All Commentary
Friday, January 1, 1971

The Protesters


Dr. W. A. Paton is Professor Emeritus of Ac­counting and of Economics at the University of Michigan. Since retirement in ¹959, after 45 years on the Michigan staff, he has done part-time teaching and lecturing at 14 colleges and universities in 10 states, for periods rang­ing from a few weeks to a full school year. This experience has afforded an unusual oppor­tunity to observe the development of campus unrest, and the reactions of teachers and admin­istrators to wayward student behavior.

Sociologists and psychologists (to say nothing of other academic spe­cialists) have been having a field day diagnosing, explaining, and—at times—condoning the phenom­enon widely known as “student unrest.” Indeed, the concern of some of the professors has waxed to the point of willingness to pro­mote, and even to participate in, the programs of the campus revolters. With this situation it is not unreasonable to conclude that the sympathetic professors have played a significant part in pro­viding a climate that encourages student discontent, and must assume a measure of responsibility for the consequences. Especially in the “social sciences” there are many instances of instructors who neither require serious study of the subject (such as it is) nor reg­ular class attendance, which leaves their students with plenty of time to cultivate restlessness. And in some departments it is easy to find members who seem to be none too busy themselves, either at teaching or engaging in any other form of scholarly endeavor. This is still not the typical state of af­fairs, it should be acknowledged, in medicine, engineering, and the professional schools generally, where a majority of the students are striving diligently to gain a handhold on a career ladder, and most of the teachers are trying hard to be helpful.

Playing a role perhaps more important than that of the profes­sors in opening the door to the restless and unruly are the acqui­escent and obliging administra­tors, widely represented among today’s college and university presidents, deans, and other of­ficers. The extent to which these people cater to the dissident groups is nothing short of amaz­ing, and deeply disturbing, to many old grads. And boards of trustees and regents should not escape mention in this connection. Often a majority of the members of the governing board are not fa­vorably inclined toward the atti­tudes and policies of faculty and administration, but they turn their backs most of the time and pussyfoot even when conditions clearly call for a positive stand.

Semantic Confusion

To support the view that the leaders in campus disorders are idealists troubled by the ills of the educational system, and incensed by the limitations of prevailing programs for dealing with the plight of the disadvantaged and downtrodden, resort is had to some very sorry semantics. Words are potent weapons in man’s affairs, and their misuse can bring unfor­tunate results ranging from minor misunderstandings to tragic con­frontations and crises. The dis­turbances in the schools we are currently witnessing cannot rea­sonably be regarded as construc­tive efforts to improve the educa­tional process, or amend alleged bad practices in any other area. Fomenting disorder, smashing windows and burning buildings, throwing missiles (from bricks and rocks to bombs and bullets) at the police and other official law-enforcement personnel, physical attacks on students and teachers who are trying to carry on—these are hardly the earmarks of an idealistic reform movement.

I have personally viewed hun­dreds of shattered windows and doors on the beautiful grounds of one of the world’s renowned pri­vate universities and the experi­ence was nightmarish. At a large state institution, which I know well, one episode was the seizure of the new undergraduate library, which cost the taxpayers several millions, by a band of twenty to thirty “youths” who held posses­sion for many hours while wreck­ing files and equipment, disar­ranging and damaging thousands of volumes, defacing walls, and otherwise disporting themselves. The result was a shambles, forc­ing a temporary complete closing of the building, to the great dis­advantage of the thousands of un­dergraduates regularly using the library’s facilities. This costly ca­per of the “militants” is only one of a long list of interferences with normal operation during the last three years, usually featured by violence and vandalism, and the total effect has been a substantial impairment of the functioning of the university. To date, moreover, not a single student participant in the disruptive incidents has been expelled, or even suspended. A dean did indeed announce suspen­sion of one stalwart “youth” who knocked a teacher down and broke his glasses, but the outcries of outraged “student government” groups and their faculty support­ers soon induced a revocation of the dean’s initial decision.

Query: Why shouldn’t campus rowdies, thugs, vandals, and riot­ers be properly and plainly de­scribed, instead of being labeled as “protesters,” and credited with an earnest desire to better school environments and operations and assist in solving all pressing so­cial problems?

Professional Agitators

There is solid evidence that hardened agitators, often trained abroad, are involved in most major strikes and riots in the schools as well as on the streets. These are people dedicated to de­stroying the American educational system and—ultimately—produc­ing a condition of general chaos that will insure the complete col­lapse, like a house of cards, of our political and economic insti­tutions. Apologists for the student activists, and the disorders in which they figure prominently, should take note of this estab­lished fact. There is room for ar­gument, of course, as to just how potent the professional agitator cells are, in stirring up trouble.

