At 12:51 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16, President Trifenia Radil capped her pen, turned off her dictation machine, and asked her caller to hold. She stared at her door in baleful disbelief as the noise in the hallway swelled to a cacophony of stomping, chanting, shouting, and song. Then the door burst open and seventy or eighty students, some brandishing placards, flooded into an office that, though large, had never before accommodated more than ten people at one time.
“What on God’s green earth is the meaning of this?”
No one heard her. She tried to stand, but the crowd penned her in. Impotence made her furious. She had returned to work only the previous Thursday from a week of convalescence following a quadruple coronary bypass, and she was in no mood to sit idle. She had been busy ratifying or countermanding all that had been done in her absence by Vice-President Martin, whose mistakes were all the more galling for being elusive. She resented the students’ interruption, but resented even more their boorishness: they had not so much as knocked. Also, her sense of smell had been unnaturally keen since the operation, and the odor of seventy post-adolescent bodies in a confined space struck her with the force of an assault. Someone bumped a photograph of her children off the desk.
“What in fuck’s sake do you want?” she screamed.
“I lost my head a little at first,” she admits.
Several voices told her what they wanted, when they wanted it, and how they intended to get it.
“One at a time. I can’t make out a word you’re all saying.”
“Hey, shut up!” someone yelled in real rage. The room quietened briefly, but the hubbub in the hallway and the atrium beyond only grew louder by comparison. At last President Radil realized the significance of what was happening. Not just seventy or eighty but several hundred protesters had occupied Founders’ Hall.
She told her caller that she would have to phone them back—not realizing that they had already hung up.
The organizers of the Parks Not Parking Lots protest rally, scheduled for noon, had been disappointed at first by the turnout. Of 14,565 full- or part-time students enrolled at the university, only about a hundred showed up to protest the expansion of Lot M, which would involve the razing of four hectares of campus parkland. And those who were in attendance seemed disengaged; most chatted with friends or munched the free cookies baked by the Undergraduate Birders Group.
“I counted about fifteen placards,” says Sylvie Reinhardt, treasurer of the Outdoor Activities Club. “And half of those were held backwards, or upside down, or were being used to shield people’s eyes from the sun.”
Says Edward Xin, photographer for the student newspaper, The Weekly Beacon, “At the beginning it was more like a lawn party than a demonstration.”
But at ten after twelve, Nolan Forntner, chairman and one-fifth of the membership of the local chapter of Students for the Protection of Urban Natural Spaces, climbed onto Speaker’s Rock and began to speak. A change came over the crowd instantly. Forntner’s indignation was contagious. “This is bullshit,” he cried periodically; and those hearing him agreed that it was bullshit, and those overhearing him came nearer to learn what was bullshit.
Forntner had been fighting the expansion of Lot M for six months, since its discreet announcement by the Campus Development Office in September. His campaign had begun modestly, with letters, petitions, and informal meetings with administration in which he appealed to their humanity and good sense. Far from being ignored or obstructed, Forntner’s entreaties were received each time with sympathy and encouragement.
Says Barbara Eisniz, public relations officer for the CDO, “It was impossible not to respect Nolan’s passion and commitment. And from the beginning, I believe we were all in fundamental agreement as to principles. We too prefer parks to parking lots. In my experience, it is generally not the big questions on which people differ, but the minute details. We all share much the same ideals, but we may have very different notions about how best to achieve them, or approximate them, in the actual everyday helter-skelter of conflicting interests and compromise which is any large institution.”
Forntner and his associates began to feel that they were being humored. They adopted a more adversarial stance, seeking the aid of lawyers, conservation agencies, and the Ombuds Office.
“Everyone told us that it could be done,” says Forntner, “and showed us just what to do. We followed their advice—and nothing was done.”
The growing membership of Parks Not Parking Lots spent hundreds of hours submitting grievances, filing injunctions, and canvassing community support. By January, Forntner had dedicated himself full-time to the cause, and was facing suspension from the university for incomplete coursework.
Thalia Undine, a founding member of PNPL, says, “Nolan was one of the few people I had met who not only believed that the world could be improved, but actually did something about it. It didn’t matter what you did, as long as you did something. For him, the choice was not between saving the world on the one hand, or turning your back on the world and cultivating your own garden on the other; cultivating your own garden—fixing the little problems in your own backyard, neighborhood, or community—was improving the world, one acre at a time. But everything about our experience fighting Lot M only undermined his faith. If we could not prevent this one little evil, maybe no evil could actually be prevented; maybe the world was getting irreparably worse. Some people called him an extremist, a fanatical tree-hugger. But I think he was defending less this one copse of trees than his own idealism. This was his stand. He threw his whole self into the fight—and met only setback, hindrance, frustration, and failure.”
By March, the sole concessions made to Forntner’s half-year campaign were the relocation of some of the parkland’s more conspicuous wildlife, and the proposed planting of twenty-nine ash trees on the median strips of the new lot. Construction was scheduled to begin on Friday, March 19, with the bulldozing of the trees. Forntner slept little that week, planning and advertising the Tuesday protest rally, at which, desperate and irate, he spoke so effectively.
“People would rather save twenty minutes’ commuting time than save a tree that has been alive for a hundred and fifty years! People would rather pour poisonous carbon monoxide into the atmosphere than let that tree do its work, putting fresh, clean oxygen out into the air we breathe! People are such idiots that they would rather have a place to put their car for a few hours a week than a place to walk their dogs, a place to smell flowers, a place for their children to play for the rest of their lives! It’s fucking bullshit!”
This was met by a roar of endorsement from the now doubled crowd.
“It was exhilarating,” says Forntner, “and terrifying. I felt that all these bodies were extensions of my body, that all these people were thinking my thoughts. It was like finding yourself in a strongman’s body: you feel an incredible urge to flex your muscles. It crossed my mind—our mind—to just march across campus en masse and start tearing the construction site to pieces. All I had to do was say the word; I almost didn’t have to say the word. It was scary.”
Among those affected by Forntner’s speech was Langdon Bellhouse. “I hate politics and politicians and all that shit. I didn’t know who this guy was or what he was about, but it just went through me, this anger at all this stuff he was getting at: cars and pollution and all that garbage. And skyscrapers and traffic jams, and jackhammers and gas-powered leaf-blowers, and no place for kids to play. I really got that. All this stuff I wanted to destroy—here was somebody finally saying, you know: Go out and destroy it.”
Meanwhile supporters of another protest, conflictingly scheduled for 12:30 in the same spot, had begun to gather. Suresh Arjmand, one of the organizers for Reinstate Professor Reid, decided to move his rally across the common, and asked Forntner to make this announcement. Instead, Forntner graciously stepped down from Speaker’s Rock, introducing Arjmand as “someone else who has a gripe against this university.”
Arjmand was greeted by cheers and applause, which he tried in vain to curb. Someone improvised a chant, rhyming “four” with “Professor,” and “eight” with “reinstate.” With a shrug, Arjmand delivered his address to a much larger and more impassioned audience than he had anticipated.
At about the same time, Suz Palombo was delivering much the same address to the Special Committee reviewing the nonrenewal of Hiram Reid’s contract for the fall. Reid himself was not present at this hearing, and had in fact dissociated himself from the advocacy group formed in his name.
“I never asked anyone to intervene on my behalf,” he says. “And I think the whole movement had very little to do with me, actually. Most of these kids who signed the petition had never been to any of my classes. They were doing this for their own reasons—to flout authority, or what have you. And just pragmatically speaking, I had no confidence that they would accomplish anything. The so-called Special Committee was obviously just a sop. It didn’t have any power.”
The committee did not have the authority to overturn the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s decision; at most they could pass along a “recommendation” that the decision be officially reviewed—a recommendation the Department would not be obliged to follow.
Suz Palombo, who had never attended any of Reid’s classes, had spearheaded the petition that had led to the convening of the committee—which comprised six faculty, two administrators, and four students, including Palombo herself. A tireless and ubiquitous activist on campus, Palombo was Student Union Director of University Affairs, councilor-at-large to the Student Life Center, deputy political editor at The Weekly Beacon, and student liaison to several administrative councils, including Communications and Marketing; Security and Safety; and Scholarships, Awards, and Prizes, among others.
Arjmand’s and Palombo’s speeches argued simply that Reid was a much loved teacher, and that in dismissing him the university was showing a flagrant disregard for the will of the student body.
“In calling for Professor Reid’s instant reinstatement,” said Palombo, “we are also calling for greater self-determination for students in constructing their own educational experience.”
“What a nightmare,” says Professor Anton Rimmer, who was on the Special Committee. “Let the undergrads hire and fire their profs by popular vote! It would be the end of what little academic distinction this university still retains.”
Claire Yaremko, assistant dean of the department, had been present at the original meeting at which Reid’s contract had been let lapse, and was also on the Special Committee. She was bemused by Palombo’s arguments. “First of all, as was clearly pointed out in the memorandum provided to the committee, quality of instruction had played no part in our decision to let Doctor Reid go. Our primary concern had been what we perceived to be a lack of commitment to the department—an insufficiency of what you might call esprit de corps.”
“He was not a team player,” says Rimmer.
“They fired me,” says Reid, “because I wasn’t a joiner. They made that fairly clear. I didn’t attend their cocktail parties, I didn’t sleep with any of them, and I didn’t sign the little petitions they passed around at departmental meetings—which had less to do, I felt, with saving polar bears or dismantling nuclear weapons than with congratulating one another on how very enlightened and righteous we all were.”
Although Reid’s teaching was not at issue, Yaremko and some of the faculty had nevertheless prepared themselves for the Special Committee by listening to audio recordings of his classes—recordings made by a disgruntled student who resented that so many of the professor’s exam questions were drawn not from the textbook but from his lectures. (“This,” says Yaremko, “amounts to a kind of blackmail. It has been known for years that not everyone learns best in situ. Therefore it is arrogant, autocratic, and discriminatory to insist on perfect classroom attendance.”) Nothing that Yaremko or the others heard in those recordings seemed to justify Palombo’s claim that Reid was an extraordinary instructor.
“His pedagogy was positively medieval,” says Rimmer. “He simply stood there and lectured for fifty minutes. No discussion; no questions from students; no interaction. He just reeled off facts—as if there even are such things as facts!”
“Science is in a perpetual state of growth and ferment,” says Professor Eldridge Shimkus, who was also on the Special Committee. “To state dogmatically that something is so, or that such and such is true, is to harden a young mind against future development or innovation. We must not say we know; the most we can say is we think.”
