Student Take-Over at Columbia University

Student Take-Over at Columbia University  

by Kyle Novak

A. Life was different at Columbia University in 1968. There was a war and a draft. There were ROTC drills on South Field, military and CIA recruiters on campus. The Civil Rights movement, led by the Black Panthers, captured students’ imaginations. Dr. King had just been killed and the cities were in flames. You couldn’t ignore all this.

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B. On April 23, several hundred students gathered at the sundial on the Columbia campus to protest the Vietnam War because the university had a relationship with the Institute for Defense Analyses and supported other war related activities, such as ROTC drills on campus. The students were also outraged by the lack of sensitivities of black New Yorkers, as the University attempted to construct a gym that usurp a portion of Morningside Park and be accessible to neighboring Harlem residents mainly through an ignominious (embarrassing) back door.

C. By morning, African American students continued to occupy Hamilton, while other Columbia and Barnard students, mostly white, took over President Grayson Kirk’s office in Low Library. Soon student protesters took over three other buildings—Fayerweather, Mathematics, and Avery. The protesters were demonized as ill-tempered and self-righteous radicals who resorted to militant disruption when other means of protest were still available. On April 30th, the New York City police arrested more than 700 protesters.

Questions:

  1. In Paragraph A, what couldn’t be ignored at Columbia University?
  2. According to Paragraph B, what groups led the protest on April 23?
  3. What happened to the students in Paragraph C?
  4. How were the students described in Paragraph C?
  5. In your opinion, Is this an accurate description of the events? Why?
  6. In your opinion, did the students act appropriately? If not, what could they have done differently?
Sources: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/1968/
http://www.columbia1968.com/history/#more
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/nyregion/columbia-university-1968-protests.html

NY Times: 300 protesting Columbia Students Barricade Office of College Dean (April 24, 1968)

A. Three-hundred chanting students barricaded the Dean of Columbia College in his office yesterday to protest the construction of a gymnasium in Morningside Park and a defense oriented program participated in by Columbia University.

columbia-uprising-1968-2

B. The students say that construction of the gymnasium would be “racist” because it would deprive Negroes in the area of recreational facilities. The charge against the defense program, the Institute for Defense Analysis, was that it supported the war effort in Vietnam.

C. The protest, organized by the leftist Students for a Democratic Society, had the support of other Columbia campus groups. Representatives of several Negro organizations unrelated to Columbia joined the protest.

D. The protesters marched throughout the campus, where Mr. Mark Rudd addressed the group at the sundial. “We’re going to have to take a hostage to make them let go of I.D.A and let go of the gym” he shouted.

Questions:

  1. What was occurring in  Paragraph A?
  2. According to  Paragraph B, why were the students protesting?
  3. What does Mark Rudd suggest in Paragraph D?
  4. In your opinion, how would Civil Rights organizations impact the protest?

NY Times Editorial: Hoodlumism at Columbia (April 25, 1968)

The destructive minority of students at Columbia University, along with their not so friendly allies among community militants, have offered a degrading spectacle of hoodlum tactics-the exaltation of irresponsibility over reason. Whatever causes these students to claim to be supporting have been defiled by their vandalism.

The student action, organized by the extremist forces of the Students for a Democratic Society, sabotages that search for a constructive course. By turning down the administration’s invitation to discuss their grievances and demands, the self-styled student leaders have shown their true purpose of disruption.

Massive student participation in the Presidential campaign has given a persuasive demonstration that young people can apply their political power in meaningful ways through legitimate and legal forms of expression. The students at Columbia and elsewhere, undermine academic freedom and the free society itself by resorting to such junta methods as wrecking the university President’s office and holding administrators and trustees as hostages.

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Questions:

  1. According to the editorial, what has vandalism done to the protest?
  2. In Paragraph B, how does the editorial describe the Students for a Democratic Society?
  3. In Paragraph C, how does the author characterize the student participation in the presidential campaign?
  4. Do you agree or disagree with the editorial depiction of the student strike? Explain.

NY Times: Columbia Halting Work on its Gym (April 26, 1968)

Columbia 5 harlem protest

Columbia University announced early this morning that it’s halting work on the gymnasium that had set off a student protest. It also said it was closing the university until Monday, and was postponing and police action on campus. Despite the announcement students remained in the buildings they had occupied.

