First, the politics of the matter. Is it possible to dislike Spiro T. Agnew and also dislike the Scranton Report?1 The answer is yes. Can one like Agnew and like the Report? Yes. Can one like Agnew and dislike the Report? Still yes. Finally, can one dislike Agnew and like the Report? All yes, forever yes. There is something for everyone here.

There are two major questions that must be asked about such a Report as this one. First, is it a useful and accurate answer to the problem specifically assigned the Commission by the President? Second, is the effect of the Report likely to be beneficent, harmful, or merely innocuous?

My answer to the first question is that it contains some very useful and accurate materials, the result of some good staff work, but that the thrust, the overall implication, of the Report is far from either useful or accurate. And my answer to the second question is that its effect will range somewhere between the harmful and the innocuous.

I begin with the opening chapter. If I seem to place undue emphasis on this chapter, entitled “To the American People,” and written in the style of an epistle and in an incantatory mood, it is because this is the key chapter of the Report, the one that will surely be read, even if nothing else is, by all who pick up the Report. Already, indeed, the chapter’s effect has been substantial. One need but look at the New York Times’s lead editorial on the Report to see this, or at the nationally syndicated series just begun as I write by Erwin D. Canham, member of the Commission and editor-in-chief of the Christian Science Monitor. And, for all the occasional high quality of the staff work in the Report, we find the fundamental argument of the opening chapter extending to more than a few parts of the Report—sometimes rather grotesquely.

We cannot, however, judge either the chapter or the Report as a whole properly unless we note clearly just what the President’s charge to the Commission was. The Commission was asked 1) “to identify the principal causes of campus violence”; 2) “to assess reasons for the breakdown in the processes for orderly expression of dissent”; 3) “to suggest specific methods and procedures through which legitimate grievances can be resolved”; and 4) “to suggest ways to protect and enhance the right of academic freedom, the right to pursue an education without improper interference, and the right of peaceful dissent and protest.” Bearing this charge in mind, consider what we are given from the very opening paragraph of the Report:

The crisis on American campuses has no parallel in the history of the nation. This crisis has roots in divisions of American society as deep as any since the Civil War. The divisions are reflected in violent acts and harsh rhetoric, and in the enmity of those Americans who see themselves as occupying opposing camps. Campus unrest reflects and increases a more profound crisis in the nation as a whole.

That is the theme of the first chapter, and of the entire Report. And it represents a patently false view of the realities of the matter. It is not true that the problem of campus unrest has roots in divisions of American society “as deep as any since the Civil War”; it is not true that Americans see themselves, on this issue at least, as “occupying opposing camps”; and it is not true that campus unrest reflects a more profound crisis in the nation as a whole.

The blunt truth is that academic violence and the disruption of academic freedom on the campus—the only proper subject of the Commission’s inquiry—are but six years old in this country; are to be found, in any degree whatever, on only about a hundred, out of 2,500, campuses; have been severe and persistent at hardly more than a dozen campuses, though admittedly major ones, and have been supported by but a tiny number of the nearly eight million students enrolled in institutions of higher learning. And this academic violence and the accompanying assaults on educational freedom, far from reflecting any crisis of the soul for all America, far from reflecting any nationwide division, is attended instead by the greatest single expression of national consensus I have seen in my lifetime: the complete and utter repugnance inspired by vandalism and criminality on the American university campus.

I am not trying here to diminish or demean the importance of what happens at the major universities. Indeed, I myself go on the assumption that what is good for Harvard is good for the country as a whole, and what is bad for Harvard is bad for the country. And no one who has tried to pursue the life of the free teacher-scholar in any one of a dozen or so prestige universities in the country, and a few others as well, needs to be reminded of the unprecedented (in this country) hardships attending such pursuit. But, this said clearly, it is still vital if one is engaged in the study of a question and in reaching useful answers to it, to maintain a due sense of proportion, of limits. As a social scientist and, I hope, a rationalist, I believe social problems are finite and subject to finite methods of analysis. They need the mind of the scientist, not the mind of a St. Paul, and especially not the mind of a second-rate St. Paul.



