It was during last spring's student demonstration at Columbia University that, for the first time in 10 years, I became involved in university committee work, which I loathe. It really caught up with me; I ended by chairing a "reform" committee and spending at least 130 hours--in one month--meeting with students and colleagues at Columbia, almost a full-time job. I never realized that revolutions involve so much talk.
What I have to say about what happened at Columbia deliberately covers a short period of time (May 3 - June 6) and is limited to the activities in one department (sociology). Accounts of the "bigger" events and background to the story have already received wide attention. Perhaps we can get deeper insights by focusing our vision on one part of the action.
Not much happened after the end of the spring semester. The university entered its typical summer slumber; most students and faculty left. The remaining ones, plus a host of "summer-onlys," went through a summer session as if nothing had ever happened on Morningside Heights. In the last week of this month, as the city cools off, the university will reawaken. Then we will be able to tell if the spring labor laid the foundations for a restructured university, or merely cemented the two camps into their original positions, paving the way to new, more intense confrontations.
The revolution came to my department when it resolved unanimously on May 4 to invite its students for the first time to "participate in the planning and decision-making of the department." This event occurred a few days after a police "bust," in which about 1,000 policemen, using excessive force, removed students who had occupied and held five university buildings for six days. A student strike followed. The May 4 resolution was an attempt by the sociology faculty to bring the students and the administration together to restructure and reopen the university.
Sociology was deeply involved in the whole drama. Fayerweather Hall, one of the five buildings seized by students, houses the departmental offices, most of the offices of the department's faculty and its graduate classrooms. Among the 71 graduate students arrested, 21, the largest number from any department, were sociology students. Sociology students were among the leaders of the sit-in and strike at Columbia (as they were in Berkeley, the Free University in Berlin, the Sorbonne in Paris and the London School of Economics). Two younger members of the department's faculty were arrested with the students. The head of a third one was split open by a policeman.
In the preceding year our relationship with the students in the department had been of mixed quality. Some professors had much more rapport with the students than others. A measure of collective tension existed. A group of students presented a long list of demands for reform, signed by 40-odd students. (We have about 200 graduate students on our books, about 120 of whom actively study on the campus.) Mr. Brown (all names fictitious), the main drafter of the petition, defined himself as Old Left, and was at least as much interested in fomenting a revolution as in any specific reforms. The other students, who played a key role in the Graduate Student Society, the formal student body of the department, did not endorse the petition and the drive on its behalf soon ran out of steam. The department, at that time, was not prodded into reforms of its own by this sign of discontent, but the petition left its marks, as we shall see.
Now, with a general strike on and the campus in revolutionary tension, with an executive faculty committee trying to redraft the university's charter and rules, with the trustees and the central administration of the university calling for reforms and the students trying to restructure the university on their own, we were ready to move on the departmental level. This was further encouraged by a reactivation of the petitioners. Now leaders of the strike, the petitioners formed a "radical caucus" and conducted a meeting of sociology students and faculty, in which they aired their old grievances against the department, added many new ones and roundly attacked the university for its participation in the Institute of Defense Analysis and for the construction of a gymnasium in a park used by residents of Harlem. Frequent reference was made to "our brothers in the paddy fields of Vietnam" and "our black brothers in the ghetto."
May 3 was a Friday. A department meeting broke up at 3 P.M., to be resumed on Saturday at noon. Meetings on Saturday were simply unknown for a faculty whose members live in distant parts of the city and in several remote suburbs. Scheduling a meeting 21 hours after the close of the previous one was also unprecedented. This faculty effort may not have been much by revolutionary standards; students were meeting 6 to 16 hours a day and many slept on the floors of occupied buildings. But for the faculty it surely was a tradition-breaking pace. To assure a productive meeting on Saturday, an "agenda committee" of five was appointed. I became its chairman.
The committee met right after the Friday departmental meeting. We felt that we were not quite clear on what the students' specific positions were. Last year's petition was said to have been superseded by events; this year's meeting with the students had been highly charged, and devoted to expression of general feelings, but few specific suggestions were made. As I left Fayerweather Hall I ran into two of our student-activists; I shared with them my enthusiasm about the department's decision to move rapidly toward important reforms by including students in its decision-making bodies. They rushed to find the head of the student body, Mr. Green. I suggested a meeting of the agenda committee with student representatives on the same evening at my home. We agreed to meet at 7:30 P.M. But at 4 P.M. my naive excitement expired; Green called to say that "the students feel that they are not ready for negotiations with the faculty; our proposals are not yet fully developed."
