To the Editors:
The undersigned are a group of parents of Columbia students. Some of us are the parents of the eight Columbia students and former students (all were students through the Spring of 1968) who are now serving a thirty day contempt of court sentence in the Civil Jail in New York for sitting in two buildings this Spring. Their demands included open admissions for the underprivileged who live directly outside the Columbia University community, opposition to University expansion and the militarization of the Campus, and support of the Black Panthers. Each was sentenced to 30 days and fined $100 under Justice Marks’s ruling, which found them guilty in the context of there being no room “in our society for force and violence.”
Of these eight, two have been served with additional arrest warrants while in jail for further contempt of court proceedings and other legal charges under the penal code. They will be taken directly from the Civil Jail when they are released, and arraigned under the new charges, which are being pressed by individual Columbia professors (Smith and Coulter) in an unusual use of the injunction proceedings. Columbia has also moved to make the injunction permanent. In addition, the office of Dr. Andrew W. Cordier has yielded the names of 29 students and eight non-students (read as above), most of them members of Students for a Democratic Society, to the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations and it is reported that the data included information on the sources and amounts of scholarship aid they had received. Finally, in the court hearings held in connection with the contempt proceedings, Columbia professors allowed themselves to be used as fingermen by the administration.
Columbia is proud of its vanguard role in resisting student protest. It was the first to call in the cops; the first to use the injunction and the courts; the first to involve its academic staff in punitive legal actions; and very quick to inform on a body of students to a highly discredited investigative committee. Columbia is particularly proud in its claim that it has isolated radical student, leaders, and may feel that it is free to lop off the heads of SDS leaders as a warning to the student protest movement as a whole to cease and desist. Who will object?
We are, of course, concerned about the individual fates of our sons and daughters, but more so with resisting such pressures against a student movement which has done so much to arouse the nation to the gross horrors and injustices prevalent in our country.
Columbia’s methods are promptly tried elsewhere. The use of the injunction spread to Dartmouth, Brooklyn, City, Queens, etc. Students are increasingly being jailed by means of this handy device. Out of our experience in having lived through McCarthyism, we have learned enough to reject the methods being used to silence the young, and to turn away from the hypocrisy with which they are being lectured. We believe that talk of “force and violence” and “left Fascism” is cant, a highly selective weapon used for highly selected ends. (Student sit-ins violate our democratic norms, but the war in Vietnam is a necessary evil, or must be settled very carefully and slowly so as to protect our “national interest.”) The inviolability of the scholarly community is a different and more complicated question; but here, too, selectivity rules. (Dow, ROTC, IDA on campus did not arouse these passionate considerations, until the students acted. Though the militarization of the campus was attacked by some academicians, those who effected it have not been punished or jailed, nor has a single scholar connected with military research or teaching been expelled from the academic community.)
Our sons’ and daughters’ dreams of a truly good life, and their courage in demanding that dreams and reality must merge, is a tribute to the best aspects of the environment and the individuals who reared them. Not to proclaim this is to deny our continuing humanity. It is to remain contented within today’s repressive climate, which designates our best young men and women as the worst dangers confronting our country, and to condone the jailings and expulsions as our considered response to their fervent hopes for social equality and peace in the U.S. and in the world.
There may be much to discuss and to come to agreement about between their generation and ours, but if the militant young are pushed beyond the social community, the academic community and the family, all possibility of communication is blocked. Any parent with a modicum of sense knows what a dangerous situation that creates.
Peggy Lawson Hurwitz
July 31, 1969