Letters to the Editor

An Overdue Apology

For whatever it is worth so many years later, CCT readers might be interested to know that I was given an apology from a NYPD official regarding police behavior in clearing the “occupied” campus areas and buildings that haunting night in 1968.

police in rain gear on campus

Barney Edmonds GS’67, SOA’69

As a student back then in search of statistics to support an expository writing assignment about the 1968 Columbia riots, for Professor Michael Rosenthal GSAS’67’s English class, I went downtown to police headquarters. I was directed to the private office of Benjamin Ward. I do not recall his rank, but he was “brass.” He looked serious. He asked me to close the door and be seated. What he said has stayed with me ever since:

“I do not usually speak with undergraduates,” he began, “but no one else from Columbia has come to me about this matter.” He went on to apologize for the actions of the police that horrible night. He knew they had been needlessly brutal, beating unconscious and bleeding students. I never mentioned that I was a witness (not a protestor), standing only a few feet away from the harrowing confrontation on College Walk. He asked me to take his message back to campus. He wanted Columbia to know of his contrition and apology on behalf of the NYPD, and in particular its TPF [Tactical Police Force], who had taped over or removed their shields to conceal their identities and used brass knuckles and weighted clubs to beat dozens of unarmed students.

I left in stunned silence with the statistics I requested. My paper was due the next day. Then there were final exams. Then there was moving out at the end of the academic year. I had intended to go to Spectator’s office and share my story, but I never did. Time got away. And then I rationalized that it was all water under the bridge anyhow.

Ward has since died. I looked him up recently. Evidently, he was well respected in the NYPD. In light of CCT’s 50th anniversary articles on the subject, I thought his memory and his apology ought to be recognized, even if a half-century late.

John Kantor ’71
Westport, Conn.

Left of Center

Paul Starr ’70, in his piece “How the ’68 Uprising Looks Today” [Spring 2018], concludes rightly that the University needs to be an open forum, facilitating, as he puts it, more “antagonistic confrontation,” which may come at the expense of “safe space.” But I take issue with at least one of his statements in arriving at that conclusion. Starr suggests that liberalism was under attack from the left in ’68 and now is from the right. I fail to see how liberalism is now under attack from the right when that is precisely the people whose voices are being suppressed on campus. Rather, a more fundamental and relevant change is that the “center,” if you will — the establishment of the academy — has itself shifted far left since ’68 and more closely aligned with its students. As a result, I would suggest liberalism, and in turn the University, is now most under attack from itself.

The ’68 uprising might have been a catalyst for embracing certain substantive messages of the activists of ’68, but it was perhaps also a catalyst for shifting the center of the University further left. In so doing, the academy has not only shifted the spectrum of viewpoints to be found on campus but has tolerated both an intolerance of other viewpoints, and the disobedience targeting those expressing them, in ways that Martin Luther King Jr. would not have tolerated. This silencing is attributable to the University itself, failing students who are left unprepared for a world that doesn’t always have safe spaces.

Joshua Tenzer ’01
Englewood, N.J.

“Liberation Classes”

CCT’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the 1968 protests (Spring 2018, “50 Years Later”) neglected to mention something important: During the student strike, classes went on. Columbia professors and their students kept on meeting to read, think and talk. My classmate Alan Sullivan ’69 gives a good description of one of these “liberation classes” in the 1969 Class Notes in the same issue, and I remember meeting in Professor Howard Porter’s apartment to read Lucretius with Professor Steele Commager. Bulletin boards near the Sundial announced times and locations.

For perhaps the last time since the Middle Ages, the universitas — the corporate body of students and teachers — removed itself from administrative control and migrated in a body to carry on its essential work. Do today’s students and their professors have the same sense that reading and thinking about Matthew Arnold or Lucretius can be as important and radical as protests and petitions?

Lee T. Pearcy ’69
Merion Station, Pa.

First Impressions

Jamie Katz ’72, BUS’80’s article in the Spring 2018 issue on the events of the Spring ’68 student uprising at Columbia [“A Tinderbox, Poised To Ignite”] was well written and very informative. I was unaware of the extent of the role of the Students’ Afro-American Society and its disciplined confrontation of the University administration, especially with respect to the proposed gym to be built on part of Morningside Park.