I explained that "the purpose of the meeting is exchange of information, communication; no commitments will be made by either of us."
"That makes sense," he countered. "I'll check." (One reason that progress was slow throughout the crisis was that students acted with fastidious democracy; no minor decision could be made without a session or caucus.) But at 5 he called again. "The students will not meet with the faculty until they are ready," he said. "This will involve many meetings: it might well take several days." (It did take four days.)
The department met on Saturday and decided to move ahead, nevertheless. Despite the complete lack of accomplishment in our first go-around, my committee was delegated to meet with the students and explore how student participation might be brought about. Four days later, six student delegates and five professors met in a private apartment. (The campus was considered "on strike" by the students and the faculty, in a conciliating mood, felt that it was best not to make an issue over the meeting place.)
Prior to the meeting, the students indicated an interest in "what role the department was playing in the attempts to reform the university at large, and how the department was making its own decisions." At the start of the meeting, the faculty took up these questions. Then the students were asked how they made their decisions, and especially how they elected their representatives. Mr. Green, who headed the student delegation, turned purple and exclaimed, "The students will not fall for these union-busting techniques. We are the student representatives. We will not be divided by such questioning." (Mr. Green had been until recently the head of the radical caucus and of the Fayerweather sit-in, or as the students called it, the Fayerweather "commune.") Drawing on the petition experience of last year, the radical caucus had decided to appear this time as the official Graduate Sociological Society representatives. They had gained the support of the majority of the students present in a G.S.S. election, in which the officers were changed from the previous moderate to the present radical set. There were rumors about how this majority was achieved, and Mr. Green was obviously sensitive to questions on the matter.
I answered with a similar decree of emotion: "I can see nothing wrong with we as faculty members asking the same questions asked us, and which we just finished answering." (The students knew that I was a member of the national board of Americans for Democratic Action and, as a left-liberal, favorable to labor unions and participatory democracy. Several members of the delegation had just read my book on the subject, "The Active Society," for a class.) I added, I'll be damned if I'll allow anybody to refer to union-busting' anything I am involved in." At this point two other members of the student delegation agreed that "the faculty questions seem legitimate" and soon our questions were answered quite amicably.
The background to this first of several flare-ups is not completely clear. In this and later meetings students made frequent references to their "lack of trust in the faculty." What caused this feeling? Was it due to lack of contact and communication between the two groups? A few mildly paranoid personalities among the more radical students who led the strike and the delegation? The experience of recent days, the police "busts," the inability of the faculty to prevent them? Part of a much more general generation gap?
All of these factors may have been at work. The students, though, offered two rather different explanations in private. In the preceding year, they said, a student petition had been submitted but it "got nowhere." The students had hoped to achieve reforms at that time but their efforts--they said--were "cooled-out." They also felt that the unrepresentativeness of the radical delegation had been used unfairly to sidetrack their previous drive. Right or wrong, we were obviously faced with a ghost, a memory of a previous event which had gone sour and which remained in the students' memories to spoil collective encounters. The facts--that now the student delegation had been elected by a majority and that the faculty now sought to open the door to participation did not bury, surely not right away, the ghosts of earlier experiences.
A different, but not necessarily conflicting, interpretation was also provided in private. The department at this time had several members who were not promoted and who were expected to leave by the end of the school year, only a few weeks away. One of them had spelled out a "Fanonization" technique which he urged on the students. "Fanon,"[*] he reminded me, "is popular among the left-leaning students. I advised the students to go to the first meeting with the faculty and call some professors Fascist' or some other highly abusive term." He added that he expected that once the students saw that they could "get away with it, and that nothing really happens," they would overcome the awe in which they hold professors and be able to present their far-reaching demands without fear. "Also," he added, "these demands would look mild in comparison with the past name-calling. Finally, the faculty's anger against the name-calling would ventilate' the faculty's emotions; release its aggressive feelings about the student uprising, and soften the faculty up and make it more ready to accept the students' demands."
At the beginning of the following two sessions we were "Fanonized," by statements clearly prepared ahead of time. We were told that our proposals were "useless" because, unlike the students, "we did not do our homework." We were told that our offers were advanced "in bad faith," were "offensive to the dignity of the students," etc. In subsequent meetings, as trust built up and maybe our "counter-Fanonization" took effect, this technique was dropped by the student delegation.
