Between April 30 and May 13, 1970, Princeton University turned deliberately and decisively over, and will never be quite the same again. Symbolic of the new Princeton is its having thrown open the main gates of the campus. The experience was in many ways similar to that of hundreds of other colleges and universities across the country, but the special forms it took, and the political initiatives that came out of it, are of more than parochial interest. There are some valuable lessons to be learned.
Princeton is a university which, before President Nixon invaded Cambodia, had not had a riot, sustained disruption, or act of personal violence, and which even today has been subjected to only two minor and universally condemned cases of attempted arson, and a peaceful blockade of a military research installation, which was terminated by a court order without violence. On the other hand, when the full nature of what had happened began to be appreciated in Washington, Senator Strom Thurmond publicly demanded that the Internal Revenue Service investigate Princeton’s tax-exempt status. The absence of physical violence at Princeton and the outbreak of rhetorical violence on Capitol Hill both require some explanation.
The best way to proceed is first to describe what happened, and then to speculate about causes and consequences. To clarify the chronology, we have to discuss five principal events: a meeting in the university chapel on Thursday, April 30; meetings to draw up resolutions held by the Council of the Princeton University Community and the Strike Committee on the following Sunday; the Princeton Assembly on Monday afternoon; a series of meetings by the faculty on subsequent days; and the setting up of three major and several lesser political organizations.
The story begins with the mass meeting in the university chapel immediately after President Nixon’s speech on Thursday. Outraged by what they had heard, the students swarmed out of the dormitories and within the hour 2,500 persons out of a total university community of under 6,000 were packed in and around the chapel. The meeting decided to call a “strike” to protest the escalation of the war, pending action of an Assembly of the whole university community called for Monday afternoon, and immediately afterward an ad hoc Strike Committee was set up. Originally this consisted entirely of undergraduates, only a small minority of whom were SDS, but in the next few days graduate students and faculty representatives were added.
The first clear proof that a dramatic shift of opinion had taken place and that the students now meant business was the last-minute decision by most of the eating clubs—traditionally the bastions of campus conservativism—to cancel arrangements for Saturday dances and other festivities on what was to have been the most important social occasion of the year, and to donate the money to antiwar organizations that were springing up everywhere.
The Assembly has no constitutional authority whatever, and is a device to avoid formal institutional commitment to political positions, while allowing members of the university community to come together to express their collective feelings and beliefs. It had been used in November to register support for the Moratorium, since at that time most students and faculty were already gravely disturbed at the failure to end the war, although at any rate the faculty still insisted on the preservation of institutional neutrality. The Princeton community was clearly very anxious in November, but not yet desperate.
The Assembly on May 4 was attended by about 4,000 people who spent four hours discussing two sets of resolutions, one brought forward by the Strike Committee, and another more detailed set worked out by the Council of the Princeton University Community. The Council is a fledgling institution which began to function this year, and is composed of elected representatives of all the constituent parts of the university—administration, faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, professional staff, and alumni. It is meant to act as an influential advisory body on all aspects of policy, and this was the first real test of its political clout. The Assembly voted 2,000 to 1,500 for the Council’s recommendations in preference to those of the Strike Committee.
The differences between the two sets of resolutions involved tactics rather than basic objectives, but they were of fundamental importance since the Strike Committee wanted to use the resources of the university for antiwar purposes—which is probably illegal—and immediately to sever relations with the Department of Defense—which would have the most devastating personal and financial consequences. The vote therefore left open the possibility of a deep division within the university. Such a division was not at all unwelcome to a few of the militant radicals, but the danger was averted by a strong call for unity by the elected president of the Undergraduate Assembly—the first black president in Princeton’s history—who pointed out that “division is all that Nixon wants,” and by the prompt setting up of a coordinating committee of the University Council and the Strike Committee.
The first act of the Assembly was to vote, with only about 200 dissentients out of 4,000, to condemn the Cambodian invasion. This political stand was later approved by the faculty, by a huge majority after a long debate, thus reversing the strong stand against institutional commitment to political positions which had been taken by the faculty as recently as November 1969, at the time of the Moratorium. That the faculty was fully aware of the gravity of this step is shown by the preamble to the resolution: “The previous conduct and recent escalation of the United States war in Indochina is so dangerous to the nation and to the pursuit of learning in universities that we, the faculty of Princeton University, feel impelled, on this occasion, to abandon our usual reluctance to express ourselves on political issues.” It is also shown by the way the faculty backed off from all further institutional commitments to opposition to the draft and other political and moral positions.