I am afraid there is something irresistible to the second-rate mind in the rhetoric of crisis, especially when used with respect to entire nations, cultures, even the cosmos. So much that is finite, empirical, and concrete can be ignored altogether or else absorbed by such sponge-like prose as we get in the Report’s opening paragraph. But worse is yet to come. Here, for example, is the paragraph which has perhaps been the most widely quoted in the whole Report, and the one selected by the New York Times as the text for its own editorial:

We utterly condemn violence. Students who bomb and burn are criminals. Police and National Guardsmen who needlessly shoot and assault students are criminals. All who applaud these evil acts share in their evil. There must be a national cease-fire.

“Cease-fire”? One might think the Commission had been asked to deal not with the violent acts committed against academic freedom and the pursuit of education on a relative handful of the 2,500 campuses of higher education in the United States but with some war between sovereign powers, or at the least a national confrontation between, say, the whole of organized labor and the whole of American business.

Consider too the somewhat bizarre assignment of guilt. A George Orwell is needed for proper critical assessment here. Of course no normal human being would wilfully indulge in “needless” assault or shooting—of students or of anyone else. I take it for granted that most of us would disapprove of “needless” force used even against Nazis in World War II by Allied soldiers; or “needless” force against night-riding, house-burning degenerates belonging to the Ku Klux Klan. But what an inspired piece of perverse drollery to equate in guilt the individuals who calculatedly and conspiratorially planted a bomb in the mathematics building at the University of Wisconsin killing one student, injuring others, and destroying the scholarly work of several scientists, and the police, firemen, or National Guardsmen—many of them younger in years and experience than the students themselves—brought in the line of duty onto the campuses precisely by the actions of rock-throwers and arsonists. And how ingenious to introduce as a third party those who “applaud,” thus further diminishing the guilt of hooligans and terrorists at Harvard or Wisconsin or Kent State.

But the very worst elements of the Report’s opening chapter go considerably beyond even these kinds of moral casuistry, not to put a stronger word on them. The chapter is organized into two parts, one called “The Crisis of Violence” and the other “The Crisis of Understanding.” Fundamental to the whole case is its stress upon a “new culture” in the land, a culture possessed, according to the Report, of “high ideals and great fears.” The “high ideals” are accompanied by such qualities as generosity, tolerance of others, and sincerity. But whence the “great fears”? They come, the Report informs us, from the majority’s intolerance of the ideals of this new culture—a majority composed of “elders entrapped by materialism and competition, and prisoners of outdated social forms.” Those in the “new culture” further believe, declares the Report, that “their own country has lost its sense of human purpose.” (It is all obviously meant by the bush-league St. Paul who wrote it to remind us of the fate of the early Christians among the Roman pagans.)

Now, no one actually knows how many young Americans in fact belong to the “new culture.” My own guess is that not very many do. But let us for the moment assume its generality among American youth, and let us also grant, again for the moment, its pristine idealism. The fundamental question is, what is the relation of this putatively idealistic culture to the subject of the Report—that is, to violence, to assaults on academic freedom, to the smashing of education on a small minority of American college and university campuses? The Report’s answer is that “the crisis of violence,” as it so elevatingly calls the ugly brutalities it was charged to investigate, is a reflection of the “crisis of understanding.” The “new culture” wishes to abolish war, pollution, injustice; the majority refuses to understand. Hence there is violence. Nevertheless, declares the Report, violence is wrong and is to be condemned.

But why? If the “crisis of violence” is a direct emergent of the “crisis of understanding,” if America is unequally divided between the pagans who are materialistic and competitive—and powerful—and the idealists of the “new culture” who seek only the millennium—and are weak—why should the idealists be expected to refrain from violence? Do they not—as people in whom the holy spirit has achieved command—even have an obligation (which, to be sure, only the most courageous and presumably, therefore, from the point of view of admirers of the “new culture,” the best of them, will obey) to destroy what is corrupt and evil?

