Tempest in a Teacup: lightning-fast guide to scandals, controversies, and dustups

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OK, not really. We don’t feel like rehashing Spec’s summary of recent brouhahas, which is a rehash of last year’s article on the subject (plus the Minuteman thing, which prompted this must-read). But they missed the older ones, which are sort of important to understanding everything that comes after.

jjAncient History (1968)

This is where Columbia got its name—since debunked by decades of relative apathy—for radical campus activism. Spurred by Columbia’s ties to the defense establishment and its proposal to build a gym over Morningside Park (which would have had Jim Crow-style separate entrances for University affiliates and for the community), the Student Afro Society and Students for a Democratic Society (led by Mark Rudd, whom Bwog caught up with last spring after an SDS chapter dubiously restarted on campus) decided in April 1968 to occupy several campus buildings including Hamilton Hall and the President’s own office. Pictures from a Newsweek cover story of scruffy young men (this is pre-female-integration) kicking back in President Grayson Kirk’s chair, feet on the table and cigars in hand, shocked the nation. Wikipedia, as usual, has the details.

Fast forward a few decades…the Ethnic Studies fight

Aside from a few more Hamilton barricades over South African apartheid in the 1970s and 80s, the next big dust-up occurred in 1996, when 100 students barricaded Hamilton (it must be easy to take over), 23 were arrested attempting to blockade Low, and three went on a 15-day hunger strike to demand the creation of an Ethnic Studies department. They failed. Their modern protégés are still trying.


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  1. i still don't

    understand why people were pissed off about this gym. i ALSO don't understand why columbia would want anyone unaffiliated with columbia to be allowed into it. fuck separate entrances--don't let the community in AT ALL. it's SAFER that way.

    • Agreed  

      Yeah, we really could have used that gym. It sure would have beat the high school gym that passes for our Lions today.

      I think it was just a bad combination of the times. The gym was not necessarily segregated, but since this was the late '60s (at the height of the civil rights/black power) movements, some may have construed it as such. The fact that we held contracts with the Defense Department at the time of a very unpopular war only escalated things. When you take those two events into account, the gym was but the fuse that ignited the powder keg.

      To this day, I think it's a real shame that (1) the gym did not get built and (2) that the '68 protests even happened. Those protests almost singlehandedly destroyed Columbia's prestige for the next two decades. Many star professors left, alumni tightened their pockets, and rich families grew wary of sending their sons to school in a city that was clearly in decline. Before '68, one could speak of Columbia in the same breath as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, but after the protests, those schools and others like Stanford quickly outpaced Columbia. Now, 40 years afterwards, Columbia is again on the rise to the premier ranks of the country's universities; but that only goes to show how long it has taken to get over the harsh legacy of the '68 protests.

      Now what I'll NEVER understand is why several students continue to actually laud the protesters of 1968, as if they were some kind of freedom fighters. Those people (SDS, Mark Rudd, and their ilk) were misguided fools who didn't care about the value of their education, but instead were locked into some hopeless leftist cause. Not saying that the Vietnam War was something that did this country a whole lot of good, but it should not have provoked a reaction on the campus like the 1968 protests.

    • the gym

      was being built on public park land. the deal was that Columbia would get to build its gym on public land, but they would have to build a community gym as well. it was going to be in the same building, but not shared space.

      when the plan was announced in 1961, it was hailed by all. however Columbia never funded the project (the gym was going to be for the college only, and the university didn't really want to spend the money and waited for Alumni to pay instead). Each time the building permit expired, Columbia asked for an extension, and in order to get it they had to concede more to the community. After much foot dragging, they finally started digging without having the money in 1968 because the city threatened to revoke the offer for good.

      But by 1968 the country had changed drastically- JFK had been assassinated. MLK Jr had been assassinated. Malcolm X had been assassinated. The civil rights movement was boiling over into the black power movement.

      What had been a very pragmatic arrangement, Columbia on top, Community on the bottom, suddenly turned into an expression of institutional racism.

      read the chapter "Riding the Whirlwind" in robert mccaughey's "Stand, Columbia" for a solid history.

  2. rudy

    none of the links work properly.

  3. Ethnic Studies

    The ethnic studies strikers didn't exactly fail. They did manage to prompt the creation of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. While it is not a department and still needs a lot more support, given that there was almost nothing going on before, I think you could say that they actually obtained a significant victory.

  4. now what?

    I've heard rumors that the gym will have to be closed while that new (godawful) building next to Pupin is being built. If this is true, what do you guys think it will do in terms of pushing for a new gym?

  5. There's still...

    time to demolish Barnard and put a nice athletic complex on the former grounds.

  6. Honestly.  

    Could we stop hating Barnard? Seriously. You just sound misinformed and pathetic.

  7. There's still...  

    time to demolish Manhattanville and put a nice athletic complex on the former grounds.

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