were not destructive nor did they prevent anyone from going about their classes or work. Indeed, whether or not one agrees with the movement against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, there is no denying that the energy and desire (even when misplaced) to see changes in our government improves our society. All knowledge is not gained through classrooms or by researchers off in the library stacks; some knowledge comes from action. And there were certainly some positive outcomes at Columbia following the 1968 demonstrations.

A small group of professional staff from the main campus and the health/hospital complex came together and established a skills-training program for Harlem residents who were on welfare and unemployed. The program was called Step Forward. We asked individual deans and department heads if we could use equipment and space at night and on the weekends. With the blessing of Acting President Andrew Cordier, we were given an office on 115th Street.

Over three years, volunteers taught business and keypunch skills, along with grammar and arithmetic. Two College students from Harlem were part of the group, and they assisted in recruiting. Participants received no stipend, and if they missed more than one session, they were dropped.

We trained more than 100 individuals, and while a number found work at Columbia, most were employed by businesses in New York City that contacted Step Forward about employment opportunities. Indeed, we had quite a Rolodex of interested companies to which we could refer individuals.

The program ended after three years because it was too difficult for full-time employees with families (I had two young children). But in the time that it operated, the program contributed to a better image for Columbia University in the community.

The commitment and effort of Columbia employees to this program was a very positive outcome from 1968. A “good university” should be about more than its faculty and students, research and learning, and equally about how the university contributes to a better world. The people involved in Step Forward did just that in a small way. They were “real heroes” going beyond what was expected.

Sheila D. Creth ’70GS
Chapel Hill, NC
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I am the son of David B. Truman, former vice president and provost and professor of public law and government at Columbia. My wife, Tracy, and our daughter, Christine, attended Columbia.

I read with interest Paul Hond’s review of the first cut of Paul Cronin’s documentary on the Columbia Crisis of 1968. I cooperated with Cronin on this project by sharing with him a copy of my father’s Reflections on the Columbia Disorders of 1968.

In light of the renewed interest in this period, I want to restate my offer of a few years ago to provide to members of the Columbia community copies of my father’s reflections for $20, the cost of reproduction. Requests can be sent to me at 5803 Warwick Place, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.

Edwin M. Truman
Chevy Chase, MD
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In “Stir It Up,” Paul Hond provided a pretty good account of a complex subject in limited space. And of course, I am very pleased that Columbia used some of my photos. My pride was further enhanced by Hond’s reference to my Alma Mater photo in his closing sentences. The cropping of the image was done by me in the viewfinder and thus represents my own, and others,’ ambiguous feelings about the meaning of these events, feelings that persist and that Paul Cronin’s accomplished film has stirred up and perhaps helped clarify.

Nicholas Mirra ’68CC
Brooklyn, NY
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Heroes and Antiheroes

As a member of the quiet majority, I thank you for Wm. Theodore de Bary’s “My Columbia” essay, “The Real Heroes of ’68.” It cleared a politically correct miasma long enveloping Columbia, with its misguided praises of the ’68 vandals who, in self-righteous arrogance, prevented others from exercising their right to a fine liberal education. Alas, the magazine editors felt compelled to describe de Bary in the table of contents as “a liberal professor” rather than an honest seeker of truth. More political correctness?

Charles Zimmerman ’52CC
Annapolis, MD
--

The most recent issue of Columbia magazine is one of the best.

I would like to ask de Bary a question. What should the position of the German universities have been had students risen up in protest against Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws and demanded that the universities take a position against them and shut down faculty groups that supported Hitler? Does he think that this would have unreasonably disallowed a civil discussion about the legitimacy of anti-Semitism?

Lionel Trilling’s absolutist description of the function of a university applies to normal times and normal circumstances, but should it apply in extraordinary times, when thousands of Americans were being sent to die in Vietnam for nothing? Should Columbia have been justified in citing academic freedom as a means to hide the fact that the U.S. military was contributing to Columbia’s budget during the war? Does he think, as well, that there could be reasonable discourse about the blatantly condescending position taken against the black residents of the neighborhood who would have been obliged to enter the gym through a back door? Or should the University have been allowed to permit civil discourse on the merits of segregation and racism?

