In the lobby of the converted department store that serves as the new home of the Graduate Faculty there is a bronze plaque that reflects the New School’s image of itself:
THE UNIVERSITY IN EXILE
THE GRADUATE FACULTY OF THE NEW SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH
The Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science Had Its Genesis in the University in Exile Which Was Established by the New School for Social Research in 1933 as a Haven for Distinguished European Scholars Persecuted by Totalitarian Governments in Their Homelands. Conceived by Alvin Johnson, Then Director of the New School, and Sustained by the Generosity of Hiram J. Halle, the Rockefeller Family and Many Other Concerned Americans, the University in Exile Made It Possible Prior to and During World War II for One Hundred and Sixty Seven Imperilled Scholars and Their Families to Find Safety and Intellectual Freedom on These Shores. Its Example Was Followed by Other Educational Institutions Resulting in the Rescue of Many of Europe’s Foremost Thinkers and Leaders. Some Exiled Scholars Remained Here as the Nucleus of the Graduate Faculty Which Was Chartered by the University of the State of New York in 1934: Others Who Were Brought Over by the New School Went on to Teaching Positions at Other Universities Enriching the Fabric of Higher Learning in the United States.
This Plaque, Installed on the Occasion of the New School’s Fiftieth Anniversary, Is Dedicated to the Faculty Members and Friends of the University in Exile Who First Formed the Graduate Faculty and, During Its First Decade, Imbued It With Their Devotion to Truth and Human Liberty. They Constitute an Historic Chapter in American Higher Education.
Then follows, in raised bronze letters, the roster of the original faculty:
Solomon E. Asch
Fernando de los Rios
Horace M. Kallen
Abba P. Lerner
Boris Mirkine Guetzevitch
Alexander H. Pekelis
Erich Von Hornbostel
Ernst Karl Winter
The peculiar distinction of this faculty was in its European émigré origin and in its dedication to the canon of European, predominantly German, scholarship and deportment. But there is a contradiction latent in all such émigré groups: having fled persecution in their homelands, and having found a tolerable environment elsewhere, do they consequently evade all potentially embarrassing political involvement? Does their exile negate their engagement? This paradox is most sharply felt by those scholars who, rightly or wrongly, interpret the Western academic tradition as being necessarily nonpolitical. The academy is their fortress of principled neutrality: as individuals they may choose to take a political position but, as scholars, it is unthinkable and dangerous. This, after all, is the bitter lesson they have learned at home.
The exile readily becomes an exilarch, that is to say a sort of hereditary ruler in the place of exile, recapitulating the culture of the past so far as that is possible, while drawing strength from the mythos of persecution. At the same time, the host society is held at bay. So long as he is tolerated, the exile studiously avoids potential conflicts as a matter of principle. All is subordinated to the memory of the initial trauma. “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” is, after all, the rhetorical American threat in this nation of exiles and “No matter how bad it is here, it is better than in the old country” has been the litany of one immigrant generation after another. The traditional faculty-in-exile of the New School seems to share, as a special sophisticated instance, the general pattern of exilic challenge and response.
Perhaps they could be characterized in the following way: These men and women share a broad culture. They share a Platonic mystique of academic scholarship, as opposed to Socratic engagement. Their political views are formally liberal and somewhat abstractly humane. They could be defined as Social Democrats, in the European sense. They value the symbols of status highly, are formal in their public attitudes toward each other and toward students, whom they regard as either epigones or apprentices: indeed, one has the impression that the ideal student would be a kind of soldier of learning, ascetic, disciplined, and unresponsive to irrelevant desires. They tend to accept administrative authority without serious question unless it impinges upon their immediate scholarly functions. And they respect, rather than criticize, bureaucratic rules. These and other attributes are not to be regarded as shallow rationalizations of self-interest. They constitute an authentic way of life, one by no means confined to the few remaining European scholars on the faculty. This is an academic consciousness shared by many indigenous colleagues.
But most American campuses pay at least lip service to student concerns whereas the traditional New School faculty has not been “student-oriented” in the American sense at all. The structure was designed to accommodate European scholars, and had something of the flavor of a research institute. Located in a building off lower Fifth Avenue, the school had no undergraduate student body and no conventional campus and little lively communion with students.
Since there were few substantial scholarships, this urban graduate faculty attracted older students, many of whom worked during the day and attended classes in the late afternoon and evening; classes met once a week. In the absence of significant endowment, student fees were primary currency, and entrance standards were low. Attrition was relatively high, but not extravagant.
