University Presidents, Then and Now

1968: Far-left goons threaten to shut down San Francisco State, and President S. I. Hayakawa springs into action to stop them so that the majority of students can continue their education uninterrupted.

[Hayakawa] drew nationwide publicity when he climbed onto a sound truck from which protestors were shouting obscenities through a microphone, knocked a protestor to the ground who stood in his way (Hayakawa weighed only 145 pounds), and ripped out the wiring of the sound equipment, which the protestors were unable to repair. On another occasion Hayakawa brought a bullhorn to the protest, and shouted back at demonstrators. He also did not hesitate to call in police in large numbers to arrest protestors who disrupted classes. “In a democratic society,” Hayakawa said in justifying his recourse to the police, “the police are there for the protection of our liberties. It is in a totalitarian society that police take away our liberties.” He took activists at their word that their demands were “non-negotiable,” and refused to negotiate…. “We have a standing obligation to the 17,500 or more students—white, black, yellow, red and brown—who are not on strike and have every right to expect continuation of their education.”

2017: George Bridges, president of Evergreen State College, tries to appease a mob of far-left students, making concessions and ordering campus police to stand down. The resulting chaos shuts down the whole campus, interrupting the education of the 95% of students who are not protesting.

The funniest—and also the saddest—of the videos might be called the Homework Video, or perhaps the Gumbo Video. Viewed more than 86,000 times on YouTube, it recorded the events of a May 24 meeting with Bridges in his office, which the protesters had invaded and taken over, blocking the exits while some of them checked their phones and helped themselves to what appeared to be university-supplied pizza as they sat at the college president’s conference table. The 66-year-old Bridges, balding, pudgy, bespectacled, and given to sporting bow ties on dressy occasions, had the misfortune of visually calling to mind Bobby Trippe, the adipose city slicker raped by hillbillies in John Boorman’s 1972 backwoods horror flick Deliverance. Subconsciously—or perhaps archetypally, since none was alive when Deliverance was ringing up the cash registers during the early 1970s—the Evergreen protesters similarly seemed to smell blood with the eager-to-please and ultimately hapless Bridges. He had already had an encounter with them the day before, when they stormed his office at 4:30 in the afternoon not long after their successful disruption of Weinstein’s biology class. Their greeting, also captured in a video, had been: “F— you, George, we don’t want to hear a God-damned thing you have to say.” One protester had demanded that Bridges “disavow white supremacy.” Bridges had meekly agreed: “I will disavow white supremacy.”

The Evergreen State protesters at the May 24 meeting, munching their pizza slices while a jacketless, white-shirted Bridges stood abjectly before them holding a multipage list of their written demands, clearly regarded such solicitude for their sensibilities as so much contemptible weakness. The meeting opened with this exchange between a female protester and Bridges:

“All of us are students and have homework and projects and things due. Have you sent an email out to your faculty letting them know? What’s been done about that?”

“It’s the first thing I’ll do. I have not done it yet, I will do it right now.”

“So they need to be told that these assignments won’t be done on time, and we don’t need to be penalized for that.”

Jeers and general derision followed, as Bridges tried to shush them with his free hand and make himself heard.

“Y’all can’t keep doing these pointing fingers,” a female student reprimanded him, after he had apologized and meekly placed the offending hand in his pants pocket.

A few minutes later Bridges pleaded over the din to let him please adjourn the meeting so he could read the list of demands: “You have to give me some privacy, folks. . . . I have claustrophobia.”

The meeting ended with the Gumbo Potluck Demand. A male student standing behind Bridges informed him that if he didn’t respond to the occupying students’ list by 5 p.m. that Friday, May 26, “you need to pay for a potluck.”

Bridges was amenable to that order, too: “We’ll be paying for a potluck anyway,” he replied.

“We want gumbo!” another student shouted.

A knot of students on the other side of the table turned that into a chant: “We want gumbo!”

The opening sentence of Bridges’s statement in response to the students’ demands set the tone and the tenor for everything that followed:

“I’m George Bridges, I use he/him pronouns.”

What followed was Evergreen-predictable. Apologies to the Native Americans whose “land was stolen and on which the college stands”? Check. That “mandatory sensitivity and cultural competency training” for faculty? Check and check. “We commit to annual mandatory training for all faculty beginning in fall 2017,” Bridges said. And there was more: the creation of an “equity center.” A “Trans & Queer Center coordinator.” A “position that will support undocumented students.” And more free food, after the meeting adjourned at 6 p.m.

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2 thoughts on “University Presidents, Then and Now

  1. This reminds me of the fact that my father was in class at Kent State when the event Kent State is known for took place.

    • I’m not justifying Kent State, but if being a libertarian means responding to aggression only with non-aggression, then I guess I’m not a libertarian. History shows that communism does not yield to sweet reason.

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