But Reid’s willingness to state facts was just what some of his students liked most about him. “I’m so tired,” says junior Karin Channing, “of professors hiding behind open-mindedness to avoid committing themselves. You have no idea how refreshing it is to be able to ask someone point-blank, for example: ‘What about the redshift controversy?’ and have them tell you point-blank: ‘It’s nonsense. There is no controversy. The universe is expanding—end of story. Never mind about it; don’t waste your time.’ Every other prof at this school is only too happy to let you waste your time chasing down every false lead—all in the name of independent learning.”
Yaremko points out that Reid’s didacticism deprives students in the classroom of the very thing that Palombo was demanding outside it: self-determination. “The best way to understand any scientific discovery is to rediscover it for yourself. You cannot do that if you have some figure of authority telling you in advance what you can or cannot find, or what others have already found. That lofty imparting of wisdom leads only to rote and superficial learning—encyclopedic, not organic knowledge.”
And finally, Yaremko denies Palombo’s claim that Reid’s classes were especially popular. “His feedback ratings from the three previous semesters were slightly below the department average, and significantly below the university average.”
Palombo and the other organizers of Reinstate Professor Reid had intended to prove to the Special Committee that Reid was indeed popular, by having Arjmand lead the protesters to the Whitethorn Building, where the hearing was being held. “We never planned to go inside or to disrupt the meeting,” says Herman Triem. “The idea was simply to stand outside the window and show our support.”
However, Arjmand, following his address, was not sure how to propose this march, and was moreover reluctant to annex the Parks rally. He went so far as to make generic calls to action, and to decry apathy on the one hand and bluster on the other, before Forntner, sensing his uncertainty, relieved him on the Rock.
“Are we going to put up with this?,” Forntner asked. —The crowd cried, “No!” —“Are we going to let the bigwigs dismantle this university tree by tree, professor by professor?” —The crowd cried, “No!” —“Are we going to stand for any more of their bullshit?” —The crowd said that they would not.
“I had no idea what to do next,” Forntner admits. “All I knew was that we mustn’t lose the momentum we had built up. We had to do something, and we had to do it before people started losing interest, before they began to disperse. So in between all the pep talk, I just started thinking out loud, brainstorming our options.”
“We could smash those bulldozers,” he told the crowd. “We could go on strike against our shitty classes. We could march over to the radio station and take over the airwaves. We could do all these things. Or we could do none of these things. We can do anything. It’s up to us! So what are we going to do?”
“Smash the bulldozers!” —“Go on strike!” —“Take over the radio station!” —“Burn the library!” —“Hold the president hostage!” —“Take over Founders’ Hall!”
Philosophy graduate student Angelik Huaraman says, “I wasn’t the first one to say it. I’m sure I heard people saying it all around me. I may have said it louder, at first; but then other people took it up, and were shouting it a lot louder than I had.”
“I think a lot of people had the idea at the same time,” says sophomore Jacqui Urribarri.
Langdon Bellhouse says, “That was my idea.”
Nolan Forntner thinks it was his idea. “It was one of many suggestions I made, but it was the one most enthusiastically embraced by the crowd.”
A chant was taken up: “March on the president! Take over Founders’ Hall!”
Professor Bertrand Laing watched the protest from the sidelines with mixed feelings. “They were steeling themselves, I guess,” he says. “The noise became deafening. This went on for what felt like several minutes. I began to think that they weren’t going to do anything after all, that they were just howling at the moon. Then—I don’t know what changed—they were on the move. It was like a flock of birds all taking flight simultaneously.”
About three hundred students marched across campus from Speaker’s Rock to Founders’ Hall. Some latecomers followed the crowd out of curiosity. Some went along to criticize and to heckle. Some, sitting in stuffy classrooms, watched the boisterous group pass by the window, and felt left out and lonesome. Others put their heads out the window, and were exhorted to join the revolt; some did. About four hundred people altogether—including by now a few faculty, staff, and visitors—climbed the marble stairs and entered the ornamental front entrance of Founders’ Hall.
Kinesiology major Oreggio Ballenby recalls the moment he entered the Hall. “My friends and I had been treating the whole thing as a lark till then. Everyone was having fun; it just seemed like a big joke, or a game. But then, actually going inside . . . Without becoming any less fun, it suddenly became a lot more serious. I mean, we came striding right into these huge, beautiful rooms that most students never even get to see. And the rooms were divided into all these offices and cubicles, and dozens of people were working there. And they all just dropped what they were doing and stood and stared at us. I felt like a trespasser—but invulnerable. It was wild.”
For economics major Hifan Hwan, the experience was exhilarating and revelatory. “We just walked in. No one tried to stop us. No one could have stopped us. And I realized that everything is like this. No one can stop you from going anywhere you want to go. This ritzy old building was just like any other building. It was made of walls and windows and doors. And you can walk through the doors. And if you want to, you can smash the windows. And the walls are just ordinary walls. And most walls, actually, are only in your mind. You can go anywhere.”
The administrative staff working in the front offices reacted in a variety of ways to the students’ arrival; but most felt at first only a benign curiosity, as towards a school play, and paused to watch the action unfold.
“I remember thinking quite clearly,” says Esther Dentonne, “that someone had, as usual, forgotten to tell us about this. In other words, I assumed that this parade—right between our desks!—was something scheduled, authorized, sanctioned. I welcomed the interruption—or would have—but at the same time resented the lack of forewarning.”
Dan Altengood felt mild irritation. “No one ever uses those doors, and I wanted to tell them to go back out and around and come in the right way.”
Albert Nhizhdin was also unimpressed. “I was in the middle of running numbers for a report to the trustees. I wondered how long this thing was going to take.”
Only a few felt trepidation or fear, and these emotions were conflated with excitement.
“I felt exactly the way I’d felt last year during the earthquake,” says Phoedre Montez. “Like the fabric of everyday reality had torn open a little.”
Delilah Johannes, to her own surprise, and to her later embarrassment, let out an instinctive whoop of delight, “like a kid welcoming the circus to town.”
Allison Ziegenkorn was eating lunch in the basement office of The Weekly Beacon when she was visited by Edward Xin, who informed her that protesters had occupied Founders’ Hall.
“What are you doing here?” she cried. “Go get pictures!”
She raced across campus still chewing, and juggling a pen, notepad, student press card, and voice recorder. She found several students milling about at the top of the stairs, some still pushing their way in, some hanging back uncertainly. She grasped the elbow of the tallest person standing at the threshold and asked him what was happening.
Dunkan Tomlinson did not know what was happening, for he had joined the crowd only recently. However, not wanting to discredit the protest, and feeling the flush of importance that comes from being interviewed, he spoke as though he did know. “Us students are plain fed up,” he said, “and we’re not gonna take it anymore.” He said that lectures were boring, irrelevant, and often taken verbatim from textbooks. He said that textbooks were too expensive, and that unnecessary new editions were forever making last year’s books obsolete and worthless. He said that the plastic knives in the cafeteria were too flimsy to cut through a baked potato, and that garbage cans all over campus were overflowing by Monday morning. —“What are your demands?” asked Ziegenkorn. —“Everything! All of it! We want everything to change, and we’re not leaving here till it does!”
Tomlinson suddenly found himself at the center of a circle of supporters who could not understand why their spokesperson was not with the vanguard. They began to clear a path.
President Radil, meanwhile, was searching desperately for a spokesperson among the roiling, jostling, chanting crowd in her office. “The only thing worse than fighting a beast with a bunch of heads,” she says, “is fighting a beast with no heads at all.”
“Dialogue!” she cried. “Haven’t any of you ever heard of dialogue? I can’t hardly negotiate if I don’t know what it is you want.”
“We won’t negotiate!” someone shouted. —“Nobody knows what we want!” someone else shouted, in accusation.
“You, with the sign,” said Radil. “Tell me what all this callithumping hullabaloo is about.”
This was freshman Ethan Hendry’s first protest rally. Taking his cue from those around him, he had been stomping, hollering, and clutching his “Parks Not Parking Lots” placard like a talisman. He was having a good time, and did not want it to end. Now, addressed by the president of the university herself, he felt a dizzying, dangerous freedom, as if he might as easily have told her to fuck off as that he loved her. He drew himself upright, raised the sign over his head, and hollered, “March on the president! Take over Founders’ Hall!” Others joined in.
Some interpreted this absurdity as strategic obstinacy, a refusal to enter into that dialogue demanded by the enemy. Following this supposed lead, they contributed to the chaos with more noise, nonsense, and reflexive contrariety.
“Dismantle the machinery!” —“The machinery is your disease!” —“The disease is the status quo!” —“The status quo has got to go!”
Law major Rennie Jarabal says, “I don’t know what I expected to happen when we got in there, but it wasn’t happening. All my joy, all my optimism that we were really about to change something—it just turned to ashes.” In desperation, she began singing “We Shall Overcome” at the top of her voice. Others joined in.
“All right, all right,” said Radil. “Go on and blow off some steam. But would someone at least do me the kindness of opening a window? It’s thick as beef stew in here.”
“Open your own window!” —“Oh, don’t be an ass! Open a damn window for the lady!” —“Who are you calling an ass?”
Eleanor Fitzhugh-Larman, among others, felt that the hysterical stonewalling was only damaging the protest’s credibility. Raising her arms, she pleaded for some quiet and order.
“Quiet is the prison of the spirit!” shouted someone, joking. —“Order is the tyranny of the oppressor!” shouted someone, not joking.
Her friend and secret admirer, Tedi Wuat, gave an ear-splitting whistle and told everyone to shut up. “You’re all giving me a goddamn headache.”
Clark Dalerow, who had been impressed by Dunkan Tomlinson’s speech on the front steps, was able to push no farther than the hallway outside Radil’s office (leaving Tomlinson somwhere behind). Here the crowd was impenetrable, and cantankerous. “People were snarling and throwing elbows just to get a little breathing room,” he says. “And everybody was telling everybody else to shut up and move back, while all the time trying themselves to creep a little closer to the door to hear what was going on inside.”
Dalerow began to ask himself, then others, why those students who just happened to be in the president’s office were privileged to bargain on everyone’s behalf. Various chants to this effect were tested—“Democracy means everyone” and “No more decisions behind closed doors” eventually giving way to “Who the hell elected those assholes?”
The students inside the office took up these cries too, assuming, naturally, that they were directed at the university administration. Finally, the disgruntled fringe resorted to physically pulling people out of the room and into the hallway. Anyone going inside to bring someone else out instantly became a target themself—and not without justice, for indeed many used the ensuing melee as an opportunity to secure themselves a better position nearer Radil’s desk.
“It was great,” says Sylvie Reinhardt. “Just like a punk rock show.”
“It was awful,” says Rennie Jarabal. “People were behaving like animals. Every muscle in my body went tense with disgust and misanthropy.”
Literature major Carla DiAmbla clenched her fists, closed her eyes, and screamed. Nearly everyone froze.