I am bound to say, then, in answer to the second of the two questions with which I began this review, that the opening chapter of the Report—by now very widely read and reprinted everywhere—can hardly fail to stimulate rather than reduce the motivations to vandalism whose investigation was so large a part of the Commission’s assignment. Despite its ritualistic denunciations of violence, the Report sets this violence into a perspective which serves both logically and psychologically to justify and to encourage it.




In choosing this perspective, of course, the Report accepts what from the earliest days of the ugliness at Berkeley right through the mounting ugliness of uprisings on other elite campuses in the country, has been the major explanation advanced by most faculty members, administrators, trustees, and, above all, newspaper reporters. Yet there were other possible perspectives that might also have shed light on these events but which the Scranton Commission did not see fit to consider. Boredom, for instance: the kind of boredom that the new middle class in America is so rich in, and passes on at such an early age to its young. Boredom is a monumental experience among the middle-class masses the universities have beckoned in during the past decade or two and now find such difficulty in entertaining. Granted that no one admits to being bored. Not even the Marquis de Sade—who was, by the criteria used in the opening chapter of the Report, very much a political idealist—admitted to boredom. But it is nevertheless real, and it is at least as plausible a hypothesis as “new-culture” idealism in accounting for the multitudes that the hard-core insurrectionaries could count on to supply crowds and legitimacy.

And what of elitism? Thus there is the manifest fact that the vast majority of universities and colleges—and virtually all of those in rural or in working-class areas—have known little or no disruption of academic freedom and organization, while the worst, longest, and most recurrent of campus disruptions have occurred on the campuses of the elite universities and colleges. And within the elite universities the students with the highest rates of vandalistic or disruptive behavior have unfailingly been drawn from the “soft” area of the liberal arts which have for many years in this country been spawning grounds for a spirit of intellectual arrogance most generally directed (with faculty encouragement) at students in the sciences and those in the professional schools.

Neither of these perspectives is designed to rule the possibility of student idealism and the quest for social justice entirely out of consideration. To be sure, I myself think that these attributes have been hugely exaggerated by faculty members and newspaper reporters during the past decade: that is, by comparison with rates of idealism to be encountered among plumbers’ apprentices, beginning businessmen, librarians, real-estate salesmen, and members of the armed forces. Nevertheless, there is no question that social idealism can be found on university campuses in America. So, however, can simple delinquency, boredom, and the spirit of elitism. So can many other states of mind and behavior. And with all these—on, to repeat, some university campuses—there has gone substantial violence during the last six years, reaching its climax at the present time in the wave of terrorist bombings. What I am asking, and asking strictly as a sociologist, is by what right or logic of causation does the Scranton Commission arbitrarily declare but one of these epiphenomena, idealism, the crucial state of mind in campus disruptions? Not surely by right of the fact that those who engage in such disruption on the campus identify themselves as idealistic, as spiritually superior to the pagan world around them. After all, there is—as any veteran probation officer, or prison guard, or welfare worker knows—no form of debased or obscene behavior among the criminal and delinquent that, with the advantage of instruction gained from social workers and clergymen and events of the past decade, cannot be rationalized in terms of some fragrant brand of idealism. Of course it is scarcely conceivable that a Presidential Commission on the subject of working-class delinquency or criminality would have taken idealism as its point of departure. But when it comes to the delinquent or criminal behavior of the children of the rich, or at least the well-off, we are treated to a disquisition on their virtues that places them somewhere between St. Francis of Assisi and the Anabaptists of the 16th century.