My criticism of the students has to do with their invocation of Mao Zedong, a total monster who brutalized his
people and denied them any degree of free discourse. Tom Paine would have been enough.

Richard Cummings ’62LAW

Sag Harbor, NY
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I read with great interest and appreciation Wm. Theodore de Bary’s essay. As a graduate student in 1968, I well remember how we were up against a revolutionary zeal that was not interested in any real dialogue or solution to the problems they themselves caused.

I was happy to see de Bary coolly and dispassionately set the record straight. I only hope that we do not relive those days, which made so many of us heartsick.

Frank J. Macchiarola ’65LAW, ’70GSAS
President, St. Francis College
Brooklyn, NY
--

When I was a graduate student at Columbia, Ted de Bary was one of my favorite professors. He was not a teacher whom a grad student would call easily by his first name.

In his essay on the 1968 uprising, de Bary makes it seem like the quiet majority at the University inwardly wanted to stand up to the militant minority and reclaim their institution of higher learning. My impression was different.
It wasn’t until three years later that I interviewed adolescent participants in the Cultural Revolution from schools in China. I found that, like so many of my classmates at Columbia, most of these kids were not swept away or repelled by this movement against authority, but rather, they were ambivalent, having fun with the holiday, or just plain bored.
I arrived on campus that day in April having spent the whole night preparing an East Asian Institute thesis presentation. I was pissed that I couldn’t enter the campus from the Amsterdam Avenue side. Someone thrust a leaflet into my hands that diagrammed how to make a Molotov cocktail. An SDSer was bellowing over a megaphone from the bridge way. A whole night wasted.

But, my God, what an experience! Charles 37X Kenyatta had come to campus to assess the revolutionary merit of this activity. If Vietnam was to be a key issue, Columbia would have taken the lead. I’d have time to rework some points in my paper. Little did I know that I also would be able to take a pass in selective classes in accordance with a moratorium.
A few years later, when I came back from research in Hong Kong, the campus — the East Asian Institute itself — was still smoldering with protest against the bombing of Cambodia. A throng of my professors, all of them Professor de Bary’s close associates, had locked arms at the front entrance to the building. Neither inclined to register public protest nor likely to go home, I followed a phalanx of militants inside through the side door. Uttering a “Long Live Chairman Mao,” (I was dressed in a Mao jacket that I had bought in China), I pressed the elevator button and went back to my cubicle to work.

David M. Raddock ’74GSAS
Boulder, CO

The writer is the author of Political Behavior of Adolescents in China: The Cultural Revolution in Kwangchow.
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As one who participated in the occupation of Low Library and the subsequent strike, I was disappointed and saddened to read “The Real Heroes of ’68.” De Bary remains stubbornly locked into his preconceptions.

While Paul Cronin’s documentary A Time to Stir seeks to correct the historical distortions wrought by the media and others by highlighting the leading role of the Student Afro-American Society and the black students in Hamilton Hall, de Bary never mentions them. And only briefly does he raise the issue of the gym, which galvanized all of the students and the Harlem community alike.

Instead, de Bary regards Mark Rudd as the single mastermind of the revolt in cartoonish distortion of what took place. While Rudd did play an important leading role, de Bary still does not realize how very spontaneous the rebellion was, at least in its initial eruption. To a great degree, Rudd was following the crowd, not leading it. Most of the white students involved in the occupation and strike, including me, were not members of Students for a Democratic Society. We were not manipulated, and if Professor de Bary is angry at what we did, he should spread his rage around to include the thousands of students who were involved and not repeat the media fetishization of Rudd.

We believed that both our country and our university were deeply involved in an immoral, genocidal war and in centuries of racial injustice. As said in Paul Cronin’s film, most of us felt we were at a moral crossroads and did not want to be Good Germans. In the face of an intractable, mendacious, and autocratic administration, we decided to take a moral stand that did indeed violate the norms. It was an ethical decision, no matter how spontaneous, to remove Grayson Kirk’s files on the Institute for Defense Analyses and publish them in the press, just as it was to tear down the fence around the gym’s construction site when the administration would not listen to the Harlem community, students, Mayor Lindsay, and many others who tried to stop the land grab; and it was an ethical decision to demand amnesty.

De Bary chooses to focus on what he considers to be violations of constitutional liberties and of “what universities were meant to do.” I teach at a university today, and I cherish its role to promote civil discussion. I hope that there will be no cause for such a revolt today at any university, even with the immoral war in Iraq. Because of what we did at Columbia, and what students did at San Francisco State, Berkeley, CCNY, and hundreds of other campuses, Columbia and other universities are far better, if still imperfect, places for an open and free exchange of ideas. We responded to what we considered to be egregious violations of human rights at an exceptional moment. Most of us, like everyone else in the West, knew little about Mao’s China. But the slogan that de Bary finds objectionable, “To Rebel Is Justified,” we did recognize. They are also words in the spirit of Tom Paine.

Hilton Obenzinger ’69CC
Low Library Commune 1968
Stanford University
Palo Alto, CA

Thank you for Wm. Theodore de Bary’s “The Real Heroes of ’68.”

I was working on my master’s degree in art history during the disruptions of 1968. All I wanted to do was finish my course work. I remember trying to get to the library in Schermerhorn one day and a fellow student on a picket line spat on me when I crossed it!

I was against the war in Vietnam, and the plan for a gym in Morningside Park did not appeal to me, but the occupation of buildings and the disruption of classes were not the proper way to protest either.

I only wish that the police had been called in immediately to remove the original group of people who were trespassing, pure and simple.

Mary D. Edwards ’86GSAS
Adjunct Professor, Pratt Institute
New York, NY
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Wm. Theodore de Bary’s excursion into the origins of the slogan “To Rebel Is Justified” is thoroughly irrelevant to the issues of 1968.

He also knocks the students for allegedly violating his and others’ constitutional rights. How about the rights the police violated? Which is more dangerous to people’s rights, unarmed students expressing their views or armed police with no ties to the University coming in and brutalizing everyone in sight?

When the 1968 affair began on April 23, I was having a leisurely lunch with friends at that most unradical of venues, the Manhattan Playboy Club. However, I lived just off campus on 114th Street at the time, and was working as a journalist. Using my long out-of-date University ID, thumb carefully obscuring the date whenever I had to present it, I entered Math and Fayerweather frequently during the week, and was present when the police assaulted Professor Richard Greeman. I observed the big bust from Broadway and from Amsterdam, and my report on it was carried in hundreds of papers.
On May 17, when students occupied 618 West 114th Street, I tried to talk to the University treasurer, who was observing the proceedings. He publicly insulted me and told me he had no interest in hearing from alumni. For this reason, I do not donate money to Columbia.

During the same event, police forced people off the street, then invaded my apartment building, which was not owned by Columbia. They arrested two alumni and two students, charging all four with trespassing. I was one of those four. I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for Professor de Bary’s complaint that students violated his rights. Perhaps he might show a few concerns for the Vietnamese and others killed by the research that IDA sponsored.

Thomas Wm. Hamilton ’60CC
Staten Island, NY
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I well remember the day when I vowed never again to contribute any substantial amount of money to my once-glorious alma mater. That day was when the juvenile delinquent Mark Rudd and his gang of Maoist thugs were allowed to shut down the University.

What was proved by this regrettable incident? Well, for one thing, that bright, young minds usually are sorely deficient in common sense.

Ted de Bary’s article hit the mark. Ted was seen as a “comer” as far back as my freshman year, and time has certainly confirmed the prediction.

Edward C. Broge ’43CC
Glen Mills, PA
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I want to thank the editors for publishing Columbia magazine. To be honest, it was the first issue of Columbia that I ever read cover to cover.

