Remembering Four Extraordinary Years
By Arthur B. Spector ’68, P’06, P’08
There I stood, one April evening in 1987, on the stage of the Metropolitan
Opera House, reading a congratulatory letter from President Reagan to
the Columbia College congregation at the gala celebrating the College’s
Bicentennial. That night was a long time from the day in 1964 when I
had arrived from Arlington, Mass., to discover what a wondrous place Columbia
College would be for me.
Yes, I am a member of the Class of 1968 — a historic year at
Columbia — and I was part of four amazing years.
I was my high school’s class president and editor-in-chief of
my school paper, like almost everyone else in the class. At Columbia,
I was sophomore and senior class president and a philosophy major who
went to Harvard Business School after graduation. I have been involved
with the Alumni Association and the Board of Visitors for many years.
It’s an honor and an opportunity to contribute to the well-being
of the College, an important role for each alumnus and alumna. The College
needs continued support and more.
In 1964, my class — 600 of us, wearing our freshman beanies — arrived
on this great campus. My classmates were among the brightest and most
talented, and hailed from more than 40 states, including Texas, Montana,
California, Iowa, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Idaho, as well
as places such as Puerto Rico, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Greece. There was
the New England prep school group as well as those from Stuyvesant, Bronx
H.S. of Science and the city’s Catholic schools. The freshmen were
housed mostly on campus, but by the time senior year arrived we were on
or right off campus. It was a rite of maturity to have your own “off-campus” apartment,
even if you were only a block or less from the gates.
We graduated after four extraordinary years,
and for most of us, they were grand years —
great fun, great mystery and great tragedy.
Campus life was good. The dorms were packed and lively, and the Undergraduate
Dormitory Council was constantly pursuing improvements with much success.
Our class was the one that got the rule changed so that women could be
in the dorms with room doors closed. [Editor’s note: Previously,
doors had to be open at least the width of a book, which administrators
interpreted as War and Peace while students opted for a matchbook.] We
knew we were change agents. Much was happening in the outside world — the
birth control pill and, in our senior year, the mini-skirt.
We had many good times on campus and off. Campus was teeming with student
activities. WKCR surely was the best radio station on the planet. There
were rock ’n’ roll bands and mixers and dances and parties
and good movies. There was the opera and the ballet and the Apollo Theater
with James Brown and the Village Vanguard for live jazz. The fraternities
were in high gear. We had Barnard — good fortune for us, bright
young women, and right across the street. No undergraduate, whether in
the Ivies or anywhere else in the country, had a better four years inside
or outside the classroom.
Early on, I was going to be a reporter for Spectator. My earliest
piece was in 1964: “JV football romped over Pennsylvania 48–12.” But
the real story of the paper that day was “Columbia, Led by Roberts,
Beats Penn 33–12” by David Spiegel ’66. Sports at Columbia
during that era had some high points, including the Ivy League champion,
nationally-ranked 1968 basketball team led by 7-footer Dave Newmark ’68
and future NBAer Jim McMillian ’70, Heyward Dotson ’70, Billy
Ames ’68, Larry Borger ’68 and Roger Walaszek ’69. The
campus filled the gym, and we were all fans. Our national champion fencers,
too, were extraordinary and had much depth on the team. During those years,
Columbia had many of the finest fencers in the nation.
The classroom experience for the Class of ’68 was no different
from earlier classes — a breathtaking faculty, with the Core an
important part of that experience. I remember studying second semester
on the roof of Carman Hall for a CC test along with 20 of my freshman
friends and of course, getting a little sun. For me, Arthur Danto and
John Herman Randall Jr. ’18 in philosophy, C. Lowell Harriss in
economics and so many others were great influences.
Unforgettably, we had Vietnam, too. During our four years, there was
an increased focus on foreign affairs and much debate. Columbia students,
as they always had been, were concerned. As senior class president, I
held a meeting in my apartment with some student leaders and we agreed
to hold a Moratorium Day to talk about the war in early 1968. A couple
of months later, Columbia students were climbing into buildings and hundreds
of police were on campus arresting students. David Shapiro ’68,
today a superb poet, was photographed smoking a cigar in the president’s
chair in Low Library. He regrets that, but it is a great picture.
We graduated after four extraordinary years, and, for most of us, they
were grand years — great fun, great mystery and great tragedy. I
keep in touch with many of my classmates 42 years later and serve as our class correspondent; it is a pleasure
to hear of their successes. Some are becoming grandparents now (hard
to believe!). And today, I still enjoy sitting on the steps of Low Library
and gazing over the campus, remembering the good times.