Then and Now

February 12th, 2007

Peter Ian Asen ’04 is hardly qualified to make comparisons between the Brown he attended so recently and the the University of thirty-five years ago. Was Brown more radical then, as he claims? In fact, the period he likely refers to was forty years ago. I was there, and it was not more radical.

Between 1964 and 1968, Brown was mostly conservative. The famous noon peace vigils on the Green were quiet, typically attended by no more than twenty students, and lasted between fifteen and twenty minutes, even after the Tet offensive. Civil rights and Vietnam War protests were all but invisible through 1968 and were dwarfed by those at many other campuses.

I was an art major back then, a frat rat, and a Naval ROTC candidate, so I was well exposed to a broad profile of students. Because I came to Brown from San Francisco, I was also able to observe campuses at Berkeley and Stanford during visits home. Trust me, Brown was way less radical than they were.

One difference between then and today is that in the 1960s students got involved in the cause du jour on their own. Faculty members stayed pretty much out of it, whereas today those students are teaching and administering in many universities, including Brown, and use their “bully pulpits” to continue to push their views. While we can credit many Brown students with being mature enough to form their own opinions, we cannot credit Brown with ensuring that they do so while being fully informed in a balanced way. Brown’s faculty members and administrators clearly have political agendas, as evidenced, among other things, by their dogged, thirty-year resistance to reinstating ROTC and their excoriation of the few professors with conservative views.

Asen’s letter ends with an admonishment that we “engage [activists] with what they are saying.” I would ask students and alumni to engage the faculty and administration with what they are saying and doing today. I would challenge the faculty and administration to allow ROTC on campus so students could have regular dialogue with real live military officers. God forbid Brown students get a balanced view of the world!

Brian Barbata ’68
Kailua, Hawaii

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Related Issue
January / February 2007