A specter of revolution haunts the land. Or, rather, a congregation of revolutionary specters. For it is a major problem simply to sort them out and then, when possible, to relate them to one another. There seems to be general agreement that the working classes at least are out of it; their conservative unions, for example, belong as firmly to the established order as Hubert Humphrey, and for the same reason. To this extent, certainly, Marx must be updated by anyone who still finds him relevant. One major revolt (we may as well begin by distinguishing revolts, which are, as the term implies, active and intentional, from revolutions, which, in their loose common usage, may not be) is that of the Black Power movement. Like the revolt of individuals involved in the resistance against the war in Vietnam, it concerns us here tangentially: in so far, that is, as it relates to the student-young faculty revolts now occurring at great universities here and abroad. However all these revolts, in one way or another, are a part of the sophisticated scientific-technological “revolution” which has converted the university into the indispensible feeder institution to the immensely rich and powerful post-industrial national society of which Daniel Bell and Zbigniew Brzezinski, among others, are exponents. The latter revolution, in turn, was made possible by the products of the “academic revolution” which preoccupy Professors Jencks and Riesman in their new book, The Academic Revolution: the revolution, this is, initiated in the last decades of the nineteenth century, which transformed the old sectarian liberal arts and land-grant colleges into modern “graduate school universities.”
As it turns out, Professor Brzezinski has lately published in The New Republic an essay—or a position paper—“Revolution and Counter Revolution” which, despite the ironical disclaimer in its parenthetical sub-title “(But Not Necessarily about Columbia)” directly forces upon us the central issues which, I believe, connect these revolts and revolutions. Accordingly it helps to bring into common focus both the problems which concern Jencks and Riesman and those discussed in Professor Kenneth Keniston’s book, Young Radicals: Notes on Committed Youth. The relevance of Brzezinski’s piece owes much to the fact that its author is at once a major prophet of the new epoch, which he calls the “technetronic society,” an acute typologist of revolutions and counter- or pseudo-revolutions, and a harshly realistic strategist for establishmentarians. In Brzezinski’s view, the future belongs to those who have mastered the scientific-technological and administrative methods and tools upon which the governance of the technetronic society depends. It is not, I think, incorrect to describe him and his allies as benevolent elitists, for whom “participatory democracy,” as young radicals now call it, must recall the Brook Farm experiment, itself the gesture of an archaistic American dream of an era that had already disappeared by the middle of the nineteenth century. These academicians accept as a fact that democracy in our time is not really a major issue, and they prefer not to discuss it. Opposed to ideologies of all sorts, they also do not explicitly repudiate the values and ideals of liberal education, even as reinterpreted by the apologists for our great multiversities. Rather do they prefer to let dead issues bury themselves in the academic committees and reports in which the futile ideologues of by-gone traditions fritter away their energies. The technetronic academicians, meanwhile, collect their grant money, do their research, and ply their way back and forth between Logan, La Guardia, or San Francisco airports and Dulles Airport in Washington.
SO MUCH for the prophecy. Now for the typology and the strategies of revolutions and counter-revolutions that don’t necessarily apply to the situation on Morningside Heights. True revolutions, such as the industrial revolution and the revolution now producing the technetronic society, according to Brzezinski must always be genuine “responses to the future.” In many instances such revolutions are already being carried out more or less adequately by existing institutions—which in the present situation of course includes the great graduate school universities described by Jencks and Riesman. But institutions such as the contemporary university are not always entirely adequate to their occasions. Significant revolts may occur which, however intended, may be taken to be implicit efforts to remove existing forms of institutional obsolescence. Such revolts are properly handled by the established authorities first by immediate isolation of the rebels through effective violence, and then by appropriate reforms that automatically take any remaining wind out of the shredded flags of the rebellion. Thus such revolts, properly handled, may implicitly serve the true revolution.
On the other hand, Brzezinski tells us, counter-revolutions such as the peasant revolts that occurred during the transition from feudal agrarian societies to modern industrial ones (as we can now see) are “responses to the past,” and hence lacking both in historically significant ideological content and sustained power. Their “violence and revolutionary slogans,” as Brzezinski puts it, “are merely—and sadly—the death rattle of the historical irrelevants.” The only question, as it applies to the current student-faculty revolts, is, of course, whether, or how far, they are merely counter-revolutionary reactions by expendable misfits to academic life in a post-industrial age or evidence of a genuine need for institutional reforms that must be made if the universities are themselves to respond adequately to the demands of the new technetronic society.
