Tag Archives: protest

Protest Versus Disruption at the University of Wisconsin

CEO_Logo.pngIt has been over a week since the University of Wisconsin at Madison was torn by the debate over affirmative action on September 13. The conflict was precipitated by the presentation of a study conducted by the Center for Equal Opportunity, which alleges reverse discrimination in UW admissions policies.

A lot has been written about what happened at the press conference announcing the event and the debate between CEO’s Roger Clegg and UW law professor Larry Church later that evening. Most publicly presented views have been supportive of the students who protested at these events, and have defended the UW’s admissions policies. But criticisms of how this conflict has been handled have percolated beneath the surface.

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What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

student protesters.jpgMost observers have framed the recent disruption by backers of racial and ethnic preferences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a free-speech conflict. Free speech is clearly involved but lying below the surface are three issues that warrant close attention, specifically how Wisconsin once handled “inclusion;” how the protest reflects the transformation of the idea of “opportunity;” and how the university’s policies to help select minorities breeds dependency.

I attended UW-Madison from 1965 to 1969 as a graduate student and back then, at least for in-state residents, the University was highly inclusive. It simply admitted the top three-quarters of all Wisconsin high school graduates (non-residents faced tougher standards) and pretty much left them to survive on their own. I recall seeing only a few blacks on campus, but this undoubtedly reflected the state’s then largely white demography. Surely, if this generous admission standard were applied today, the affirmative action issue would be moot.

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Notes on the Diversity Uprising in Wisconsin

I thank KC Johnson for his thoughtful post below.  Here is a link to the studies we released on the severe and unjustified admission preferences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison,and to the press release that summarized them and announced the press conference:  http://www.ceousa.org/content/view/929/119/.

Since I was there, I thought I would also add a few observations. The mob’s protest took place in stages:  The protestors began by chanting outside the hotel; then they broke into the lobby, where they chanted some more; then they insisted on opening the door to the room where the press conference was being held, which of course made their chanting more audible; and finally they physically broke into the room.

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What Happened at Berkeley in November

4123344197_3c3696375a.jpgWe now have a long and fascinating report by the campus police review board on last fall’s disruptive protests at the University of California, Berkeley.
The 128-page document, entitled “November 20, 2009: Review,
Reflection, and Recommendations,”
released in mid-June, is the product of months of yeoman work garnering volumes of evidence. It chronicles and evaluates responses to the events sparked by resentment over tuition increases and cutbacks in the wake of California’s financial debacle.
Berkeley deserves credit for thoroughly investigating the situation. And the report is worth reading for many reasons, one of which is because it casts light on a dilemma that Berkeley and many other schools have been unable to resolve since the famous Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” of 1964 launched decades of illegal student protest: how to balance students’ passions for social justice (and sometimes other motives) with the rule of law.

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Reviewing the Turbulence at Berkeley

The review board of the UC Berkeley campus police has issued a 128-page report on the violent student protests of last November, criticizing actions by campus police and the University administration. The introduction and summary are here and the full report is here. Coverage of the report by the AP and The Daily Cal are here and here.

Protesting the Blameless—A New Trend at Commencement Speeches

Sparks were few at this season’s commencement speeches, and so were remarks inspiring much enthusiasm or objection. Protests arose, as they always do, whether of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at Monmouth College (for state Education budget cuts), Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at Brandeis (for assorted Israeli actions), or Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (for sub-prime lending and assorted financial misdeeds), but most remarks have been tame. Yet the speeches are almost besides the point – you don’t have to have done anything objectionable to draw a protest this year; sins of omission seem just as powerful inspiration for petitions as real deeds on campus this year.
Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, drew pickets from pro-immigration activists. Their ire was partially directed at the department’s continuation of a Bush administration policy which permitted the cross-checking of arrestees’ fingerprints with a federal immigration database, but most of the protest appeared to be directed at the Arizona immigration law – which, last anyone checked, Napolitano had nothing to do with. Typical of this was a seech given by Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Services Center, who urged that: “Secretary Napolitano must take legal action against oppressive local and state immigration policies, including Arizona’s SB1070, immediately. Secretary Napolitano can show the leadership that we need to stop racial profiling, stop the separation of families, and end the criminalization of immigrant workers,” said Amaya. The Los Angeles Times reported:

As Napolitano spoke to the graduating class, the demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Andrew Carnegie building, chanting “Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can) and “Obama escucha, estamos en la lucha” (Obama, listen, we’re in the struggle). The protesters were also waving signs that read “Alto AZ” (Stop Arizona) and “No mas racista” (No more racism).

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Banks Are Bad Things—Don’t We All Know That?

It’s retro-Sixties season at Syracuse University, as students hold protests and firm up plans to hold even more protests against the university’s plan to have James Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co, speak at commencement on May 16. “Chase, “Chase, Chase, go away, don’t come back any day!” Syracuse students chanted at a “Take Back Commencement” rally on April 16–that is, when they weren’t chanting, “Jamie Dimon’s got to go!” As the Huffington Post reported, the 100 students at the demonstration also “held signs, played the tuba, banged pots, pans, plastic jugs, danced to anti-Dimon songs and chanted anti-JPMorgan slogans.”
The reason for the anti-Dimon fervor, which includes a petition signed by nearly 900 Syracuse students and alumni asking the university to rescind his invitation to speak? Well, it seems that JPMorgan Chase is a bank, and we all know that banks are Bad Things. Didn’t banks play a role in the sub-prime mortgage meltdown of 2008 that generated the current recession? As Ashley Owen, a Syracuse senior who was one of the petition signers told the Wall Street Journal: “He’s a figurehead of an industry that has failed the American people in a lots of ways.”
The irony of which most of the Syracuse protesters seem unaware is that “figurehead” is about all the ammunition they’ve got in their battle to have Dimon dis-invited on graduation day. In fact, JPMorgan Chase was the only large Wall Street financial institution to weather the current financial crisis relatively unscathed, posting profits throughout every federal quarter including a $3.3 billion profit for the first quarter of this year. Under Dimon’s leadership JPMorgan started selling off its sub-prime portfolio—mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and home equity loans involving high-risk borrowers—as early as the fall of 2006, when few other institutions (think Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, washed out to sea in the sub-prime tsunami) worried about a growing percentage of delinquencies in the loans underlying the financial instruments they traded.

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Ideals and Realities in Student Protests

On March 5th in the Wall Street Journal, Peter Robinson penned an op-ed on the California higher education budget crisis entitled “The Golden State’s Me Generation”. Robinson begins not with the finances behind the tuition hikes and protests, but rather with the framing of the reaction. He cites participants in the “Strike and Day of Action to Defend Education” casting their efforts in terms of “Freedom Riders,” “farmworkers,” and the fight for justice in the 60s and 70s. Berkeley urban studies professor Ananya Roy provided a racial angle as well, announcing “We have all become students of color now.”
“Evoking protests against the Vietnam War,” Robinson observes, “one banner carried by students at San Francisco State University read, ‘Shut It Down like ’68.’ ‘Today we strike!’ shouted a Berkeley student, ‘Today we march! Today we show solidarity with the workers!'”
This is the vocabulary of the peace movement and civil rights and labor protections of migrant workers. It demonstrates, among other things, the continuing moral authority of those causes, even though they took place 40 and 50 years ago. But there is a giant problem with invoking the movements: if you want to align yourself with the Selma marchers, Cesar Chavez et al, then you better experience some of the same sufferings and indignities that they did. If not, then the citation of such honored and sometimes martyred precursors starts to look a lot more like vanity than politics.
This is, indeed, Robinson’s conclusion: “Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves.”