Here then was a European faculty, idiosyncratically dependent upon a unique time schedule and an unconventional student body. The normal expectation of the European scholar, carefully cultivating an elite of heirs, was thwarted. This lack of close relations between a traditional faculty and an odd mixture of students contributed to a sense of mutual estrangement. That in turn led to poignant efforts on the part of the Graduate Faculty to cultivate a few students, as if the latter did indeed fit the former’s ideal model. Fond expectations have frequently failed but the illusions tend to persist. German rigor could hardly be practiced by the harried American night student.
In recent years, the graduate students have come to resemble others throughout the country. The average age of students has declined and they have become increasingly assertive. A large New School day college for juniors and seniors transferred from other schools has been established. Although this school has no connection with the Graduate Faculty, it has brought still younger people into the small New School complex. Still, the adult education ambience of the New School lingers on and is rooted in the New School “general education division,” which is by far the largest of the New School installations. It includes over 10,000 students and some 500 faculty and is centered in the old buildings on 12th Street.
The Graduate Center, which was installed last year in new quarters on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks away, is limited to about 2,500 students and has a permanent faculty of only thirty-eight, supplemented by a number of temporary and visiting appointments.
In recent years, Graduate Faculty attitudes have changed somewhat. In the spirit of the times, a number of technically specialized scholars have been recruited and, perhaps more significantly, several “internal émigrés” have been attracted to the faculty. This latter group tends to be politically radical, egalitarian, disenchanted with the aridity of academic practice, and involved in efforts to revitalize their discipline and redefine their intellectual roles amid the inescapable crises of the times. If the older generation represents exile, these younger exiles represent engagement. Each in the name of freedom opposes the other. The old guard looks back to its political event; the younger is trying to establish one. Each lays claim to the birthright of the institution. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of the Graduate Faculty’s origin and its small size give it both the appearance and opportunity for unity: the notion of unity on all significant outside issues affecting the faculty has indeed been long cherished.
This strange polarity within a dogma of unity is the overriding paradox of the New School. It helps define the crisis which gradually, almost unconsciously, developed and which now lies fully exposed by the traumatic events of the past several weeks.
Like most major campuses throughout the country, the New School responded immediately to the invasion of Cambodia. The most alarmed students and faculty, further enraged by the murders at Kent State, agreed at once to strike.’ On May 4, after the “incursion,” an informal steering committee of students called for a moratorium on routine university business, including classes, in order to muster the student body for antiwar activities, using the school as their headquarters. From the beginning, it was made clear that the strike was a university strike against the war and not against the university. The students, who were now rallying in hundreds at the Graduate Faculty Center, wanted to find means of mobilizing support of citizens outside the New School. As was the case throughout the country, this was an extension of energy rather than the dissipation of effort turning in upon itself. There was nothing to indicate that the students had any intention of provoking an internal crisis.
In accordance with the larger aim, and with the increasing political maturity of the national student movement, a number of committees were formed in order to find allies among workers, high-school students, and others outside the school. Most important among these committees was the Work Stoppage Committee, which sought to develop local worker-student alliances with the eventual aim of joint strike action. Indeed, the National Strike Co-ordinating Committee then functioning at Brandeis designated the New School to serve as the eastern regional work stoppage headquarters.
Other committees included the Facilities Committee, the Ad-men Against the War Committee, and the High School Co-ordinating Committee. The philosophy underlying the work of these committees was twofold. They wanted both to bring students into the political life of the city and groups from the city into the school. The latter function seemed to the students highly appropriate, since they believed the tradition of the New School to be one of engagement and “relevance.” President Everett had, after all, stated at one time: “The mandate of the New School’s founders was to reject the idea of a university as an enclave of splendid isolation and make it instead an integral part and partner of the community it serves.” It was to be the latter issue, their inviting community groups into the Graduate Center, that proved the occasion, even when it was no longer a pertinent cause, for the breakdown of communication with the administration and with certain members of the faculty. The invitation to outsiders had the inadvertent effect of deflecting the strikers into conflict with the New School itself.
In order to understand how a response to the national crisis regressed into a bitter confrontation at the New School, we must review certain events. During the first week of the strike, from May 4 to May 11, the faculty, students, administration, and trustees appeared to be united. The president had, in fact, issued a statement supporting the goals of the strike and suspending normal school operations through May 9. The statement was based on a Graduate Faculty resolution adopted on Tuesday (May 5) expressing solidarity with the students and calling for voluntary cancellation of all classes. In view of the traditions of neutrality we have described, this resolution seemed to mark a new departure.
