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ONE great educator became so infuriated with what he called the licentious, outrageous and disgraceful behavior of students at his college that he quit in disgust. The college was at Carthage, the year was A.D. 383, and the dismayed teacher, as he relates in Confessions, was St. Augustine. Sometimes students can try the patience of a saint.

One of those times is now. Seldom before have so many groups of students organized so militantly or seemed to try so hard to reorder their colleges, their countries or the world at large. It is the biggest year for students since 1848—a year of student-led revolution in Europe.

The rise of this obstreperous generation is a genuine phenomenon. It was unforeseen by educators, who scarcely a decade ago were overstating the case in criticizing what came to be called “the silent generation.” Now the cry for student power is worldwide. It keeps growing and getting a lot of attention and quite a few results. For the first time in many years, students are marching and fighting and sitting-in not only in developing or unstable countries but also in the rich industrial democracies. In the U.S., the movement has spread from the traditionally active, alert and demonstrative student bodies of the elite schools to many usually quiescent campuses.

The protesting activists, still a very small minority, overlook the accomplishments of society but criticize its shortcomings. Possibly idealistic but skeptical of ideologies, they contend that governments have not performed up to their original promises. The student leftists disdain Soviet-style Communism as spiritually corrupt. The democrats fault the West’s inequalities of wealth and race.

The activists demand change and want to determine its course. The university should not be the conserver of society, they argue, but the fountain of reform. They believe that students should be not merely preparing to enter the active world but a force within it. Many of them have a fashionable disaffection for organized religion, but they express the Judaeo-Christian belief that one man should act where he is, and that if he does so, he can help to change the world.

| Demonstrations & Issues

During the past three months, students have demonstrated for change in 20 countries. They have taken to the streets in such usual centers of student unrest as Brazil, Japan and The Netherlands and in such normally placid places as Denmark, Switzerland and West Germany. Student protests have led to the temporary closing of at least three dozen universities in the U.S., Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Mexico, Ethiopia and other countries. Belgian student demonstrations, fanning the old Flemish-v.-Walloon controversy, brought the government down. Egyptian students, marching in spontaneous protest against government inefficiency, obliged Gamal Abdel Nasser to rearrange his Cabinet. Communist Poland put down street demonstrations, but only after suspending more than 1,000 rebellious students. More successful were Czechoslovakia’s students: their protests were a significant factor in pushing out the old Stalinists and shifting the direction of government toward greater liberty.

In the U.S., a significant facet of the phenomenon is that more students are moving away from alienation and toward highly political activism. While the hippie movement is waning, student power has shifted from passive protest to specific action aimed at accomplishing practical goals. Some youngsters who had despaired of the whole political system, and doubted that they could ever accomplish real change by working inside it, were given a new sense of hope and power by the crusade for Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire. Following a romantic cause to a remote state, a few thousand students used old-fashioned ward politics to help bring out the vote. The result brought Robert Kennedy into the presidential race. And that—plus student protests against the Administration’s Viet Nam policies—had something to do with Lyndon Johnson dropping out.

The latest worldwide wave of student activism started in the U.S. several years ago, partly as a demand for more freedom and power of decision on campuses. It was stimulated by two larger emotional issues. The first was civil rights. In their demonstrations in the early 1960s, U.S. students discovered that they had the power to move legislators to action. And while they would be horrified at the thought, the students—says Harvard Professor Seymour Lipset—learned their tactics from the white Southerners who used civil disobedience to protest the 1954 Supreme Court decision for desegregation of schools. Out of this developed the pattern of sit-ins, lie-ins, marches and some violence. After civil rights, the second issue was Viet Nam. This was not merely a question of sticking up for somebody else; the draft made it a highly personal issue for many students. They did not like the prospect of getting shot at in a war that many of them considered to be unjust and immoral.