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Stanford ’89, A Happier Takeover

By John McWhorter
Debra Dickerson said of the Cornell students who took over Willard Straight Hall at Cornell in 1969, “What they actually wanted was beyond the white man’s power to bestow.” Even after they were granted a Black Studies department as they demanded, a core of black students remained infuriated at Cornell as still “fundamentally” racist.
As we mark the fortieth anniversary of that day, I am reminded of one twenty springs later in May, 1989, when 60 Stanford students took over the university president’s building and were arrested. Because 1989 was such a different America racially from that of 1969, such that Stanford had a healthy body of black students of middle-class provenance and above, what went down in the annals as “Takeover 89” was fundamentally a happy event. It was symbolic of a general detour in race ideology in America, and the memory has never left me.
The idea was that in not acceding to certain demands regarding minority issues, the administration had revealed itself to be racist. Interesting, though, what the “demands” were. This time there was already a Black Studies program, plus a student association, and a theme house. So instead, the main demands were four: a Native American Studies department, an Asian-American Studies department (despite there being an Asian-themed dormitory and university-funded Asian students’ association), an assistant dean for Chicano affairs (despite a Chicano student center), and a vague demand for “more” black professors. After all, if black professors are not 13% of the faculty when black people are 13% of the American population, then you know what that’s all about.

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Cornell ’69 And What It Did

Forty years ago this week, an armed student insurrection erupted on the Cornell campus. I was a sophomore on campus at the time and later wrote a book on the events, Cornell ’69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University. To some the drama represented a triumph of social justice, paving the way for a new model of the university based on the ideals of identity politics, diversity, and the university as a transformer of society. To others, it fatefully propelled Cornell, and later much of American higher education, away from the traditional principles of academic freedom, reason, and individual excellence. “Cornell,” wrote the famous constitutional scholar Walter Berns, who resigned from Cornell during the denouement of the conflict, “was the prototype of the university as we know it today, having jettisoned every vestige of academic integrity.”
In the wee hours of Friday, April 19, 1969, twenty-some members of Cornell’s Afro-American Society took over the student center, Willard Straight Hall, removing parents (sometimes forcefully) from their accommodations on the eve of Parents Weekend. The takeover was the culmination of a year-long series of confrontations, during which the AAS had deployed hardball tactics to pressure the administration of President James Perkins into making concessions to their demands. The Perkins administration and many faculty members had made claims of race-based identity politics and social justice leading priorities for the university, marginalizing the traditional missions of truth-seeking and academic freedom.
Two concerns precipitated the takeover: AAS agitation for the establishment of a radical black studies program; and demands of amnesty for some AAS students, who had just been found guilty by the university judicial board of violating university rules. These concerns were linked, for, according to the students, the university lacked the moral authority to judge minority students. They declared that Cornell was no longer a university, but rather an institution divided by racial identities.

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Columbia’s 68 Celebration: Only Radicals Need Apply

This past weekend Columbia University held a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Student Strike that shook Columbia and all of higher education. For a week, student activists occupied five buildings in protest of several policies, including ROTC’s presence on campus, the university’s relationship to the Department of Defense and the war in Vietnam, the intrusion of a new gymnasium into the neighboring African-American community, and a host of student power issues. After violent clashes between police and students brought the university to the precipice, the students won virtually all of their demands. Columbia and higher education in general have never been the same since those climactic events.

The actions of 1968 were of profound importance, calling for a thorough, critical examination in the light of the intervening forty years. Unfortunately, the panels and events over the weekend appear to have fallen short of this hope. Critical viewpoints were not showcased, and a feeling of nostalgia often held sway. Interestingly, this result was as American as apple pie.

We Americans are known for our penchant for nostalgia. We make fun of this sentiment all the time, but few of us are immune to its lures. It’s a peculiarly American trait because it is the logical product of combining non-tragic (or anti-tragic) liberal sentimentality with the unavoidable interest in the past. We care about the past, but not enough to let it drag us down with the weight of tragedy. Reinhold Niebuhr, the renowned theologian and foreign policy thinker who taught at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary from 1930 to 1960 (he even has a street named after him on the campus), captured better than anyone the American peoples’ difficulty in fathoming tragedy and evil – including the tragedy and evil in their own hearts. In addressing the Cold War and the drive for social justice, Niebuhr called for a mentality that could face good and evil in oneself and in others, and tragedy and hope, without caving into either naive optimism or dismissive cynicism and Machiavellianism. He called the acolytes of the former mentality the “children of light,” the latter the “children of darkness.” Charting a middle course, Niebuhr advocated a more enlightened sense of balance that amounted to a more responsible form of civic education.