The short-lived scuffle, in which no one was seriously hurt, had one productive result: a more widespread desire for calm and orderliness.
Psychology grad student Winston Prajda says, “It seemed like everybody at the same time took a deep breath, took a look around, and realized that this thing wasn’t working. We had to get ourselves organized, or we’d implode.”
In the lull that followed, Tedi Wuat signaled Fitzhugh-Larman to proceed. She began to summarize for the president the speeches given by Forntner and Suresh Arjmand. She was affiliated with neither rally, and spoke clearly and dispassionately. She did not get very far before she was booed. Bellhouse, from the back of the room, asked who had put her in charge. Others succinctly accused her of grandstanding, sycophancy, and self-aggrandizement.
Fitzhugh-Larman tried to apologize to the crowd. —“You’re still talking!” —Trembling and blinking, she looked about her. “I didn’t mean to . . . I just thought . . . If we don’t tell her what we want, she can’t . . .” —“Shut up, bitch!”
Now President Radil finally managed to stand. “What you all want to do,” she said, “is go on back outside, where everybody can see everybody and everybody can hear everybody else, and you want to elect maybe one, maybe two, maybe three representatives. Then send them on back in here, and then we can talk.”
There were objections, but no one could offer a better solution. —“If we don’t consult everybody,” said Clark Dalerow, “we’re no damn better than they are.”
Despondently, the crowd shuffled out of the office. “We’re having a meeting; pass it on.” —“Move back to the atrium!” —“Everybody to the atrium!”
“It was depressing,” says Rennie Jarabal. “I don’t know why, but it felt like we’d lost.”
“It was certainly kind of anticlimactic,” says Ethan Hendry. “We went from taking over the university to—having a meeting.” He left his placard behind.
Bellhouse was no happier about the retreat. “We were just a bunch of damn sheep, doing what we were told to do by the big boss-woman.”
Angelik Huaraman said, “Shouldn’t someone stay behind and make sure she doesn’t, you know, escape?” No one volunteered, so Huaraman assigned a couple of undergrads to guard duty.
“Fuck,” said Bellhouse, “who died and made you queen?” —“It’s okay,” said Troy Rosswind, one of the delegates. “We don’t mind.” —“You’ll miss the meeting,” someone said. “What if there’s a vote?” —“Will you vote for me?” asked Rosswind shyly. —“Bullshit!” cried Bellhouse. “Nobody gets two votes!” —Dalerow agreed: “Everyone needs to be at the meeting, or it defeats the whole purpose of having a meeting.”
In the end, President Radil was left alone and unguarded in her office. The room was soiled and disarrayed—footprints and litter on the floor, handprints and smudges on the windows and walls—but, aside from one slogan inscribed on a bookcase (“Being—Not Buying!”), no damage had been done. She closed the door, opened another window, and returned her children’s photograph, its frame cracked, to the desktop. Then she lay on the floor with her legs up the wall. Breathing deeply, she allowed the blood to trickle down into her brain. A minute later she sprang to her feet, rejuvenated. She smashed her fist down onto the telephone handset, catapulting it out of its cradle, and caught it in the air with her other hand. She dialed the dean of students’ extension. It was 1:15.
“She asked me what I knew about Professor Reid,” says Dean of Students Dean Hanirihan—known to the students as “Dean Dean” and to his colleagues simply “Dean.” “I told her what I knew. She told me to have Leopold McRobins, the chair of the Special Committee, call her as soon as possible. She said it was urgent—she told me to interrupt the hearing—but then everything had been urgent since her return. I certainly had no idea, she certainly gave me no clue, that Founders’ Hall had just been occupied by several hundred protesters. I found that out from one of my students, a few minutes later.”
Radil put her finger on the cradle just long enough to sever the connection, then dialed the extension of Jabbar Shah, dean of campus development—who was not in his office, having gone to investigate the takeover of Founders’ Hall. President Radil dialed another extension irritably. She could not prove it yet, but she felt sure that somehow all this kerfuffle was Vice-President Martin’s fault.
At 1:20, security officer Gary Holdona received a call from Albert Nhizhdin at Founders’ Hall, who told him that the building was being occupied illegally by trespassing protesters who refused to leave. For half an hour, Nhizhdin had watched in dismay as the students made themselves more and more at home. “They took our chairs, used our phones, stole our pens,” he says. “Some of them were kicking a soccer ball around—in one of the oldest buildings at one of the most venerable institutions of higher learning in our country!” The last straw for him was the sight of several students sitting on the floor of the atrium, passing around a cigarette. “The building has been nonsmoking for years.”
Holdona could hardly hear what Nhizhdin was saying over the noise in the background. “Then,” he says, “a second individual came on the line and asked me who I was. I identified myself, and asked them who they were. I received in reply a coarse insult, and was hung up upon. I immediately radioed Chief Pedersen.”
Elea Bukarica, who snatched the telephone from Nhizhdin, recalls, “I told that pig to fuck himself, this was a legal protest.”
Nhizhdin denied this, and was able to cite the pertinent clause in the campus constitution, which he had helped draft. “A permit is required for any demonstrating assembly larger than fifteen people to enter any building.”
Bukarica was enraged by Nhizhdin’s pedantry, but far more by his calm and eloquence, which seemed calculated to provoke. “If someone’s shouting in your face,” she says, “it’s much more offensive to reply in a normal tone than to shout back in their face. Staying cool and rational is just a way of belittling the issue and deprecating their emotion.”
She shouted in his face: “We just took over the university, you fascist prick! Your shitty Nazi bureaucracy doesn’t apply anymore!”
Nhizhdin remained infuriatingly impassive. Biochemistry major Wil Partlingover took Nhizhdin aside and suggested that he might be safer outside the building.
“That,” says Nhizhdin, “was the most chilling threat I’ve ever received—the implication being that I was about to be lynched by a frenzied mob.”
“I certainly didn’t mean it as a threat,” says Partlingover. “I just thought that someone should point out to him that maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to stand there, in the middle of a hundred excited protesters, after you’ve just ratted them out to security, and tell them they’re breaking the law.”
“What’s happening here?” asked Allison Ziegenkorn, holding out her voice recorder. “Are you being ejected from the building?”
“Eject them from the building!” —“Throw them out!” —“If they’re not with us, they’re against us!”
Says Delilah Johannes, “Personally, I never felt threatened. I was jostled a little, maybe; but it was enough just to say, ‘Okay, I’m with you guys, I’m on your side,’ and they left you alone—even welcomed you.”
Nevertheless, Nhizhdin and about twenty other staff members took this opportunity to exit the building. —“Are you going against your will?,” Ziegenkorn called after them. —“Most certainly,” said Nhizhdin. “As you can see, we are being physically and forcefully ejected from our workplace.”
“What a laugh,” says Bukarica. “Nobody laid a hand on any of them till they were already on their way out. And then it was only a gentle, guiding, escorting hand.”
“We were pushed out the door,” says Dan Altengood. “Esther nearly fell down the steps.”
In Room 204 of the Whitethorn Building, Professor Leopold McRobins found himself mechanically transcribing onto his notepad a long list of two-digit numbers being mechanically read aloud by Professor Shimkus. His colleague, Andrea Scholt, leaned over to whisper that he probably did not need to write this down, since Shimkus was reading from Item 38, of which they had all received a copy. McRobins acknowledged her advice with a reproving nod—he did not want anyone to think that they were conspiring—and continued to transcribe for a few moments before raising his hand, clearing his throat, and finally interrupting Shimkus: “My apologies, Doctor, but perhaps, in the interest of time, we could all simply refer to the printed data, and save you the trouble of reading them to us?”
Shimkus acknowledged this suggestion with a similar nod, and explained the significance of the figures: the mean grade given by Professor Reid on midterms last semester was lower than both the departmental and university-wide means. Burt Hayle asked for a copy of the statistical analysis. Shimkus told him that it was a simple average. Val Perdemertonich also wanted a copy. McRobins was about to step in when Dino Varlew, one of the student committee members, moved that everyone receive a copy; Suz Palombo seconded; the motion was passed. Shimkus asked if for the time being and for the sake of argument his statistics could be taken as correct. This was deliberated.
McRobins followed these proceedings as mindlessly as he had transcribed Shimkus’s numbers. “I’d agreed to act as chairperson,” he says, “because I’d anticipated strong emotions and bitter conflict, and felt myself to be impartial; but I’d forgotten how numbingly dull all such committee meetings actually are.” He had failed too to foresee how fully that moderating the discussion would remove him from it. And the coffee was burnt, and the lunch had been cold. He had already decided to vote for reinstatement—everyone deserved a second chance—and so the endless hairsplitting, jockeying, and deliberation held for him neither interest nor suspense. Inevitably, his tactful interventions and paraphrases became fewer and farther between, and the conversation, without his realizing it, grew long-winded and fractious.
At 1:35, Dean Dean Hanirihan burst into the room panting, and asked to speak privately to Palombo and McRobins. Apologizing, he assured them that the matter was urgent. McRobins was flustered by the untoward interruption, and at first told the committee to carry on without them, but Palombo rightly objected. He suspended the hearing and joined Dean and Palombo in the hallway.
Dean led them into an alcove and told them what had happened. He spoke in a strained whisper that did not do justice to the event or to his emotion.
“My immediate reaction,” he says, “was heartbreak. I couldn’t believe that my students had done something like this. Why hadn’t they come to me first?”
He turned his hurt incredulity on Palombo. “What are they thinking, Suz?”
Palombo replied sadly, before her own surprise or anger could show, “I was afraid something like this would happen.” Instinctively, she steered a course between feigning full knowledge, which could have made her culpable, and denying all knowledge, which would have made her an outsider. She told Dean and McRobins about the rally’s planned march to the Whitethorn Building, and speculated that Arjmand had got carried away. —“Or this other rally carried him away,” said Dean. —“Maybe. There are a lot of hotheads in our group. I foolishly thought I could control them, or at least channel their energies more constructively. I’m sorry, Dean.”
Palombo was one of the few students who called him “Dean.” He wished he could explain to her that “Dean Dean,” rather than being his formal title, was, like any rhyming or repetitious nickname, actually a term of affection. But some things were spoiled if stated explicitly. And perhaps, he thought desolately, she knew just what she was doing. Perhaps he was not as close to any of the students as he’d imagined. “It’s all right, Suz,” he said. “It’s not your fault.”
Bafflement and anxiety caused McRobins to sway on his feet. “But what shall we do? Should we adjourn the hearing?”
Dean felt that their first priority must be preventing damage, injury, expulsions, or arrests, and that the best way to do this was by ending the occupation as quickly as possible. Palombo agreed, and volunteered to liaise with the protesters.