By Wednesday it was clear that the students, in accord with the national mood, had decided to extend the strike for at least the duration of the semester. By that time, rallies were being held in the lobby of the Graduate Center and committee work was going on in classes and offices throughout the building. A meeting of the Graduate Faculty was called to deal with what some considered a potentially dangerous situation. The members of the faculty adopted a compromise resolution which incorporated the initial statement of solidarity with the students and which also suspended classes, on a voluntary basis, until the end of the term. At the same time, the intent of several faculty members was to limit the activities of the strikers to work against the war. (“No Black Panther Defense agitation,” insisted a distinguished philosopher. “What has that got to do with us?” A distinguished economist questioned the connection between anticapitalist propaganda and antiwar activities.) However, the definition of legitimate antiwar activities was left vague.
Another resolution, signed by two-thirds of the faculty, requested the removal of Ellsworth Bunker as honorary trustee of the New School. This was also received with vague reservations and, by parliamentary maneuvers designed to preserve the official unity of the faculty, was never formally adopted. One faculty member passionately called to our attention the removal of Thomas Mann by the University of Bonn, as a precaution against the university’s making political decisions, a view that fairly summarized the abstract principles of the traditional faculty.
It is doubtful that Thomas Mann would have agreed. His autobiographical essay, “Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen,” asserts that the artist cannot ignore politics. Mann defined politics as public morality: the artist was obliged to become political in order to protect the conditions of his creativity. Mann was, of course, an outspoken opponent of fascism from the very beginning, and he never lost faith in his capacity to distinguish concretely between legitimate and illegitimate political attitudes.
The Bunker issue, however, remains unresolved at this writing. Presumably because an honorary trustee of the New School is, so to speak, a trustee emeritus, largely nonfunctional, the school administrators took no action to remove him. They stated that Bunker’s honorary status is simply the reflection of his services to the school as a working trustee before he became a major architect of the war and it would be unethical to punish him retroactively. The point is that for various reasons, principled or otherwise, no one in authority is prepared to move directly against Bunker. Of course, the argument of the striking students and of many faculty members is that the more symbolic the ambassador’s position, the less savory his connection with the New School. It is less, not more, tolerable for him to be an honorary trustee than an ordinary trustee. The question, those of us who objected to Bunker insisted, is the present integrity of the school. It is not an effort to rewrite past history.
The Bunker issue was an immediate clue that the antiwar unity of the four major elements comprising the New School (trustees, administration, faculty, students)2 was deeply threatened by the concerns of some not to risk giving offense to the trustees and others with whom they had been long associated, or to the stratum of society they represented. In quite the same way, the insistence of some faculty members that certain activities (e.g., anticapitalist analyses) were irrelevant to antiwar activity indicated the limitations of that unity. (This truth, or truism, holds throughout the country; nonetheless, the ad hoc influence of the campus in organizing a popular front against the war is growing.)
A more pressing practical question unresolved in the faculty meeting of Wednesday evening concerned the division of facilities between the various antiwar activities and the normal operations of the university. A faculty subcommittee was appointed to handle the issue but subsequently deteriorated because it did not have the authority to make decisions binding on the students or, for that matter, on individual faculty members. At a mass meeting on Thursday evening, the students, having been informed of the actions of the Graduate Faculty, decided to support the faculty resolution despite its having provided that, following the first week of suspension, routine university business should go on, with classes to be held for those who wanted them. The students thus decided to support the faculty’s view that strike activities should not have automatic priority over the regular work of the school.
But the competition for facilities in a single building with limited space was to dominate what followed. Schools throughout the country were faced with similar problems. (It was charged, for example, as it was elsewhere, that tax-exempt facilities were being used illegally for political purposes.) The New School, lacking both a conventional campus and a student union building, threw the issue into bold relief. By accident, as it were, the struggle over facilities forced all parties concerned to define their basic notion of the university, an issue which, as we have seen, had been latent for some years. The resolution of the facilities problem could not of itself settle, even though it helped to dramatize, the question of the New School’s general character.
