Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories–Discovering IDA, 1967

Chapter 8: Discovering IDA, 1967 (vi)
In March 1967, the editorial offices of Columbia Daily Spectator were located on the third floor of Ferris Booth Hall. With Mike Klare, who had previously shared his research on Columbia’s classified Electronics Research Lab [ERL] and Office of Naval research work with Spectator, I walked into the student newspaper office, the expose’ in my hand.

One of the new staff editors of Spectator, Robert, was sitting in his office. Robert was from Great Neck, which was on the other side of the highway from the Little Neck-Douglaston neighborhood in which I had spent most of my childhood. Great Neck was a much wealthier, more upper-middle-class neighborhood than the affluent Jewish working-class ghetto-development I had grown up in. Great Neck was where Little Neck and Douglaston girls from my side of the Long Island Expressway went to receive orthodontic work for their teeth.

Although Robert had apparently picketed Woolworth’s as a high school student as part of a civil rights demonstration, he had not been active in either the Columbia Citizenship Council or in the anti-war movement on campus.

“The Columbia SDS Research Committee has discovered something interesting,” Klare said to Robert. “When I asked Grad School Dean Halford a few weeks ago at a forum whether there existed an institutional connection between the Institute for Defense Analyses and Columbia University, he lied. He said `There is no institutional connection between Columbia University and the Institute for Defense Analyses.’ But the Columbia SDS Research Committee has found that Columbia is institutionally connected to the Institute for Defense Analyses.”

In the Spectator office with Robert at the time was a Spectatorreporter named Jerry. Robert handed the expose’ to Jerry, and then told Klare and me to talk with Jerry about our discovery. Then Robert went back to editing newspaper copy. Jerry quickly skimmed through the eight-page research paper and noticed that another IDA Trustee, besides Columbia President Kirk, was a man named William A.M. Burden.

“Hey! This IDA Trustee William A.M. Burden is also a Columbia Trustee!” Jerry exclaimed with glee in his voice. Jerry was a boyish, pre-med major and sophomore from Hewlett, Long Island.

Jerry then went to Spectator’s trustees file and pulled out a glossy photograph of Burden. (Further research on my part revealed that Burden was also a director of Lockheed, American Metal Climax and CBS. Additional research later revealed that Burden was one of the 20th-century heirs to the fortune of robber-baron Cornelius Vanderbilt).

“Can I borrow this copy of your paper to use when I write theSpectator article on the SDS discovery?” Jerry asked.

“Sure,” I answered.

“Come by and pick it up tonight after dinner in my dormitory room,” Jerry added. He then gave me his dorm room number. He lived in the Hartley-Livingston Hall complex. Klare and I then left the Spectator offices and I went to one of my scheduled classes.

That evening, I dropped by Jerry’s dorm room. In the room with Jerry was his roommate, a Columbia College sophomore named Dan. Both Jerry and Dan seemed interested in talking with me about politics. After talking with them both about Columbia and IDA, Dan and I got into a discussion about New Left politics and radical social change. I asked Dan why he didn’t join SDS, since he seemed to be strongly against the war in Viet Nam and against the U.S. military and U.S. foreign policy.

“I’m a Marxist, too. And I seek the same radical change in U.S. society that SDS wants. But I think the best strategy is to infiltrate existing institutions and not let people know you’re a Marxist. Then, once you’re in power within Establishment institutions, you can use your power to really make radical change. That’s what I’m going to try to do with my life. I’m going to secretly work from within to radically change U.S. society,” Dan answered.

“I don’t think you can really change U.S. society by working from within the corrupt U.S. social institutions—even if you are a Marxist who sees working from within as just a political tactic. I think we always have to be open about what we believe in politically, all the time, in order to really change U.S. society. But I wish you luck,” I replied.

[Ironically, in the 1980s Dan became the first “Marxist” chairperson of the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Corrections, in charge of making the state’s prison system work more efficiently; and in 1989 he unsuccessfully ran for the office of Brooklyn District Attorney in the Democratic Party primary and apparently allowed his supporters to wage a homophobic campaign].

Spectator printed a one-column front-page article which noted that Columbia SDS had discovered Columbia’s IDA affiliation, despite Dean Halford’s earlier denial of any such connection. At the Columbia SDS steering committee meeting it was decided to have Evansohn read the paper I had written at an SDS teach-in that was being held around this time.

Just before he read the paper at the McMillan Theatre teach-in, in front of a few hundred people, Evansohn urged me to read it myself. But I was reluctant to stand up before that large a group of people and speak, at that time. I also felt that since Evansohn was more a part of Columbia SDS’s leadership at that time than I was, his reading the Columbia-IDA expose’ would be a more politically effective and impressive act than my reading of it. Evansohn read the expose’ before the teach-in audience and people at the teach-in were angered by the new revelations regarding Columbia’s complicity with the Pentagon.

The following week, Evansohn and I went to Dean Halford’s office in Low Library on behalf of Columbia SDS. We asked him to urge Grayson Kirk to immediately announce that Columbia would resign its institutional membership in the IDA as a protest against the continued U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam. Halford appeared to be in his late 50s, wore glasses, spoke in either a Midwestern or modified Southern accent and was polite. But he was defensive about Columbia’s IDA ties. He tried to minimize the significance of Columbia’s IDA affiliation and to justify his refusal to acknowledge Columbia’s IDA ties at the Low Library forum. Halford also indicated that it was going to be Columbia Administration policy to continue its IDA membership—Viet Nam War or no Viet Nam War.

As we walked down the steps of Low Library, both dissatisfied with Dean Halford’s response to Columbia SDS’s formal demand for institutional disaffiliation from IDA, Evansohn said to me the following:

“That’s all you can ever expect from a liberal bureaucrat.”

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