“Then we should postpone the hearing,” said McRobins.
“Not necessarily,” said Dean. “Depending on the outcome, the decision could help defuse the situation.”
McRobins stiffened. “I’m not going to push the committee towards reinstatement just to placate some hooligans!”
“Of course not. But if the committee arrived there anyway, by itself—well, it could help. Tell me, both of you, without prejudice: which way are things leaning?”
“I honestly couldn’t say,” said McRobins. “We have yet to vote.”
Palombo was more willing to speculate. “Rimmer, Yaremko, and Shimkus aren’t going to budge; but I thought Hayle, Scholt, and Perdemertonich were coming over to our side. I was optimistic.”
She was no longer. “I was afraid,” she says, “that the committee would see the takeover the way McRobins had: as a bunch of hooligans trying to intimidate them. I thought they very well might vote No in defiance.”
She did not phrase it that way to McRobins. “I’m only worried that now,” she said, “even if the committee does vote for reinstatement, the department will ignore the recommendation, saying it was made under duress.”
Gradually, McRobins saw what he must do: sequester the committee and guide them to a speedy but honest and unadulterated decision. Dean and Palombo wished him luck; they all shook hands solemnly.
“But what should I tell them happened to you?” he asked Palombo.
She shrugged. “Family emergency. And oh: if they’ll allow a vote in absentia, I vote for reinstatement.”
McRobins returned to Room 204 with trepidation and resolve. Despite everyone’s best intentions, the discussion had gone on without him. Val Perdemertonich asked to see the official departmental grading guidelines. Yaremko said that there were none in print. Perdemertonich asked how Reid could be censured for failure to comply with nonexistent guidelines. Rimmer said that there were unwritten guidelines, as the memo of September 15th from Dean Ulgrave proved.
“It is not the student’s but the teacher’s fault if the student fails to learn,” said Rimmer, “and grades reflect only this. Professor Reid’s excessively harsh grading, especially for spelling and grammar on midterms, is unjustifiable elitism that discriminates against foreign, underprivileged, regional, rural, and other minority students.”
While McRobins waited to interrupt, the departmental secretary came in and told him to call the president, who had been taken hostage by several hundred protesters occupying Founders’ Hall.
“Thank you, yes. I’ve already been apprised of the situation by Dean Hanirihan.”
So he had no choice but to tell the committee about the takeover. After much astonished deliberation, they voted to sequester themselves until a decision was reached. Dino Varlew, who, unlike McRobins, had greatly enjoyed the free lunch, broached the possibility of ordering supper. —“I think,” said McRobins, “that that is a bridge we can cross if and when we reach the river.” —“Right, no problem,” said Varlew, but suddenly he felt famished.
The large majority of those who’d entered Founders’ Hall had not proceeded any farther than the atrium, or had retreated there from the overcrowded hallway outside the president’s office. This majority felt itself to be the real core of the protest, the occupying force, and some of them were bemused and vexed by the calls to order from the returning vanguard.
“I didn’t know who these guys were,” says sophomore Tonja Salanitro. “They came in shouting, ‘Meeting in the atrium.’ Well, we were already having a meeting in the atrium. They said that we needed to figure out what our demands were. Well, shit. Dunkan Tomlinson, Nolan Forntner, Daenil Polotz and I had been outlining our demands to Professor Falck and the dean of admissions for the past twenty minutes. We were already in negotiations.”
“They were discussions,” says Gloria Chisholm, dean of admissions, who, like Falck, had an office in the building. “We had no authority to negotiate. We were just asking them questions.”
Oreggio Ballenby too did not welcome what he thought of as the “political” group. “Sure, we had been screwing around: kicking the soccer ball, dancing in a conga line, shouting out the windows at passersby, wrestling. And then the politicos came back and said we needed to get serious, needed to get organized. But if there’s no room for fun and games during your revolution, there’s not going to be any fun or games in your new regime, and you’ll be just as bad as what you’re replacing.”
Others, like general studies major Sanders Brand, welcomed the meeting. “I was so sick and tired of the laziness and apathy of the people at that school, that when we first marched on the Hall, I was really excited: ‘All right! Finally we’re doing something—not just talking about doing something!’ But then nothing more happened; we just milled around beaming at one another, congratulating one another. ‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘we took over a building. Good for us. But now what are we going to do with it?’”
“We don’t need a meeting!” cried Nolan Forntner reflexively, then turned this defensive cry into rhetoric. “We know exactly what we want already! We know our demands! Haven’t we been making them for months, for years? Haven’t we been fighting for what we want all our life? Ask anybody here; they’ll tell you. Do we want to preserve our green spaces? —That’s right. Do we want to keep our good profs and throw out the bad? —You bet we do. Do we want to be listened to when we speak? —Hell yes! So you tell me: What do we want?”
The atrium rang like a bell with replies. Dunkan Tomlinson wanted free textbooks. Sanders Brand wanted the old textbooks to be donated to poor nations. Langdon Bellhouse wanted an end to lies. Angelik Huaraman wanted a crackdown on campus muggings. Sylvie Reinhardt wanted a ban on plastic bottles, Daenil Polotz on advertising. Elea Bukarica wanted all experiments on animals stopped. Troy Rosswind wanted smaller classes. Langdon Bellhouse wanted to firebomb his literature survey course. Carla DiAmbla wanted corporations to be taxed more. Many wanted the popular singer, Glade Lufiz, acquitted of his manslaughter charge. Sanders Brand wanted an end to world hunger. Clark Dalerow wanted to abolish prudery, Oreggio Ballenby monogamy, Tonja Salanitro gender. Some wanted freedom, some power, some self-actualization; some poetry, some magic, some love. Langdon Bellhouse wanted all telemarketers killed.
“You see,” said Forntner, “we already know what we want!”
“I want a meeting,” said Rennie Jarabal.
Diana Pirales proposed a vote. A middle-aged returning student with three adult children, Pirales was accustomed to mediating arguments at home, and to leading discussions among her less confident, less outspoken classmates. (Says classmate Paula Earleywine, “She was one of those students who thought out loud, and who couldn’t seem to absorb any information without first speaking it.”) Wil Partlingover refused and urged others to refuse to vote; he did not want to be bound by the outcome, or to validate the system by participating in it. Yet the vote was held. “Everyone who wants a meeting,” said Pirales, “put up your hand.” About forty percent raised their hands. “And everyone who doesn’t, put up your hand.” Another forty percent, not exclusive of the first group, raised their hands. —“And who doesn’t give a shit if we have a meeting or not?” shouted someone. About sixty percent raised their hands. Nevertheless, the meeting was underway.
“We have to confine ourselves to reasonable demands, or we’ll only discredit the movement.” —“I disagree. If we don’t overshoot, we won’t leave any room to haggle.” —“No, we mustn’t haggle; it shows weakness.” —“On the contrary, refusing to negotiate, to make any compromises, will only make us look like crazy fanatics.” —“We are crazy fanatics!” —“If we confine ourselves to what they would say is reasonable, we’re defeated before we’ve begun.” —“No compromises! They do what we say now; we’re in charge.” —“I agree. If we go into this prepared from the beginning to compromise, we’re liable to gobble up the first bone they throw us.” —“Anything they’re willing to give us is, by definition, not hurting them much, and therefore isn’t good enough. We want to make them pay!” —“Okay, but pardon my obtuseness, but how are they to blame for Glade Lufiz, or world hunger?” —“Everything is connected, and everything boils down to poverty. Without poverty, there is no exploitation; without exploitation, there is no wealth; without wealth, there is no oppression, no inequality, no competition, no bitterness, no greed, no destruction of natural resources . . .” —“Exactly: natural resources! Because everything boils down not to poverty, but to the exploitation of nature, which is the only form of wealth we have, and which must be preserved and shared equally by everyone. Every other evil stems from the evil of ownership, the evil of property.” —“Nonsense. Poverty subsumes property: if everyone had money, we would all have property.” —“Bullshit. If everyone has the same amount of money, you have in effect abolished money.” —“All right, calm down. We’re all on the same side.” —“No we’re not! This artificial concern for other people’s supposed hardships, in some abstract country far far away, is only a distraction from the real battles we need to fight here. This fashionable abstract humanism is nothing but a trick of the ruling class to divide and co-opt and dissipate our energies. The real enemy is and always has been capitalism.” —“You’ve got it exactly backwards! ‘Capitalism’ is the abstraction; anticapitalism is the distraction. Anticapitalism betrays the poor!” —“But even if what you all say is true, how is the administration of this university, just pragmatically speaking, supposed to grant an end to capitalism, or to property, or to poverty?” —“This isn’t just about the administration of this university; it’s about the administration of this government, this country, this planet!” —“That’s why we’ve got to tear down the whole system. It’s corrupt through and through, so to fix one part of it is only to improve its overall functioning and therefore exacerbate its total corruption.” —“And that’s why we mustn’t compromise. Every concession is just another link in our chains. They enslave us with their compromises, the same way a factory owner better enslaves his workers with little token raises and slightly improved working conditions from time to time.” —“But what the hell are we even doing here, if we’re not going to let them consent to our demands?”
Chief of Campus Security Radner Pedersen was eating lunch in his patrol car, parked behind the stadium, when Gary Holdona called him on the radio. He swallowed before answering, for the same reason that he ate his meals clandestinely: he believed that the dignity of his office, upon which discipline depended, would be undermined by the image of him relaxing.
He had been brooding about his son, and at first the news of the takeover seemed only a continuation and amplification of his thoughts. “I could imagine all too clearly,” he says, “an army of Delrons loping into Founders’ Hall, slumping down on the desks and the floor, and slowly filling the air with their fug, like toxic plants turning oxygen and light into sweat and smoke.” They would bring their girlfriends along too—lissome, pliant girlfriends—and transform the building into one big fetid bedroom.
Indeed, Chief Pedersen could not think about his son without his thoughts turning to Sandria, the boy’s rangy, large-eyed girlfriend. She was seventeen, the same age as Ronnie, and though she dressed like a boy and laughed like a child, there was no question that she was sexually mature, and that together they were sexually active. The idea angered Chief Pedersen for reasons so numerous they remained tangled and obscure. He objected to their youth, which was, after all, so much more puerile than his own (sexually active) youth had been. He objected to their frivolity, their lassitude, their immoderation, and their depravity. He blamed his son for all this; towards Sandria he felt only a sad, disappointed protectiveness.
The scene at Founders’ Hall infuriated him for as many, and many of the same, reasons. A large crowd of the curious and the more cautiously supportive had gathered outside, and the mood among them was festive. “They were running this ostensibly serious political protest like a carnival,” says Chief Pedersen. “They were having too damn much fun.”