The faculty reaction to these challenges was only in part self-conscious and deliberate. We took the following line: It is a mistake to allow anyone, student or colleague, white or black, child or superior, to be abusive without letting him know what feelings he generates in you. On the other hand, it is a mistake to stop the working out of necessary reforms because of such abuses. After all, they are symptoms of an underlying distrust or antagonism, and while they cannot be ignored, the basic malaise must also be treated. Bowing out as insults mount will not serve that purpose. Thus, the faculty did make it clear, often in emotionally charged encounters, that it saw the abuses as abusive, inappropriate and unfounded. We told the students, "You are not the wretched of the earth and you need no such tactics either to express yourselves or get your point across." No counterabuses were dished out, although we were tempted when provoked. When told that we did not care about "our black brothers in Harlem and our brothers in Vietnam," we reminded our students that "we are all active doves and work for civil rights; while we differed as to how peace and social justice may be achieved, these people are our brothers,' too." We did not tell the students that they were an ill-mannered, presumptuous, hotheaded lot. We did respond but did not reciprocate.
Second, we repeatedly stressed that we cared about the way in which ideas and suggestions were advanced and not only about their substance. "A university department ought to be a community" was one of our often repeated positions. Many of its members, including students, must live together for many years. Questioning of motives, mistrust, the constant search for excuses for confrontations--all these prevent working together. Finally, we never quit a meeting, threatened to quit, or withdrew a proposal, whatever the abuses. Thus our basic offer to reform and provide for student participation remained in effect during all the sessions.
The students, having cleared their throats, if not the way to meaningful discussions, then presented their set of proposals. They asked for participation in most areas of departmental decision-making. They asked only for minority positions. On the steering committee they wanted 5 out of 11 votes, which would give them a majority if any one faculty member should vote with them. The student delegates admitted in private that they expected at least one faculty member, especially one of the junior ones, to take their side regularly, but they suggested that they provided these figures as a "starting point in a bargaining process" and encouraged us to make counteroffers. They explicitly recognized that there are areas in which students should not participate. They limited their proposals to matters of student "power," raising no substantive issues (for instance, regarding the content of the curriculum) or ethical ones (concerning research for the Department of Defense or Columbia-community relations, issues prominent in the general student strike).
An outstanding feature of the student demand, later reluctantly dropped, was its "democratic centralism." The students called for all committees to be advisory to the steering committee, which was to be the one and only decision-making body. The membership could appeal, but only to this committee; such an appeal would require the committee to reconsider its decision, but such self-review would be final, unless vetoed by three-fourths of the membership.
This feature was not accidental; if accepted it would have allowed five students to speak for the total student body, a centralization necessary if the radical minority which gained control of the student body at the height of the crisis was to maintain its position. It also was in line with the Old Left ideological position of some student leaders. In the following discussions, we all agreed that the ultimate authority for all decision-making as far as matters internal to the department were concerned, rested in the full body of faculty and students. These groups were small enough to allow for their effective participation. Centralism was neither necessary nor justified.
In the ensuing days the faculty developed a set of proposals of its own, which were then presented to the students; their and our proposals were discussed at length, leading gradually toward a joint proposal. An important segment of the faculty consider any reference to "student power" as vulgar and/or wrong. Vulgar, because like other professionals, they consider the whole concept of power inapplicable to their world. The world of education and scholarship, as they see it, is not one governed by attempts to advance self-interests, by clashes of pressure groups, or by political confrontations. It is a gentlemanly civil world in which all subscribe to the same basic values. "We are here to teach the students, they--to learn. Otherwise why would we be here or they come here?" If differences arise at all, these faculty members feel, they ought to be worked out in a friendly atmosphere, through subtle indirect communications appropriate to a group of gentlemen whose differences are marginal. A colleague stated: "To admit into academia the conceptions of power would be a declaration of failure, because it would mean that the atmosphere in which education and scholarship thrives has not been created. Then, generating civility is our first order of business."
Other professors acknowledge that power relations exist in all sanctuaries--hospitals, churches and universities--and that attempts to promote the myth that they do not are part of a control technique which keeps those without power from asking for it. (A denial of the relevance of power is a position most widely held by those who have the power--doctors, senior professors and deans.) They also recognize that when groups which differ in viewpoint and maybe in interest are mobilized by leadership and ideology, "either they are provided with effective channels of expression, or violence is likely to erupt." For these professors, the question is not one of "student participation-yes or no?" but rather of which kind and form of participation.
