Swaying the Vote
Columbia College 1953
Graduate School of Journalism 1954
In the early 1950s, we were much like our predecessors, hoping Lou Little could return the Lions to some degree of glory and cheering on a pretty good basketball team. But there was always the shadow of the Korean War. Student deferments were policy then, which meant you had to stay in school. And the war also propelled Columbia into national politics because Dwight D. Eisenhower was its president.
The editors of the Spectator, a pretty astute bunch as I remember, were not content just to report about the campaign of 1952, which pitted Eisenhower against Adlai Stevenson. Although we weren't old enough to vote, we were determined to get our two cents in. Thus an all-night session of the Managing Board was held to dissect everything Eisenhower did or didn't do since he entered the office with much fanfare and promise. After a brutal night, our unanimous conclusions were detailed the next day in a front-page editorial entitled "The Great Disenchantment."
The effrontery of a group of college kids publicly criticizing their president raised quite an uproar. The seven of us were interviewed by TV news reporters on the steps of Low Library. Editor Jerry Landauer was our spokesman. (None of us ever saw it because it was all live in those days.) And the campus buzzed like never before.
The university's Eisenhower supporters reacted quickly by running a full-page ad containing the names of hundreds of Columbia staffers who backed his candidacy. The Stevenson forces checked the names and found that most of them were low-level support personnel, such as janitors and clerks, fearful of losing their jobs. So they countered with a full-page ad listing hundreds of employees who backed the Democrat, pointing out that most of those were members of the faculty.
Whether any of this swayed one vote, we'll never know; it certainly didn't make a difference in the election. Eisenhower, with his promise to "bring the boys home from Korea," won handily. But it did put the College and the Spectator into the national spotlight and helped jump-start a few journalism careers along the way.
Columbia students became far more strident activists in the next couple of decades. I like to think this is where it started.
—Donald L. Hymes, '53C, Managing Editor, Spectator