Secondly, the Assembly called for a noncoercive “strike”—no one could think of a more appropriate word—involving a modification of normal end-of-term procedures “to enable those individuals who believe that they must suspend their normal activities to do so without prejudice to their academic standing, at the same time permitting those individuals who wish to continue their normal activities to do so.” A very significant aspect of this resolution, the practical details of which were subsequently approved by the faculty, is its noncoercive nature, which set a precedent for all future actions. As a result, examinations have proceded as usual for those who want them, and modifications of full academic requirements have mainly taken the form of pass/fail rather than grades and of postponement rather than waiver. In fact, a large majority of students appear to have given up attempts to continue their normal academic curriculum this term, and perhaps as many as half of them are fully engaged in various forms of political activity. This is a truly staggering proportion for a normally fairly quiescent student body.
Thirdly, the Assembly recommended a reorganization of the academic calendar in the fall term of 1970, so as to provide a two-week-recess immediately prior to the November elections. This scheme had been worked out on Friday by a group of students and junior faculty who were anxious that the strike should direct itself to concrete political action rather than dissolve in futile protests and destructive internal squabbles. According to the plan, which was rapidly endorsed by the president and the student newspaper and later by the faculty, school would start one week early, the Thanksgiving recess would be eliminated, and the Christmas holidays would be postponed by three days. Thus those who want to do so will be able to work actively for candidates of their choice. The arrangements are thus scrupulously noncoercive in character and are designed to maintain the full educational functions of the university. If a substantial number of other colleges follow suit, this move could unleash a flood of students for political campaigning in the decisive weeks before the November elections.
The Strike Committee wanted to commit university resources directly to antidraft activity, while both the University Council and the Strike Committee were determined to overhaul the university’s relations with the military. The Strike Committee demanded an immediate severing of all ties with ROTC, the immediate termination of the lease to the Institute for Defense Analyses (a small military think-tank which was installed at the height of the cold war on university property adjacent to the campus), and the immediate severing of all financial relations with the Department of Defense.
Some of the more militant activists of SDS found an outlet for their energies in a physical, though non-violent, blockade of the IDA building, a move which at first enjoyed a good deal of sympathy from the moderate students and from some of the faculty. As the siege went on, however, opinion swung against it, as both tactically inept and irrelevant to the major issues of stopping the war and cutting down federal funds for military activities. The unity of the university was quickly re-established by a declaration by President Goheen, acting independently of the blockade, that he was opening prompt negotiations in order to terminate the lease as soon as possible, a decision strongly approved by the faculty.
The faculty also voted to terminate all connections with ROTC as soon as possible, with a proviso that the plight of students dependent on ROTC grants should be respected. Once again there was careful concern for individual rights. The most difficult and complex problem in Princeton’s relations with the military is that of scientific research financed by the Department of Defense. The research careers of many dozens of faculty, graduate students, and staff are dependent on these grants, most of which are for research with only the remotest connection with military technology. Nearly $4 million worth of grants are now in process, and the university has no resources of its own to fill this giant hole.
It should be explained that by an accident of history and by the way the politics of Washington work, a high proportion of all purely scientific research with no direct application to warfare is sponsored by the Department of Defense. It should also be stressed that for over ten years now Princeton has refused to accept funds for classified research, so that the proportion of directly war-related research on campus is minimal. But so obscure are the facts and so enormous the effects on the university of a refusal of funds from the Department of Defense and other military agencies that the faculty and the Council decided to set up a special committee to examine all aspects of the problem, and to report back by November 1, 1970.
In order to provide machinery for the flow of money to antiwar activities, while at the same time carefully preserving the institutional neutrality of the university, the faculty approved the setting up of a Princeton Community Fund, to which all members of the university who wished to do so were invited to contribute at least one day’s pay. The Fund is thus a purely private source of money, which is used to pay the university for all the facilities—telephones, typewriters, mimeograph machines, paper, etc.—which are used by the various antiwar organizations housed on campus. The sole contribution of the university is the provision of free space.
Finally, the faculty passed a strong resolution abhorring all forms of violence and physical coercion. Many thought that such a statement was redundant, but were convinced of its necessity by recent statements of the Vice President and the Attorney General, and by letters to the newspapers, which suggest that it is widely believed that academic administrators and faculty condone the use of violence for political ends. These far-reaching decisions were taken only after prolonged debate, but they were all eventually carried by overwhelmingly large majorities. The conservatives were apparently so shaken by Presidential policies that they either stayed at home, retreated into silence, or came out in support of measures they would vigorously have opposed a week before.