Chief Pedersen radioed Holdona back. “What happened to ‘Julius’?” —“I don’t know, Chief. He’s not answering his radio. He must have gone in.” —“All right. Here’s what we’re going to do. Get Elio and Alban to fill the truck with barriers and drop them off behind the Hall, that is, on the south side, away from the crowd. We’re going to cordon off the building. Send Nevis and Lo over for traffic control: let nobody else in. Pull Charles and Réal from the library, too. Everyone in yellow vests and full kit. Got that?” Full kit meant truncheons, handcuffs, and pepper spray, and was usually reserved for night patrol. —“Got it.” —“Then you get on the horn and call everybody on day crew and tell them we have a Code Eleven.” —“Code Eleven, Chief?” Code Eleven was a bomb threat. —“Just to get their attention and get them down here. While you’re doing that, have Lois wake the night shift and put them on standby.” —“All of them?” —“Everybody.” —“This thing’s pretty heavy, huh, Chief?” —“Not yet it’s not. We’ll try to keep it that way.”
Holdona told Pedersen that President Radil had called. —“Tell her I’ve got my hands full at the moment.” —“She’s still inside the building.” —“Well, maybe I’ll see her in a minute.” —“You’re not going in there alone, Chief?” —“No,” said Pedersen. “‘Julius’ is inside, too.”
“Julius” was security officer Darren Kolst, whom Chief Pedersen had sent to keep an eye on the Reinstate Professor Reid rally. Because the sight of security officers was known to sometimes inflame protesters, Kolst had gone incognito. He was not much older than the average student on campus, and could have passed unremarked in any of his civilian clothes; but this was his first undercover assignment, and he had taken great pains with his disguise. He had torn his pants, chafed his shoes, mussed his hair, and borrowed his girlfriend’s eyeglasses, which rendered him purblind. But he had labored most over his alias, finally adopting “Julius Arbuston” after an hour of making studious, ingenuous, and irate faces in the mirror. He had tested the name on his girlfriend and colleagues, and they had all deemed it plausibly namelike. He had been silently rehearsing it all that morning, and indeed through much of the rally, until it was so ready on his lips that twice, joining in a chant or a cry, he had nearly shouted his pseudonym instead.
Kolst was somewhat surprised to find himself shouting anything, having intended only to observe and smile sympathetically or, if necessary, discouragingly. But, afraid of being exposed, he reflexively matched his behavior to that of those around him. He reasoned that he was building credibility, which he could draw on should he need to intervene. Soon he began to take pleasure in this performance, a pleasure that was partly the thrill of deceiving, partly the satisfaction of exercising a newfound skill, and partly the intoxication of playacting—a feeling of liberated invincibility that was only enhanced by exaggeration.
He felt a tremor of disquiet when the rally entered Founders’ Hall; and he came fully out of character for a moment when Nhizhdin and the other staff were ejected from the building. “I felt in that moment,” he says, “not professional disapproval, but the isolated vulnerability of the minority, and a fear that I hadn’t experienced since a child, attending a new school.” He quickly recovered the armor of his alter ego; but, twenty minutes later, it was with some relief—which he was careful to mask with derision—that he saw Chief Pedersen making his way through the crowd and into the atrium.
Kolst was not the only one to welcome the appearance of the Chief of Security, in his yellow vest and paramilitary cap, and carrying at low port a bullhorn whose trigger he squeezed whenever he encountered an unyielding back, and which gave off a frightening crackle. Protesters got out of his way with sarcastic deference, but they got out of his way; and soon the room spontaneously quietened, without his needing recourse to the bullhorn.
“I can’t explain it,” says Rennie Jarabal, “but the sight of the Chief made me feel optimistic—like things were finally about to get underway.” —Says Ethan Hendry, “I let out a sigh when I saw him, and felt myself relax—the relief of the criminal when he’s finally arrested, maybe.” —Elea Bukarica says, “It was time for a showdown.”
Allison Ziegenkorn was the first to speak. “Are you here to kick everyone out, Chief Pedersen? Will you use force if necessary?”
“I am here,” said Pedersen, in his deep, clear voice, “to ask everyone who is not here on official business to please vacate the premises immediately. If you leave now, no trespassing charges will be laid.”
“This is official business!” —“We don’t recognize your authority!” —“You’re the one trespassing, Chief!”
The jeers that met his ultimatum were, for the most part, amused and playful; but levity was more outrageous to Pedersen than anger or defiance, because it showed no respect for his person, his position, or the institution he represented.
“You have ten minutes to disperse. Anyone still here without good reason at 1:55 will face the consequences of their actions.”
“How about pollution? and theft? and injustice? Are those good enough reasons for you?”
Pedersen had turned on his heel to leave, the better to underscore his threat, but he could not resist a reply. “If you have legitimate complaints, you should lodge them through the proper channels. You’re not gaining any sympathy for your cause by behaving like a bunch of ruffians.”
Now the protesters grew angry. “When we go through proper channels, fuck-all happens!” —“Who’s the ruffian, threatening to arrest us?” —“Unlike you, we’re unarmed. This is a peaceful protest.”
Chief Pedersen pointed out that they were holding the building and several people hostage. —“They’re free to leave anytime!” —Pedersen reminded them of the staff whom they had ejected and who were not free to return to their work, an obstruction which, as surely as vandalism or theft, was costing the university time and money. —This argument elicited so many objections, factual, economic, and ad hominem, that Pedersen had to resort to the bullhorn to be heard over the uproar.
“What you’re doing here makes absolutely no sense. You might as well protest the price of potatoes by kidnapping the grocer’s wife. If you don’t like the system, you’ve got to work within the system to change it. Otherwise you’re just renegade delinquents. You don’t gain prestige by shoving people around, and you don’t get into a position of power or influence by hijacking buildings! It boggles my mind that grown adults need to be told such things!”
Elea Bukarica snatched the bullhorn from his grasp, to resounding cheers. Darren Kolst tensed, preparing himself, he believed, to leap to the chief’s aid. But Pedersen, his heart clenched in wrath, exited the building without another word. “I felt like I’d been mugged,” he says, “by a beggar I’d just given food. I should have known better than to try to reason with a pack of animals.”
The bullhorn was passed from hand to hand till it reached Sanders Brand, who used it to repudiate the chief’s speech. Langdon Bellhouse, standing nearby, found Brand’s amplified voice much more abrasive than Pedersen’s, and wrested the bullhorn away from him. He handed it to Nolan Forntner, who had again taken charge, and was calling for volunteers to guard the doors and stand watch at the windows.
President Radil, who had emerged from her office at the sound of the bullhorn, pursued Pedersen outside. Having spent the last half hour mostly failing to reach anyone on the phone, she rebuked him first for not returning her calls.
“I’ve been busy,” he said, and illustrated this statement by hailing Holdona on the radio and requesting an update.
Radil now told Pedersen what she had been trying to tell the Special Committee, the Campus Development Office, and the board of trustees: that the protesters were confused and poorly organized, and that, given a little time, she was sure she could persuade them to disperse before anyone got hurt. “But you make the job a lot harder for me when you go in there and stir up hornets’ nests.”
“And you make my job a lot harder for me,” said Pedersen, “when you treat unlawful trespass like a bargaining chip. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who hasn’t come out of that building in six minutes is not a protester but a criminal—and will be treated accordingly.”
“And as far as I’m concerned,” said Radil, “it’s you who’ll be trespassing if you come in and start pushing those kids around.”
After another minute of fruitless argument, President Radil strode back up the stairs, but was stopped at the entrance by a couple of zealous sentries. “I’m the president of this university,” she said. “I’m here negotiating. I’ve been here the whole time. I just stepped out for a moment.” —The sentries conferred by gaze, and shrugged. “Sorry, lady. Can’t let anyone in who isn’t a student.” —Eventually Radil tried another door, where she had more luck.
About a dozen people, some with their hands raised over their heads, emerged from the Hall by Chief Pedersen’s deadline; but over the same period of time, and by various doors, another forty or fifty people had entered—including Professor Givcha Lura’s entire local history seminar. “This was history in the making,” says Lura. “I decided to hold an old-fashioned teach-in.” Most of her students were delighted by the break from routine, but some, like Jallica Ingledew, were consternated by the unorthodox field trip. An ambitious academic and assiduous conformist, Ingledew navigated the vagaries of university bureaucracy with anxious complaisance, and could be thrown into a state of panicked self-reproach by a last-minute room change or an unintelligible exam question. She too, like Chief Pedersen, was repulsed by her first glimpse of the protesters, who struck her as a rambunctious mob obviously breaking any number of rules; but at the same time, she could not believe that Professor Lura was wrong to invite her to witness and in effect join the takeover. Trembling with a mixture of apprehensions, she quickly began to devise justifications for her presence there, arriving eventually at a stance of judicious sympathy. In retrospect she says only, “I didn’t necessarily agree with their methods, but I did share many of their concerns.”
Suz Palombo, too, was appalled by her first sight of the takeover. Following Chief Pedersen’s warning, most of the protesters had spontaneously broken into small groups to prepare for the raid, which they expected imminently. Some groups built barricades or armed themselves with unlikely bludgeons; some planned passive resistance, and discussed the relative merits of going limp and going stiff; some, expecting tear gas and nightsticks, pulled their shirts over their faces and crouched under desks; others linked arms and braced themselves for martyrdom. But when Pedersen’s ten minutes and another ten minutes had elapsed, the would-be defenders became restless. To vent their nervous energy, they deconstructed or improved fortifications, threw objects and insults out windows, and roved throughout the building, looking for acts or symbols of oppression to thwart or destroy. Slowly, and by small increments, the cost of damages done to university property rose from the price of a restaurant dinner for four to the price of a used car.
It was this scene of frazzled lawlessness that Palombo found when she entered the Hall. She went hunting for Arjmand, but found Allison Ziegenkorn first, who gave her a colorful if fragmentary summary of the past hour’s events, one which seemed to absolve Arjmand of any real responsibility for the takeover. Palombo was somewhat mollified, but could not share Ziegenkorn’s enthusiasm. “Xin has got some gorgeous photos. It’s a real coup, Suz!”
She found Arjmand in the atrium, where President Radil was urging the protesters to elect their representatives. Several people nominated Forntner, who nominated Tonja Salanitro, Daenil Polotz, Sylvie Reinhardt, and Thalia Undine. Clark Dalerow nominated Dunkan Tomlinson, who nominated Clark Dalerow. Elea Bukarica, Sanders Brand, and Rennie Jarabal nominated themselves. Palombo nominated Arjmand and Herman Triem, and accepted their nomination for her. Radil nominated Dean of Admissions Gloria Chisholm and Professor Vaglaf Falck to represent the administration and faculty. Diana Pirales, by commentating on the election for everyone’s edification, inadvertently nominated herself.