But if the snobbism behind all this disgusts, what amuses is the Book-of-Common-Prayer tone of the final words of the opening chapter. “Violence must End.” “Understanding must begin.” “All Americans must come to see each other not as symbols or stereotypes but as human beings.” “Reconciliation must begin.” “We must start.” By the time the reader removes his head from this hail of pious injunctions and sonorities, he can surely be forgiven if he has come to believe—as, it would seem, the authors are not at all averse to making him believe—that campus vandalism began in the first place, and has been continuously fed ever since, not by the actions of the. Mario Savios, the Mark Rudds, and the Jerry Rubins but by the “intolerant” assaults of the tax-paying American public on such campuses as Berkeley, Harvard, and Columbia.

I can perhaps best sum up the thrust of the Report’s beginning chapter by quoting a passage from something Professor Kenneth Keniston of Yale (authoritatively said to have had a central hand in the drafting of this very chapter) recently wrote:

But the oppositional young are extraordinarily attuned to the real problems and vulnerabilities of the technocratic society. And every indicator points to a continuation and spread of their critical disengagement. Their experiments in life-styles, counter institutions, counter-cultures, and unalienated consciousness are beginning to define a new reaction against the technocratic order that dominates all the most powerful nations of the world. The opposition of the young provides no “solutions” to the problems it pinpoints; campus unrest is the antithesis, not the “answer” to the issues that inspire it. But if there are ever to be solutions and answers, they must bring together the technological wizardry and productivity of industrialized societies with the oppositional mentality of youth. That synthesis might really lessen campus unrest, even at Harvard.

One can certainly hope and pray, of course. Thus far, though, the union of what Professor Keniston so delicately terms “the oppositional mentality of youth” and technological wizardry has brought us nothing more elevating than bombs. Which, to be sure, represent an evolutionary step up from rocks and firebrands.




Others of a less millennialist turn of mind than Professor Keniston may want to think in terms of pragmatic and empirical causes. After all, some variant of the “crisis of understanding” has been with us in America for some centuries now, as it has in the West as a whole. And it is, as we know from every reliable study or poll on the matter, false and preposterous to assign a monopoly on social idealism to youth—either youth generally or that tiny segment known for Report purposes as the “new culture.” There is not the slightest evidence to support the view that youth is more likely to be idealistic on social and political matters than the middle-aged or elderly.

When, moreover, it comes to matters of causation, one has a right to expect from a Commission such as this due regard for the elementary canons of logic. Causes advanced must be not merely adequate and contextual; they must, above all, be sufficient: related, that is, to the differential character of the data. Of what use is it to declare the war in Vietnam, racism, environmental pollution, along with alienation and idealism, the “causes” of student-faculty violence and of the disruption of academic freedom on the campus? These, plainly, are contextual, but, equally plainly, they are not sufficient to the specific incidence of violence, for they may be seen to be deeply embedded as matters of passionate concern in very large numbers of students—and of other Americans—who do not turn to violence, who do not seek to infringe the academic liberties of others, and who do not arrogate to themselves the pretentious label of “new culture.” Fortunately, as I have already noted, there were, in addition to some extraordinarily unqualified Commission members, some extraordinarily qualified staff members. Is there to be found in the Report, the product of these latter, some hypothesis that clearly explains the differential character of student behavior on the campus?

There is. And this brings us to the best, most informative, and most pertinent section of the entire Report: the treatment of what the Commission calls “the Berkeley invention.” When we read this part of the Report we are, at last, out of the realm of apologetics and squarely in the best of contemporary social science.

