Bob Dylan, the unofficial poet laureate of the revolutionary 1960s, once proclaimed, "The times they are a-changin'." Dylan inspired a generation of Columbia students who, dissatisfied with the status quo, changed it. More than 30 years later, the original context of Dylan's anthem has been relegated to dusty history. But at Columbia, his message has been resurrected. Today's students, members of the 9/11 generation, are awakening to a new call to action. After years of fatalistic acceptance, Columbia students are beginning to rise up against the unbalanced and unfair political culture on campus.
The campus upheavals of the 1960s altered Columbia's political landscape and gave rise to the era's enduring legacy, the so-called Spirit of '68. Since then, Columbia has earned a shameful reputation for anti-military discrimination. The domestic anarchy caused by the Vietnam War allowed anti-military activists to dictate University policy. Even after the protests ended, institutionalized discrimination against the military continued and even expanded. For over 30 years, anti-military prejudice has pervaded University policies and allowed the indoctrination of new generations of impressionable Columbia students.
This trend is disturbing, given the fundamental role of the military in our society and the expectation that Columbia students are the future leaders of this nation. It is essential that Columbia students are educated with understanding and respect for the nation's military. Sadly, the widespread (and accurate) perception in the civilian and military communities that Columbia victimizes the military has expanded the rift between mainstream America and Columbia University. Because of this gap, the value to society of a Columbia-educated leader has alarmingly deteriorated.
Fortunately, there is hope. The country has changed in the last 34 years. The years since 1968 correspond to 34 successive generations of Columbia students, each one further removed from the Spirit of '68. The vast majority of current students were not even born in the 1960s. The Vietnam War protests, the basis for the Spirit of '68, are known by today's students only through history books. Even the Cold War is a distant memory.
In 2002, the once fearsome Spirit of '68 is an anachronism. While Columbia students are still widely perceived as actively anti-military, the reality is that the reputation earned by students in the late 1960s lives on mainly through the resuscitative care of a small group of reactionary campus radicals. Few Columbia students arrive on campus today with a dedicated anti-military bias. The truth is that the modern relevance of the activism of the '60s lies more in retro clothing fashions than in any ideological tradition.
On campus, a new crop of patriotic student groups openly challenging Columbia's anti-military reputation is quickly gaining support. The sizeable veteran population in Columbia's student body is organizing with the intent to fairly portray the military culture that is often grossly misunderstood by their classmates. Alumni who long ago abandoned Columbia's affairs in disgust over the Spirit of '68 are turning back to Alma Mater. Columbia's ROTC cadets, who have been marginalized since ROTC's was ousted from Columbia in 1968, are organizing to represent their interests in the Columbia community. This year, for the first time in over 30 years, Columbia's ROTC cadets were in uniform, openly representing the military on campus during the University's student activities day. Aside from a token protest by a few campus radicals, the majority of students responded with curiosity and praise.
The historical engine of change has begun again at Columbia; however, the damage caused by the 34-year reign of the Spirit of '68 will not be undone overnight. Most Columbia students still arrive on campus ignorant about the military and are susceptible to negative stereotypes of it. The administration and faculty, closer to the past and still held hostage by the Spirit of '68, have yet to be convinced to provide the fair and balanced view of the military desired by today's students. Even though their actual student base has dwindled to a small number, anti-military activists have used the last 30-odd years to burrow into the heart of the institution. The anti-military faction on campus still controls the status quo and uses its power to cast aspersions on the military. The anti-military policies in place now will likely require years to displace because of these groups' influence in the Columbia community.
Still, as student-led efforts continue to tear down the decaying myth of a Columbia student body in lock-step with '60s anti-militarism, it seems that the status quo is doomed and fundamental change at Columbia is inevitable. As they did for a past generation of Columbians, today Dylan's words inspire the 9-11 generation: "As the present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fadin'. And the first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin'."
Eric Chen is a junior in the School of General Studies.