IT IS NO ACCIDENT that Brzezinski fails to tell us what to do about counter-revolutionaries—for (one may argue) only after the fact can it be known for sure who really represents the wave of the future. Presumably competent authorities, who can tell an old dog from a young one, will throw the old dog a bone, and then get back to work. But there is another way of interpreting Brzezinski’s point of view: just as establishments which manage to put down true revolutions are bound to fail in another way since they must institute reforms roughly equivalent to the aims of the revolutionists, so counter-revolutionists who succeed must fail in the end since they will have to do the work of the establishment in order to survive. Either way the significant outcome is much the same.
Applied to the present situation in the universities Brzezinski’s argument might go like this: the wave of the future lies with the sciences, the forms of research, teaching, and academic organization that serve the technetronic society. No doubt the existing establishment does not fully understand this and on the whole is not doing its job very effectively. In any case, fracases of the sort that recently occurred at Columbia are properly to be viewed as latter-day peasant counter-revolutions. In short, the noise we hear is merely the death rattle of a historically irrelevant part of the academic “community”: that is, students and faculty who, for one reason or another, have been unable to adjust to the forms of life essential to the university in the technetronic age. No doubt they will have to be put down, but then, one hopes, as gently and quietly as possible, and with no fret about the outcome. On the other hand, to the extent that the revolutionists’ grievances indicate malfunctionings that must be removed if the technetronic university is to do its work, then the authorities, again having put the fires out, are bound immediately to institute the necessary institutional reforms.
Only two things are wrong with this (highly schematic) argument, but they are fatal to it. For one thing, the argument assumes in advance that the revolting students and their allies among the teaching fellows and professors are latter-day “peasants,” unable to make the required intellectual and social adjustments to academic life in the new era. This is an error, as we shall soon see: many revolters are first-rate students who well understand the advanced methods of scientific technocracy; they and their older sympathizers in fact include some of the most sophisticated minds to be found anywhere on university campuses: that is, not merely dull-witted English majors and historians but mathematicians, logicians, linguists, advanced students of computer science and game theory. If this gentry is, in the current vernacular, about to opt out of the multiversity, it knows whereof it opts. More importantly, this very fact suggests that within the technetronic society there are already emerging deep-lying contradictions that, understandably, first appear in society’s indispensible educational institution. However out-moded are the specifics of Marx’s analysis of nineteenth-century capitalist-industrial societies, it may be true that the more advanced social systems of our own era may well be caught up in unprecedented dialectical conflicts of their own that threaten their internal stability. Societies consist not of classes and institutions only, but of the human beings who give them substance: if institutions systematically frustrate the needs and aspirations of considerable numbers of their ablest and most valuable functionaries, then a quasi-Marxian analysis may still be appropriate. To my knowledge, no one has disproved such a possibility in the circumstances that concern us here. Indeed its reality appears to be confirmed, almost against their author’s wills, by the works here under review. The fact is all the more arresting since the angles from which they conduct their investigations are so divergent.
AS HE IS AT PAINS to make clear, Professor Keniston is neither a young radical himself nor even a professorial fellow-traveler. He is, at most, a well-disposed diagnostician. It is nonetheless fascinating to find a youngish professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale Medical School, whose academic credentials are impeccable, bearing witness, almost against his will, to the fact that the attitudes of many young radicals are evidences not of counter-revolutionary obsolescence and maladjustment, but of a highly developed sense of moral responsibility, a compassion, a maturity and openness of spirit that contrast sharply with the falseness, inconsistency, and in the end always violent “realism” of academic authorities who sometimes forget what it means, in Keniston’s homely phrase, “to help people be people.”
Keniston has his limitations, but lack of modesty is not one of them. He has made it his business to learn, within his limits, whereof he speaks. His book is the product of a study of a number of students who worked from June to September in 1967 for Vietnam Summer, an organization of young radicals opposed to our military adventures in Southeast Asia. By stages he was made acutely aware of the connections between the young radicals’ opposition to the Vietnam War, their sympathy for radical movements among black irreconcilables, and their mounting indignation at the arid forms of life offered them and their fellows on the “best” American campuses. In short, Keniston has come to understand (though not, I think, in full depth) how far so-called young radicals in America are alienated from that presumptive future which our national society professes to hold open both for its own citizens and for victims in “underdeveloped” areas of the world.