On Thursday night, after the student vote, the school had become an apparently unified but still uneasy community. A group of conservative students had begun to form, generally sharing the view of the traditional faculty. Later they would threaten the administration with legal action, and the strikers with physical coercion, if the facilities of the Graduate Center were used for political activities. The admissions office had been set up as a communications headquarters; the sociology office was host to the High School Co-ordinating Committee, composed of about thirty high-school students who seemed to work around the clock; a number of junior faculty and departmental assistant offices had been turned over to various committees. The telephone exchange was largely devoted to the strike and a group of anthropology students, quietly settled into the duplicating office, were turning out thousands of copies of pertinent and impertinent leaflets, bulletins, and flyers. They were to look up from their work only sporadically and wanted no part of what one of them characterized as “chicken-shit micropolitics” from any quarter.
The lobby had been wired for public speaking and had the atmosphere of an optimistic campaign headquarters on election eve. Signs, posters, information bulletins, caricatures of Nixon, Laird, Bunker, and Agnew lent a touch of color and absurdity to the severe modern décor. The indeterminate head of a sculpture figure in metal was crowned with a precisely lettered sign which read: “We are sad but the time for gargoyles has passed.” The main Fifth Avenue entrance was draped with signs announcing the strike and the vestibule claimed proudly that the Graduate Faculty was “with us”—no penalties for missed work or struck classes would be exacted.
Tables set up inside the lobby served as stalls for distributing radical political literature, including newspapers, for soliciting signatures on antiwar petitions, and for collecting funds for the defense of the Black Panthers. When news broadcasts were not forthcoming through the radio public address system, the sound of rock filled the air. One sensed that this square and serious building was being baptized, circumcised, christened. The collective structure, composed of its specialized parts, was dissolving into a momentary community. This was not only an experiment in direct political action at a time of crisis, but the students’ coming-out party in a new building which had been dedicated last year under quite different circumstances on the fiftieth anniversary of the New School.
By the end of the first week, the strike was flourishing and regular school facilities had been taken over with the tacit or active consent of the authorities. Some students and faculty did continue with classes and academic work. No official policy was ever adopted by the Graduate Faculty concerning grades and examinations; however the faculty stated that no student should be penalized for participating in the strike. The problem was one of defining what “interference” consisted in. The intention of the strikers was not to interfere. For example, an orderly line of pickets appeared at the entrance to the Graduate Center carrying signs reading “Ideas Have Consequences” and “Socrates Was No Insider.” The traditional faculty, however, began to claim, in spite of students’ denials, that the strike was interfering with their access to school facilities. Conflicting affidavits were finally to be sworn on this matter.
The internal crisis developed the following week. The High School Committee, initially organized by graduate students but later run by high-school students themselves, proved successful beyond anyone’s anticipation. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, large numbers of high-school students—at times, it is claimed, more than a thousand of them—appeared at the Graduate Center for antiwar meetings and rallies. This compounded the appearance of confusion—although the students were there for specific purposes and hewed strictly to the prevailing sentiment against physical violence or damage to the premises. In no time at all, a slogan was being reported from high schools around the city that went roughly as follows: “If you want to keep cool, go to the beach or the New School.”
The trouble was that the high-school students were not going to their old schools. The Board of Education reported that during this period more than half the city’s high-school population, largely in response to the national strike, was absent without leave. And certain high-school principals quickly isolated the New School as, wittingly or unwittingly, encouraging truancy, etc. This led to a potential legal problem, including presumed health and safety hazards. Although the influx of high-school students was unexpected, the purpose of the High School Co-ordinating Committee was to educate the students about the war and help to devise ways for them to protest by canvassing against the war in city neighborhoods and by other methods. Their committeemen worked very hard and soberly; their capacity for self-discipline was striking.
Those of us who had the opportunity to observe high-school activities quickly realized that we were seeing only the top of the iceberg. A kind of political underground has developed in the urban high school, overlapping with more spontaneous, visceral protest against the conditions of school life. The high schools are seething; it should be remembered that older high-school students are more immediately vulnerable to the draft than are most college and graduate students. Moreover, in a city like New York, a large segment of the high-school population is black or Puerto Rican. Most are not going to go to college. Their discontents are real, their insights can be shocking, and their demands on the community at large are relentless.
Granted that a portion of the high-school population has been trapped in drug-taking and other self-destructive activities (hardly, by the way, evident at the New School), still the most disturbing thing about the so-called high-school invasion was the fear and disorientation felt by many members of the faculty and administration. To them, the Graduate School was now in imminent danger of being destroyed and so they began to perceive the strike as hostile to the university.
