Write Columbia's History
Don't Trust Anyone Under 50!
Frank da Cruz
Alum, Neighbor, Parent, Staff Member
School of General Studies 1970
School of Engineering and Applied Science 1977

What can be said about the 1968 student uprising at Columbia, after so many decades, as it recedes into quaint irrelevance? The world has moved on, and old ideologies have been discarded for the realities of markets, privatization, and the global march of capital.

A handful of us from 1968 remain at Columbia on faculty or staff. As an Army veteran working my way through General Studies, I was especially sensitive to Vietnam war issues and labor issues. As a Project Double Discovery counselor and a resident of a nearby low-income neighborhood, I was also acutely aware of Columbia's impact on the surrounding communities. And as a student at a university that was still mostly all-male, I was surrounded by fellow students who had a bloody and never-ending war waiting for them when they left school.

Today, the U.S. is bogged down in another dubious war, and Columbia's relations with its neighbors in Harlem and Washington Heights remain problematic. To some, it appears that Columbia is pursuing a relentless course of expansion and gentrification that will transform a once culturally and economically diverse and vibrant part of Manhattan into a high-priced yuppie enclave, where sub-poverty wage earners serve well-off Columbians in upscale shops and bistros.

But in contrast with the massive and passionate upheavals of 1968, student involvement in today's social and political issues is perfunctory at best, save for a handful of dedicated political activists and Spectator reporters. Meanwhile, Spectator's Roving Reporter invariably turns up students who are clueless on every issue beyond their personal comfort and entertainment.

How did Columbia, once a world center of social consciousness and progressive political activity, become such a bastion of markets, conservativism, and cluelessness? A major factor is the repeal of the draft in 1973. When you can be yanked out of your comfortable life and sent to fight, kill, or die in a war, this forces you to think. It forces your parents to think. It forces politicians to think.

In today's harsh economy, however, there is no shortage of enlistees; not because they can't think, but because they have nowhere else to go. The military becomes employer of last resort for those who can no longer work in factories, mills, mines, or farms. Thus we have a privileged class of sheltered, pampered students and a separate class of invisible drones who fight the wars and mop the floors, and the two never meet. The one makes the rules for the other, and does not have to worry about feedback or consequences. Wars become mere boardroom business decisions.

Veterans have a term for those who start wars but send others to fight them: chicken hawks. When most Columbia graduates aspire to be investment bankers or stockbrokers, while the majority of the world's population—and an ever-increasing part of our own—lives in poverty, war, disease, misery, and hopelessness, it seems like 1968 must have happened on another planet. In the '60s we had a saying: "Don't trust anyone over 30." Now we say: "Don't trust anyone under 50!"

For further reading, go to http://www.columbia.edu/acis/history/1968.html.

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