"Notable Victory Scored at Kenyon For Cause of Academic Freedom"
Tense and dramatic days last week on the normally pastoral campus of Kenyon College revealed the extent of the crisis for liberal education in American even under the best of conditions.
What happened at Kenyon was a signal triumph by administration, faculty and students against politicizing the
campus despite the volatile atmosphere. While some 450 colleges were shutting down, Kenyon not only remained open
but displayed some unfashionable virtues: civility, an appreciation of academic freedom, and mutual respect between
faculty and student body.
Yet, even at Kenyon with less than 1,000 students and physically isolated in rural Ohio, worried professors
amid student leaders warily approach the future–fearing the barbarians are at the gates. They wonder how long sanity
can survive here while student fury, often abetted by faculty, engulfs Harvard, Michigan, and Berkeley. "How
long can we stay quiet when all hell is breaking loose around us?" asks one Kenyon professor.
Every campus has its own peculiarity, and Kenyon's conspicuous success is no prescription formula for saving
it here. What the Kenyon story underlines is that a firm stand by the faculty in the interest of intellectual civility
is the one essential for survival of the American university.
Following the pattern of every campus today, students and faculty at Kenyon are emotionally opposed to the Vietnam
war. Nor were they immune from the campus frenzy over the Cambodian operation and the killing of four Kent State
University students. When Kenyon's students watched fellow students elsewhere man the barricades via the evening
television news, they started planning their own student strike.
Where Kenyon differed from most other campuses was the reaction of administration and faculty. Instead of submitting
to the students' demands, Kenyon's professors persuasively argued with the students that closing down the campus
would accomplish nothing and that a planned student march on the State Capitol might only lead to more tragedy.
The appeal to reason succeeded. After a long meeting last Thursday night, the students voted not to participate
in the Columbus march and to recommend that the college stay open. But they also recommended cancelling final examinations.
Instead, they wanted "symposiums, open forums, and teach-ins" on the Indo-china war, on violence and
dissent, and on the use of force on the campus.
At most campuses, the administration would have eagerly gobbled up this seeming panacea. Indeed, a proposal
for teach-ins, passé to student radicals, departs from the present collegiate principle that important matters
should be settled by conscience instead of intellect.
Remarkably, however, the Kenyon faculty did not accept that easy way out. Realizing that the cancellation of
final examinations would open the door to disruption of education whenever external political developments intrude,
the faculty voted to hold examinations as scheduled but to arrange three days of "convocations and seminars"
on transcendent political events.
Even more remarkably, the students overwhelmingly endorsed that decision at a meeting Saturday night. There
was no hissing or booing. Then a student referred to the faculty as "honest men and good men," there
was a sustained standing applause. This was only possible because the Kenyon faculty has consistently opposed politicization
of the campus and had implanted that principle with a significant number of students.
Moreover, when a few students at Saturday night's meeting proposed a student voice in determining curriculum
and faculty selection, they were politely but firmly rebuffed. President William Caples, a non-academician who
retired as a vice president of Inland Steel to run his alma mater, will not permit any such trampling on academic
freedom. The fact that speakers will actually be permitted to defend the Cambodian operation during the Kenyon
seminars proves that devotion to academic freedom is no mere slogan here.
...The tenuous nature of academic freedom was apparent at Saturday night's meeting. When some students started
probing the loopholes in the faculty's decision, Provost Bruce Haywood urged them not to pressure individual professors
to cancel examinations. As Haywood put it: "Academic freedom is a very delicate flower."
(By Evans and Novak, Courtesy of Publishers-Hall Syndicate)
From the Washington Post, May 15, 1970 edition, as quoted in Kenyon College: Its Third Half Century, by Thomas Boardman Greenslade
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