On Monday evening, May 11, William Kunstler, who had been teaching a course in the adult education division of the New School, was invited by the strike committee to address the students in the lobby of the Graduate Center. The administration suggested that he speak in the public auditorium in the 12th Street building. But the strikers insisted on the Center. They won their point. This foreshadowed the emerging territorial conflict. An audience of at least a thousand crowded into the area to hear an enthusiastic and, in some respects, demagogic address.
Kunstler has learned SDS-Yippie rhetoric, but one doubts he understands the language of the students. In a curiously dated declamation, he urged them to close the schools throughout the country until a solid sign of good faith was forthcoming from Washington. But he did not indicate what such a sign might be. He cautioned them against “defeatist analyses” that downgraded the student movement because of the incapacity of students to form an alliance with passive or hostile workers. He also braced them against the possibility of violence and warned them that they might have to shed their blood in order to prove their authenticity. Some of this sounded more like exhortation than reasoned sympathy. Kunstler had apparently failed to grasp that the national movement was no longer against the university, and that students throughout the country were bent upon keeping the schools open.
Moreover, students are now aware of the futility of isolated armed struggle, and understand that they must seek alliances with other groups if they are to have a significant social impact. Symbolic wounds alone no longer fascinate them. It was, at the very least, bad taste for an older man to seem to encourage desperate action on the part of younger people. Kunstler gave a hot speech, just at the time when the national mood of the students was growing cooler, more determined, and more tactical. Nonetheless, he received an enthusiastic ovation, not because his remarks were analytically useful but because of his skilled use of the conventional phraseology. Still, although grateful for his obvious sympathy, many students we talked to did not seem impressed.
Conservative members of the faculty and administration, however, were impressed; convinced that the strike was out of hand, they were reconsidering their initial commitment. A few, of course, were interested in fulfilling their own prophecies. Later that week faculty talk of a “clean,” “sanitary,” “pre-emptive” bust began to be heard.
On Tuesday night, a rally with labor representatives took place in the auditorium of the New School proper, on Twelfth Street. This was the first fruit of the Work Stoppage Committee’s efforts and was heartening to both the delegates and the students. The students discovered that there were workers who disagreed sharply with the international Meany-Lovestone line (CIO or CIA?), who were frustrated with the business-as-usual mentality of the national labor leadership, and were eager for rank-and-file connections with student activists. One could sense the abstraction “student” and the abstraction “worker” dissolving into a common consciousness, if only for a brief moment.
In view of the assault by construction workers on students in the Wall Street area and at Pace College a few days before; this mutual exchange was, for many students, an unexpected and moving experience. The know-nothing violence of the construction workers, and the well-publicized threat of continued assault on dissenting students, together with the murders at Kent State and, later, at Jackson State, toughened their mood. Many of the labor delegates who had spoken at the Tuesday night meeting were older people whose public intelligence and sympathy were in striking contrast to the behavior of too many of the students’ mentors at the university. And the personal style of the younger workers was curiously close to that of the students.
On Wednesday afternoon a competent rock quartet played for about an hour before a sizable audience, including high-school students. The music, which was loud, echoed around the building and seemed to the conservative faculty and administration a final assault upon the dignity of the university. They immediately protested the “carnival” or “Woodstock” atmosphere. The latter was a gross exaggeration implying drugs, promiscuity, nudity, a perpetual saturnalia. And it was easy for them to draw the fearful conclusion that high-school students and others were now committing private outrages in nooks and crannies throughout the Center.
But what had really happened that week was that the school had been demystified. It was, for an endless moment, no longer the preserve of the faculty, no longer a quasi-theological hierarchy; anarchy seemed to have broken loose. The conventional idea of the academy was essential to the psychic survival of the faculty at large. The school, it turned out, was not just their arena for routine and scholarly business; it was the central symbol of their lives. Students suddenly loomed as strangers. Familiar surroundings disintegrated. The electronic noise of rock, neither understood nor anticipated, amplified their feelings of disorientation. For most of the faculty part of the time and part of the faculty most of the time, the New School had dissolved into a nightmare. The response was a furious demand for order.