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Columbia’s 68 Celebration: Amidst The Radicals

By Chris Kulawik

If you closed your eyes it sounded like any other college reunion.
Men clamored and women shrieked as old faces called to them from the growing crowd. They were old friends and classmates some four decades removed.

“I can’t believe,” echoed the voices of the baby-boomer crowd, “it was exactly a hundred years ago today. It’s been so long”

“I know,” replied one, mechanically, as if she had answered that call so many times before, “everyone changes.”

They spoke of lost love and life, “summering spots” in Southampton, top twenty law schools for their kids, stock options and investments. More than one bragged about the new family sedan.

But as you opened your eyes the room changed. As the graying crowd ebbed towards the laughably bourgeoisie wine and cheese bar, name tags flashed against their crisply tailored pink shirts and retro-chic blouses:

“Tom Hurwitz, Math, Planning Committee”
“Jeff Bush, Fayerweather”

The list went on. Few included their year, but not all. There was no need to. This strange coterie of aged radicals had developed their own nomenclature.

Math, Philosophy, Fayerweather, Hamilton, Low.

These were not majors or dorms; they were occupied buildings.

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Columbia’s Rebel Reunion

Columbia University is warily approaching the 40th anniversary of its greatest disaster, the 1968 student uprising and occupation of five buildings, which vigorous and sometimes brutal New York City police eventually ended. A three-day conference looking back at the unrest begins on April 24 and describes itself as an “event,” not a celebration or even a commemoration. The conference is being staged “at” Columbia, not “by” it. The university administration is not funding, sponsoring, or organizing the conference. But university president Lee Bollinger is scheduled for two appearances, which would seem to undercut the administration’s arm’s-length posture. Further, the university is allowing the group of former protesters organizing the event to use several campus buildings, and two Columbia centers are officially listed as sponsors of individual conference events.

The conference program on the sponsors’ website promises to air a “wide range of viewpoints” on what happened and why, but the list of speakers shows no range at all – everyone seems to be a proud ex-protester or at least a familiar partisan of the Left. While Todd Gitlin (formerly the president of Students for a Democratic Society, now at Columbia’s journalism school) is a sober and reflective thinker, most of his fellow speakers are far from that standard. They include Kathleen Cleaver, Eldridge Cleaver’s widow and a former Black Panther official; veteran activist Tom Hayden; several former members of the Weather Underground; and Ti-Grace Atkinson, a radical feminist from the 1960s who opposes all sexual intercourse. Not one member of the Columbia faculty from 1968 is participating. Event sponsors say that voices of non – leftists will be included in a “multi-media narrative,” the details of which are not clear; what is clear, so far anyway, is that the panels represent only one point of view.

It isn’t as though the event’s organizers didn’t know whom to invite. Columbia sociology professor Allan Silver, who was a member of a faculty group in 1968 that tried to work out a compromise before police cleared the occupied buildings, suggested that the conference include speakers from a broad range of groups, including the Majority Coalition, which opposed the strike; New York City police officials; aides to then-mayor John Lindsay; reporters who covered the events; current or recent Columbia students in ROTC programs; and “others, NOT from the left.” The conference timetable that the organizers issued in mid-March lists representatives of none of these groups. Nor does it include any of the organized “moderates” of ’68, such as the members of Students for a Restructured University (SRU), which helped create the University Senate after the traumatic events of that spring. “It’s going to be an all-Bolshevik conference,” said Neal Hurwitz, a 1967 Columbia graduate, former member of Silver’s faculty group, and SRU leader.

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