Meanwhile, students and faculty were devising constructive ways to use the money in the Fund in order to bring maximum pressure to bear upon the political scene. The three major plans were the Princeton Movement for a New Congress, the Speakers Bureau, and the Princeton Union for National Draft Opposition.
Such, in brief, are the facts. The first question is why this deep outpouring of emotion flowed at Princeton in such peaceful and constructive channels, instead of expressing itself in nihilism and violence as happened on so many other campuses, and why Princeton succeeded in organizing itself so quickly. Two reasons are size and location. With a student body of fewer than 5,000, Princeton is an easy place for groups to communicate with each other. Set in the countryside of New Jersey, it is relatively free from the terrible pressures of the city, like those which left Yale drained and exhausted when the Cambodian crisis came. That the faculty and students held together and marched in step was partly owing to their traditionally close links and the high faculty-student ratio (a function of sheer wealth).
But more important was the fact that the structure of power and decision-making had already been radically altered along the lines recommended by a committee headed by Professor Stanley Kelley of the Politics Department. This committee had been set up two years ago this May as a result of a nonviolent demonstration organized by the SDS in protest against the university’s close ties with the IDA, and against the pyramidal concentration of power in the hands of the trustees, administration, and faculty. The demonstration was the SDS’s finest hour, and its greatest and most lasting contribution to Princeton. The aims of the demonstrators were supported by most of the faculty and were accepted by the president. All that has subsequently happened at Princeton has followed from this critical turning point.
As a result of the major changes in the distribution of power recommended by the Kelley Committee, Princeton entered on the Cambodian crisis with student members sitting on most university and faculty committees, and with many new participatory institutions already in existence, such as student advisory committees in each department, the Council of the Princeton University Community, and the Princeton Assembly. These provided regular channels for rapid cooperation and action among administrators, faculty, and students. This was important, not only in allowing Princeton to move so fast, but also in isolating the small but prominent minority who wanted to use the crisis to liberate the students from their dependence on the faculty, and to strike against the university rather than against the war.
Although it did not appear so at the time, it was probably also helpful that these participatory institutions were still brand-new, and that they had been subjected to enormous strains in the previous weeks, as the university authorities tried to discipline a group of students who had deliberately prevented Secretary Hickel (who in those far-off days was regarded as unredeemably evil) from being heard at a conference on ecology. The campus was tense, the editorials in the student newspaper were angry and threatening, and the faculty found themselves defending the traditional right of free speech and institutional neutrality to uncomprehending students who saw only another copout. Though often a dialogue of the deaf, this experience had alerted many faculty to the depth of feeling just below the surface of an ostensibly placid campus. It also forced administrators, faculty, and students to realize how terribly fragile were the bridges they were building among themselves, and that the whole program of the Kelley Committee for restructuring the university would be seriously endangered by another major confrontation.
When the Cambodian crisis erupted, almost everyone had learned the lessons of the “Hickel affair,” and saw the essential need for compromise and cooperation if the university were not to tear itself apart rather than to help turn America around. What President Nixon did by invading Cambodia, resuming the bombing of North Vietnam, describing students as “bums,” and unleashing the divisive rhetoric of Vice President Agnew was to activate the moderate middle of both students and faculty who had hitherto gone quietly about their business and had left political protest to the activists of the SDS.
These moderates now emerged in force and threw themselves into political action, determined to give the American political system one last try. The leaders, both students and faculty, are morally committed but intellectually hardheaded and realistic. They are pragmatists rather than ideologues, and are demonstrating remarkable skills in political organization and in the manipulation of the news media. They and their followers seem to consist partly of the less extreme supporters of the New Left and partly of old-timers who fought in the McCarthy and Kennedy campaigns and who see one more chance to exercise their talents for constructive purposes.
More important in both numbers and weight, however, is a vast new phalanx of the hitherto uncommitted, young men and adults normally conservative by temperament and background, who are bringing with them invaluable contacts among the business and political elites, and a determination to make the political institutions of America respond to reasoned pressure. The predominance of the naturally conservative or apolitical in the movement is the reason why so much of the initiative is coming from places like Notre Dame, Dartmouth, and Princeton. The sudden arousal of this hitherto quiescent mass is remarkable proof of the “J curve” theory, according to which revolutions tend to occur when a long period of rising expectations is suddenly followed by deterioration, disillusionment, and a sense of betrayal. For two years the moderates had believed that the war was slowly winding down, but the Cambodian invasion shattered their hopes and drove them into furious action.