The antiwar work of the students did not suffer in spite of the “chaos.” One generation’s chaos is, after all, another’s cultural style. Still, the strikers, sensing the faculty response, agreed to appropriate action. Perhaps there was a law of social cognition operative here. In any hierarchy, the lower tends to perceive the higher more accurately than the higher does the lower. Early Thursday morning, the cool and competent high-school representatives decided that no more mass meetings should be held at the New School. High-school activities were to be confined to committee work. The graduate students informally agreed to lower the pitch of their activities. Signs had already begun to appear all over the building cautioning against vandalism, insisting on order. The work was not an “ego trip,” but serious business. Breaches would be considered the acts of provocateurs.
It should be emphasized that the problem remained one of comportment. At no time did violence against persons or property become an issue. Nonetheless, just before dawn on Thursday a harried administration issued a statement terminating all strike activities at the end of the semester, prohibiting persons who were not students at the New School from entering the building, and demanding that normal school functions be fully resumed at once. Guards were stationed the following morning in order to check identification and an effort was made to lock the doors.
The strike committee felt that the president of the New School had acted unilaterally, since the students had agreed to curtail non-student mass meetings (no further congregation ofhigh-school students occurred in spite of the rumors of a mass march to the Graduate Center), and they were unaware of any agreement to halt the strike at a fixed date. Moreover, the demand for resumption of normal activities was defined as an effort to deprive the strikers of adequate facilities in the building. They felt that the faculty and administration were reneging on the sense of their initial supporting resolution. On the other hand, the educational authorities responded with a number of abstractly reasonable proposals which failed to meet the students’ sense of urgency and to accommodate the range of activities they were determined to pursue. At the same time, paradoxically, the administration was beginning to press for a temporary closing of the school in order to clean the building and reassert control. The strikers insisted on keeping the school open, and thereafter that became a critical issue.
Reacting to the growing tension, a group of students occupied the registration office late Thursday afternoon, and stated that they would not leave unless the administration’s termination date for the strike and opposition to the presence of community groups, including non-New School students, in the building was rescinded. They also demanded negotiations on explicit facilities, in what they considered to be the sense of the initial resolution. That evening, a majority of the faculty voted to support the administration in any legal proceeding it found necessary to institute in order “to save the university.” The threat of a bust hung heavy in the air; even friendly faculty were rebuffed in their efforts to persuade students to leave the registration office and renegotiate with the administration in the spirit of the initial week. Trust had, however, been broken, and from May 14 on the students were in effect occupying the building in order to defend two principles: their right to strike against the war and their right to use the university as a base in so doing.
The occupation did not, however, become technically illegal until the night of May 17th. In an emergency meeting of the faculty late that Sunday morning the president announced his intention to seek an injunction against the strikers, and received a majority vote of confidence. The hardcore faculty had convinced the moderates that the high-school-Woodstock episode justified their traditional wisdom. Everett ordered the school closed at 10 P.M.; although the doors were left open, persons in occupancy, unless otherwise authorized, were now technically liable to charges of trespass.
On Tuesday morning the sheriff delivered a temporary restraining order (along with a lecture about his moderate but engagé son at Princeton), the first step in the injunction, and the following day the case was brought to civil court. But the building had not been forcibly cleared, and a farcical round of negotiation and renegotiation followed, including, ultimately, the trustees. Strike activity was sustained in the building, meetings continued, but the struggle had clearly assumed a territorial form. Both the administration and the striking students seemed to want a settlement. The latter demanded a guarantee of carefully delineated facilities sufficient for the strike to maintain its force and range of community work throughout the summer; the former unequivocally insisted that normal university routine was the overriding priority.
The students invoked moral and ideological arguments, the administration proclaimed the fear of being sued for violation of the school’s charter. One professor emeritus argued that the students could well be victimized, since they had misjudged the counterrevolutionary mood of the country and were exposing themselves, and the school, by indiscreet revolutionary sloganeering. Somewhat more crudely, the administration made a similar point. On the morning that the injunction was announced, the president informed the faculty that New York University had been invaded by chain-swinging motorcycle bands from the East Village who had beaten many students severely and had caused two-million-dollars-worth of damage to one of the buildings.
This largely proved to be fantasy. But while such fears about the immediate response of the encircling society preoccupied the mentors, the anxiety of the students was somewhat more localized. In brief, they feared that the administration preferred to break the strike by legal means rather than confront the issue of shared facilities. Hence they feared a bust. The struggle was now over the nature of the school.