The New Left favors "participatory democracy." "Democracy," though, provides here at best a limited analogue for the government of a university; practically nobody favors a majority vote (which would mean student domination) or a multi-party system. And, the fact that the university is a scientific and educational institution means that somehow participation must be squared with the difference in the educational and scientific competence of the members. Thus, the very professors most favorable to student participation threatened to resign if the students were given power to make decisions which would violate their own academic freedom, to hire and fire faculty or to determine the content of what professors would teach. "If anybody tells me what to teach I'll resign immediately," said two of the most eminent members in the May 4th departmental meeting. If such professors had resigned, many students would not choose Columbia as their place of study.
One argument frequently advanced against student power is rarely heard around Columbia. "Students should have no power because they are transient members of the university community and will not have to live with the consequences of their action" makes little sense in a department in which many students stay six to nine years before getting their Ph.D.'s, while many faculty members come and go after three years, and where almost everybody realizes that the present student generation is a much better representative of the next student generation than any faculty.
Personally, I favor maximum feasible participation of all groups in all private governments through a sharing in the decision-making process. It is the most effective way to communicate needs, to counter oligarchization and to educate the membership to responsibility. A university is, in part, a political being; actually, I do not know of a corporate body which has no political facets. Differences of needs among its member groupings are inevitable. The grouping that is least organized and which generates least power is the one whose needs are most likely to be neglected. Students in a multiversity, for instance. True, where the purpose of the institution is service to a client (welfare, health, justice and educational institutions) those in power will heed to a degree the client's needs without any pressure exerted on them by the clients, because of their moral commitments or the fear of public outcry or legislative intervention. But they will heed them earlier and better if the clients ("cases on relief"; students) generate some pressure of their own.
There is a danger that power so generated will be excessive, as when student pressures are so strong that they neutralize other powers; then other goals (e.g., research) and other needs (e.g., vacations for professors) are neglected. A university may also become overly politicized, when so much time and energy are spent on political maneuvering or confrontations that little time is left for either teaching or research. This is a situation that the University of California at Berkeley experienced for more than a year. But where one group has in effect no power of representation, the danger of sudden overrepresentation is slight and the granting of some share of decision-making is what is called for. In this case, the refusal to do so is more likely to lead to overpoliticization than the willingness to "open up." Berkeley, for instance, has become much less "politicized" since students got some part in the decision-making after the 1964-65 crisis.
From the beginning of political philosophy, writers favoring rule by elites have suggested that the needs of those lower in rank can be upwardly communicated without actually cutting these individuals in on the power. But experience shows that when students (or welfare clients, or the poor) are unable to back up their communications with some pressure, their communication is often, too often, ignored. It is too easy for the beleaguered administrator (or elite) to respond to all other demands first.
Also, students (and other "clients") often have a highly unrealistic idea of what "the system" can realistically do. Our students, for instance, wish to have a much larger faculty staff to provide for more intimate instruction; but they are horrified at any suggestion that students should pay a still higher tuition fee, and do not mind offending conservative members of Congress, the State Legislature and rich private donors; i.e., all sources of funds. As a rule, they simply disregard the questions as to how the additional staff will be paid for, or--for that matter--how the university will be financed. The same holds for other consequences of their utopian suggestions, such as those which would cause mass staff resignation.
The best way students may learn about these matters is by sharing in the running of the university. They want more faculty? Let them find the money to pay for it. They say there are "frills" which can be cut? Let them find them in the budget. They suggest taking out the football coach? Let them talk to the alumni. And so forth. After all, these students are the political, intellectual and professional leaders of tomorrow. The realities of decision-making within an institution should be learned at a university, if not before.
Some of the decisions which must be made in a university involve knowledge the students do not yet have, a code of professional ethics they are not yet bound by, and the need to avoid self-certification of students by students. Hence, participation in the government of a university (and other professional bodies--such as participation by the poor in running a clinic) must be differentiated; it must be less in some areas than in others. (Most of our students, even the radical ones, recognize this point.) Where, and how much student participation? As I see it, student life outside of the classroom should be wholly controlled by students. The university should not take over where the parents have long left off, attempting to control the student's sex, drug or drinking habits. This is a matter for individual students, genuine student governments and, if necessary, the law of the land. (If any university role exists here, it should be to engage more actively in prodding society to change obsolescent laws affecting the young; for instance, those regarding the use of marijuana.) Also, the university should get out of the hotel and restaurant business and let student government (in competition with private concessions) provide for lodging, food and the purchase of books.