Privilege & Permissiveness

The U.S. protests have clearly had an international impact. In Berlin, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, student activists study the sit-in and seizure tactics that U.S. students used to protest the war, to desegregate Southern lunch counters and to immobilize the University of California in 1964. When television carries pictures of students demonstrating in London or Manhattan, students in Amsterdam and Prague start marching.

For all their differences of nationality, mood or cause, student activists around the world have many common traits and habits. They tend to read the same authors, particularly the U.S.’s C. Wright Mills, Norman Mailer and Paul Goodman. Their favorite is California Professor Herbert Marcuse, 69, who argues that individuals are dominated and manipulated by big institutions of government and business, and that man has the obligation to oppose them. And they tend to have the same heroes; among them are such disparate Americans as Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Robert Kennedy, who is now much more popular with students abroad than at home. The far-out radicals idolize not the old leaders of Eastern Europe but such revolutionaries as Ho Chi Minh, Regis Debray and, above all, Che Guevara, around whom grows the martyr’s myth.

One reason that students are getting more attention is that there are so many of them—and larger student bodies make larger demonstrations. Since the mid-1950s, university enrollments have doubled and more: from 380,000 to 880,000 in Latin America, from 739,000 to 1,700,000 in Western Europe, from 2,600,000 to 7,000,000 in the U.S. Among these, the vast majority are not militant and are often repelled by and sometimes moved to protest against the extravagances of the extremists. The majority are not apathetic but are more concerned with courses than causes. By the best estimate of educators at home and abroad, 1% to 2% of the students in a university are highly committed leaders and agitators tending to extremism. Beyond them, roughly 5% to 10% are activists who take part in demonstrations, though the number can go much higher when a sensitive issue is raised.

The Young Democrats claim some 100,000 members on U.S. campuses; the Young Republicans, 150,000. The conservative Young Americans for Freedom has 25,000; the radical leftist Students for a Democratic Society is much smaller—5,500 members—but more influential. What it lacks in size, the S.D.S. makes up in zeal and ability to play the press for headlines. Typically, the S.D.S. has only 60 active members among 4,700 students at Princeton, but it is the biggest partisan organization on campus, and one of its highly committed members was elected chairman of the undergraduate assembly last week. An underlying principle of S.D.S. activism is to make as much trouble as possible for the Establishment. Some of its members quite openly, if naively, espouse Marxism as their basic philosophy. Most activists seem to subscribe to the not unreasonable theory that in this era hardly anyone listens to a quiet man, so they make as much noise as possible.

There are many reasons—economic, social, educational—for the current activism of students. More than any prior generation, they are children of permissive parents, and the Spock marks are showing. Today’s young are used to having their complaints acted on instantly. “They are the babies who were picked up,” notes Harvard’s David Riesman. They have less direction than previous generations, are challenged by their parents to think for themselves. For all the rather exaggerated talk of the generation gap, American student activists tend not so much to defy their parents as to emulate them. And their parents are inclined to approve of what they are doing.

The many studies of student activists show that the great majority of them come from families that are prosperous, politically active and liberal. Almost half of the protest-prone students are Jewish; few are Catholic. The most active students cluster in schools that have a tradition of dissent and a tolerance for it—universities such as California, Wisconsin, Columbia. Most of the activists are students of the arts and humanities; they are apt to be bright but dreamy, and not yet committed to careers. Few are in the professional schools—business, engineering or medicine. Since many universities no longer demand compulsory attendance at lectures, they have the time to ring doorbells for a candidate or march for civil rights. Some sympathetic professors spur the activists on, grant them long periods off, extend deadlines for tests and theses.

Activists are often economically liberated. They take their own prosperity for granted; affluence has become so common and scholarships so plentiful that few students have to work their way through. The youngsters may criticize their parents for devoting too much time to making money, but they like the freedom that money gives them. Describing student activists, the University of Michigan daily said: “They took their tactics from Gandhi, their idealism from philosophy class and their money from Daddy.”