What then was the Berkeley invention? To paraphrase a longish section: It begins with the hard-core, revolutionary-minded political radicals on, or near, the campus. Not many are needed. An issue is found—Vietnam, civil rights, environmental pollution—that may be counted upon to arouse sympathy in the utterance. The next step is that of uniting the natural flow of human juices for this issue with some incident that will have the effect of making the university appear harsh in the eyes of others—students, especially faculty, then in due time the all-important reporters from press and television. The incident may be a single arrest by a campus policeman of some egregiously delinquent participant in a meeting or rally; it may be suspension or probation of a student for an act patently in violation of long-known rules; it may be something else. Whatever it is, the machine is now in operation. Crowds of a thousand or more inevitably gather: the bored, the mischievous, the idealistic—or those simply going from one class to another. Speeches become ever more fiery. Goadings of administration and police become ever more ingenious. Confrontation—the original issue is irrelevant and, by now, perhaps even forgotten—is finally achieved, and demands are made, known positively in advance to be beyond the capacity of the administration to meet; if by unanticipated miracle the demands are met, they are escalated instantly. Increasingly—with the marvelous and indispensable aid of educational specialists from the great metropolitan dailies—the scene is given the image of a kind of Armageddon. Overnight a university long known by students, faculty, and outsiders as benign and liberal in the extreme comes to be thought cruel, bureaucratic, and a tool of the military-industrial Establishment.

But why go on? The “Berkeley invention” is so familiar by now (except perhaps to the author of the opening chapter of this Report) that it requires no further description here. I would add only two points. The first is symbolic, having to do with the use of the disarming words “the kids” in all references—in faculty meetings, committee reports, regents meetings, and, most especially, newspaper stories—to the principals in any given act of vandalism. I have no recollection of these words being used to describe men and women enrolled as students in a university, many of them in the upper reaches of young adulthood, prior to about 1964. The second element of “the Berkeley invention” that needs mention is the stratagem known as “amnesty.” This came easily to students nurtured by middle-class parents in whom instant and advance forgiveness is part and parcel of what is known as a loving family. So, within a week of the first uprising at Berkeley, the cry for amnesty could be heard all over the campus, driving faculty members into paroxysms of guilty forgiveness and accusatory hostility toward the administration.

The quick spread of “the Berkeley invention” to other elite campuses of the United States is by now a matter of record. The Scranton Commission cannot be praised enough for its detailed account of this “invention,” although I could wish that due credit for the earliest recognition of it had been given to Chancellor Edward Strong, whose reward for the discovery was decapitation by the Board of Regents (always kill the bearer of bad tidings!); and, second, that there had been more painstaking investigation of the means of transmission of this invention to other campuses in the elite academic circle of the United States. A cultural anthropologist might have helped here.




What really hurt the investigation from the very beginning, however, was not the absence of a cultural anthropologist but the seemingly ineradicable naiveté of a Commission whose members ranged rather widely in immaturity or experience. One sees this naiveté especially in the witnesses called. There was some first-rate testimony, particularly from Professor Sidney Hook, whose brilliant analysis lies buried in the Report like a grudging concession to even-handedness (though the White House later circulated it widely).

But why did the Commission fail to take testimony from any of the literally hundreds of college and university administrators in the country whose campuses have been subjected to little or no violence or assaults on academic freedom? The Commission came all the way across the country to set up in television-equipped quarters in Los Angeles. As I remember well, and with some slight repugnance, they took testimony from the adolescent student-body president of a large elite campus of the University of California, and from the head of a small, extraordinarily elite-minded campus of the University of California (who saw much of the problem in the light of “alienation of soul before technology”). However, only a few blocks from where the Commission sat spellbound by Assistant Professor Richard Flacks, and by the student-body president (whose awful threats to pagan society leave me even yet chilled in anticipation of the millennium) could be found an uninvited Dr. Glen Dumke. This remarkable man is not only a noted historian, a former faculty member and administrator of a leading private college, but also, for the past decade, chancellor of the largest and I believe best state college system in the world. And it is a system that—with the single exception of the nearly-elite campus at San Francisco, presided over today by a man named Hayakawa—has experienced very very little of the kind of violence and assault upon academic freedom that in the last several years have become a byword for Berkeley and Harvard.