I would like to point out two flaws in Wm. Theodore de Bary’s essay. First, the issue of whether or not Mark Rudd marched under the banner of “To Rebel Is Justified.” In the published picture, the banner was carried not by Rudd, but by members of Youth Against War and Fascism (YAWF), the youth group of the Workers World Party, a formation of a number of leftist groups that attempted to capture and fit the student uprising to its mold and over which I’m certain Mark had no control. It is a tribute to the movement’s respect for the First Amendment that anybody could carry any banner they wanted without censorship.

As to the origin of the quote from a pro-Stalinist speech of Mao Zedong, I think de Bary may be right that the YAWF, who were Trotskyists, were unaware of this. It doesn’t really matter in the long run, because the banner and the context gave new life to the saying anyway. Second, stating “it was others, not Rudd, who suffered the consequences of his violent disruptions” is wrong. This is an unworthy, below-the-belt remark. Rudd spent seven and a half years as a fugitive underground. I think that was suffering enough.

I disagree with de Bary’s other points, but the presence of his essay in this issue helps to re-create a sense of what the struggle was up against: lies and half-truths used as justifications of passivity and mediocrity.

Rudd emerged as a leader and helped kick off the movement that eventually ended the war and sowed the seeds of all future peace protests. I never knew him, but I was affected by his life and thank him for his influence.

Matilda Williams ’91PH
Seminole, OK
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I read with great interest “The Real Heroes of ’68.” It captured my sentiments precisely. At the time, I was president of Columbia College Alumni Association and obviously interfaced with many alumni. As you can imagine, with any group from Columbia College, a variety of views were expressed. A clear majority were, and I believe are, in de Bary’s camp. Thanks for taking the time to deliver this much-needed essay on the events of ’68.

Henry King ’48CC
Board of Trustees Chairman Emeritus New York, NY
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Congratulations to Professor Emeritus Wm. Theodore de Bary for his courageous, thoughtful, and convincing account. The heroes were certainly not that minority of zealots who exploited the openness of the most distinguished institutions of a society based on the rule of law to disrupt orderly procedures and who tried with too much success to render them futile. I recall from across the interval of nearly six decades the brilliant lectures of de Bary on China, Japan, and Korea, as well as those of David Truman on the American constitutional order. I fully agree with de Bary that his view reflects the opinion of a quiet majority among those concerned about the days that shook Morningside.

I did not witness these days at Columbia. From 1967 until mid-1969, I was in Prague, Czechoslovakia, watching unarmed citizens — including many youth who could justly be described as heroic — champion the liberalizing spirit of the Prague Spring and then resist, sometimes at the cost of their lives and far more often at the cost of their freedom, the imposition of a new dictatorship borne on the treads of Soviet tanks. These persons were defending an order striving to expand freedom where it had not existed and would not exist again. What a contrast between the “strike” of Mark Rudd against higher education in New York and the self-immolation of Jan Palach, a student of about the same age in Prague. When it came in August 1968, the “bust” there would silence dissent and forestall democracy in Czechoslovakia for more than 20 years.

Kenneth N. Skoug, Jr. ’53CC
U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Retired
Alexandria, VA

The writer is the author of Czechoslovakia’s Lost Fight for Freedom, 1967–1969: An American Embassy Perspective.
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In your Spring 2008 issue, you devoted 12 pages to the protests and protesters of 1968 and 2 to Wm. Theodore de Bary’s perspective from the other side. That other side, known as the Majority Coalition, comprised 2000 of Columbia College’s then 2700 students who signed statements opposing the building takeovers and mustered enough members to completely surround and block access to the occupied buildings 24 hours a day continuously. Unlike the protesters, they did not resort to force or violence to make their mark on history. But that is no reason to minimize their place.