Wanted: Relevance & Involvement

Around the world, the first target of the student activists is the university. They feel, with some reason, that their education is not sufficiently existential, that it is not relevant to today’s life. They want a larger voice in choosing professors and framing courses. Particularly in Europe and Latin America, student radicals view the university as a microcosm of society, with its lack of class mobility, its numerous bureaucracies, its concentration on material goals. Their aim is to transform the university from a personnel agency for the economy to a more vocal force for social protest and reform. They want it to take over the role once held by such recently tamed institutions as Britain’s Labor Party, West Germany’s Social Democrats, and U.S. trade unions.

In the U.S., this viewpoint has taken several directions: protests by Boston University students against acceptance of a $500,000 gift from a landlord who once had slum properties (he withdrew the gift); protests by Princeton students against the university’s work for the Pentagon-allied Institute for Defense Analyses (trustees are considering disassociating from the institute). In the current uprising at Columbia, extremists forced the university to stop construction of a gymnasium on a location considered offensive to some people in neighboring Harlem (see EDUCATION).

Closely related to the student protests is the growing movement for black student power. From Yale to San Francisco State, Negro activists and some white supporters have sought to make the university become more active in uplift drives in the slum community, to introduce more courses in Afro-American history, and to recruit more Negro students, professors and administrators. In most cases, the administration has quickly acceded to the demands. Last week the trustees of California’s 18 state colleges voted to increase, from 2% to 4% of the entering class, the number of Negro, Mexican-American and other minority-group students to be admitted under special standards—that is, not by grades alone.

Needed: Tolerance & Participation

The students have taught the university administration two lessons: 1) some of the changes that they want are really improvements, and 2) the way to deal with student power is to anticipate it, to initiate changes before the students demand them. Administrators who have permitted students to participate in some policy areas applaud the results, say that it prevents protest and often raises standards. Students should be permitted to voice their opinions on dormitory rules, on the performance of professors, and on what courses should be added or dropped.

But there is an all-important difference between student advice and student control. If students could dictate the hiring and firing of professors, they would tend to select those with whom they agree—and fall into an echo chamber. Latin American students have considerable control over many universities, and the consequence is chaos and inferior education. A university is not a democracy and cannot become one without degenerating into anarchy. At a conference on “Students and Society” at California’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions last year, the president of the student body of St. Louis’ Washington University put it aptly: “Were Washington University to be turned over to the students and faculty, it would fold in about six months because nobody would know how to run it.”

Both the students and the elders have some other lessons to be learned. What is needed most of all is more mutual respect. The student activists are more critical than constructive. They often have no immediate, practical answers for the problems that they expose—but older people should not lightly dismiss them for that. Sometimes it is enough just to ask the right questions. Student protests have stirred authorities in Spain, Germany and other countries to some fitful steps toward modernization. And students have begun to move U.S. universities in some desirable directions—toward a more involved role in the local community, toward a rethinking of the relevance of education.

For their part, the students might recognize that they do not have a monopoly on idealism. After all, the drives against poverty and racism in the U.S. were energized not by them but by their elders. It would also profit the students to recognize the temporary nature of their power and the severe limits on it. Theirs is primarily the power to disrupt. They can interfere with the established authority, but they cannot change it without help from other powerful groups in the population—as Czech students learned in their successful protest and Polish students learned in their unsuccessful one. With that in mind, activist students might do more to court allies not only among their more moderate contemporaries but also among older people. In this, they are not helped at all by some of the retrogressive tendencies of the extremists: they are often intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them, all too willing to interfere with the rights of others, and sometimes ready to stoop to hoodlumism and fascist methods.

Student power can be beneficial; student tyranny never is. Student involvement in politics should be encouraged, but student abuse of the democratic process must always be resisted. Students might well bear in mind the fine distinctions between reasoned dissent and raw intolerance, between knowledge and wisdom, between compromise and copping out. Already 1968 has produced one supreme lesson: students have much more to gain by working actively for change within the existing system than by dropping out of it.

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