Like many other commentators, Keniston says (some of the time) that while the New Left is strong on integrity and sensibility, it is short on relevant programs. Nor does its emphasis on participatory democracy, of which he evidently approves, make up for the lack of meaningful ideology such as Marxism supplied an earlier age of young intellectuals in the West. Young radicals, it appears, care more for informal, improvised forms of social change than for explicit programs for restructuring the social order. And while they show the pragmatic passion for the ad hoc that typifies most forms of native American radicalism (as well as conservatism), they suffer from corresponding faults of instability and instinctual distrust of organized authority and power.
So they may. What then? Perhaps Professor Brzezinski would regard these traits as proof that the young radicals are really, if sadly, expendable counter-revolutionists whose counter-ideology is moribund. Keniston does not. What he brings out, ironically, is their affection for and dependence upon their usually upper-middle class parents, from whom they have largely absorbed their own formal ideals and values. He implies, in effect, that they are merely trying to make a traditional American dream come true in a new time in which their elders have abdicated their own responsibilities. So conceived, many young radicals thus could be viewed not as revolutionaries but as true friends of a half-fulfilled but self-divided social order who are trying to show their elders what has to be done in order to realize ends which their elders share. Looked at through Keniston’s own thoughtful but unideological eyes, “young radical” might thus better be construed to mean “progressive” which is to say “true conservative.” But this seems merely to confirm the view of Daniel Bell that all informed and decent people really do now live at the end of the age of ideology in which, labels aside, everybody pretty much wants the same thing. The only differences concern questions of means, ways of getting things done, or, in the language of “the Kennedy movement,” “styles of action.”
I FOR ONE remain unconvinced. As the last great pragmatist, John Dewey, taught us long ago, means and ends tend to interpenetrate as “lines of action,” which in practice must be taken as wholes. In problematical situations, whether personal or social, we find that means and ends can radically diverge from one another. Those who, however reluctantly, acquiesce in the Vietnam War, and those who view it as a form of collective murder which can be atoned, if at all, only by repudiating the primacy of all conceptions of the national interest, do not share a common anti-ideology. Similarly those who really are committed to “participatory democracy,” and hence insist on participating directly and fully in all forms of social life that can rightly command their allegiance, are separated by an ideological abyss from those traditional exponents of “representative democracy” who believe that it is all right to commandeer young men into military service so long as it complies with a draft law passed by an elected Congress whose members “represent” their constituencies.
The same holds for those who accept the existing institutional organization of the American university, with its absentee owners and governing boards, its chains of command, and pre-established “missions,” as James Perkins of Cornell calls them, and for those who are convinced that the university itself, like the national society which it reflects and serves, must be radically restructured. The former, including large numbers of faculty and students who want simply to get on with their careers, are generally “reasonable” men. They are often prepared to acquiesce in gradual changes, even of a quasi-structural sort, but the only academic revolution which they consider legitimate and are willing to defend is the one described and half defended in the book by Jencks and Riesman: the graduate school university which, in the era of the technetronic society, means and can mean nothing but the main training ground for that society’s managers. Moreover, when party lines harden, those who accept the existing organization find that they have no alternative but to oppose any attempts to transform the university in ways demanded by the young radicals. Often they are ready to “negotiate” with the latter, just as their counterparts in the State Department are ready to “negotiate” with the government of North Vietnam. But they are not remotely willing, as it were, simply to “pull out”: that is, to renounce the system which has forced them into educational conflict.
However, if by a miracle they chose to do so, they would, as the exponents of the technetronic society themselves, imply, automatically alter the orientation of the national society and, in consequence, the future of man on this planet. This, I have come to think, is precisely what the more astute young (and old) rebels on our campuses realize. It is also why they regard the university as the place where the wider human and social revolution in our time must begin.
BUT IT IS JUST HERE, it seems to me, where Keniston as well as Riesman and Jencks fail to probe deeply enough the various forms of rebellion and revolution which they describe. Keniston veers away from the issue, in part because his own approach is too purely psychological and clinical; Jencks and Riesman do so, as we shall see, because theirs is too purely sociological. Keniston takes the psychological alienation of the American college student seriously, but not the student protest movements. He doubts that “culturally alienated students are much interested in ‘political protest,”‘ and goes so far as to suggest that “alienation, as I have studied it, and the current phenomenon of student protest seem to me two quite distinct, if not opposed, phenomena.” (Italics mine.)