Tao Tan ’07CC
Sydney, Australia

I found Wm. Theodore de Bary’s criticism of the SDS engaging in many ways, but also slightly misleading. The primary thrust of his criticism was the way that the activities of the SDS infringed on the “civil liberties” and “due process” of those who didn’t agree with them, “especially the right of freedom of assembly (guaranteed by the Bill of Rights).” Of course, the Bill of Rights only protects individuals against infringement of these rights by the government. The SDS was the furthest thing from that. While we like to think that the rights enshrined in the Constitution against government intrusion are universal and inviolable (at least in this country), when it comes to private interactions, these rights are sacrificed every time someone interrupts you while speaking or a security guard on campus asks you to keep College Walk clear. Entering a private domain like the Columbia campus involves an agreement to curtail one’s exercise of some of those rights protected from government intrusion and to abide by a different set of rules. Naturally, SDS wasn’t abiding by those rules at the time. But if the Columbia administration chose not to enforce those rules at that moment, one who was aggrieved by that choice wouldn’t get far by pointing to the Bill of Rights. More broadly, if de Bary has a valid moral criticism of the tactics employed by SDS in ’68, it only confuses the issue and detracts from his argument by couching it inside a legal framework (especially one so unlikely to achieve any redress if pursued in court in these terms).

Kenneth Ehrenberg’93CC,’05GSAS
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Research Associate Professor of Law

University at Buffalo, SUNY


Wm. Theodore de Bary replies:

Naturally, I am gratified by the letters from your readers whose experience of ’68 confirms my own. As for those who differ, it would take at least another issue of Columbia magazine to deal with all of their points. Let me speak to just a few.

In the 1930s and ’40s I engaged in many antiwar and antifascist protests as a member of the Young People’s Socialist League, some of these demonstrations in support of the very resistance to Hitler cited by Richard Cummings. In 1963 I attended Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and was there for his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1968, as a member of the committee headed by Professor Louis Henkin, I joined in recommending that the University refuse to engage in any confidential defense-related research contracts, a policy Columbia adopted.

In the 1960s Columbia afforded full opportunities for civil protest against the Vietnam War. I do not believe it was necessary to close down the University in order to make the point, and it would set a dangerous precedent for extremists of either the Left or Right, as in the case cited by Kenneth Skoug, Jr., where the Communists’ takeover of the universities in Prague ushered in a long period of political and intellectual repression.

Then in 1969 I helped to found the new University Senate and was the first chair of its Executive Committee. This provided a civil process for dealing with public issues insofar as the University community had a responsibility for them.

Wm. Theodore de Bary ’41CC, ’53GSAS, ’94HON
John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University and Provost Emeritus
Special Service Professor

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Another ’68 Document

I was pleased to read Paul Hond’s lead article on Paul Cronin’s epic 1968 documentary, A Time to Stir. The story is a great accomplishment in that it creatively explores both the wealth of issues raised by the events of 1968 and their importance for today. It stands out among all the media coverage of Columbia; Hond and Columbia magazine should be proud of this accomplishment.

However, there is one critical point I would like to raise. While Hond quite accurately recounts the views of Hamilton Hall participants that the black role in the Columbia revolt has been obscured by focus on the white students, he recapitulates the same mistake by omitting any reference to the fact that there actually exists a film produced by a black student participant, Sherry Suttles ’69BC. It’s quite relevant to the discussion and to the historical record that !VALA! The Power of Black Students at Columbia University 1968–2008 is now available, since it contains unique statements by African-American veterans of ’68 that are available nowhere else.

Mark Rudd, originally ’69CC;
thrown out of Columbia, May 1968
Albuquerque, NM
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I note that your coverage of 1968 did not mention !VALA!, a documentary on the Hamilton Hall participants of the strike. !VALA! highlights the roots of the strike, the relationship between Columbia and the Harlem community, and the racist policies affecting the lives of black students on our campus. This unfortunate omission supports the romantic and whitewashed version of the 1960s.

Please do your utmost to feature this documentary by Sherry Suttles ’69BC as an important contribution to the proud history of our University community.