Says Radil, “It was a larger group than I would have liked, but I hoped that the large net would catch all the largest fish, and that no one would feel neglected.”
“It was not an ideal election,” says Jarabal, “but we didn’t know how much time we’d have—so we acted quickly. And since no one objected, and there were no more nominations, we felt that everyone who wanted to be part of the decision-making had been included. Of course that wasn’t true.”
Clapping her hands ceremoniously, Radil invited the sixteen members of the newly formed Occupation Committee to convene in the boardroom. Nolan Forntner wanted to make a parting speech, but most of his audience had melted away, and he could think of nothing to say. On his way out of the atrium, he took Langdon Bellhouse aside and handed him back the bullhorn. “Protect the building,” he said. “It’s all we’ve got.”
As soon as the negotiators had left the room, voices of cynicism and dissent were heard. “Shit, whatever happened to ‘No more decisions behind closed doors’?” —“Yeah, who the hell voted for those assholes?”—“You know they’re just going to sell us out, don’t you?” said Wil Partlingover. —Angelik Huaraman agreed, noting how readily they had accepted the president’s nominations. —“Yeah, they were kowtowing to her already. What a joke!” Most of those present were content to wallow in their validated pessimism, but Partlingover was angry and wanted to do something. “Man, let’s take over this fucking takeover!”
Bellhouse pointed the bullhorn at him menacingly. “Shut up,” he said.
Oreggio Ballenby pleaded for faith and patience. “Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. We should at least wait and see what they negotiate before we tear the place down.” Others agreed, and helped pacify Partlingover.
Carla DiAmbla turned to Troy Rosswind and said, “Well, what do we do in the meantime?” —Rosswind suggested shyly, “I’ve got drugs . . .?”
As news of the takeover spread across campus, hundreds of curious students migrated to Founders’ Hall to see it for themselves, while most of the staff and faculty sought one another out to discuss its significance and debate its merits.
“Most everyone you talked to,” says biology professor Ajay Nutter, “was against it. Without even knowing what it was all about, they reflexively assumed that the students must be in the wrong. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to see all my ostensibly liberal and progressive colleagues side instinctively with the defense of the status quo.”
Says Assistant Dean of Humanities Kimsun Poon, “I was dismayed, to say the least, that virtually everyone was automatically on the students’ side. There is a deplorable culture of youth worship at this university—an unwritten code that the pure and innocent student intuitively knows more than his corrupt and flyblown teacher. Without even understanding the issues at stake, most of us took it for granted that the university was to blame, and that the protesters had a good case.”
Vice-President Yusef Martin, however, felt no compulsion to discuss the takeover, or indeed anything else, with his staff and faculty. A week as acting president had left him with a strong distaste for committees, conferences, and meetings, and for arbitrating disputes and reconciling discord. He longed only to return to his paperwork, letter writing, and congenial, one-on-one business lunches. But his colleagues would not let him alone, and congregated anew in whatever room, in whichever building, he escaped to. They had again made him arbiter, and had come to tell him, in a dozen contradictory voices, what must be done.
“We’ve got to stop this thing now, before it gets any more out of control.” —“On the contrary, if we stop them now, they’re just going to start up again somewhere else.” —“Not if we give out suspensions to the ringleaders.” —“There’s a thousand people in there; you’d have to suspend hundreds of them. Then you’d really have a revolt on your hands.” —“I thought there weren’t more than a few hundred protesters.” —“Whatever the exact number, it’s more than enough to start a riot, if we act foolishly or precipitately.” —“What do you suggest? Let them have their fun today, then carry on tomorrow as though nothing happened? We’ve got to suspend some of them, or we set a precedent of implied permission, and this sort of thing starts happening all the time.” —“Nonsense. It hasn’t happened before; why should it happen again?” —“It happened not fifteen years ago!” —“That was completely different.” —“I say let them get it out of their system.” —“What if they get a taste for it?” —“I hate to think how this is going to affect enrollment next year,” said Charity Meerquist, one of the trustees. —“I still think we should wait awhile. These movements quite often fizzle out on their own.” —“On what are you basing that generalization?” —“Listen. If we go in there like strikebreakers and bust up their demonstration, not only do we look like brutal reactionaries, and probably incite a whole new legion of demonstrators in the process, but we actually become opponents of free speech; real oppressors of new ideas; stranglers and snuffers-out of creativity, discovery, and dissent. When surely, I’d have thought, one of the things we strive to inculcate here, at an institution of higher learning such as this university purports to be, is freedom of expression, liberty of opinion, untrammeled and independent thought. It’s the only way knowledge progresses, for God’s sake. If we shut down this protest, we might as well shut down the university, because it will be a crime against science, against education, against humanity.” —“Look. To tolerate this insurrection, and it is an insurrection, is to condone and indeed support it, and the university cannot support and encourage its own overthrow. The free and open university is a tradition that too often in this country we take for granted, but let us recall what it really means: opportunity for self-improvement and advancement; access to the combined wisdom and knowledge of history; the production and development of new forms of knowledge; and liberty of thought, yes, and liberty through thought. But those who attack the university are not fighters for freedom, but enemies of the very freedom that the university represents. For my part, I find this rebellion painfully reminiscent of the anti-intellectual attacks of certain fascist and repressive political regimes—not least the one I fled in my youth. I should be disconsolate were a similar evil to arise here, in my adopted homeland. If history has taught us anything, it is that such cancers must be extirpated early, and swiftly.” —“What bugs me is how little historical perspective these young people have. I mean, good Lord, do they not realize how much better things are today than when we were their age? What do they even have to complain about, really?” —“Oh my God. Enough talk; let’s do something—anything.”
Vice-President Martin sighed. “Where’s the president?” No one knew, and no one but Martin really missed her. A week of working with her tactful, self-effacing, and obliging surrogate had made them all starkly aware of President Radil’s contrasting traits. There was a rumor, corroborated more than not by the security bulletin from Chief Pedersen, that she was being held hostage.
Martin’s first decision as acting president that day was to appoint an Ad Hoc Committee to decide what was to be done.
“Oh, shit,” said Meerquist, standing at the window. “The press is here.”
Denison Sundhi and his video crew arrived first, and set up on the lawn in front of Founders’ Hall, where the light was best. “No way was I going inside,” he says. “The information we’d received was about a bomb threat at the university. That didn’t seem to be the case—surely the security personnel there would have evacuated the building if it were true—but I wasn’t taking any chances.” Sundhi, a new father, had become more cautious in the weeks since the birth of his son. “One day shortly after Nibbu was born, we were racing across town to get to the site of a car crash. I suddenly realized how crazy that was. And I started having panic attacks in the news van whenever we drove above about forty kilometers an hour, or whenever traffic got heavy. I just kept seeing myself mangled in a fiery wreck, and Bibbu growing up without a dad. No way was I going inside the Hall. Anyway, we got a lot of great footage outside.”
Meanwhile, Naumi Orambe and her crew, who were half a generation younger than Sundhi, and childless, entered the occupied building without hesitation. Orambe interviewed several protesters, who were posed negligently against a backdrop of somber splendor. None of them were alarmed by the bomb threat. “That’s obviously just a ploy by the powers that be to scare us out of here,” said math major Jerme Carpintieri. “We’re not budging till we get what we want.” —Said art history major Midge Hasan, “I don’t know if there is or isn’t a bomb, but I’ll tell you one thing: if those fat cats don’t give us what we want, it’s gonna be a hell of a lot more than explosives that blow up.”
Allison Ziegenkorn, overhearing, tried to interview Orambe, who parried by interviewing her. —“Can you confirm or deny that the bomb threat is a ruse of the administration of this university to curtail this peaceful demonstration?” asked Ziegenkorn. —“Are you able to confirm or deny,” asked Orambe, “that the bomb was placed by protesters, in the hope of strengthening their bargaining position with the university administration?” —“Perhaps you would care to comment on the perception of the protest among the privileged professional class in the community?” —“Is it your opinion, then, that the demonstration is motivated in part by the antagonism felt by students towards the locals?” —“What do you say to critics who claim that your past coverage of campus politics has been heavily biased towards the administration, who have well-known ties to the operation of your news organization?” —“Do you find it difficult here, as a student, to maintain journalistic objectivity? That is to say, are you strictly an observer and reporter of today’s events, or are you also a participant?” —“No comment,” said Ziegenkorn, shutting off her voice recorder and walking away.
With growing disgust, Langdon Bellhouse watched the news crews roam through his building. They were doing no harm, perhaps, but they were clearly outsiders: they belonged to the world of alienation, noise pollution, and machine-made junk. They should never have been let inside; should he eject them? After many minutes of tumultuous vacillation, which took the form less of inner dialogue than of a series of abortive gestures and half-steps in various directions, he at last resolved to ask Forntner for guidance.
Imagining the tension in the boardroom to be directed towards him, he felt small, out of place, and resentful. “The news is here,” he said.
Sanders Brand volunteered to be interviewed; Suz Palombo nudged Suresh Arjmand; but Forntner, unexpectedly, put forward Diana Pirales. “We would all have been happy enough,” says Forntner, “to get rid of Brand or Bukarica, who were obstructing and filibustering every issue we came near to deciding.” (Says Bukarica, “It became clear early on that, as the only real activists in the room, we would need to be extra steadfast.” —And Brand says, “If the president seemed inclined to accept one of our demands, we changed our minds and demanded something else. Remember, our goal was nothing less than the complete collapse of the whole rotten system.”) “However,” says Forntner, “if the takeover was going to continue for any length of time, I didn’t think Brand would be the best public face for it.” Pirales, he observed, was articulate, presentable, and self-possessed; and, referring to her age, he said, “I think it would be good to show the world that this is not just some children’s crusade.”
Pirales was touched by the testimonial, and accepted the delegation. She handled the reporters with an aplomb that later amazed her husband and children. “I had never seen her like that,” says Chamela Pirales. “So fervent, and yet so calm and dignified. I was really proud of her.” —Says Pirales, “I’d finally found my niche. For six months at that school, I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t know who I was. I’d enrolled with the highest hopes. This was to be nothing less than a new chapter in my life. But the reality was so different from my dreams. The coursework was monotonous, the lectures perfunctory; the other students were all half my age, and even the profs seemed to resent my presence. With the takeover, I finally found what I’d been looking for: community, purpose, and opportunity for growth.”
Bellhouse was flabbergasted. “I didn’t think old people should even be allowed inside the building,” he says, “let alone be allowed to talk for us.” Nor was he satisfied by the draft Nine Demands that Pirales read before the cameras, and which seemed to him neither numerous nor far-reaching enough—though he could not have said exactly what was missing.