With respect to the faculty members and administrators who are prone to defend groups and organizations sponsoring militant “movements” and activities, there is a noticeable tie that binds: al­most to a man they are either out­right socialists, or dominantly so­cialistic in outlook. They are all definitely unfriendly to private business enterprise and an un­hampered, competitive market; they damn capitalism at every op­portunity, in the classroom and elsewhere, either bluntly or by sly slurs and digs running from faint praise to half-truths and downright misrepresentation. Gen­eralizing as to the views of the student troublemakers is less war­ranted, but that the leadership of the various groups is heavily loaded with Marxists and procom­munists is very clear.

Nothing can be done, needless to say, to convince the party line foreign agents, and their con­firmed fellow travelers and syco­phants, that there is any merit in the American experiment in indi­vidual freedom—freedom to move about, to choose an occupation, to save and acquire property, to pros­per, and (on occasion) to become wealthy. But we can still hope that the host of well-meaning citi­zens who have been somewhat tol­erant of the youthful “protesters,” and indifferent to the turmoil they have stimulated in the schools, will wake up, and exert a restrain­ing influence before the wrecking operation reaches the point of no return.

Widespread Mental Smog

One striking feature of the times is the willingness of people generally, and especially in the ranks of the intellectuals, so-called, to disregard plain facts and be beguiled by illusions and mi­rages. Common sense seems to be on the wane. The widespread men­tal smog from which we are suf­fering, it may be urged, is much more dangerous than the fumes emitted by our motor vehicles. This condition appears the more remarkable, at first glance, in a society equipped with an incred­ible array of gadgets providing almost instantaneous and world­wide communication, a flood of printed material on every con­ceivable subject, and an elaborate educational framework designed to keep us occupied with learning from early childhood on into the adult years. But perhaps this is what ails us. Perhaps we are so swamped with information—and misinformation—that the power to think, to reason, to get at the nub is becoming atrophied.

As most careful observers will agree, the protesters and revolu­tionaries have been aroused rather than restrained by the permissive and indecisive tactics of those in charge. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile is just as true today as in the past. Will we nev­er learn that coddling and cajolery will not check those bent on tear­ing our schools to pieces, or en­gaging in any other form of law­lessness? And neither will “trying to understand,” “opening new avenues of communication” (a fancy description for setting up a flock of committees, conferences, and discussion groups), and other soft-soap suggestions from pro­fessorial ranks, aimed at advising or mildly admonishing, restore order and efficient functioning to the campus.

The Need to Take a Stand

Nobody favors arbitrary or ty­rannical suppression of the rest­less and discontented, even when they have no solid ground under their feet. (We greatly need the inventive and innovative indi­vidual, in all fields.) But taking a definite and determined stand, lay­ing it on the line and not backing down, are essential to the curbing of destructive conduct, in school or out. There are, at long last, a few schools where this position is being asserted, forthrightly, and some supporting voices are being raised in high places in govern­ment. Delay has, of course, made the chore of restoring order much more difficult. Purging academic staffs, stiffening admission re­quirements, and increased willing­ness to resort to expulsion are developments badly needed.

A concluding question: What will be the impact on American productivity, on the level of out­put of goods and services, of the diversion of time and energy to attempts to cope with student law­lessness, plus the serious impair­ment of the usefulness of our edu­cational facilities accompanying the school disorder and destruc­tion? The economic system in this country is already showing signs of staggering, despite the momen­tum achieved by the technologi­cal advance, under the burden of costly programs reflecting the pre­occupation with the needs of the ailing, the elderly, and the “dis­advantaged,” a widespread and increasing indifference to effi­ciency and good performance, a complex and stifling tax struc­ture, a crime wave of frightening proportions, a mountainous de­fense effort, which probably can­not be greatly relaxed in the near future, growing governmental in­terference and control in all fields, coupled with fiscal irres­ponsibility and the continuing plague of inflation. In short, we have about all the troubles and difficulties we can take. Any sub­stantial addition to the load at this juncture may topple us. And in the face of the prospect of tre­mendous increases in population (according to the predictions) how can the present per-capita standard of living be maintained, to say nothing of improvement? The almost forgotten truism that “we can’t consume any more than we produce” still holds.

The Exposure of Nonsense, All in Good Time

To clear the air, blow away the mists of nonsense and confusion, there is a great need for men of the stamp of Jonathan Swift, Gilbert and Sullivan, and our own Will Rogers. What a blessing it would be if a crop of talented hu­morists and satirists were to spring up, with the genius to riddle with ridicule the preten­sions and poses of the “liberal” professors and their ilk! (We have Al Capp, but he needs help.) Once joking about the prevailing absurdities became popular, a return to sanity, to order, to decent behavior—as the standard to which all men should strive to re­pair—might well be in sight. A gale of laughter would surely be good medicine at this juncture. Even some of the “protesters” might be nudged into joining a jocular chorus, and looking with less favor on commotion and wanton destruction.