Katherine Knowles ’69BC
Eugene, OR
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Talking Tibet

In “Tibet’s Long Shadow” (Spring 2008), Professor Andrew James Nathan, in his otherwise often insightful commentary, says that “the Chinese government asserts, correctly, that it has internationally recognized control over Tibet, that Tibet is part of Chinese territory, and that Tibet belongs to China.” This statement would be correct if he took out the word correctly. It is true that all countries recognize China’s control of Tibet. But Tibet is not “part of” China nor does it “belong to” China. Every international legal scholar, without exception, who has objectively analyzed Tibet’s historical and legal status has concluded (as has Congress, repeatedly, despite the official policy of the U.S. executive branch) that “Tibet is an occupied sovereign country under international law.” Tibet possessed all of the features of an independent sovereign state under international law between at least 1913 and 1949. Historically, it vacillated between periods of independence and greater or lesser degrees of military control by foreign dynasties — principally those of the Manchus and the Mongols — as, incidentally, did China itself. In 1949, Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army invaded and occupied Tibet. Subsequently, officials of the Dalai Lama’s government, acting without authorization and under duress that included both threats of brutal violence against the Tibetan people and personal physical violence against the officials themselves, signed the 17-Point Agreement, which purports to reunite Tibet with the “Motherland — the People’s Republic of China.”

By 1949, however, international law had ceased to regard military occupation as a valid way for states to acquire territory. And treaties signed under personal duress or because of threats made in violation of the United Nations Charter’s prohibition on the threat or use of force are void ab initio. (It is also revealing to note that China felt the need to enter into a treaty with an entity that it claims was never an independent state with the capacity to enter into treaties.) Tibet is no more a “part of” China than East Timor had been a “part of” Indonesia after the late President Suharto invaded and purported to annex it in 1976. Yes, China maintains de facto control over Tibet; to recognize that may be realpolitik. But let us at least have the moral courage to speak the truth and not to perpetuate the legal and historical fiction that Tibet is “part of” or “belongs to” China. On this issue, I wrote in another context that “[f]or as long as the international community continues to indulge the fiction that Tibet is ‘part of’ China, China’s political elite will continue to claim ‘interference in internal affairs’ as a shield to fend off criticism of its alleged ‘ownership’ of Tibet and scrutiny of its human rights abuses against the Tibetan people. To challenge this fiction will not by itself restore Tibet’s sovereignty. But it will prevent the issue of Tibet’s status from vanishing behind the veneer of legitimacy generated by years of CCP propaganda and international acquiescence. It may therefore prove the first step — and an essential predicate — toward vindicating the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination.”

Tibet is, legally, a colony — every bit as much, and in precisely the same sense, as the former colonies of Europe that gained their independence after World War II. And the Tibetan people, like every other colonized people, enjoy the right under international law to self-determination, that is, to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Robert D. Sloane ’96CC
Associate Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law
Board Chair, Tibet Justice Center
Brookline, MA
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I was appalled by the Western media’s bias in reporting on the recent protests in Tibet, and on the Tibet issue in general. Little did I expect to read the same one-sided writings on this subject in “Tibet’s Long Shadow.” There are always at least two sides to every issue; where are the Chinese perspectives?

I always had high regard for the academic achievement of Columbia’s excellent faculty; however, having read the interviews with the three “Columbia scholars,” I accept with sadness the fact that some Columbia professors may not be on par with those who taught when I was a student. I suggest that Andrew James Nathan, Robert Barnett, and Robert Thurman do some preliminary reading on Chinese and Tibetan history with an open mind.

Columbia, being the “magazine of Columbia University,” should report on Columbia: current news, features on students and faculty past and present, etc. This is not Time or Newsweek. Please remember this when you decide what articles to publish, unless, of course, you have other motives.

Wan K. Chan ’73GSAS
Flushing, NY
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Tracking the e-Books

I read with real interest “Overbooked?,” David J. Craig’s article on digitization and libraries in the Spring issue.

