Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Saturday, May 8, 2010

MEMOIR VOLUME TWO CHAPTER THREE EIGHTH INSTALLMENT

That Fall, my attention and emotion were really focused on the imminent arrival of the baby, Ti-Grace to the contrary notwithstanding. Tests to determine the sex of the foetus were a good deal less sophisticated in those days, so we worked away at a name for a boy and a name for a girl. Pretty quickly, we came to an agreement that if we had a girl, she would be named Emily Ann, but the search for a boy's name took us longer. The new summer home in Worthington, and our MacDonald's runs to Northampton, led us to consider Jonathan Edward Wolff, since Jonathan Edwards had preached in Northampton during the First Great Awakening in the early 18th century. But that would have made the little boy's initials JEW, so we scotched that idea. Little by little, we narrowed it down to either Michael Gideon Wolff or Patrick Gideon Wolff. On the evening of February 14, 1968, Cindy went into labor, and we drove up to Washington Heights to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. It was a long night -- at one point, a doctor told me it would be a while, and suggested that I go out and get some coffee and a bite to eat. Early the next morning, Cindy gave birth to a baby boy. When I was allowed in to see her [no husbands in the delivery room in those days], she looked up at me, our new son in her arms, and asked, "What is his name?" Without hesitation, I replied, "Patrick Gideon Wolff." I was a father.

We were about as prepared as two highly educated, sensitive, at least partially psychoanalyzed intellectuals could be for the arrival of a baby, which is to say not at all. The little room next to the kitchen had been outfitted as the baby's room, with crib, changing table, cloth diapers, diaper pins, talcum powder, baby oil, bunny suits, and handy wipes. We had read the first several chapters of Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care, which even then was two decades old. Dr. Spock said, right there in the first chapter, that "the newborn baby sleeps twenty hours a day." Unfortunately, that seemed to be a typographical error. Patrick was awake twenty hours a day. In less than a week, we were both totally exhausted.

Desperate for sleep, we hired a night nurse to come to the apartment and look after Patrick while we went to bed. I am sure she was a very nice woman, but she was a stranger in our little apartment, and we both lay in bed all night, rigid, listening for any sound that would suggest Patrick had a need she was failing to attend to. After three days, we thanked her and sent her on her way.

Up to that time, my knowledge of child development had all come from books. As a younger brother, I had not even had the benefit of watching a little brother or sister grow up in my parent's home, and Cindy was an only child. Piaget was interesting, but his observations related to a somewhat later stage of development. David Hume turned out to know more about the cognitive development of infants than even he might have imagined. Still, none of that told me what to do when a three week old baby would not go to sleep. Thus began my real education of the complex relationship between nature and nurture.

Looking back on it all now, from the perspective of four decades, I can see that very significant elements of the personalities of both of my sons were hard-wired, as it were. As a tiny baby, Patrick had enormous difficulty making transitions, from being awake to going to sleep, or from being asleep to waking up. His nervous system, if I can put it this way, seemed extremely inward looking, whereas the nervous system of my second son, Tobias, was outward looking. When I put Patrick down for the night, he would cry inconsolably. At first, I tried patting him gently on the back, but that seemed to make no impression on him whatsoever. I tried patting a bit harder. Eventually, I discovered, with great trepidation, that if I virtually pounded on his back rhythmically, I would break into his nervous system, and he would stop crying. Then I had to very gradually reduce the forcefulness of the patting until, at last, I would stand with my hand simply resting on his back. Very delicately, I would lift my hand way, and he would be asleep. Once asleep, he was out for hours. You could throw a party in his room and he wouldn't wake up.

By the time we were ready to take Patrick out and about, it was almost Spring. The nearest bit of grass and open space was the Columbia campus, so on days when I wasn't in New Brunswick, I would put him in his baby carriage and take him on a turn around Columbia. Everything was peaceful and serene until the beginning of April. Then all hell broke loose.

The story of the Columbia student uprising has been told many times. There is even a documentary of it now, for which I and many others were interviewed [although I have not seen the finished product, and do not know whether I survived the editing process.] For those who do not remember the events, the following link will take them to a site that gives a detailed, chronological account not only of the events themselves but also of what led up to them and what followed. http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu/columbia68/time1.htm

Because I was teaching at Rutgers and moonlighting at CUNY and CCNY, and even more because I was a new father, I played a relatively minor role in the events unfolding half a block from our apartment. Borrowing a felicitous phrase from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, you might say that I was "disguised as a second trombone in a wandering band." Nevertheless, I do have some personal stories to tell. More important, the events taught me a very great deal about the inner dynamics of such political upheavals. With the benefit of four decades and more of hindsight, I should like to try to articulate what I learned.