Rennie Jarabal was also dissatisfied with the Nine Demands, but because they struck her as being altogether too inclusive. “So much of what they were asking for,” she says, “was either already in reach—I mean the food bank, and classes for the community—or was not actually in the university’s control—hazing, for example, which is obviously a tradition perpetuated by the students themselves.”
Suz Palombo was more troubled by the president’s willingness to negotiate beyond her authority. For instance, Radil objected at first to Demand Three, “No more muggings,” claiming that there was no money in the budget for increased security patrols; but eventually she relented after the students agreed to drop advertising from the agenda. But, as Palombo points out, “Advertising revenue is the purview of the Communications and Marketing Council, and patrols are the purview of the Security and Safety Council. They have nothing to do with each other, and you can’t simply reappropriate funds from one to the other by diktat. The same goes for the reinstatement of Professor Reid, or the expansion of Lot M. These are decisions that can only be made by the Department of Astronomy or the Campus Development Office—not by the president.”
Gloria Chisholm, the dean of admissions, admits to having similar reservations. “I didn’t know what game Trifenia was playing. I thought maybe she was just stalling for time, or trying to coax them out of the building with false promises. I went along with her, but I did realize that none of what we were consenting to would stand.”
Says Radil, “I didn’t concede anything that wasn’t possible. I knew roughly the budgets involved, and how far they could be stretched; and I knew all the key players, and exactly how far they’d bend. I didn’t grant anything that I wasn’t confident could be ratified. If we’d had more time, I’m sure we would’ve made a dinner everyone could sit down to.”
Forntner tried to reassure Palombo. “We’ve got sixteen witnesses here,” he said. “President Radil knows she can’t revoke anything when this is over—or we’ll just take the building back; or, at the very least, publicly shame her into resigning. And getting the president to resign is a hell of a lot more than any of us ever expected to accomplish today.”
Palombo did not think Radil would resign over a few broken promises made to a handful of trespassing students; nor was Palombo content to aim so low. “We should be negotiating with the real policymakers,” she said, naming some of them.
Forntner shook his head. “I’m tired of groveling at those people’s feet. Right now, here, in this room, we outnumber them. Let’s capitalize.”
“It was clear to me then,” says Palombo, “that Nolan had lost his perspective. He’d made the matter personal. Who were ‘we’? Who was ‘them’? Was Professor Falck ‘them’? Was Elea Bukarica ‘we’?” She adds, “I think all Nolan could see was that he was in negotiations with the president of the university. He imagined he was being taken seriously—that he was important. And at that moment, I believe, he was more interested in playing out that drama than in saving trees, or reinstating Professor Reid, or any of the rest of it. That’s why I left.”
“All right,” said Forntner, patting her on the shoulder like an affable supervisor. “See what you can do out there; we’ll keep fighting the fight in here.”
At 3:36, Dean Dean Hanirihan, sent on behalf of the Ad Hoc Committee, interrupted Hiram Reid’s Cosmic Radiation class. In the hallway, he told Reid about the takeover, omitting for the sake of speed and clarity any mention of the Occupation Committee’s other eight demands. —“That’s got nothing to do with me,” said Reid. —“I think you’ll agree,” said Dean, “that we must stop this thing before anyone gets hurt. Whether you like it or not, they’ll listen to you.” —Reid declined, and returned to his class; but when the class was over, he decided to visit Founders’ Hall.
He heard the protest long before he saw it. He thought he could discern one refrain amid the clamor of catcalls and chants: “Doc-tor Reid! Doc-tor Reid!”
The Hall was engulfed by a crowd of several hundred people held imperfectly at bay by Chief Radner Pedersen’s security cordon. The thought that all this commotion was in his honor made Reid’s throat constrict. Then he realized that the crowd was actually shouting “Fuck the pigs! Fuck the pigs!”
Says engineering major Chanson Gearie, “The security guards were lined up facing us, motionless and expressionless as robots. Half of them wore sunglasses, and seemed to stare right through us, as if we weren’t even there. They had their hands on their hips and their chins in the air, like they were inviting us to try something, just daring us to do something. Even their posture was vain and contemptuous and provoking.” —Says security officer Nevis Kalhil, “The protesters never stopped trying to incite us. They screamed insults, made rude faces and noises, and writhed about with a kind of aggressive obscenity, like prostitutes mocking our virility. They wanted us to hit them—so they could start hitting us back, I guess.”
Reid pushed his way through the crowd to the barricade, where he spoke to security officer Réal Doloron. Reid identified himself, but received no reply. “I’m supposed to be inside,” he said. “I’ve been asked to speak to the students.” —“No one goes in,” said Doloron, made obstinate by fear.
Reid was tapped on the shoulder and directed by a young woman to the east side of the building. “Just wait till they’re not looking and hop over the barrier.” —Reid thanked her, then paused to ask why she didn’t go in. —“Oh, I’ve been in there,” she grinned. “It’s funner out here.”
In fact, he did not need to wait or to hop, but simply squeezed through one of the gaps in the cordon that the security officers were too beleaguered to fill. Inside the east entrance, a gang of student sentries accosted him. Again he identified himself, again with no effect. “I’m the Professor Reid they’re trying to reinstate,” he elaborated. —“Oh yeah,” said one, with clouded recognition. “I guess he’s cool.” They let him pass.
Reid wandered dumbstruck through the Hall. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says. “It was as if an army of gypsies had been living there for a week. There were mattresses and blankets and even tents. Food was being eaten or prepared in every room, in some cases on portable butane stoves. The air was thick with smoke and grease and perfume, as well as more human smells. The students were dancing, playing instruments, and singing. A mock wedding ceremony of some sort was taking place in the atrium, and a young woman in a toga and paper crown was conferring bogus degrees in the president’s office. Some fellow was tossing lit cigarettes to a dog, who caught them in its teeth. In some rooms I found some of my colleagues conducting a kind of educational burlesque—aimless, interminable rap sessions in which everybody at once talked about their feelings. Several groups were writing manifestos. Some were painting ungrammatical slogans on bedsheets, which they hung out the windows. I saw kids kissing and fondling in alcoves, and I believe I overheard at least one couple having sex. And everywhere, everywhere, were bottles and pills and pipes.”
Says undeclared major Valba Ghurraine, who sneaked into the Hall half an hour earlier, “It was the best party I’ve ever been to.”
Says Carla DiAmbla, “I realized that the universe is an involuted cataract of energy, a boundless torrent of overlapping and interfering patterns of vibration. I saw that energy is both movement and stasis, vibration being impossible without both on and off, crest and trough, and that therefore ‘death’ is meaningless, since it is but one pole of the eternal pulse, and no more detrimental to life than blinking is to sight. I understood that ‘the universe’ is not, as I had imagined, everything outside me, but in fact both the observed and the observer, myself and not-self, inextricably. I was an eddy, a ripple on a wave on a swell, which could in no way buck the stream. As part and substance of the stuff of the universe, I contributed unfailingly and effortlessly to the dance of the universe. I sat back in myself, as it were, and rode my nervous system, my personality—that masterful orchestration of every influence I had ever known—like a schooner under full sail. All my motions, all my actions, however trifling or important, hackneyed or strange, were liquid and unhesitating, like the brushstrokes of a practiced artist. Existence was play, and I played exuberantly—not like a child, who forgets she is playing, but like an actor, in complete control of her instrument. It was fun while it lasted.”
Says Troy Rosswind, “I felt excruciatingly thin-skinned. Everything happening was high tragedy. Sensation fell upon me like a suffocating cloud of dust.”
Says Hifan Hwan, “It was a different world. People were holding eye contact, and smiling at strangers. Everyone was introduced to everyone else. The woman who’d sat next to you silently all semester suddenly greeted you like an old friend. Distinctions of class and age and clique evaporated. Every face was beaming with friendliness, goodwill, and laughter—laughter because we’d all discovered how easy it was. The answer had been there all along. We just had to open our eyes to it. Life could be like this always. We’d figured it out. We’d won.”
By 5:15, the Ad Hoc Committee, convened across the commons in Room 410 of the Law Tower, had accepted six of the Nine Demands: hazing would be outlawed; a food bank would be established in the Student Union Building; unfilled courses would be opened to locals, free of charge; a committee would be appointed to investigate alleged clear-cutting by certain scholarship donors; to help prevent muggings, the Security and Safety Council would solicit student volunteers to escort pedestrians after dark; and Jaromir Ulgrave, dean of the Physics and Astronomy Department, promised to abide by whatever recommendation was given regarding Professor Reid by the Special Committee, still meeting in Room 204 of the Whitethorn Building. In exchange for all this, Suz Palombo had abandoned Demand Six, “No more animal testing,” agreeing that it was impracticable at a university so invested in the sciences.
Only two items remained contentious. Jabbar Shah, dean of campus development, refused to discontinue or postpone the expansion of Lot M; and a few committee members, led by Albert Nhizhdin, were opposed to Demand Nine, “Amnesty for all protesters.”
The stalemate was finally broken when Chief Pedersen entered the room, his face haggard and his yellow jacket smeared with blood. He spoke briefly to Vice-President Martin, who had been lurking at the back of the room, and who now made a gesture of renunciation.
“I don’t know! You’ll have to ask the Committee. They’re in charge now.”
Without meeting any gaze, but with head held high, Pedersen addressed the assembly. He said that the situation had deteriorated all afternoon, and was now nearly out of control. Though his men and women had fought the tide valiantly, they were frankly outnumbered and would soon be overwhelmed. He alluded to injuries, and everyone in the room stared at the blood on his jacket (which actually belonged to a student who had failed to hurdle a barrier). He said that he had been in communication with Chief of Police Les Dugul, who had two hundred officers trained and equipped and ready to deploy.
“Oh God,” said Dean Dean, standing suddenly. “You’re talking about sending in the riot squad.” —“This is a crowd-dispersal unit,” said Pedersen. —“What is this equipment they’ll be using?” asked Shah. “Tear gas?” —“I was referring primarily to personal protection: helmets and shields and so forth that we simply do not have.” —“Will there be arrests?” asked Hofman Walchalm, one of the trustees. —“That would be at Chief Dugul’s discretion. My understanding is that arrests would only be made if necessary to expedite dispersal.” —“Oh God,” said Dean Dean, sitting suddenly.
All of them, even those who had most strongly advocated punishment, were chastened by Chief Pedersen’s proud, battered solemnity, and appalled by the thought of riot police invading their campus.
“What choice do we have?” asked Sacha Frean, dean of security and safety. “We either bring in Chief Dugul, or we surrender the Hall to the protesters.”