A further reason that events took the turn they did at Princeton was the resilience and the leadership provided by the administration. President Goheen led the faculty in recognizing immediately the seriousness of the crisis, and in responding rapidly and sympathetically to the student calls for action. At the same time, the liberals have seen to it that great care has been taken at all times to respect the rights of individuals—those who wish to continue their studies and to take exams, those who are supported by DOD or ROTC grants, those who do not wish to take any political stand at all, those who support the war. Apart from the one antiwar resolution, the political neutrality of the university as an institution has been preserved with great care, while the maximum freedom for political action for its individual members has been facilitated. Senator Thurmond’s threats against the university’s tax-exempt status were superfluous, since all political organizations on campus have always been aware of the great importance of exercising the most scrupulous care in their financial accounting with the university, by paying for all the equipment and materials they use.
One of the most striking shifts of opinion in the past few weeks has been over the question of the university’s ties with the military-industrial complex. Most of the Princeton community is now aware of the urgent necessity of taming this Frankenstein monster, bred of the Second World War and the cold war, and of radically altering national priorities. Those who a month ago were content that the university should accept the DOD grants for research, provided that none of it was classified, now want to see it transferred to civilian agencies or got rid of altogether. Those who a month ago were content to have ROTC on campus, provided that it was a strictly extracurricular activity like rowing, are now determined to get rid of it altogether. Those who a month ago were content to let the Institute for Defense Analyses stay until its lease expires in 1975 now want it out as soon as possible.
The horror and revulsion against all things military arise from a final recognition that the $80 billion annual investment has created a giant interest in perpetuating expenditure on the technological hardware of overkill. The moderate middle has been shocked by Mylai and Kent State and Augusta and Jackson State into seeing the truth of what the radicals have been saying all along, namely that there is a connection between war abroad and racism and repression at home. It now sees the threat to freedom of speech as coming as much from the right as from the left, and the threat to the rule of law as coming as much from the agencies of law enforcement as from the forces of radical dissent—if not more. The moderate majority on campus today, then, sees the world much the way it was seen by the New Left in April. It has absorbed many of the New Left’s ideas, but has impatiently pushed the extremist SDS leaders to one side, rejecting their tired rhetoric and their theatrical counter-productive tactics, and is now setting about trying to change the world through the machinery of electoral politics.
Potentially the most important of the many political initiatives launched by Princeton is the Princeton Movement for a New Congress, which is headed by Professor Gary Orfield, a young political scientist who has already made an impact on Washington by helping to block the Haynsworth and Carswell appointments to the Supreme Court. Now more and more closely linked to numerous similar organizations, and with affiliates already established in over 300 colleges, the Movement has enlisted the imagination and enthusiasm and talents of hundreds of students at Princeton and thousands more elsewhere. A computerized data bank on Congressional voting records has been established to help identify the hawks and the doves, and students are already busy supporting peace candidates in primaries in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Neatly dressed and closely shaved, they are now out ringing door-bells; the Princeton barbers have never been so busy as in the first week of May.
The second Princeton initiative is the Speakers Bureau, which is organizing faculty and students to go out to Middle America, to Rotary Clubs, alumni reunions, etc., in order to convey the depth and seriousness of campus opposition to the war. The Bureau is also preparing for publication a reader, tentatively entitled “One Campus on Cambodia,” which will include an anthology of student essays on the subject “Why I’m Against the War.”
The third major new organization is devoted to orchestrating opposition to the draft on a national scale. After a moving ceremony in the Princeton University Chapel, over 190 students placed their draft cards on the altar and left them in the custody of the Dean of the University Chapel—a figure which has since risen to the astonishing total of over 300. The Union for National Draft Opposition is a nation-wide organization based at Princeton, which offers information, moral support, and legal aid to those who feel they cannot serve, encourages an expansion of the concept and use of conscientious objection, and lobbies for other reforms of the draft law.
Make no mistake about it, these and many other political efforts of students and faculty should not be treated lightly. The first “Children’s Crusade” ended in political annihilation and bloodshed in Chicago. If the second goes the way of the first, if the politicians refuse to listen and drastically to change national priorities, the depth of despair among the young and among the intellectuals is frightening to contemplate. Today it is not only the war which revolts them. It is also the prospect of growing environmental pollution; it is the diversion of billions of dollars to piling up useless instruments of death in an arms race no one can win; it is the polarization of the country between black and white; it is the growing contempt on all sides for the rule of law. This is not a world into which the young want to bring their children, and many are talking seriously of not having any, unless things change for the better. But the experience at Princeton and at many other campuses since April 30 offers at least some glimmer of hope, for it proves that reason can still prevail over unreason, nonviolence over violence, constructive over destructive action.
June 18, 1970