Chapter 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966 (ii)
At the rally, John spoke and emphasized that what students at Columbia now wanted was more student power over University policy decisions and genuine student involvement in Columbia University decision-making. Mike Klare of the ICV, although still not interested in building a Columbia SDS chapter, also spoke at the rally. He criticized Columbia for accepting research contracts from the Department of Defense and drew the distinction between the Movement approach to politics and social change and the Columbia Administration’s approach:
‘We can attend yet another committee meeting. And speak to yet another bureaucrat. And wait for yet another dean. And attend yet another bureaucratic meeting. And we still won’t get any results. That’s the Administration’s approach. That’s the kind of politics they want us to be involved with.
“But what about the Movement? We do things differently in the Movement. In the Movement, we avoid all the bureaucratic run-around. That’s why the Movement is going into Low Library today.”
As the 300 of us marched up the steps of Low Library to confront Kirk, I was ready to join in a sit-in inside the administration building. I was fed up with U.S. foreign policy, fed up with U.S. racism, fed up with the endless mass murder in Viet Nam and fed up with the Columbia University Administration’s failure to speak out against all this and its whole “business as usual” attitude. It looked like many of the other anti-war students who had been fruitlessly protesting the bombing of Viet Nam for over 1 ½ years also shared my sense of frustration and willingness to sit-in. Earlier in the fall, Savio and other FSM people had tried to stop military recruitment on campus at Berkeley and there had been some kind of confrontation with police out there again. If something was happening politically at Berkeley again, it was only natural that many of us would feel that the time was now ripe for something to happen at Columbia that was equally militant.
We marched into Low Library and gathered in the Low Library rotunda. Kirk uneasily read a statement in which he argued that Columbia University should make no value judgments and take no political positions regarding U.S. government policy. Therefore, organizations like the CIA would continue to have the right to recruit on campus.
After he read his statement, Dave, John, Mike Klare, Lew and some of the other Movement “heavies” at Columbia started to throw questions at Kirk. Students hissed in response to Kirk’s initial answers. Kirk quickly retreated to his Low Library office for another appointment, before students felt the discussion should be terminated.
Grayson Kirk was a former Columbia University Professor of Government in his ‘60s, who was now used to spending more time sitting on the corporate boards of companies like IBM and Socony-Mobil Oil and elite foreign policy-making institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, than in talking with Columbia College students. When flustered, Kirk would redden in the face and start to speak with a slight stutter.
During the 1950s, Columbia President Kirk had fired a few Columbia professors who were accused of being Communist Party members. He had also written that Columbia University would not knowingly hire a communist intellectual to teach on its faculty. In 1954, Kirk had worked with the CIA’s “cultural freedom congress” campaign which linked the celebration of Columbia’s 200th anniversary to the CIA’s 1950s anti-communist Cold War propaganda campaign. In 1954 or 1955, Kirk had given an honorary degree to his friend Allen Dulles, the CIA Director in the 1950s. Personally acquainted with former Columbia University President Eisenhower and those U.S. ruling class officials who sat on the Columbia board of trustees, like New York Times publisher Sulzberger and CBS board chairman William Paley, Kirk identified himself totally with the U.S. Establishment.
After Kirk left the rotunda, some of the anti-war students began to laugh. John had a big smile on his face. Dave was the first activist to speak to the rest of us:
“Those are his values. But we have different values. And if we want Columbia University policy to reflect our values, we’re going to have to build a Movement here that fights for student power and for participatory democracy at Columbia. And that’s why we have to build a Columbia SDS chapter.”
There was more discussion, and the anti-war students were enthusiastic about attempting to build a Columbia SDS chapter which would fight the Columbia Administration on a multi-issue basis, attempt to win student power at Columbia and work to build a mass-based radical student movement in the United States. A time for follow-up meetings was agreed upon and we broke up for the day. There was a big headlined article on the student left’s confrontation with Kirk in the Columbia student newspaper Spectator, the next day. My feeling was that John and Dave’s Columbia SDS chapter-building approach seemed more dynamic than the Independent Committee on Viet Nam’s more stagnant approach.