It would be fruitless to document the charges and countercharges, the bureaucratic indecision, the misunderstandings and misinterpretations, the struggle between the exilarchs and the internal émigrés, the ethology of the faculty moderates fluttering in response to changing signals from administration, from students, and again from the administration, the sudden shocking revelations of character, the sickening pull of self-interest. After three weeks of heightening tension, the psycho-physiological exhaustion of the faculty and administration was all too evident. In these subterranean battles, the young have the endurance, the old control the established order. A rule of thumb emerges, and we offer it for what it is worth: students have a better chance of negotiating to their advantage early on rather than later. Administrations lean upon the law; the more weary they become the more heavily they lean.
If the details of the conflict are irrelevant, the social character of each side is not. We need not linger on the nature of bureaucracy—the literature is voluminous. But imagine a bureaucracy confronting a tribe, let us say the Swiss Douane vs. The Crow Indians, and the absurdities and frustrations that were acted out over the past three weeks at the building on 14th Street become more comprehensible. For these young graduate students, with the even younger initiates from the New School College who joined them, may be seen as a tribe. They represent the communal underground in a collective society. They respect solitude; and they suspect “ego tripping.” Doing your own thing is one thing, but they have learned to beware of the ego trip, which is “doing your own thing at the expense of others.”
They have no readily visible organization. Every decision, after endlessly patient debate, becomes the decision of the body; political education is considered as important as reaching decisions. During the strike, votes were taken and the results regarded as binding; but on several occasions decisions or motions were modified to take account of strongly held dissident or minority positions, in order to keep everyone committed to the strike. But voting was not that important; most votes were overwhelmingly one-sided. Decisions expressed the sense of the meeting as it arose from the discussions, and voting was only one among several devices for revealing or expressing that sense. Neither mass meetings nor committee meetings were “chaired” in the usual way of academic meetings.
Early in the strike several people emerged as fair-minded and effective co-ordinators of meetings, among them a number of girls from New School College. Through a kind of implicit consensus, one or several of them would take charge of a meeting, frequently rotating control of the microphone. Conventional notions of orderly procedure had no place. They were the wrong style, for a good reason. Conventional procedure leads by fairly rigid steps to a majority decision. The rather different procedure which the strike adopted imposes another kind of order upon individual responses so as to form a common will. What emerges is not a majority decision but a community response. Parliamentary rules may be helpful in this, but parliamentary politics clearly are not.
Meetings were open to anyone who wished to take part. This openness very much worried the administration. Whom did the representatives with whom they were negotiating represent? Only themselves, came the inevitable reply. They could not have said differently, for the strike rejected the formal apparatus of representative democracy. No decision could be binding upon anyone who did not take part in formulating and making it. To put it in a slogan: No decision without participation. Obviously not every trivial detail had to be discussed and ratified by mass meetings; this principle applied only to major policy issues. Equally obviously, it sacrificed speed and efficiency, as bureaucratically defined, to egalitarianism. But there is no doubt that, at least for a limited time, it worked.
But the administration, bewildered by the indeterminable nature of the group it was dealing with, insisted at a penultimate stage on student signatures to validate one of the many agreements that seemed in sight. These students, reared among computers, recoiled, laughed, and grew as suspicious as savages confronting a census taker. They knew who they were—why must they be counted?
Among this generation of students, discussion is hardly ever cut off unilaterally. The ties that bind are moral, not legal or parliamentary. Each person is responsible for his own action, there is no coercion. Autocratic, secretive, or intolerant behavior is a sin against the whole, yet an individual who dissents may simply get up and leave. On the other hand, they permit most direct expressions of opinion. They understand and withstand exchanges that could lead to suits of libel or physical assault in an older generation. They do not hold grudges. These young people, who seem to have neither fathers nor mothers, protect and shelter each other. Their physical closeness is both affective and symbolic. They are not basically violent because they do not oppress or repress each other.
They do not seem to have been bred for competition. They come to school to learn, if possible, not to compete. They see through cant and are skeptical of their teachers; it is the man behind the academic mask who interests them. Their question is existential: “What has that man done with his life?” But they do not express this openly. Except in crisis, they reserve their candor for themselves. They detest manipulativeness; a bureaucratic maneuver is simply a lie. Their language can be direct and shocking but they do not mean it to be obscene. One is reminded of the concrete, pungent, sometimes surrealistic, yet hardly ever pornographic terminology of primitive peoples. Their music is rhythmic and vital, to be danced to, lived with. It is neither intellectual nor refined. But they discriminate between imitations of their genre and the real thing.