The initial focus of the student actions was Columbia's involvement with the Defense Department during the expansion of America's involvement in Viet Nam. The Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, had begun its protests a year earlier, in February of 1967, over Columbia's involvement with the C. I. A. Eighteen SDS members held a sit-in in Dodge Hall, located at the Broadway and 116th st. entrance to the campus. A number of students were bought up on disciplinary charges and threatened with expulsion. I appeared at the proceedings in support of one of the students, Richard Fiorevanti -- in effect, as his Defense Attorney. I still have my handwritten arguments, carefully laid out in three headings and numerous subheadings. After calling attention to the fact that Fiorevanti had actually wandered into the demonstration by accident, had joined it after it was under way, and though completely in sympathy with its political purposes, had joined it on the spur of the moment, I turned to the larger issues at stake. Here is the final portion of the notes I prepared for the hearing, reproduced without emendation or alteration:

"III. Disciplinary Procedures in Cases of Politically-Motivated Infractions of University Regulations
A. The Traditional Role of the University
1. The university stands in locus parentis.
2. It views students as growing late adolescents, as it were.
3. The parental disciplinary procedures -- which combine firmness with compassion and a concern for the welfare of the students -- are appropriate for dealing with cheating, plagiarism, panty raids, liquor in the dorms, and general youthful hi jinks.
B. Politics in the University
1. We all feel uneasy about treating cases of political protest as though they were no different from panty-raids. The existence of this precedent-breaking panel vividly illustrates that uneasiness.
2. So long as students engage in panty-raids, they deserve to be treated by the university as children -- and it is appropriate for the university to act like a stern, but benevolent parent.
But: When students engage in serious, deliberate, adult political activities, whether legal or illegal, whether in support of the existing political consensus or in opposition tom it, then they earn the right to be treated as adults, and the university loses the right to behave as a parent. New standards, new procedures, are required.
C. Present Disciplinary Procedures.
1. Consider the present situation: the university announces a specification of actions which are violations of university regulations. The university also announces a spectrum of punishments for those violations, ranging from reprimand to dismissal (p. 76 of Columbia College Handbook). Quote p. 76, §5 complete
2. But there is no schedule relating punishments to violations. To this day, there is no way for a student to discover what precisely he risks by embarking, for reasons of conscience, on actions in violation of university regulations. Even now, neither I nor Mr. Fiorevanti has any concrete indication of the maximum severity of punishment which attaches to his admitted commission of what are surely rather less serious violations of university regulations. We have no way of knowing whether the university considers the sit-in more serious, or less serious, than plagiarism, or theft, or the throwing of water bags from windows.
2. [sic] By analogy: Imagine that the State of New York listed a series of acts as crimes, and announced a diversity of punishments from a fine to the death penalty, but did nothing to associate specific ranges of punishment with specific crimes. Someone who chose to engage in civil disobedience would have no way at all to discover what he risked by such action. Suppose further that the records of previous court actions were not available, so that a citizen could not even make an estimate of his risk on the basis of past practice. Such a situation would clearly be outrageously unjust.
3. But that is exactly the situation Mr. Fiorevanti finds himself in.
4. I suggest that the panel, as part of its report to President Kirk, should recommend that there be a regularization of disciplinary procedures designed to remove the manifest injustice of the present system."

As it happens, Columbia dropped the charges against these students, but the issue on which I chose to focus lies, I believe, at the heart of the tectonic changes then taking place in colleges and universities across the country. The traditional conception of the relation of a university [and a university faculty] to its students was based on the premise that the undergraduate years were a protected time, between childhood and adulthood, during which young men and women were allowed to develop their intellectual capacities more or less in isolation from the larger society. It was for this reason, for example, that in Cambridge, MA, the Cambridge Police Department would routinely treat student misbehavior that took place in Harvard Yard, or in the extended area usually referred to as "The Square," as within the purview of the campus police. But the Viet Nam War, combined with the threat of the Draft, thrust young men into the larger political world willy-nilly. They had not suddenly become wiser or more mature, but the war was confronting them with life and death choices that they could not evade. This had long been true of Black students, and now White students found themselves confronted by analogous choices. It was simply no longer appropriate either for the university or for it faculty to construe themselves as acting in loco parentis.

The same rapid changes explain the confusion and even bitterness that a number of faculty experienced. In '68, when the full-scale building seizures occurred, members of the faculty were presented with a challenge to their traditional role, as well as to their identification with the institution in which they had made their lives. At Columbia, there were professors long identified as politically liberal and wildly popular with the students who instinctively stood with the university administration. Overnight, they found themselves reviled by the same students who had idolized them a week earlier. Peter Gay, one of the great European historians of the twentieth century, was so embittered by the hostility of the students that he left Columbia soon after and spent the remainder of his career at Yale. Richard Hofstadter, a radical historian justly famous for his anatomization of "the paranoid style in American politics," chose to deliver the Commencement Address that Grayson Kirk was too frightened to give, while the students with whom he should have been aligned held a counter-commencement on the steps of Low Library. Paul Kristeller, like many of his emigré colleagues, was so deeply alienated by what he perceived as Brown Shirts on the campus that he took to carrying a cane that he did not really need. When he and I happened to step into the tiny Philosophy Hall elevator together, Paul would turn his back to me and refuse to say Hello. Old faculty friendships were shattered. Bob Cummings and David Truman, despite years of co-teaching, ended up on opposite sides of the fight, and they and their wives stopped speaking to one another. Truman lost what was an almost certain appointment as the next Columbia President, and ended his career as the President of Mt. Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