Recently I happened to open up my battered copy of Book of Tales, a volume edited by William Swinton and George R. Cathcart and published in 1880 as a read­ing supplement for third graders. This book was a great favorite of mine seventy-odd years ago, and I read and reread it until I knew many of the tales “by heart.” (I wonder if there are any third graders nowadays so stimulated by the stuff provided for them.) One of the “poems” included was a satire written by Matthew Browne (pen name of William Brighty Rands, 1823-1882), first published in 1864. This is worth being brought to light again for its own sake, and also because it might serve as a model for a hu­morous piece on the antics of the present-day protesting “youths.” Here, then, is “Lilliput Levee,” taken verbatim from the Tales:

Lilliput Levee

1.            Where does Pinafore Palace stand?

Right in the middle of Lilliput Land!

There the queen eats bread and honey;

There the king counts up his money.

 

2.            Oh, what a wonderful change to see!

Nothing is dull as it used to be,

Since the children, by clever, bold strokes,

Have turned the tables upon the old folks.

 

3.            Now the thing was easily done,

The children being two to one;

Brave as lions, quick as foxes,

With hoards of wealth in money-boxes.

 

4.            They seized the keys, patrolled the street,

Drove the policeman off his beat,

Built barricades, and stationed sentries:

Give the word when you come to the entries!

 

5.           They dressed themselves in riflemen’s clothes;

They had pea-shooters and arrows and bows,

So as to put resistance down:

Order reigns in Lilliput Town.

 

6.            They went to the druggist’s, broke in the door,

And scattered the physic all over the floor;

They went to the schoolroom, and hid the books;

They munched the puffs at the pastry-cook’s.

 

7.            They sucked the jam, they lost the spoons,

They sent up dozens of fire-balloons,

They let off crackers, they burnt a guy,

They piled a bonfire ever so high.

 

8.            They offered a prize for the laziest boy,

And one for the most magnificent toy;

They split or burnt the canes off-hand,

And made new laws in Lilliput Land.

 

9.             Never do to-day what you can

Put off till to-morrow, one of them ran;

Late to bed, and late to rise,

Was another law which they devised.

 

10.         They passed a law to have always plenty

Of beautiful things: we shall mention twenty,—

A magic lantern for all to see,

Rabbits to keep, and a Christmas-tree,

 

11.         A boat, a house that went on wheels,

An organ to grind, and tarts at meals,

Drums and wheelbarrows, Roman candles,

Whips with whistles in the handles,—

 

12.         A real live giant, a roc to fly,

A goat to tease, a copper to sky,

A garret of apples, a box of paints,

A saw, and a hammer, and no complaints.

 

13.          Nail up the door, slide down the stairs,

Saw off the legs of the parlor chairs,—

That was the way in Lilliput Land,

The children having the upper hand.

 

14.         They made the old folks come to school

All in pinafores,—that was the rule,—

Saying, Eener-deener-diner-duss,

Kattler-wheeler-whiler-wuss.

 

15.         They made them learn all sorts of things

That nobody liked. They had catechisings;

They kept them in, they sent them down

In class, in school, in Lilliput Town.

 

16.         Oh, but they gave them tit for tat!

Bread without butter,—stale at that,—

Stick-jaw pudding that tires your chin,

The marmalade on it ever so thin.

 

17.          They governed the clock in Lilliput Land:

They altered the hour or the minute hand;

They made the day fast, or made it slow,

Just as they wished the time to go.

 

18.          They never waited for king or for cat,

Or stopped to wipe their shoes on the mat;

Their joy was great; their joy was greater;

They rode in baby’s perambulator!

 

19.         There was a levee in Lilliput Town

At Pinafore Palace. Smith and Brown,

Jones and Robinson, had to go,—

All the old folks, whether or no.

 

20.         Every one rode in a cab to the door;

Every one came in a pinafore:

Lady and gentleman, rat-tat-tat,

Loud knock, proud knock, opera-hat.

 

21.         The palace, bright with silver and gold,

Was full of guests as it could hold.

The ladies kissed her Majesty’s hand:

Such was the custom in Lilliput Land.

 

22.          His Majesty knighted eight or ten,

Perhaps a score, of the gentlemen;

Some of them short, and some of them tall;

Arise, Sir What’s-a-name What-do-you-call!

23.         Nuts and nutmeg (that’s in the negus);

The bill of fare would perhaps fatigue us;

Forty fiddlers to play the fiddle:

Right foot, left foot, down the middle.

 

24.         Conjurer’s tricks with poker and tongs,

Riddles and forfeits, comical songs;

One fat fellow, too fat by far,

Tried “Twinkle, twinkle, little star!”

 

25.         His voice was gruff, his pinafore tight;

His wife said, “Mind, dear, sing it right;”

But he forgot, and said “Fa-la,”

The Queen of Lilliput’s own papa!

 

26.         She frowned, and ordered him up to bed;

He said he was sorry; she shook her head:

His clean shirt-front with tears was stained,

But discipline must be maintained.

 

27.       Now, since little folk wear the crown,

Order reigns in Lilliput Town;

And Jack is king and Jill is queen

In the very best government ever seen.


  • W. A. Paton (1889-1901) was Professor Emeritus of Accounting and Economics, University of Michigan. He was author (or co-author) of a score of books and many articles, largely in the field of accounting.