Last month the New Left at Boston University received a near knockout blow, one from which it is still staggering blindly. An ad hoc group called the B.U. Students for a Free Campus circulated a petition, signed by 2000 students, which called for "immediate and decisive" action on the part of the Administration in the event of any disruptive demonstrations on campus. 2000 students rejected the idea that B.U. is a "revolutionary" battlefield. 2000 rejected, in principle, the tactics of terrorism and coercion. 2000 rejected the tactics of the New Left.
After four days of canvassing, the leaders presented the petition, the largest in years, to President Christ-Janer. Local press and television covered the event.
In full, the petition read:
"We, the undersigned, as concerned students of Boston University, demand that in the event of a take-over of a university building, or any activity which might hamper our attendance at classes and therefore infringe upon our legal rights to pursue the education for which we have paid, that such events be met with immediate and decisive action on the part of the administration."
Why did so many students think it was necessary to bring this issue before the Administration? An examination of recent events at Boston University provides the answer.
On April 23, 1968, as reported by the News of May 2, Umoja ( the B.U, Afro-American student society) seized and occupied the Administration building for nearly 12 hours in an attempt to emphasize its demands and grievances. That evening, after meeting with the group, President Christ-Janer acquiesced to its demands. Suitably appeased, the group left the building.
This fall, a group of students and non-students used Marsh Chapel without permission to house an AWOL military man. Again, President Christ-Janer took no position concerning the unauthorized use of the building.
All this simply encourages student activists to escalate their demands and activities. The Administration might as well be handing the University over to the New Left when it gives into demands made by militant trespassers. It tells militants not only that rule-breaking will be tolerated, but that it will be rewarded as well.
"Many Columbias," says a slogan spray-painted on the brick sidewalk before Mugar library. Presumably, this vandalism was the work of some student hoodlum. Yet, in a sense, the Administration's sanction makes it a partner in the crime. Would the cheap little vandal have autographed the sidewalk knowing that, if caught, he would be punished? Wouldn't those who commandeered the Chapel have hesitated if President Christ-Janer hadn't acquiesced to Umoja? Wouldn't those who seized the Administration building have had second thoughts if President Christ-Janer had made it clear, in advance, that they would be prosecuted for their crimes?
The significance of the Free Campus petition is its explicit recognition that the Administration is responsible for halting student take-overs. The New Left is totally powerless unless it can find an Administrative weak spot to exploit, an indication that they will be allowed to get away with their criminal plans. President Christ-Janer is the weak spot.
If students wish to prevent a take-over at Boston University, they should be directing their efforts towards the Administration. They should be flooding President Christ-Janer's office with letters of righteous indignation, not filibustering student congress. They might consider drawing up legal briefs in order to sue the University if it sanctions a disruption. Such legal plans would be far more appropriate than battle plans to physically oppose the collectivists.
Thus far, President Christ-Janer has refused to take clear-cut action with reference to the petition. When presented with it, the President made some references to an earlier statement of his concerning "academic freedom," But the record shows a wide fissure between the Administration's position on academic freedom and its action to insure that freedom.
If the Administration is truly concerned with academic freedom, then it should act accordingly. It should explicitly prohibit obstructive demonstrations. It should stop sanctioning student groups that advocate the initiation of physical force to attain political goals. It should threaten—and carry out—the suspension, expulsion, and arrest of students involved in coercive activities.
This is a campus, not a New Left boot camp. The terrorization ("radicalization," as the Leftists call it) of American colleges has gone far enough; the University should either begin protecting its rights and the rights of the students—or start refunding tuitions. It should either stop equivocating and begin enforcing its rules or stop billing itself as a "university." It should decide whether it is to be a citadel of reason or a haven for criminals.
The Administration has no right to remain neutral in matters of this nature. It has a grave moral and legal responsibility to live up to the terms of its contract to provide education. It is an either-or proposition. There is no middle road position which will not ultimately lead to chaos, destruction, and "many Columbias."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "A Question of Tactics".