Your readers might be interested to know that there are two Web sites that try to keep track of books, documents, and periodicals that have been digitized. The Web sites are Online Books Page and Digital Book Index. Depending on the site, you can look up an item by author, title, subject, or key word to find its location. It’s a good idea to check both sites when searching for a particular item. Digitization projects are under way at so many institutions that keeping up with the pace of Internet publication is a daunting task.

Elsa Resnick Prigozy ’70LS
Averill Park, NY
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“Overbooked?” did not mention that Google and Microsoft are digitizing libraries’ holdings in order to direct more traffic to their search sites, which, in turn, attracts advertising revenue. As indicated in my book, Underwriting the Internet: How Technical Advances, Financial Engineering, and Entrepreneurial Genius Are Building the Information Highway, both search providers have the financial and technical resources to scan the stacks, rank each volume according to user popularity, and place ads next to search results.

Technical treatises, like my master’s and doctoral dissertations, will, in all likelihood, be at the bottom of such popularity and advertisers’ lists unless they become commercially valuable due to their increased visibility on online databases. Income will then accrue to the search providers unless Columbia has an arrangement with Google like Stanford does. That California university received a stock grant from founders of the company that is now worth over $900 million and sold a part of it (184,207 shares) for $15.7 million when Google went public in August 2004. It also holds the rights to some of Google’s key patents, for which it received $625,000 in 2007.

Let’s hope Columbia will similarly benefit from its new relationship with the search companies that provide needed funds for enlarging, cataloguing, and maintaining its library’s scholarly collection. After all, it is the presence of such a vast storehouse of knowledge that prompts students like me to do their graduate work on the Morningside campus.

Leslie S. Hiraoka ’69SEAS
Union, NJ
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Focusing on Abilities

I want to compliment you on the recent coverage of New York governor David Paterson ’77CC.

I earned my PhD in 1992 in anthropology. One of my areas of specialization is disability studies. Aside from the fact that I use a wheelchair, I was drawn to the field because of Robert Murphy, who was on the faculty at Columbia for many years. As you may know, Murphy also was paralyzed and wrote The Body Silent.

I have read many articles about Paterson since he became governor, and originally thought his blindness would lead to a nuanced view of disability. I was mistaken. Almost every article I read started with wording such as “the blind governor” and focused on peripheral issues. In sharp contrast, your “News” item was exceptionally well done, focusing on Paterson’s accomplishments and not reducing his life to being principally about “overcoming” his disability. I am delighted to know people exist who are able to contextualize disability as simply being a part of one’s life.

William J. Peace ’92GSAS
Katonah, NY
 

 
 
Columbia magazine welcomes your letters to the editor. We may edit letters for style, length, clarity, and factual accuracy. Please include your full name, Columbia affiliation (if you have one), and an e-mail address or a telephone number. Send your letters to: Letters to the Editor, Columbia Magazine, 475 Riverside Drive, MC 7721, New York, NY 10115. You can also send a fax to 212-851-4160 or an e-mail to magazine@columbia.edu.
 
 

Key to Abbreviations: Each of the following school affiliation abbreviations refers to the respective school's current name; for example, GSAS — for Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — is used for alumni of the Graduate Faculties, which became GSAS in 1979. The only code not associated with a particular school is HON, which designates that person the recipient of an honorary degree from the University.

Code
BC
BUS
CC
DM
GS
GSAS
GSAPP
JRN
JTS
KC
LAW
LS
NRS
OPT
OT
PH
PRM
PS
SCE
SEAS
SIPA
SOA
SW
TC
UTS

School
Barnard College
Graduate School of Business
Columbia College
College of Dental Medicine
School of General Studies
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Graduate School of Journalism
Jewish Theological Seminary
King's College
School of Law
School of Library Service
School of Nursing
School of Optometry
Programs in Occupational Therapy
Mailman School of Public Health
School of Pharmaceutical Sciences
College of Physicians and Surgeons
School of Continuing Education
The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
School of International and Public Affairs
School of the Arts
School of Social Work
Teachers College
Union Theological Seminary