It is said that only a veritable deluge of telegrams and other forms of pressure finally persuaded the Commission to go to the University of Wisconsin to look into the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the mathematics building there, with its toll of human life and of irreplaceable scholarship. Clearly, no such reluctance attended the decisions to visit Kent State and Jackson State. Is the life of an American student worth less in one place, under one set of circumstances, than another?

Which brings me to the appalling chapter on the subject of blacks included in this Report. The very least this chapter could have done, also with the canons of both scientific method and of journalistic integrity in mind, is state clearly and unambiguously what is an incontestable fact: that a great many incidents of campus violence and of assaults on academic freedom have proceeded directly from the issue of race, twisted—as often by guilt-seized whites, or by white revolutionaries, as by blacks themselves—in such a way as to “expose” the repressive, inhumane, and discriminatory character of the university.

Reading the Scranton Commission’s chapter on American blacks, with its tissue of bland truisms and blunt dishonesties and with its mindless extenuations of black hoodlumism, one’s admiration only increases by contrast for black leaders and intellectuals like Roy Wilkins and Bayard Rustin who have been courageous enough to say that there is such a thing as black hoodlumism as well as white, and that hoodlumism is hoodlumism, no matter what its color or what banner it chooses to march under.

To declare the necessity, as the Report does, of increasing financial subventions to black colleges and universities may be unexceptionable in itself. But for the Commission to imply that such subventions will have anything to do with campus violence or with scuttlings of academic freedom, is deceptive to the point of being an outright lie. For there has been relatively little of this kind of pathology at the black universities and almost none in the black colleges.




This leads us, finally, to the official recommendations made by the Scranton Commission. They range, with two notable exceptions, from the largely innocuous to the overwhelmingly irrelevant. I shall leave them to the newspaper editors.

Of the two exceptions one is appalling, the other first-rate. The appalling one is that the President of the United States in effect declare a national emergency, using the high prestige of his office to: 1) bring all factions in American society into moral reconciliation; 2) convince public officials and “protesters” that divisive rhetoric is dangerous; 3) take the lead in explaining to the American people the causes of campus unrest; 4) end the war in Indochina; 5) renew national commitment to full social justice; 6) lend personal support to American universities “to accomplish the changes and reforms suggested in this Report”; 7) take steps that he be continuously informed of the views of “students and Blacks”; and 8) call a series of national meetings “designed to foster understanding among those who are now divided.”

What can one say? Surely the sheer mass of the recommendations is enough to sink them forever in the waters of nonsense.

The useful recommendation—and I cannot even guess how it managed to survive its trial by piety—is that heads of universities take steps immediately to identify perpetrators of violence and other hoodlums, remove them from the campus as swiftly as possible, and prosecute them vigorously by appropriate agencies of the law. The very last part of that recommendation suggests another that the Commission might have made but did not: this one to the judiciary of the United States proposing the abolition, where it exists, of the double standard that throws the book at the criminal from the ghetto or the working class but that tends to give short or suspended sentences to the middle-class, white, and politics-pleading college students.

The Commission might in this connection have quoted from the judgment last summer of Sir Eric Sachs of the Court of Appeal in England who, after upholding sentences ranging from nine to eighteen months in prison for some Cambridge University vandals (acting in the name of idealism against the Greek government’s effort to promote tourism), said: “When there is wanton and vicious violence of gross degree, the court is not concerned whether it comes from gang rivalry or from political motivations.” Nothing, to paraphrase the great Dr. Johnson, has so concentrating an effect upon the mind as a man’s certain knowledge that for violation of the civil order he will be sent to jail. Or, at very least, suspended from the university.

True, imprisonment or suspension of the violent will not cure the “crisis of understanding” that has been around for quite a few centuries now; nor will it abolish alienation, or emancipate us overnight from the human condition. But it might allow us to get back to nonviolent dissent and peaceful unrest. And that, at this point in our history, would be a very great deal to achieve.



1 The President’s Report on Campus Unrest, Arno Press 500 pp., $5.95.

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