Political Turmoil on Campus
School of Engineering and Applied Science 1972
School of Engineering and Applied Science 1974
Columbia College 1971
I have many great memories of Columbia, but also had the misfortune to start at Columbia in the fall of 1967. My next seven years at Columbia were marred by the political turmoil disrupting the campus. I will share just a few memories of those years.
I remember, just before the riot of 1968, Mark Rudd published an article in the Spectator entitled "The Cuba I Saw." It was full of lies and half-truths, and reported of his months spent in Cuba just before he led the riots at Columbia. I wrote a point-by-point rebuttal entitled "The Cuba You Did Not See." It related my personal experience living under the Castro regime and the experience of my family members, who were still in Cuba at the time. I submitted it to the Spectator and they refused to publish it—EVEN AS A PAID ADVERTISEMENT! That was very disappointing to me. I had been under the impression that the university environment was one that encouraged multiple viewpoints.
I also remember being at the Student Union when a Panamanian student who knew I was Cuban ran in to get me, saying, "You have to see this." There, on the grass in front of Carman Hall, was the personal secretary of Che Guevara. He was dressed in a Cuban militia uniform and talking to a crowd. Even though we were required to show a student ID to enter the campus, he managed to get in. Clearly, someone had snuck him in. Again, he was sharing lies. As an example, he praised Castro for building a plant to process sugar cane waste into paper. That plant was only a few miles from my home, and had existed long before Castro had even started the revolution—a revolution that my family supported and that Castro hijacked later.
I also remember a meeting of the Columbia athletes in the gymnasium shortly after the SDS had taken over its first building. Because I was on the basketball team, I was there. Some of the student athletes were talking about going into the building and "kicking butt" to get the handful of SDS students out of there. Then, the coaches stood on the walkway above with bullhorns and said that anyone that got involved would be automatically thrown off the team. That was the end of our efforts to deal with the event that the administration was not dealing with.
Eventually, the administration had to act. Unfortunately, they called in the New York police, who were itching to beat up the long-haired hippies whom we represented to them. I was standing in front of John Jay when the police came. They indiscriminately beat up anyone in the immediate vicinity, whether or not they had anything to do with the building occupation. Thus, the administration turned what could have been a student fight into a major political event. The entire campus, including me, was horrified by the unnecessary brutality of the police. Of course, the next day, I picked up The New York Times and it described a very different scene from the one that I had personally witnessed. Someone pointed out to me that The New York Times's editor was on the Board of Trustees of Columbia, and I lost my innocent belief in a free press.