Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Concrete Accomplishments of Student Activism of the 1960s

The system needs to erase and replace any memory of success of past social movements. The student activism of the 1960s is not so distant but the memory of its concrete political and socio-structural accomplishments and the memory of its effective methods of change have been wiped out.

It's quite remarkable.

I write this out of a crying societal need to remember.

Ever since I introduced academic squatting to my university courses in 2005 [1] and beyond my dismissal as a tenured professor in 2009 [2] I have been regularly invited to "intervene" in the classes of several of my colleagues on different campuses, to relate my observations and to catalyze examination of self in society.

On the question of "what can we do?" I have noticed an astonishing ignorance of recent student movement history. Even in the minds of activist students and students who academically study social change there is deep ignorance in the form of "replacement".

I am virtually never able to get students to name the concrete accomplishments of their peers from the 1960s, including students who have read on the topic. One of the only common responses, beyond the superficial observation of the occurrence of large protests, is the myth that 1960s students significantly contributed to ending the Vietnam war [3].

Fortunately, a vivid historical account of the 1960s student movements was recently penned by the late historian David F. Noble who was an avid contributor at the time [4]. In addition to following the paper trail, my research has also consisted in informal interviews with Noble and several other student activists from the 1960s -- ones that remained activists throughout their lives.

So, here, in point form, were the concrete achievements of the student movements of the 1960s that redefined the university institution on our planet:

(1) An end to in loco parentis for adult students, an end to the institution as parent. No more curfews or gender segregation or invasions of private lives, etc. No "codes of conduct" where academic sanctions can be leveled against students for legal or illegal behaviours deemed undesirable.

(2) Substantial presence in a new "collegial governance" model that included student representative members on every departmental council, faculty council, key selection committee, university senate and board of governors. The students acquired a legal front seat in the governance apparatus having statutory control of the institution.

(3) Freedom of expression. Students acquired the right to speak, poster, flyer, gather, radio-transmit, demonstrate, etc., ON CAMPUS without being censored, arrested for trespassing or disciplined in any way.

(4) Students won the right to own and manage their own real estate on campus. As a result, new "university centres" were student built, owned and operated, thereby guaranteeing a legally defined "territorial base". This was extended to such student organizations as the "Public Interest Research Groups" and so on.

Note that these victories directly addressed the student condition rather than being expressions of "solidarity" with distant causes, just as opposition to the Vietnam war was an immediate student concern via the draft.

The system makes every effort to mask the significant student power (institutional and legal) that the above victories represent, makes every effort to infantilize students and their representatives, and actively works to reverse the above gains.

Meanwhile, too many neutralized students concentrate their activist attentions on "safe space" pathology, behavioural and attitude propaganda, and organizing ineffective demonstrations without a clue about what would constitute an effective demonstration.


[1] http://activistteacher.blogspot.com/2007/04/academic-squatting-democratic-method-of.html
[2] http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/component/content/article/25.html
[3] "Pacifism as Pathology" by Ward Churchill.
[4] "Beyond the Promised Land" by David F. Noble

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