Yesterday afternoon, Dr. Grayson Kirk, the university president, refused to grant demonstrating students their key demand- an amnesty covering all participants in the protest, which is primarily directed against the construction of a new gymnasium in Morningside Park.

Complicating efforts to end the campus dispute was a split between Negro students holding Hamilton Hall and white students led by the Students for a Democratic Society holding the other three buildings and conducting picketing.

Student leaders and university sources said that although the objectives of the two groups were largely similar, they had broken over tactics, with the Negroes advocating more militancy than the whites were prepared to accept.

Questions:

  • According to Paragraph B, what did Dr. Kirk refuse to grant?
  • What is complicating efforts to end the dispute based off the information in paragraph C?
  • In your opinion, why did Dr. Kirk not want to grant amnesty to the protesters?
  • How do you think the student groups were able to continue the protest for several days despite having different tactics?

Times Editorial: Citadel of Reason (April 29, 1968)

A. It was apparent from the start that the youthful junta which has substituted dictatorship by temper tantrum for undergraduate democracy neither cared about nor has received support from the majority of students. That isolated it from even the shadow of moral right to demand amnesty for its irresponsibility.

B. But Columbia’s slowness to do what it is now doing should not permit the rebels slogans to obscure the facts underlying the present test. The university administration offered to discuss all grievances with the dissidents before they staged their coup.

Questions:

  1. What is the definition of “junta” in paragraph A?
  2. What is the opinion of the author in paragraph A?
  3. According to paragraph B, How did the university attempt to address the protesters?
  4. In your opinion, is this excerpt biased? Provide evidence supporting your opinion.

NY Times: 1,000 Police Move onto Columbia Campus to Oust Students (April 30, 1968)

As the hour for the police assault approached, tension mounted sharply on the campus as groups of students held informal meetings. At 1:45am, when word reached Mathematics building that “a bust” or police raid, was imminent, student demonstrators began strengthening their barricades and girding themselves for the assault. The police commanders were said to be carrying written instructions from Police commissioner Howard R. Leary to use necessary force but to show restraint in their handling of the students. The police acted in response to a request from the administration of the university it was understood. Under normal procedure, the police would take no action on the campus, which is private property, unless formally authorized to do so by university officials.

Question: In your opinion, should police have been called to oust the student demonstrators? Explain.

Questions:

columbia-1968-protests

  1. What is happening in the photo?
  2. Based on the description above and the photo, would you have participated in the take-over if you were a student at Columbia?
  3. How long did the protest last?
  4. What is the definition of “amnesty” on April 27?
  5. In your opinion, did school administrators and the the police act appropriately on April 30th? Why or why not?

Timeline of Events

Tuesday April 23
Noon: SDS sundial rally
2:00 pm: Sit-in begins in Hamilton Hall, Dean Henry Coleman restrained by students
2:50 pm: 6 Demands formulated, students refuse to leave until demands are met
Wednesday April 24
6:15 am: Students break into Low Library
3:30 pm: Dean Coleman released
8:00 pm: Administration makes unsuccessful compromise offer
Thursday April 25
2:00 am: Fayweather Hall occupied by Students
4:00 pm: Ad Hoc Faculty Group, first proposals to end demonstrations
8:00 pm: Strikers reject Ad Hoc Faculty proposals
Friday April 26 1:05 am: Mathematics Hall occupied by Students

3:20 am: Gym construction suspended, police action cancelled

1:10 pm: H. Rap Brown and Stokley Carmichael enter campus

Saturday April 27
1:00 am: Mark Rudd rejects mediation that does not include amnesty for striking students
11:30 am: Faculty cordon around Low Library established to prevent access to demonstrators
Sunday April 28
8:00 am: Ad Hoc Faculty group announces final resolution
6:00 pm: Demonstrators attempt to pass food through counter-demonstrators cordon into Low Library
Monday April 29
6:30 pm: Strikers reject final resolution
Tuesday April 30
5:30 am: NYCPD remove students from occupied buildings and clear campus, 712 arrested, 148 injured
8:00 pm: Students hold strike meeting in Wollman Auditorium

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