Like savages, they suspect strangers; if they are terrified by anything, it is by the force and casuistry of the civilization that surrounds them. They distrust abstractions; when they occupy the registrar’s office they substitute their living selves for the frozen records and the filing cabinets. And make no mistake about it, their instinct for our failings is deadly and accurate. Yet, with it all, they are a curiously gentle breed. It takes everything they’ve got to pit themselves against authority; they do not struggle for the sake of power, but to deny the validity of irrational, compulsive—whether familial, vocational, or governmental—power. That is why their language can seem in such violent contrast to their social character. This is a post-hippie, post-SDS consciousness with something of the affective style of the one and the political impulse of the other, but soberer, more solid, more permanent. The cultural blend is cool and the style is spreading.
It would however, be wrong to assume that this cultural style cannot be negated by certain social realities. These are, after all, children of the bourgeoisie. As students, they represent a transient status, not a class. In the ordinary course of events they would take their “normal” position in society. Students rarely become déclassés. But it would be equally wrong to imagine that these students are merely suffering some kind of oedipal rebellion, unconsciously bent on overthrowing and replacing their fathers—in spite of the implications of some of their favorite terms.
They are authentically repelled by the society for which the schools are preparing them. They reject its fundamental character. This is what they mean when they call themselves revolutionaries, not rebels. Their problem pertains to their position in the social structure; it is not primarily psychological. By and large, for example, workers have not thus far shared the affinity that students claim with them. For the conventional white or black worker, and this applies with equal force to the small bourgeois, the college or university student is privileged; he retains access to the power structure, his sympathies seem patronizing. The question then is one of leverage, and the students clearly understand the dilemma.
One is led to the ironic speculation that the only immediate political consequence of the student movement, its cultural style aside, may be to shake up the bourgeois elements they deride sufficiently to help bring down the Nixon Administration. Education is, after all, America’s magic, as Ruth Benedict put it, and higher education is a major, perhaps the major, channel for social mobility. Today, the bourgeoisie may resent the students whom they cannot control, but they have invested enormously in them and tomorrow they may shift their loyalties in favor of their imperilled “children.”
Indeed, the violent anti-student reaction of a portion of the workers and lower middle class can be interpreted as resentment against student rejection of the conventional American goals of education. Should the pendulum swing, it will certainly fall short of the revolutionary rhetoric of the student movement, although it may move far enough to re-establish the American “liberal” consciousness. Such historical ironies are, after all, familiar.
Of course, the tribe on 14th Street was defeated by the bureaucracy. On Monday morning, May 25, after three weeks of what must have been one of the longest sit-ins in history, the administration launched a slow, civilized bust on grounds of criminal trespass. The students naturally perceived this as a violent act despite the avoidance of physical violence. The police arrested twenty-one strikers who refused to vacate the building after the third warning. They had been self-selected to represent the tribe as a whole. Two were high-school girls who were remanded to Family Court; one was a street mystic who had been wandering in and out of the building all week, and was subsequently released by the court. The rest were booked, arraigned, and released on parole until September 15. This police action interrupted, but did not invalidate, injunction proceedings, which were scheduled to continue before a sympathetic judge on Wednesday, May 27.
He had not, contrary to expectations, issued a preliminary injunction, but had requested a further hearing in his chambers. The students seemed to have won a moral victory at the very moment the administration called in the police to clear premises that had been illegally occupied for a week. That is, while in the midst of a civil proceeding, the angry, resigned, and pressured administration resorted to immediate physical force. As the students walked out of the building to the waiting vans, through a cordon of police, under the puzzled eyes of the faculty, an authentically conservative political science professor wept. One distinguished philosopher in exile said to no one in particular, “Now we’ve got the building back.”
They’ve got the building, but the conflict over the character of the university is just beginning, and the struggle for the soul of the country goes on. As for the student strikers, they are moving their antiwar committees, seminars, and meetings out of the New School. This declaration of independence is a healthy thing and they have made their point. The Graduate Faculty of the New School was conceived in one crisis. Will it be reconceived in another?
June 18, 1970
One should add to this roster later members of the faculty who are in the same tradition: Erich Kahler, Jacques Maritain, Aron Gurwitsch, Hans Jonas, and Hannah Arendt. ↩
Blue and white collar workers at the school were generally sympathetic to the strike. But after much discussion, their own immediate interests apparently prevented them from actively joining the students. ↩