On the other hand, there are matters on which students can have no say--for example, what political views a teacher may have or must not have when hired or retained; what he will teach specifically (as distinct from what subject areas will be taught), or what specific competence will be required for a student's certification (as distinct from questioning general procedures and criteria). Thus, it is quite proper for students to question a system which treats graduate students like high school kids by examining them 4 to 12 times a year in five subjects, but not to use their power to censor teachers who give few A's and otherwise apply existing standards strictly.
At Columbia's sociology department we suggested sharing with students the work of the curriculum committee. They could participate in determining the subjects that are to be taught, as long as they agreed that there is a unified core of knowledge which all members of a discipline must acquire. This was in opposition to an idea a few students voiced, namely the abolishment of all "required" courses. We are quite willing to consider a reduction in their number, but not their complete abolition.
The New Left favors the European system in which students have a lot of freedom of choice regarding which lectures they will attend and how often they will attend them, as long as the students can demonstrate a general competence in the discipline. The American system extends to the graduate training some undergraduate (and high school) features-a "required" number of courses, many limitations on those which can be taken to satisfy a "requirement," etc. As the European system often Provides too much laxity and too little competence, the tendency in Europe is to "Americanize" to an extent. As the American system accumulates constraints over the years, there is a tendency here to strike some down and to move in Europe's direction. We are riding one of the de-requirement waves.
At Columbia we expect that the students will agree with us that there is a systematic body of knowledge to be taught. Providing random commentary on current events is not a basis for scholarship of any kind. Eclectic courses on China, Russia and Cuba do not make sociologists. There remain many areas of legitimate disagreement--how much importance to give to Marx or to the history of civil disobedience, and so on. But these could be worked out, if not in a discourse in the committee, then by providing a richer "diet" (by, say, adding a course on Marx) and allowing the students to "vote with their feet," registering for whichever courses they prefer. (Most end up by taking courses useful for their specialization. Those who do not are not serious handicapped, as they take the "unified core" in any event.)
On the question of hiring, firing and promoting faculty, we favored some student participation. The students had developed over the preceding years a fine teaching-evaluation instrument a questionnaire which they filled out at the end of each semester. Rather than seeking to rate a teacher as "good" or "bad," the questionnaire asks, more usefully, "Was the lecture too concrete? Too abstract? Its pace too quick, too slow?", etc. The unsigned questionnaires are collected by a student representative and given to the teacher for his self evaluation and correction.
These questionnaires were handed out irregularly in some classes and not at all in others. We suggested that this teacher evaluation be conducted systematically, and that the findings be made available, in addition to the to the lecturer himself, to the committee which passes on promotions and renewal of contracts, as a student report on teaching. (Yale uses a similar procedure.)
Teaching is neglected in major universities because many professors find research more interesting. It pays more (a professor who conducts research may receive an "extra" third over and above his salary), and -- to date -- is counted much more in terms of professional advancement. Teaching also suffers from "not being visible"; it is difficult for a faculty committee to find out with any assurance how Professor X is teaching (visiting his class is "not done," at least in most of the better universities). The student report would provide some such systematic information and thus might increase the reward--and maybe pressure--for good teaching, at least as seen by the students.
We also suggested student participation in the committees which deal with admissions and fellowships. The students agreed with us that they should not grade or award degrees to each other; that they should participate in formulating the principles to be applied rather than passing on specific cases. For instance, we would discuss and decide jointly whether the department should accept more Negroes, even it they do not qualify by standard criteria. Should we accept fewer students for M.A. programs, more for Ph.D.? Are fellowships to be given only on the basis of economic need or also by considerations of merit? The students asked "to be provided in the future with lists of those admitted to study in the department and of fellowship recipients." They were anxious to check whether the criteria agreed upon were being applied. Obviously trust, though evolving, was far from high.
The faculty proposal generally provided for a good deal more student participation than had been asked for by the students. In areas where students asked for a minority position on a committee (one out of three votes), we suggested an equal position. In areas where no participation was asked, we provided for some. This was part of a deliberate stratagem on our side.