The six days of the occupation of Low Library were quite the most dramatic moments I had seen in the cloistered environs of the Academy, but there were amusing moments as well. After the White students were kicked out of Hamilton Hall by the Black students, whose focus was on the proposed gymnasium in Morningside Park rather than the university's involvement with the Institute for Defense Analyses, they seized the office of the President in Low Library. A group of students supporting the administration was formed, and marched on Low. The Ad Hoc Faculty Group, which had been meeting periodically in Philosophy Hall in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful resolution, hastily threw up a picket line around Low to separate the two groups of students and prevent violence. I was standing on the line one day as anti-occupation students yelled taunts at the occupiers, who were hanging out of the second story windows. The students had been in Low for a while and were getting hungry. Supporters brought bags of sandwiches, which they would throw from outside the two lines to the students inside. Someone threw a bag of food which missed the window and fell at my feet. I stooped down, picked it up, and tossed it to a student hanging out of the window above. Dankwart Rustow, a tall Ichabod Crane of a figure who was in charge of the Ad Hoc faculty Group line rushed up to me, furious at this breach of neutrality, and summarily ordered me off the line. Exposed for the partisan I was, I slunk off.

Not funny at all was the behavior of the Tactical Police Force when they were given the go-ahead to roust the students from the buildings. I was down in New Brunswick when that happened, but I heard a good deal about it from my friends. The TPF had the rather nasty habit of carrying blackjacks with which, with a flick of the wrist, they would crack people on the top of the head. The Faculty Group was on the line when the TPF charged, and the next morning, a number of senior members of the faculty, including Sidney, wore bandages on their heads as badges of honor. The Provost and former Dean David Truman called a special meeting of the College faculty several days later to discuss the events. Before he could call the meeting officially to order, I stood up and told him that since there were a number of colleagues sitting in the room who had been beaten by the police and were still wearing their bandages, I thought we could not begin the meeting until the university issued a formal apology to those who had been injured. Truman looked around the room with dead eyes and said, in a flat voice, "Are there any other comments?" I am ashamed to say that no one in the room supported me.

On a lighter note, the beatings were the backdrop for one of Sidney's most famous remarks. I am not the first person to tell this story, but I cannot talk about the events of '68 without repeating it. Some months after the Spring of '68, Sidney was called for jury duty, and as luck would have it, he was tapped for a case involving alleged police brutality. During the voir dire, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to try the case asked Sidney whether he had ever been treated brutally or unfairly by the police. Sidney thought for a moment and said, "Brutally, yes. Unfairly, no." The ADA asked him to explain, and Sidney told the story of the attack by the TPF. "And you didn't think they were acting unfairly?" "No," Sidney said, "they were hitting everybody." Sidney was a genuinely great man.

5 comments:

Buck said...

Your comment about your child seeming to be "hardwired" reminded me of an article in the NY Times yesterday about how babies are born with certain altruistic personalities that indeed appear to be "hardwired".

If you have not seen the article, I urge you to take a look at it. I found it very informative and interesting.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/09babies-t.html?hpw

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Meat Sounds said...

I started writing a response to Buck's remark about the NY Times magazine article, which I am far less enthusiastic about. It started getting quite long, so I relegated the meat of reply to my own blog (behind my hyper-texted handle) rather than clog up Prof. Wolff's with off-topic discussion.

I'll say this here. The conclusion that there is some, if even a rather impoverished, moral life at work with babies is likely to be a case of the over-analysis of results. The quickest way to point this out is to gesture at a confusion and its converse. It is a mistake to believe that if babies (or anyone else) doesn't have a moral life, properly construed (whatever that turns out to be), that no action they take would be moral. This is like believing that because dice themselves can't know or care how they land, they will never roll the numbers we like. The article goes the other way: because babies act in ways we see as moral, they actually are moral, at least in some way. But it is quite likely that babies would occasionally do things we would look upon as moral, even do so reliably and spontaneously, for reasons of their own. That is, for non-moral reasons. And that possibility is never discussed in the article.

Michael said...

Just thought you should know, you've written that your son was born February 17th 1948, which, I'm assuming he wasn't, unless my history of 60's is wrong.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Good God. No, he was born February 15, 1968!!! [Cindy went into labor on the 14th, gave birth on the 15th.] I will fix it right away. Thank you. Tobias was born February 18, 1970. aaarrrggghhh!