Reading the details of the gym opposition reminded me of an experience I had during Freshman Week in fall 1952. When I arrived on campus, the first classmate I met that day, during the initial freshman processing activity, was Gordon Osmond ’56. After finishing the process, he and I decided to explore the campus and walked to the president’s residence on Morningside Drive to look around. As we arrived, University President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, came out of the house to enter her limousine. She saw us, and graciously said hello and welcomed us to Columbia.

After the limo drove away, we decided to cross the street and look at Morningside Park. After gazing across the park to West Harlem, we looked down at the park at the bottom of the cliff. There we saw a black man, spread-eagled, facing the stone wall of the cliff, while being searched by a white NYC policeman.

Welcome to Morningside Heights.

Jerome Breslow ’56
Potomac, Md.

’68’s Collateral Damage

You cannot report accurately on the impact of the 1968 riots at Columbia without underscoring their impact on hundreds of Columbia students who lost their educational opportunities because of the shortsighted, irresponsible acts of those rioters who took over the campus and seized the president’s office. It was the symbol of ultimate arrogance when The New York Times featured on page 1 a photo of Mark Rudd ’69 sitting behind President Grayson Kirk’s desk, smoking one of his expensive cigars.

In the wake of all that happened, Columbia eliminated 80 full, four-year NROTC scholarships that provided tuition, room, board, uniforms, an allowance for meals and a Navy commission upon graduation. From then on hundreds of students were denied a Columbia education.

Without NROTC, I would have had no way of obtaining a college education. My scholarship and a superb Columbia liberal arts education changed my life. Commissioned in 1956, I served mostly in the Pacific, returned to California and began my career in the newspaper business. In late 1968, I was tapped by then-Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to serve as deputy assistant secretary of defense on the Laird-Packard team. One of our first acts was to eliminate NROTC programs at universities like Columbia that could not assure protection of academic freedoms for those who chose to follow the NROTC program. We simply took the ROTC scholarship business elsewhere, to areas of the country where the program was welcomed, nurtured and served as the source of outstanding, well-educated leaders for our nation.

Everyone lost because of damage done by the rioters and by a University administration that lacked the courage to stand up for the rights of all.

Dick Capen ’56
La Jolla, Calif.

Editor’s note: The NROTC program is again in operation at Columbia, having been reinstated under an agreement signed in May 2011; see our coverage.

Thank You for the Music

I just finished reading, with great pleasure and fondness, “Here’s to You, Mr. Garfunkel” [“Columbia Forum”] in the Spring 2018 issue; it included an excerpt from Art Garfunkel ’65’s new autobiography, What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man. I was a schoolmate of Art’s at the College, but unfortunately I never met him.

I “met” him a few years later, in 1968, when I went to the Jayhawk Theatre in Topeka, Kans., the town where I grew up, to see The Graduate. I remember exactly where I sat alone in the balcony. I could not help but identify with Dustin Hoffman’s character, and I became engrossed in his dilemma. But while watching the movie, something happened to me that had never happened before, nor was to happen to me again: I slowly became mesmerized by the movie’s music. The songs were transcendent: “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Scarborough Fair,” “April Come She Will.” I had never heard songs that beautiful, and though I will soon be 74, I don’t think I have ever since heard songs more beautiful.

I had danced to the sound of The Beatles in front of Ferris Booth Hall, but in time, and forever after, I came to the realization that no other musical group could ever equal Simon and Garfunkel. The tragedy, of course, is that Paul and Art broke up in 1970. I still listen to their famous 1983 Central Park reunion concert, which drew half a million fans.

Thank you, Art, for making my world forever beautiful with your singing.

Tod Howard Hawks ’66
Boulder, Colo.

Correction

Due to an editing error, the wrong Bob Reiss was referenced in “Remembering All the Champions,” in the Spring 2018 “Letters to the Editor.” Rather than the late Bob Reiss ’51, PS’59, it was in fact Bob Reiss ’52 who played on the excellent 1950–51 basketball team — and he’s alive and well (and in good humor about the mix-up). CCT apologizes for the error.

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