Their View: Problems on college campuses?


By Vivian Blevins

Contributing columnist

My sons came to visit me recently, and we began to talk about the recent disturbances on American college/university campuses. Both sons are opinionated as am I, but at one point, I felt it was time to call a halt to the discussion and relate my personal experience with this type of event. As an aside, perhaps you believe that “disturbances” is not the appropriate word to use, and you have a right to your opinion.

It was May of 1970, and I was at The Ohio State University in my first quarter (at one time, both quarters and semesters were used in higher education, and OSU was on the quarter system) in my Ph.D. program.

Following the incidents on May 4, 1970, at Kent State, OSU experienced student uproars. What were my first-hand experiences? My first observation: The Ohio National Guard was called to the campus, and I walked over to the Oval to see what was happening. The Guard was there with bayonets drawn, and students were gathered and tormenting them with chants. Several co-eds (I assumed they were students) pranced up to the guardsmen and placed marshmallows on the tips of their bayonets. At the time, I thought, these guys are really calm. I wonder what they are thinking. Is the Kent State massacre foremost in their minds?

Next incident. I had bought a 1970 Mustang (loved that car) to drive from Urbana to Columbus to take my classes. Online classes didn’t exist then. The closest would have been correspondence courses via the USMail, but that would not have been available to graduate students. I was heading over to High Street where my new car was parked (I needed to pinch pennies, and parking there was free). What did I see? A group of rioters were coming down the street, breaking store windows, looting, turning over vehicles, and chanting.

The rioters were facing off with the Ohio National Guard with bayonets drawn, and my new car was in the middle. I hesitated, fearing for my life if I took the action I wanted to take. I dashed out, however, when the rioters were within a few yards of my car, started it, did a U turn, and headed toward the Guard. They parted their line and let me through. I was nearly hysterical and drove to a friend’s house to calm down before driving home.

Soon, my classes were canceled, and the only way to come on campus to use the library or for other business was with an OSU-issued photo ID. And I still have mine.

I was taking several courses at the time, but one was giving me answers I had long sought, a thorough exploration of critical approaches to the study of literature. With no more classes for the semester, the professors could opt to assign grades or just assign a grade of Pass.

For me, OSU had become dangerous: I feared snipers; I feared outsiders.

What was my sense of what I directly observed? The demonstrators on the Oval? Free speech. The coeds and the marshmallows? Disrespectful. Wrong. The rioters on High Street? Arrest and prison sentences.

An outcome of the demonstrations: Some of my professors became more flexible in terms of major writing assignments, letting students select assignments that resonated with them. A professor in one of my linguistics classes, however, let students bully him into guaranteeing everyone in the class a grade of A. They indicated they could learn more without the threat of grades. Soon, it was apparent that they would do very little in the class once the A was assured, and when I forcefully objected, indicating that I needed to learn, they were most unhappy with me. I attended the University of Toledo the following summer to take the class and transfer it to OSU.

I have been a CEO of colleges for 15 years, and I can share with you how I handled a particular impending demonstration. The philosophy of legislators in California is to make higher education accessible through funding the California State System, the University of California System, and the California Community College System. I was Chancellor of Rancho Santiago College District when a decision was made in Sacramento to raise the community college tuition, a rather large increase. Students wanted to demonstrate, and faculty and I joined thousands on the Santa Ana Campus, exercising our free speech rights. It was peaceful, but there was a tremendous difference in the way in which the Orange County Register covered it and the approach of the Los Angeles Times’ reporter. Obviously, those in control of the media have their own perspectives on free speech. And there was the Rodney King beating while I was chancellor there, but that’s another story.

Assaults, destruction of property, breaking and entering? No.

Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected].

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