Perhaps so. But here it seems necessary to remind Professor Keniston that “alienated” behavior, whether on the part of young radicals or their parents, covers not only a multitude of oddities and self-destructive follies—from long hair to LSD and perfunctory, emulative scholarship—but also immensely significant forms of social action, of which Vietnam summers are themselves productive instances. Perhaps because of the limitations of the methods of “clinical research,” preoccupied as it is with the correlations between the emotional lives and ideologies of alienated students and their early family situations (parents fail to live up to their “promises,” etc.), he tends to view “politics,” so far as young radicals are concerned, as something largely peripheral or external.
In fact it is not, I think, unfair to say that all forms of alienation, whether social or political, are assumed by Keniston to be rooted in, or perhaps masks of, parent-child tensions in which their parents’ ways of accommodating themselves to the worlds they live in—worlds of professional or business activity, of suburban home life and conventionally progressive but ineffective political actions—appear to the child as sell-outs that violate the principles they profess. In short, from Keniston’s point of view it is the failure of the parents in their daily lives to practice what they preach that breeds in children an often unconscious hostility to those to whom they are most deeply attached and wish to emulate. Indeed, it sometimes seems to be implied that if this hostility could be removed through the young radicals’ understanding of the sources of the parents’ sell-out, the radical impulse itself would either disappear or take forms that are merely more “progressive” than those taken by the parents themselves. So he fails to perceive that student alienation not only manifests itself in a variety of forms, of which the political seems to him the least significant, but that in some important instances it is in its very nature a function of a developing political or political-social understanding which conceives of on-campus revolt as a political act continuous with other student-faculty protest movements that are all aspects of a more general social upheaval.
Keniston admits in his concluding paragraph that “cultural alienation among a segment of our most talented and sensitive youth is…an almost inevitable consequence of the kind of society we live in.” He adds that the task is not to “cure” alienation, since alienation is a condition that in itself neither seeks nor needs cure, but to help young alienated people to find “personally meaningful and culturally productive ways of focussing and expressing their alienation.” Just so. But why does he exclude, or ignore, radical politics, whether on campus or off, which is precisely the mode of action many gifted and informed youths have discovered to be culturally the most productive way of articulating their alienation? Indeed why, for that matter, should they not see that only through political action on and off campus can they redeem their parents’ broken promises? The family itself, I need hardly remind Professor Keniston, is part of a political-social system; parents fail their children, as the latter may eventually understand, because they have been pressed into the service of a levia-than which has betrayed its own promise to them.
THE MOVE from the psychological to the sociological, as the Jencks-Riesman book makes evident, ensures a wider perspective, but not necessarily a clearer vision. In fact, the very range of matters discussed in their book seems to involve a dispersal of their attention and a corresponding blurring of their insights. Though they are explicitly (and, in my view, properly) normative, as well as descriptive, in their approach, their norms are as pliant as their descriptions are varied. In substance, what they offer us, both normatively and descriptively, is an extended set of variations on the theme stated a few years ago by Clark Kerr in his book on the “multiversity.” This is no accident, for their admiration for Kerr’s “much maligned but marvellously perceptive study,” The Uses of the University, is quite explicit.
Undoubtedly ex-President Kerr does perceive more than do some of the faculty members who, as Jencks and Riesman remark, “reacted with horror to the mirror he held up to them.” Undoubtedly he perceives still more now that he is no longer burdened with the chores of his presidential dealing with a myopic faculty. All the same, I am not reassured, whether by one who has been through the presidential mill or by amiable and knowledgeable professors, that the “top management” in the academic world, i.e., the university presidents, who themselves still largely “start out” as members of the academic profession. really represent the interests of “middle management” (the faculty), both to their increasingly “ceremonial” trustees and to the world. It would be unfair to recount here events that have occurred, at Columbia and elsewhere, since The Academic Revolution was written: everything written these days seems out of date before it goes to press. The point is that even if the academic revolution described by Jencks and Riesman has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its initiators, this serves only to underscore the urgency of the question: why does that success which has made the university so indispensible to the technetronic society dispose so many of the university’s own choicest spirits to revolt so passionately against it?
