Columbia University is warily edging toward the 40th anniversary of its greatest disaster, the 1968 student uprising and occupation of five buildings, eventually cleared by vigorous and sometimes brutal city police.
The revolt was led by Students for a Democratic Society, which was protesting Columbia's affiliation with a U.S. Defense Department think tank - and other students who were teed off about, among other things, the university's plans to build a gymnasium in Morningside Heights. (Protesters labeled it "Gym Crow.")
Today, as another controversial war rages - and many current Columbia students bitterly oppose the university's current Harlem expansion plans - it's critical the school remember its history accurately.
We should be so lucky. The conference, slated for April 24 to 27, is officially an "event," not a celebration or even a commemoration. It is being staged "at" Columbia, not "by" it. The administration is not funding, sponsoring or organizing the conference.
But this arm's-length pose of the administration is blurred by the fact that university President Lee Bollinger, scheduled for two appearances at the meeting, seems to be sanctioning and endorsing it by his presence. In addition, the group of 1968 protesters who are in charge of the remembrance have been allowed to use several campus buildings, and two Columbia centers are officially listed as sponsors of individual events.
And though the program of events promises a "wide range of viewpoints" on what happened and why, the list of speakers shows no range at all; everyone seems to be a proud ex-protester or a familiar partisan of the left. On the program are veteran activist Tom Hayden, Kathleen Cleaver (Eldridge Cleaver's widow and a former official of the Black Panthers), several former members of the violent, radical Weather Underground and Ti-Grace Atkinson (a radical feminist from the 1960s who opposes sexual intercourse and thinks it should never take place).
Not one member of the '68 Columbia faculty is participating, a major flaw. Sponsors say voices of nonleftists will be included in a "multimedia narrative," but proposals to include diverse viewpoints on panels were brushed aside. So were detailed suggestions by Columbia sociology Prof. Allan Silver, who in '68 played a role as a member of a faculty group trying to work out a compromise before police cleared the occupied buildings. Silver urged participation from New York City police officials, aides to then-Mayor John Lindsay, reporters who covered the events or current or recent Columbia students in ROTC programs. No representatives from any of these groups are listed in the conference timetable issued in mid-March.
"It's going to be an all-Bolshevik conference," said Neal Hurwitz, 1967 Columbia grad.
So what will this homogeneous group of people actually talk about at the gathering? Early signs are not encouraging.
Commentary on the sponsors' Web site features bitter resentment about the term "student riots"; the protesters believed that in occupying Columbia buildings, they had behaved well. But critics argued that the strikers needed to face some shameful things - holding the college dean captive for many hours, trashing a conservative professor's office and setting it afire, and hurling paving stones down at police.
As Hurwitz has written, "This was a strike reunion from the start" - one that never intended to explore issues raised by the protests in a reflective manner.
Some day, Columbia may sponsor a forum with people on all sides discussing the impact and meaning of the 1968 eruption. Its current students and faculty - and the entire city - would surely benefit from such an honest reckoning with its past. But this isn't it.
Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2008/04/10/2008-04-10_at_columbia_history_is_being_written_by_.html