I personally had been long interested in the question of how a liberal handled himself in a radical confrontation. Typically, the liberal administrator--at Berkeley or Columbia--faces a determined group which has presented a set of demands which have considerable currency in the wider liberal community (freedom of speech at Berkeley, for instance). He typically offers some concessions, asking for some in return--e.g., the Columbia administration announced during the April-May crisis the suspension of the construction of the gymnasium, and offered to discuss all other demands of the sit-inners, if they would vacate the buildings they occupied. The expectation of Columbia officials was for reciprocation, a give and take in which "conciliatory gestures will create an atmosphere conducive to compromise."
The radicals explicitly reject this approach as one of "liberal politics." They view their position as "just"; they will not "split the difference between right and wrong." Also, they hope that their unyielding position (unreasonable, recalcitrant--the liberals would say) will terminate the "gesturing" phase, in which the liberal administrator gains in sympathy, and force the administrator to call in the police.
At this stage the liberal administrator tends to make some additional partial concessions to further demonstrate his "good will," as opposed to the intransigence of the other side, and continues to try to elicit reciprocal ones. After this stage--at about the fifth day of the Columbia crisis--the sympathy for the sit-inners is lowest. But also the pressure on the university from the "get-tough" conservatives mounts. Here the liberal, typically trying to please all, frequently figures that he already has placated the liberals and now must placate the conservatives. He calls in the police who frequently use excessive force (1967-68 school year at Columbia, Berkeley, Madison and Oakland) which pushes the liberal public, sympathetic to the demands of the radical students but not to their tactics, to support them. The earlier concessions are misinterpreted by these and future radical action groups as signs of weakness, and encourage them to hold out longer for "the whole bit," or--for the blow-up, the police "bust."
But what is a liberal to do? Some, such as the administrators at Chicago University and at Cornell University, "stuck it out." They let the sit-inners sit until they left, without making concessions. In this way the sit-inners and the technique lost its appeal. Then, legitimate issues were dealt with and those who had violated the university rules slightly were pardoned, while others were penalized.
We faced the same issue in a smaller, departmental and less dramatic context. No sitting was involved, but the nature of student-faculty discourse was at stake. Should we bargain with our students, like management with a labor union? Should we accept the image of a beleaguered oligarchical class buying time from those who mounted the barricades? I suggested that we respond to the student demands by "going all the way at once, to the limit of what we considered just. That is, rather than make a succession of minor concessions, keeping some back for later rounds of negotiations (as two colleagues familiar with labor-management situations favored), we recognize immediately that some of the students' demands are legitimate, accept those, even top them where possible (and proper), but then indicate clearly that "this is as far as we possibly can go." Details and formulas could still be discussed, but no more concessions.
We thus would refuse to bargain on the grounds that we were not two armed camps or classes with conflicting interests but that we were building one community. We told the students: "With the new proposal, the faculty intended to make up for the past neglect that existed in arranging for student participation; now we should turn, jointly, to putting the new machinery to use, to evolving a revised curriculum, to introducing changes in criteria for admission and fellowships, etc. It is time to put some substance into the new forms of power."
AT first, the student delegation was livid with anger at what we considered a very far-reaching proposal. Mr. Brown, the Old Lefter, said, "You offer participation in all the trivial committees, the powerless ones; you want the students to do the paper work but not allow them to share in the committee where the real power resides."
"The" committee turned out to be the steering committee of the department. Here, the less innovation-minded professors have resisted suggestions for student participation; here, our proposal was inconsistent and did leave a door open for further legitimate demands, possible concessions on our side and hence for legitimate student pressure. I favored a departmental steering committee which would come into being when the faculty steering committee met jointly with a student one. That the faculty had some business of its own to conduct nobody denied; so had the students. This business could be conducted by each committee meeting independently. Departmental matters which concerned faculty and students could be discussed in joint sessions. I was certain that faculty and students would meet separately anyhow, and that if a separation were not officially recognized such meetings could feed paranoiac feeling.
The students' reaction to the faculty plan for participation was way out of line. First, the existing steering committee has much fewer functions and power than the students assumed. Second, we pointed out that if the students were keenly concerned, as they repeatedly asserted, with broad participation in order to reform the department--surely many doors had been opened by our proposal. They could now participate in shaping many policies and in implementing numerous decisions. Should it turn out later that the steering committee, as they feared, vetoed all these efforts, they could return to their protest, withdraw from the various committees, etc. True, we added, we had not met this one "demand," but we had overmet many others.