This paradox is where all relevant reflection on the question of academic revolution has to begin. But Jencks and Riesman seem as much to illustrate as to illuminate the trouble. Consider the matter of style. One of their contentions, for which they are prepared to supply evidence, is that the nostalgia of certain aging academicians for the good old days of the liberal arts college is unfounded. In the “meritocracy” wrought by the graduate school university and the university college, professors and students alike are better informed, more clear-headed, and more literate than ever before. Now Jencks and Riesman themselves can reasonably claim to be well-above-average representatives of this admirable state of affairs. Yet in a single chapter, concerned with the “bifurcation” of higher education between public and private colleges, the already over-worked phrases “public-sector” and “private-sector” recur over and over in a fatuous litany which ends by obscuring the crucial point that, as the authors themselves put it (so help me), “the public and private sectors [have] increasingly similar objective methods, and…the major differences between them today [reflect] differences between the students who chose one sector as against the other.” Such figures as “handwriting on the wall,” “the sky seems the limit,” “pays the kitty,” “defense mechanism,” strewn throughout the book, convey an impression, all too often justified by the argument, of a weary recital of obvious, if ill-sorted, truths mixed with doubtful observations.
THE BOOK is indeed, as one reviewer puts it, “a mine of information.” That is part of the trouble. Much of the information has by this time a rather stale smell. Nothing new emerges in their account of the sharp break with the past that occurred with the founding of primarily graduate universities, at Johns Hopkins and Clark, in the late nineteenth century, the establishment of graduate schools, first at ivy-league and then at leading state universities, the break-up of the university and college faculties into departments, and the organization of professional schools for medicine, law, education, and business. They describe the accompanying transition from colleges whose values, “in Talcott Parsons’ terms,” were “particularistic” and “personal” to those that are “universalistic” and “meritocratic.” And they single out for special emphasis the important development of “university colleges.” By the “university college,” it should be added, Jencks and Riesman do not mean merely colleges in the graduate school university, such as those at Harvard and Columbia, but also the first-rate four-year colleges such as Amherst, Swarthmore, or Reed, whose faculties are recruited from the graduate school universities and whose educational programs are largely geared to the requirements which their students must meet in order to succeed in graduate school. But there is too little scrutiny either of the quality or relevance of the curriculum of contemporary university colleges or of the life among the faculty or the student-body.
They by no means accept in toto the academic revolution as it has filtered down into the university college from the graduate and professional schools. And their unoriginal contention that it is the graduate schools where significant educational changes must begin, if the university as a whole is to be improved, is a bit like saying that it is in the insane asylum where we must begin to make the changes that will revolutionize society. Actually the significant changes must be instituted by rebellious and imaginative teachers and students on all levels. Wonderful to say, they are in fact already occurring everywhere in “the shadow university,” as I call it, where young scientists talk to one another about their public responsibilities as scholars and teachers, where young social scientists and historians discuss the differences between “behavioral” investigations of man and the study of man as an active, purposeful human being, where young students and teachers of literature refuse any longer to settle for lives of pure scholarship in which reading and writing for pleasure and instruction have been long forgotten, where young theologians at once ponder the real logic of “god talk” and refuse to accept knowledge about religion as a substitute for the possibility of a higher religious understanding, and, finally, where young philosophers not only explain the distinction between what is and what ought to be but are no longer ashamed to seek knowledge of what really might be and ought to be.
Everywhere, in fact, many of the cleverest, most sensitive minds in and about the university are already conducting a new revolution that concerns the whole life of the mind—which if it is to be meaningful requires at the same time a correlative transformation of our whole elitist, imperialist, militarist, national society—and not simply that part that has become sanctified, both in and out of the graduate schools, as “the higher learning.” But the glimpses of this revolution are rare in The Academic Revolution, which, I regret to say, is all too accurately named. What is perhaps most appalling is the fact that much of the time Jencks and Riesman seem scarcely aware that both young and old radicals, who are dedicated to reforms that are necessary to make our post-industrial society a fit place for human beings to live in, are laying on the line their reputations, careers, and, in some instances, their lives.
ACCORDING TO JENCKS and Riesman, even Sarah Lawrence, Bennington, Reed, and other “off-beat” experimental colleges have largely fallen into the post-revolutionary goose-stepping of the university college. But there remain “sectors” where the academic revolution has been frustrated or else has scarcely begun: as might be guessed, those underdeveloped or underprivileged areas of so called higher education where superstition, ignorance, or poverty (or a combination of the three) still prevail. In their chapters on Bible Belt Protestant, Catholic, and, most notably, Negro colleges, the authors have things to say that are illuminating as well as disturbing. Like most good liberals, they applaud pluralism in education as elsewhere. But, for all their praise of diversity in the domain of higher learning, they constantly take the non-sectarian, secular, national graduate university, with all its accompanying gear, to be standard for higher education of the better, more progressive sort. Where this standard can’t be emulated, no doubt other ventures must be made. But in such instances the assumption nonetheless prevails that it is a pity that academic revolution can’t occur first.
