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Cornell '69

Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University

by Donald Alexander Downs

Publication Year: 2012

In April 1969, one of America's premier universities was celebrating parents' weekend-and the student union was an armed camp, occupied by over eighty defiant members of the campus's Afro-American Society. Marching out Sunday night, the protesters brandished rifles, their maxim: "If we die, you are going to die." Cornell '69 is an electrifying account of that weekend which probes the origins of the drama and describes how it was played out not only at Cornell but on campuses across the nation during the heyday of American liberalism.Donald Alexander Downs tells the story of how Cornell University became the battleground for the clashing forces of racial justice, intellectual freedom, and the rule of law.

Eyewitness accounts and retrospective interviews depict the explosive events of the day and bring the key participants into sharp focus: the Afro-American Society, outraged at a cross-burning incident on campus and demanding amnesty for its members implicated in other protests; University President James A. Perkins, long committed to addressing the legacies of racism, seeing his policies backfire and his career collapse; the faculty, indignant at the university's surrender, rejecting the administration's concessions, then reversing itself as the crisis wore on. The weekend's traumatic turn of events is shown by Downs to be a harbinger of the debates raging today over the meaning of the university in American society. He explores the fundamental questions it posed, questions Americans on and off campus are still struggling to answer: What is the relationship between racial justice and intellectual freedom? What are the limits in teaching identity politics? And what is the proper meaning of the university in a democratic polity?

Published by: Cornell University Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-9

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PREFACE

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pp. ix-xi

I have written several controversial books, but none has generated as much heat as Cornell '69. Immediately upon publication in early 1999, Cornell University was forced to cancel a public forum on the book scheduled for February because of concerns about disruption and overflow attendance. A civil yet contentious forum...

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. xiii-xiv

Numerous individuals contributed to making this book possible, including the many who granted me personal interviews. I am grateful for their willingness to discuss this controversial event and set of issues after almost thirty years. In addition, I am in the special debt of certain members of the Cornell...

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1. OVERVIEW OF THE CRISIS

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pp. 1-22

Sunday, April 20, 1969, was perhaps the most infamous day in the history of Cornell University and a watershed day in American higher education. At 4: 10 p.m. over eighty members of the Afro-American Society (AAS) marched in solidarity out of the student union, Willard Straight Hall, fists clenched in Black...

THE ROAD TO THE STRAIGHT

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pp. 23-41

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2. STUDENT MILITANCY

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pp. 25-45

From one viewpoint, the clash between social justice and academic freedom in 1969 reflected a tension built into Cornell's institutional fabric. The New York State Legislature established the Cornell Agriculture School as a land grant public institution under the Morrill Act of 1862, but Cornell set up its College of Arts and Sciences...

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3. THE RISE OF RACIAL POLITICS

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pp. 46-67

The rise of racial politics at Cornell paved the road to the Straight. The key elements were the COSEP program and the Afro-American Society (AAS). But the origins go back to a scene that took place at Cornell in spring 1962, more than a year before James Perkins became president. Malcolm X, the outspoken...

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4. RACIAL JUSTICE VERSUS ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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pp. 68-96

Like an omen, Martin Luther King's murder occurred just hours after the Afro-American Society carried out the central act of the McPhelin affair, a quasi-violent takeover of the Economics Department offices. These two ·events galvanized the militant AAS faction; the McPhelin incident also pitted...

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5. SEPARATION OR INTEGRATION?

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pp. 97-123

But two tracks were emerging: a program more consistent with the established principles ofliberal education versus one based on Black Power, student power, and the politics of recognition. As seen in Chapter Three, institutions of higher learning were starting to wrestle with this tension by 1968. A similar debate had also been raging...

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6. PROGRESS OR IMPASSE?

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pp. 124-144

The December actions led to a decline of the radicals' fortunes. In early April John Garner left school to work in the ghetto and Gary Patton and Larry Dickson left for other reasons. During the second semester outsiders such as Michael Thelwell and Cleveland Sellers came to Cornell as lecturers and convinced...

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7. LIBERAL JUSTICE OR RACISM?

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pp. 145-162

The judicial cases precipitated the takeover of the Straight. Given past experience, the judicial system's status was ambiguous. The decline of student government and the conflicts between faculty and students in previous cases meant the new system would have to earn its reputation. Unfortunately, the very...

THE STRAIGHT CRISIS

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pp. 163-181

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8. DAY 1: THE TAKEOVER AND THE ARMING OF THE CAMPUS

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pp. 165-191

The AAS claimed that certain events triggered the takeover of the Straight, but the evidence suggests it was carefully planned. Students had started coming to the office of Dana Payne, associate dean of the Arts College, two weeks before the takeover, asking to drop courses because the time they should have spent studying they...

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9. DAY 2: THE DEAL

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pp. 192-210

The executive war council met at 9 o'clock the next morning at the Law School. By now the national media were on their way. President Perkins arrived with notes laying out the university's options under different scenarios. He did not mention the guns, but they haunted every thought. One concern overrode everything...

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10. DAY 3: A "REVOLUTIONARY SITUATION"

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pp. 211-230

Monday morning broke with the world's press carrying front-page stories of the agreement and pictures of the AAS exit with guns. The New York Times carried "The Picture" on page 1, under the headline "Armed Negroes End Seizure; Cornell Yields" (the headline on an inside page read "Armed...

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11. DAY 4: STUDENT POWER

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pp. 231-252

It was a day of countless meetings among faculty, administrators, and students. Hoping that talk would heal, the administration had urged professors to use their classes to discuss the crisis. Law Professor Norman Penny recalled the dismay that his colleagues in the school felt "at the turn of events, particularly in reference to...

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12. DAY 5: A NEW ORDER

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pp. 253-266

Barton Hall came back to life around 7:30 a.m., and the assembly discussed what students could do to affect the upcoming faculty vote. Students were urged to attend classes that were meeting (many were not) and to encourage professors to nullify. At 9:20 the gathering issued another "official release" that...

THE AfTERMATH

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pp. 267-285

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13. REFORM, REACTION, RESIGNATION

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pp. 269-296

In this chapter we will look at the immediate and short-term aftermath of the Cornell crisis. The key issue was the fate of President James A. Perkins, though other issues, such as restructuring, were also important. The most significant events took place in three broadly defined realms. First, activists used the crisis to...

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14. CORNELL AND THE FAILURE OF LIBERALISM

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pp. 297-308

Dale Corson's ascension reassured most Cornellians. He had kept the coolest head during the crisis, and he was an institutional man who had spent almost all his time on the campus for the past twenty years. But the Straight crisis left indelible marks on Cornell for better and for worse. In this chapter we will look...

CHRONOLOGY

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pp. 309-315

PARTICIPANTS

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pp. 316-323

NOTES

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pp. 324-354

INDEX

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pp. 355-359

Image Plates

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pp. 360-375


E-ISBN-13: 9780801466151
E-ISBN-10: 0801466156
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801478383
Print-ISBN-10: 0801478383

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth