Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Something to Know - 30 April

For those of us, who in the last century, were close to or similarly sharing experiences with others, the turmoil today on the campuses provides a framework for us of what is going on.   However, to me the violence today seems to involve actual extreme emotional differences between two different groups on campus.   Using the divestiture of school investments in corporations involved in the military industrial backing of Israel's military as a basis or excuse for their protests, it is more involved in the political differences in the Middle East.   Those differences live real time on campus between Jewish and Palestinian members of the student community - and it all plays out on campus where they must all exist.   If all the protesters were transported to an off-campus site like the Rose Bowl or the empty plains of the Mojave Desert to yell and scream at each other, the drama would not last very long.   However, with the backdrop of the campus and its administrators, and iconic buildings, and TV cameras, and police in riot gear, the feud has an endless supply of fuel to burn on.   The uprising at Columbia University back in the 60s involved fewer factors.   Today, there are more factors intertwined with dramatic political (and ethnic) interests playing along with other factors:


Student Protest Is an Essential Part of Education

April 29, 2024

Mr. Schmemann is a member of the editorial board and a former Moscow bureau chief for The Times. He was a first-year graduate student at Columbia in 1968.


Anyone who was at Columbia University in the spring of 1968 cannot help but see a reprise of those stormy, fateful and thrilling days in what is happening on the Morningside Heights campus today.
But there is a troubling and significant difference. If the students back in '68 were divided into rebellious, longhaired pukes and conservative, close-cropped jocks, with a lot of undecided in between, the current protests at Columbia — and at the growing number of other campuses to which they have spread — have witnessed personal and often ugly divisions between Jewish students and Arab or Muslim students or anyone perceived to be on the "wrong" side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That, in turn, has thrust the protests squarely into the polarized politics of the land, with politicians and pundits on the right portraying the encampments as dangerous manifestations of antisemitism and wokeness and demanding that they be razed — and many university administrations calling in the police to do just that.
The transformation of the protests into a national political football is perhaps inevitable — everyone up to President Richard Nixon sounded off about students in '68 — but it is still a shame. Because student protests, even at their most disruptive, are at their core an extension of education by other means, to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz's famous definition of war.

The hallowed notion of a university as a bastion of discourse and learning does not and cannot exclude participation in contemporary debates, which is what students are being prepared to lead. From Vietnam to apartheid to the murder of George Floyd, universities have long been places for open and sometimes fiery debate and inquiry. And whenever universities themselves have been perceived by students to be complicit or wrong in their stances, they have been challenged by their communities of students and teachers. If the university cannot tolerate the heat, it cannot serve its primary mission.

The counterargument, of course, is that without decorum and calm, the educational process is disrupted, and so it is proper and necessary for administrations to impose order. But disruption is not the only byproduct; protests can also shape and enhance education: a disproportionate number of those who rose up at Columbia in 1968 went into social service of some sort, fired by the idealism and faith in change that underpinned their protests and by the broader social movement of the '60s.

I was a first-year graduate student at Columbia in '68, living in the suburbs and so more of a witness than a participant in events of that spring. But it was impossible not to be swept up in the passions on the campus.
The catalyst was a protest by Black students over the construction of a gym in Morningside Park, which touched on many Black grievances against the university — the way it was pushing into Black neighborhoods, the gym's limited access and separate door for area residents, many of them Black. The slogan was "Gym Crow must go."
The Black sit-in quickly galvanized students from all the other social and political causes of that turbulent era — a war that was killing scores of American boys and countless Vietnamese every week, racism that just weeks earlier took the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and, yes, a celebration of flower power and love. The gym issue at Columbia was quietly resolved, but by then, other students were occupying several buildings. Finally, Columbia's president, Grayson Kirk, called in the police.

I have a snapshot embedded in my memory of groups of students milling about the grounds, which were littered with the debris of the confrontation, many of them proudly sporting bandages from the injuries inflicted by the violent sweep of the Tactical Patrol Force. Psychedelic music blared from some window, and a lone maintenance man pushed a noisy lawn mower over a surviving patch of grass.
The sit-ins had been ended, and order was being restored, but something frightening and beautiful had been unleashed, a faith that mere students could do something about what's wrong with the world or at least were right to try.
The classic account of Columbia '68, "The Strawberry Statement," a wry, punchy diary by an undergraduate, James Simon Kunen, who participated in the protests, captures the confused welter of causes, ideals, frustrations and raw excitement of that spring. "Beyond defining what it wasn't, it is very difficult to say with certainty what anything meant. But everything must have a meaning, and everyone is free to say what meanings are. At Columbia a lot of students simply did not like their school commandeering a park, and they rather disapproved of their school making war, and they told other students, who told others, and we saw that Columbia is our school and we will have something to say for what it does."
That's the similarity. Just as students then could no longer tolerate the horrific images of a distant war delivered, for the first time, in almost real time by television, so many of today's students have found the images from Gaza, now transmitted instantly onto their phones, to demand action. And just as students in '68 insisted that their school sever ties to a government institute doing research for the war, so today's students demand that Columbia divest from companies profiting from Israel's invasion of Gaza. And students then and now have found their college administrators deaf to their entreaties.
Certainly there's a lot to debate here. Universities do have a serious obligation to protect Jewish students from antisemitism and to maintain order, but it is to their students and teachers that they must answer, not to Republicans eager to score points against woke "indoctrination" at elite colleges or to megadonors seeking to push their agendas onto institutions of higher learning.
Like Mr. Kunen, I'm not sure exactly how that spring of 1968 affected my life. I suspect it forced me to think in ways that have informed my reporting on the world. What I do know is that I'm heartened to see that college kids will still get angry over injustice and suffering and will try to do something about it.
Juan Matute
     (New link as of 26 April )
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― The Lincoln Project

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