Their discussions of the Catholic colleges are typical. Now it is undoubtedly true that sectarian, parochial, and pietistic influences have too often hobbled the graduate school academic revolution in Catholic schools. Indeed faculties in those institutions all too often are inadequate to their distinctive religious, and to their ordinary secular, educational responsibilities. Furthermore church colleges are participating in the “identity crisis” which, Jencks and Riesman say, the Church as a whole is now undergoing. Perhaps something immensely useful to the standard universities themselves might be learned from closer scrutiny of that crisis. For it provides an instructive contrast to the unmentioned identity crises through which our secular national society in America and all its service institutions are themselves passing.
Throughout the national universities, there is a groping toward a recognition of the religious dimensions of existence. Correspondingly, in some of the departments of religion and the theological schools attached to the national universities, revolutions of thought and attitude are emerging which have proved of absorbing interest to secular academicians for whom, for partly irrelevant reasons, God—or at least “God talk”—is as dead as the dodo. What if a genuine educational dialogue were initiated between the Catholic (and Protestant and Jewish) institutions and their secularist adversaries? What if they entertained the idea of pooling their energies in behalf of educational ventures that neither of them, alone, seems able to carry through in depth? In an ecumenical age, this should give no one the willies. No doubt “The Church (and hence its schools and colleges) may…have to move even faster than most institutions if it is to retain the loyalty of its most talented and innovative spirits.” But what about the nation state itself, and what about the industrial-political-military complex which Harvard and California and M.I.T. so prosperously serve? One can only agree that the “breakdown of the Catholic ghetto” is a good thing, but the breakdown of intellectual ghettos at M.I.T. and Harvard might be, educationally, an even better thing, and conceivably the religious colleges could offer aid in this direction.
I am quite ready to believe what I am told when Jencks and Riesman assert that the “best young religious” teachers, Catholic and Protestant, “do not seem to have the temperament of empire builders.” But maybe we have had too much empire building in America’s institutions of higher learning. At this stage, it is arguable that what is wanted is a host of anti-empire builders, abrasive educational iconoclasts and anarchists. As usual the attitude of Jencks and Riesman toward all this remains confused. They tell us,
while we ourselves are less than enamored of the secular graduate schools as models, we find it hard to see how the Catholic universities will invent acceptable alternatives. Under these circumstances we must return to the question of whether a reputable college or university can really be Catholic in any significant sense [Italics mine].
But what is reputable? In short, what Jencks and Riesman seem to offer with one hand they casually take away with the other. So, despite their informal sociological commentary on the predicaments of Catholic collegiate education, they evade the overwhelming issue: what, in a fully human—and this must mean of course religious and moral as well as scientific and technological—sense, should a really “reputable” college or university be? At the risk of being misunderstood, I must go further: precisely because their whole approach is so flatly, undeviatingly “sociological,” and hence naturalistic and positivistic, their analysis remains at once one-dimensional and circular. Never for an instant does it occur to them to look above the heavens or below the earth for sources of educational renewal or self-transcendence, Meanwhile they go on endlessly not liking what they like, and approving of what they are forced to disapprove. Perhaps what they need is an identity crisis of their own.
To my mind, the long, detailed chapter on “Negroes and Their Colleges” is the most interesting part of the book. It is also heartbreaking. Once more, alas, the “better” Negro colleges, even more than the Catholic ones, are faint images of their whitish counterparts, with Negro Ph.D.’s, together with some white academic missionaries, trying to bring the “academic revolution” to black campuses. But too often, especially in the deep South, it is, or appears to be, a case of the blind leading the blind in impoverished church schools, many of them not accredited, and many more on the verge of losing accreditation. And, although plenty of white colleges are no better, “…it is true that the great majority of Negro institutions stand near the end of the academic procession in terms of student aptitudes, faculty competence, and intellectual ferment.” Exceptions exist, such as Fisk, Hampton, and Tuskegee, among the private colleges, Texas Southern and Morgan State, among the publics, and “that peculiar hybrid,” Howard. But, despite a few brilliant professors and students, and some lively programs, even these institutions “would probably fall near the middle of the national academic procession.” In 1964 the ten or so leading private colleges had a combined endowment of only 100 million dollars, about half that, for example, of affluent Connecticut Wesleyan. At one time, at least, the leading foundations were reluctant to help these colleges “on the understandable ground that their help would mean perpetuating segregation.” And here precisely is the terrible bind: integration doesn’t seem to work, but segregation means, in most cases, the perpetuation of incompetence, dreariness, lethargy. Hence the white money, “understandably” afraid of doing the wrong thing, leaves the black institutions to make it as they can—or can’t.
