Viewpoint: Are the Campuses Still Churning?


The subject of education concerns us now, as summer draws to a close and, God help us all, school begins again—with busing woes for Boston and other towns, and colleges reopening everywhere.

We are told much about the quiescence on campus; we are to believe that the chaos of that 1968-1972 horror period is now ended, and to some it seems as such; to me too, on occasion during the last two years of college teaching. But like so much of what the media tell us, the picture of the-campus-back-to-normal is oversimplified. My own experience has been enough to convince me that we are seeing a softening of the rhetoric, but a digging in of the "change-oriented" groups; a lessening of the vulgarity and violence, but an intensification of the obduracy among the truest of the True believers.

I leap to new books about the campus woes of recent years as politicians reach for new power. One comes my way the other day, the appearance of which might interest you too. It is called Campustown in the Throes of the Counterculture: 1968-1972 (whew), by Prof. Mark Graubard of the University of Minnesota, for all intents and purposes my family university, since all but a few of us (like yours truly) have gone there for three generations.

Dr. Graubard sets his novel-cum-polemic-cum analysis at the U. of M., which he calls the State University at Watertown. He peoples his 400-page book with recognizable caricatures of former U of M president Malcolm Moos, former Minneapolis hot-shot liberal mayor Naftalin, and others familiar to an ole Minnesota boy like me, if not to you. But the local angle is not important to the general reader, even if the accurate recreation of what happened at the U of M makes the book more reliable to one who is acquainted with the situation there.

Professor Graubard stars himself in the book, as Mike—Mark into Mike, see?—and weaves around Mike's life on campus a fascinating assortment of students, outside agitators (let's be blunt; the spirit of Spiro ain't dead yet), and, especially, faculty duds of the worst sort, particularly the escapees from Nazi and Communist tyranny who, some poisonous gas having hit them at breakfast one morning, suddenly find themselves forgetting everything they knew about oppression and embracing it in the form of leftist student "idealist" bosh.

He's got them to a T—and he spreads out from the University of Minnesota to more elevated regions, mocking such as Harard's George Wald and others of that stripe. He is less successful with the students, perhaps because he is an older professor, though I suppose that's "age-ist" and I'd best recant. He has no ear at all for dialogue: everyone speaks as Graubard writes; no one contracts (not one single "don't," "can't," "won't," "'isn't" and so on); no, everyone talks as if he were a distinguished professor, like the author, and it is sometimes embarrassing to read the declamations which pass as dialogue.

Moreover, Mr. Graubard is almost without an iota of sympathy for some of the "liberation" groups to whose aid I periodically come, and of whose woes I'll spare you another recitation here. Would that Graubard could pick his way a bit more carefully through the deviations from what he considers normal human behavior and not be quite so quick to ridicule them all. But such is the stuff of polemics.

Be that as it may, there is much value in Mark Graubard's book, much that rings true. Of one faculty wife: "Cornelia went canvassing evenings when necessary, sat patiently through meetings of the State Legislature or its committees when some important law was up for debate, spent two evenings a week at a neighborhood center for Negro youths, and served on many committees, as good people should who feel they can and must help the presumably helpless, think for the presumably thoughtless, improve the presumably faulty, render rational the presumably irrational, and above all, fight the selfish and wicked rich and racist. And Winton [her hubby] went along in all her good works, as a good companion and fellow believer should."

Boy does that conjure up visions!

Campustown in the Throes of the Counterculture 1968-1972 (and couldn't some kindly editor have suggested a less awful title?) is full of superb vignettes, interesting pictures of how things go wrong in Academe, and deliciously reactionary slaps at the contemporary Wisdoms for all time. If only he could write a passable sentence of student dialogue. Alas.

The book is available from Campus Scope Press, P.O. Box 8594, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408, and worth its $4.95 asking price. Care to usher in the new school year with some nay-saying from a gifted, unconned observer? Send away for it, get out your old Cal Coolidge buttons, and read on into the night; try it, you'll like it.

David Brudnoy teaches history at the University of Rhode Island and is a CBS "Spectrum" commentator. Dr. Brudnoy's viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with the viewpoints of Murray Rothbard and Tibor Machan.