When radicals confront liberals, the radicals are often quite unwilling to allow any concessions to be made to the conservative part of the constituency; even if major reforms are offered, the radicals' unwillingness to make any counterconcessions often brings about the outcome they predict: that the system can not be reformed but must be "revolutionized."
The students' delegation was not all that radical. We remained their professors and we would have a key role in their future careers (first jobs are much affected by faculty recommendations). The dramatic rejection of authority and order was coupled with pleas for approval. After one meeting, a student delegate approached me and asked, "Didn't I contribute significantly to this meeting?" When the students detailed their proposal and we deferred our response to the next meeting, there was much disappointment. "At least tell us what you think about it." In short, the students rejected some of us politically, but at the same time sought our personal support. Now they slowly came to see merit in our arguments; their attention began to turn to the content of reforms they wished, although they kept insisting that some way must be found to allow their participation in the "all-powerful" steering committee. New plans were advanced, ranging from the inclusion of at least one student representative in the committee to abolishing the committee altogether.
At this point, the departmental faculty met to review the reform plans as they had been evolved by our committee, in informal consultation with our colleagues, and in consultation with the student delegation. Before the faculty took the final vote, the student delegation was invited to the meeting, to present its views once more, this time to the plenary session, so to speak. The faculty endorsed our plans as a basis for a new departmental constitution and structure. A faculty delegation was sent to the plenary meeting of the student body to report to them, before their review of the evolving proposal.
It was a hot evening. My announcement that "the faculty had unanimously approved the participatory scheme" was received with little surprise or appreciation. We were informed that shortly before our arrival, a proposition of the more radical members of the student body had been adopted. It would change the student organization body's name from Graduate Sociological society to Graduate Student Union and it would be conducted like a labor union.
Soon the faculty delegation was again being "Fanonized." The focus this time was university discipline. Some members of the department had tried to intervene with the university administration to be lenient with the sit-inners. These, we were told, were "useless efforts" and "not political." Why didn't all professors threaten to resign forthwith unless all disciplinary action against our students was dropped? Why didn't we organize the faculty of other departments (whose students were not arrested) to back up our efforts on behalf of our students? As far as participation was concerned, without "full participation at all levels, especially the steering committee, there will be no place for participation at all."
Leaving, I asked myself, why the lapse? Why the return to "Fanonization," confrontation, or militant union-management images? Why the refusal to move to consideration of real changes? Maybe we would never make headway? Or was this one more round in the roller-coaster leading to student participation and a departmental community? I realized that aside from various "background" factors--new arrests by the police, the first trials of sit-inners which directly involved our students, another major force was at work. As we interacted with the student delegation and arrived at a measure of understanding and trust with them, the student body as a whole had been left out of the process. It was almost exclusively those students who had not been on the delegation who confronted us that evening. "Maybe," I asked myself, "insufficient participation blocked the road to more participation?"
But, as the Marxists like to emphasize, you cannot stand outside "history." By then it was June 4. No further meetings were scheduled between the faculty and the students. Many professors and students were leaving New York for the summer. By the end of September, or in October at the latest, we shall know if we opened a door to student participation in a departmental community, or whether there will be more attempts to gain all by radical confrontations, even if this means foregoing all.
In retrospect, what do the majority of our students really want? Are they "a bunch of radicals," out to provoke us, seeking to break up whatever understanding may evolve, because confrontations are what they thrive on? Are they chiefly a group of naive, idealist youth who have not yet acquired the wisdom that, if you seek to live with others, you must take into account their needs and values? Are they caught in an ambivalence, torn between revolutionary ambitions and the desire to learn from, even to please, their elders?
Frankly, I don't know the answer, if there is one. The students' conduct shifted back and forth among all three patterns, with some growth in mutual understanding and trust. I am, though, quite sure that the students' conduct in the months to come will not be independent of ours, and the institutions around us; peoples' acts never are. The department, Columbia, American universities and the country must be reformed, urgently, and on a wide front. Were we to provide for genuine student participation, disengage the university from weapons research, make Columbia contribute to overdue urban reforms rather than to segregation, elect a forward-looking president in November and terminate the war, I am sure most of our students would be with us, not against us. And the few who would not, who would listen to them?
AMITAI ETZIONI, a professor of sociology at Columbia, is author of the recently published "The Active Society."
* Frantz Fanon. "The Wretched of the Earth" (Grove Press, 1965).