THE INTEGRATION PROBLEM itself has two aspects. According to Jencks and Riesman, the wealthier private colleges, such as Tuskegee, are likely to maintain the integrated faculties they now have and to attract some professors, both black and white, with good academic training. But integrated faculties do not make integrated student bodies, and the trickle of liberal white students from the North who are attracted by the idea of attending a predominately Negro college is small and likely to remain so. But this is only one side of the story. As the authors observe, the situation of white members of faculties in the Negro colleges is very hard. Those who go to them with the “romantic illusion” that the oppressed are more radical, more idealistic, or more “teachable,” than affluent students in the North are soon disillusioned. Their Negro colleagues and administrators are often glad to see them leave, both because they are sources of political and pedagogic “trouble” and because their departure confirms the assumption that whites care about Negroes only for neurotic and missionary rather than for more authentic reasons. And, as I can vouch from several talks last year with a number of immensely intelligent, dedicated, and resilient white professors at a Negro college which I visited for several days, many Negro students would rather be taught by less well trained teachers of their own race than by white instructors. The result was, I was told, that a good many white professors, for psychological reasons of their own, come to regard their tenures in the Negro colleges in spite of themselves as “tours of duty.” It was disheartening, God knows. And evidently nobody was, or is, to blame.
What are the alternatives? The Negro colleges are likely to survive. They will continue to recruit their students largely from all-Negro Southern high schools, and to send many of their graduates back to teach in those high schools. Circles within circles. For this reason, among others, Jencks and Riesman are not optimistic about the success of programs to “upgrade” the weaker Negro colleges. One possibility they consider is that of converting Negro colleges into authentic “community colleges.” But the problems, economic and otherwise, remain overwhelming. They also mention efforts that have been made and could be made to establish something like “free universities” where unsophisticated students, unresponsive to “high culture of the kind that dominates most liberal arts curricula,” might come to it “step by step from an imaginative treatment of the ‘popular culture’ in which incoming students are already immersed.” Here, by way of illustration, they refer to “the sports, the pop music, the comics and pulp fiction, the TV shows, and the cars that interest the young….” But, as these all too casual examples suggest, their minds, if not their hearts, do not really seem on it.
IN FACT, the whole idea of the free university leaves them cold. “Like most faculty members,” they disdainfully observe, “we have been unimpressed by the supposedly free universities established on the periphery of major universities, since these seem for the most part to have encouraged self-indulgence and cultism. What is wanted are really new ways of learning, not additional courses taught by Marxists and acidheads.” Nor does the establishment of the Free University of Mississippi, instituted by the Negro students of Tougaloo along with some white students from neighboring Millsaps College, qualify this judgment. In fact they do not consider this university to be a genuine example of a “free university,” and one reason for this appears to be that it has faculty support from both parent colleges which could help it become a truly creative forum for inter-racial confrontations. Moreover, the durability of of the innovation remains uncertain. Possibly so. But, as always, it is for them the presence of a faculty, itself the product of the academic revolution toward which their attitudes are elsewhere ambivalent, which seems to provide the saving grace in Jackson. Thus it is not only the Negro colleges that seem forever to move in circles, but Jencks and Riesman themselves who in effect can really only envisage educational possibilities initiated by enlightened representatives of properly “accredited” institutions in which their academic revolution has already occurred.
What Jencks and Riesman have to say about the free university movement, both here and elsewhere in their book is both imperfectly informed and imbued with the very attitudes which repel the faculty as well as the students participating in it. One does not have to be, or approve of, acid-heads or Marxists in order to recognize the significance of this movement as a commentary upon the monumental inadequacies of the formal curricula and modes of inquiry that prevail not only in struggling Southern Negro colleges, but also in the national universities. Nor does one have to be a romantic utopian or anti-intellectual to understand that what many free university advocates object to is not the hard, disciplined work which they must do to win legitimate B.A.’s and Ph.D.’s, but the combined irrelevance of conventional, establishment-oriented social science, boring “scholarly” humanities programs, at fifth remove from their primary literary, artistic, philosophical, and religious subject-matters.
IN MANY CASES, what people in the free university movement object to is not research but the ordinary academicians’ sense of what is useful, relevant, desirable. Dozens of teaching fellows and junior faculty who are as bored by Marx as they are leery of acid find in the free university, whatever the quality of its performance in particular cases, an absorbing, educational idea. Whatever may be its promise, the restless, protesting educational activism behind it is animated, as Professor Keniston observes, not by self-interest but directly or indirectly by concern for “alleviating the oppression of others.”
So it goes. In their concluding chapter, after a variety of timid and limited proposals for reformation of the graduate schools and, through it, of the gradual correlative changes in the university college system, Jencks and Riesman close with the observation that’
aside from nuclear war or a wave of national repression brought on by racial conflict or the defeat of imperial ambitions, generational conflict seems the major threat to stability and growth of the academic system.
It takes at least two generations to close a generational gap, and, if I may match impression with impression, it is not clear that the academic authorities who occupy the executive suites and laboratories of our contemporary universities are any more willing than their predecessors to do what is necessary to convert the most emulated institutions of higher research in America into habitable cities of the human mind. Neither at Columbia nor at California is there a sustained all-university attack upon “the critical problem of graduate instruction in the social sciences [which] is to narrow the gap between individual students’ personal lives and their work.”
As it stands this statement no doubt is open to the reply that no universiy can, or should try to, solve each student’s identity crisis for him. A contemporary university, it has been truly said, is neither a family, a mental hospital, a brothel, nor even a community of scholars. Nor is it a church. But, save us, this certainly is not what Messrs Jencks and Riesman of all people have in mind. Here let them refute themselves.
The graduate school must somehow put the student in closer touch with himself, instead of making him believe that the way to get ahead is to repress himself and become a passive instrument “used” by his methods and his disciplinary colleagues. This is no mean task. The difficulty of the job is not, however, an excuse for the present situation, where the student’s subjectivity is not even regarded as a problem.
There are other ways of saying this, and other things to say about it, My quarrel with Jencks and Riesman here—aside from their lack of ideas about the nature of “subjectivity” and hence about the ways in which men may learn or teach something about it—is that they never have the courage of their own criticisms. For no more than six pages before the indictment just quoted, in a concluding warning against “the pitfalls of nostalgia” they managed to say, “When we turn from the narrow question of academic competence to the broader question of human growth, the academic revolution again strikes us as a progressive development.” Indeed, they remind us, “there is more of everything now,” outstanding teachers and all. Yes indeed—more of everything. What “everything” includes, let us not forget, are forms of research that result in ever more lethal forms of weaponry, in violent or merely repressive modes of “pacification”—whether in the form of domestic riot control or projects whose primary function is to reconcile disaffected ex-colonials to the policies of their new imperial masters—and, not least, in the folding back into the technetronic society of young radicals who can be mollified by participating in “accredited” forms of urban renewal.
HERE I find it useful to return to Keniston and his young radicals. As Keniston puts it, as if anticipating—and forestalling—Brzezinski, the young radicals “seek an orientation to the future” that recognizes how the adoption of dehumanizing and destructive means can turn professors of the noblest ends into monsters. At this point, however, I shall not dwell on their search for new ways to personal development which are responsive to these qualities of youth—of creativity, yearning, openness, and intransigence—which our whole culture, and its central educational system, seems bound to frustrate. I am more impressed by what Keniston, himself half-contradicting what he seems to have said before, refers to as the search for “new ways of learning,” “new formulations of the world,” and “new concepts of man and society.” The educational ventures germane to this revolution have many aspects: for example, new forms of extra-curricular activity that would replace Big Ten football with education programs conducted by college students and faculty in ghetto high schools; unconventional do-it-yourself courses by concerned teachers on problems of race relations and on the deadly imperialist politics of the technetronic societies; experimental work not only in creative writing, but in all forms of artistic and intellectual activity that do not fit established conceptions of the “higher learning”; off-beat interpretations of recent and contemporary history that are not afraid to acknowledge the “revolutionary” assumptions from which they proceed; and, not least, efforts toward cross-generational dialogue in which it is not assumed in advance that the only teachers have professorial rank. In my view, this is the most exciting and promising aspect of the second academic revolution now, however falteringly, already in process. The multiple forms of research involved in it (it is arguable) could become the highest learning of all.
Here lie problems not only of delicacy but of amplitude, not only of amplitude but of the subtlest relations. The ablest minds are scarcely able to cope with them. However, as a social achievement, the venture will not succeed so long as the effort remains marginal, concessive, or begrudging. But so it will remain, alas, like other poverty programs, until leaders of the national society, both inside and outside the academies, are ready to say “No more!” to all forms of imperialism, whether political or educational.
July 11, 1968