“Put it to a vote,” suggested Martin. But no one wanted to vote. —“This should be your decision,” muttered someone.
At last Suz Palombo stood. “We must reach an agreement. Now.”
“Well, what do you offer?”
“We could, perhaps, restrict the extent of amnesty . . .”
“To the fourteen student members of the Occupation Committee—for example.”
Nhizhdin made a seething sound and slumped in his chair. “In exchange for what?”
Everyone looked at Shah. —“It’s impossible,” he said. “We have a very clear mandate from the board of trustees to increase the parking facilities at this institution by no less than 3.5 percent over the next two years to keep pace with enrollment.”
Everyone looked at the trustees, Hofman Walchalm and Charity Meerquist, who looked at each other, and shrugged.
Sirens were heard in the distance.
Shah closed his eyes and placed his hands on the conference table. “We can—we will—reduce the area of expansion to eighty percent.” He opened his eyes. “Seventy-five percent! Three hectares. It cannot be less.”
“Okay,” said Palombo, and hurried from the room.
The members of the Ad Hoc Committee all stood and began talking at once, like a class of schoolchildren whose teacher has been called away. Said Chief Pedersen, unheard at the window, “That’s no police siren.”
It was determined later that the fire started somewhere in the southeast corner of the basement, where the permanent records were stored. The crowd outside, who were in a better position to see the smoke begin to billow, cheered the arrival of the firetrucks with cries of “Yay, pigs!” Many of those inside, however, annoyed by the shrill alarm and smelling at first no smoke, decided that this was another ploy to oust them from the building. “Stand your ground!” shouted Wil Partlingover; and Langdon Bellhouse, at last brimming over with anger at the soulless, gimcrack modern world, stalked from room to room crying, “Protect the building! Let it burn!” while smashing fire annunciator panels and pull stations with the butt of his bullhorn. Dozens of people fled the building when the sprinklers turned on, but hundreds rushed to the windows and doors, taking up defensive positions against the onslaught of firefighters and security officers, who screamed at them in incredulous outrage to clear a path. “The place is on fire, you idiots! Move!”
As the Occupation Committee broke up in chaos, President Radil ran to her office to retrieve the photo of her children, then descended the fire escape. Nolan Forntner trudged aimlessly through the brawling throng, numb with dismay. Tonja Salanitro removed her shirt and bra and waved them over her head. Allison Ziegenkorn tossed a newsperson’s camera out a window. Darren Kolst, a.k.a. “Julius Arbuston,” helped Elea Bukarica push a filing cabinet down a staircase. The cost of damages rose exponentially.
Outside, a firefighter’s forehead was split open by a flying paperweight. Students, staff, and visitors alike were clubbed and pepper-sprayed. The crowd was quickly polarized by the violence, and rushed into the fray to render justice or exact revenge. Fire Chief Fenton Glaslum gave the order to turn the hoses on the protesters. “By that point,” says firefighter Linda Thule, “you couldn’t tell protesters from bystanders; everyone was a protester.”
President Radil met Chief Pedersen hurrying across the commons. After a brief colloquy, she told him to call in Chief Dugul’s crowd-dispersal unit.
“It’s my decision,” she said. “I take full responsibility.”
Then, feeling a strange pain in her chest, she sat down on the grass. She had eaten nothing all day.
The fire was soon extinguished, but the firefighters, denied free access to the building, were unable to ascertain this by the time the police arrived at dusk.
Says Chief Dugul, “We were moving into a building 23,000 square feet in size, filled with an unknown number of violent demonstrators, and possibly on fire. Naturally we were a little keyed up.” —Constable Lafcadio Stusdal says, “It was disgusting—a bunch of spoiled brats who’d never done a real day’s work in their lives behaving like they were the victims of some kind of horrible injustice.” —“The place looked like a fortress,” says Constable Kennett Labron. “There were crowds of people at every window. They were throwing rocks and bottles and heavy books at us before we could even get out of the vans.” —Sergeant Gladiola Kjesbu says, “For most of us, this was our first real action outside of field exercises. We had no idea what to expect. It was worse than any of us could have imagined. The demonstrators were behaving like crazed animals.”
Many of the occupiers were equally intimidated by the sight of the police. Says Sanders Brand, “When I saw the cops, in all their armor and carrying rifles, get into formation at the bottom of the front steps, I knew that was it. We were doomed.” He left the building by another door.
In fact, protesters outnumbered police by about five to one, but they did not realize it, scattered as they were throughout the building.
Dugul’s force, inexorable behind shields and gas masks, entered Founders’ Hall at 6:17, pushing back the protesters as far as the atrium. Then, as much due to congestion as to defiance, the crowd retreated no farther.
Chief Dugul, speaking through a bullhorn, ordered them to disperse or risk being fired upon. None knew that the rifles aimed at them were loaded with plastic bullets. A panic infected the crowd, composed half of fury, half of terror. Says Oreggio Ballenby, “I really thought I was about to die. I couldn’t breathe.”
Constable Coary Harbitz could not wear his eyeglasses under his gas mask. Sweat stung his eyes. “All I could see was the back of the guy in front of me,” he says. “And him I couldn’t even hear over the screaming of the protesters, the thud of projectiles raining down on our heads.”
Chanson Gearie threw a brick, but it fell short, walloping a fellow student in the head. This made her even angrier at the police. “In a way,” she says, “it was their fault.”
Several voices pleaded for negotiations. “Haven’t you pigs ever heard of dialogue?”
At 6:23, twelve rounds were fired into the crowd. Chief Dugul denies issuing any command, but does not condemn his officers for opening fire. None of the seven constables who discharged their weapons that day believes they were the first to do so, and all of them are certain that they aimed at the floor or over the protesters’ heads, in accordance with their training. Nevertheless, four students were injured, and one, taking a direct shot to the eye, was instantly killed.
The crack of gunfire, the wail of screams, and the sight of blood sickened even the most ardent protesters. The crowd dispersed.
Says Constable Harbitz, “They charged at us. We had no choice.”
“Every generation has its monsters to slay,” says linguistics professor Bertrand Laing. “The problem with this generation is that, though they feel the itch to slay, they do not know what their monsters look like, or where they live, or how to find them. This frustration only makes them more violent and indiscriminate. They don’t know what to lash out at, so they lash out at whatever’s nearest. In the past, the enemy was much more manifest. You had a definite target.”
Says Assistant Dean of Humanities Kimsun Poon, “The fact is that higher learning in this country and in this era has become altogether too wishy-washy. We educators today have all swallowed the liberal dogma that truth is merely a social construct—that which would be best for us to believe, as William James put it; our as-yet-irrefutable errors, as Nietzsche said. We are so afraid of being called elitist that we refuse to exalt one idea over another, or praise one book before another, with the result that everything combines into a porridge of mediocrity. I believe the takeover was nothing less than an instinctive revolt against this bland, mealy-mouthed relativism. The students, perhaps only half consciously, realize that what’s needed is a return to good old-fashioned elitism and exclusivism. They crave a firm hierarchy of values, such as we had in my youth. They crave authority.”
Dean of Donations Jelke Beiersdorf believes that the extended adolescence is to blame. “In the past,” he says, “teenagers rebelled against their parents. Today, steeped in luxury and ease, children grow up more slowly. By the time they are ready to rebel, they are at university, where they find only proxy parents to attack.”
Administrative assistant Esther Dentonne believes that such uprisings are bound to happen from time to time. “Every intelligent young person gets to a point in their life,” she says, “when they realize that everything is fundamentally a lie. Language is an arbitrary code; morals, like manners, are a convention; politics is show business; science is a tottering patchwork of makeshift hypotheses; the economy is a collective hallucination; even personal identity is a phantasm. Indeed, realizing that everything is a lie could be said to be the hallmark of adolescence. The hallmark of adulthood, on the other hand, is realizing the usefulness of lies—understanding that, though all our castles are built in the air, they are not therefore any the less majestic, or any less delightful to explore.”
Philosophy professor Nifel Niesbundsun, paraphrasing Schopenhauer, says, “Young people are generally dissatisfied, but they ascribe their dissatisfaction to the state of things, and not, as they should, to the vanity and wretchedness of human life everywhere, which they are for the first time experiencing.”
Says local resident Margit Strummel, “Kids will be kids.”
Says Suz Palombo, “The takeover occurred for at least nine very good reasons.”
Langdon Bellhouse says, “Just look around you.”
Though the causes and significance of the takeover were long debated, public opinion was soon agreed that the death of undeclared major Scott Pollen, aged twenty, was a deplorable and avoidable tragedy. At his memorial service three days later, he was universally eulogized. Those who spoke remembered him with rough fondness as an ebullient partygoer and womanizer, an irrepressible clown, a free spirit who daily seized the day. His attendance records and grade point average verify the portrait of a young man who had come to university not to mellow in stuffy classrooms but to cultivate friendships and celebrate life. Of the dozens of mourners who celebrated his life that day, not one turned his death into propaganda or used the platform as a soapbox.
“I hated him,” says Nigel Garff, his roommate. “For six months I hated him passionately. He was the worst roommate imaginable. He made noise at all hours; he left filth everywhere. I hated his clumsy card tricks, his dumb jokes, and his silly pranks—tossing lit cigarettes to his dog, or making himself faint by holding his breath, or sneaking up behind you and draping his penis over your shoulder just to get a rise out of you. Most of all I hated him for his many friends, and his constant parties, and the countless women he brought home—and blithely offered to share with me. I hated that everyone liked him. I hated the way he made life seem a lazy Sunday stroll. I hated him as we only hate the better self we’re too frightened or habit-bound to become. I hated him; and I never told him how much I loved him.”
Elea Bukarica, for one, is critical of the public outpouring of grief. “All this sentimental pity for some dead rich kid that most people never even knew is simply a distraction from the real tragedies of poverty and hunger, which kill untold thousands of people every day.”
Chief of Security Radner Pedersen says, “It is not a tragedy when a criminal is injured while committing a crime. It is unfortunate, and it is to be regretted, but it is not a tragedy. When you break the law, you run a certain risk.”
The last action of the Ad Hoc Committee was to appoint a disciplinary committee, dubbed the March Sixteenth Committee. After weeks of deliberation, this committee, feeling that popular sentiment was still on the side of the occupiers, decided not to suspend, expel, or otherwise punish any students. They did recommend that certain clauses of the campus constitution be rewritten to help clarify which demonstrations and rallies would be condoned, and which would be considered unlawful.
The Security and Safety Council requested and received funds to hire thirty more security guards. These were deployed not at night to deter muggers, but in the day to discourage spontaneous assemblies.
A tribunal was ostentatiously convened to determine whether the police who fired their rifles had been negligent; after months of investigations and hearings, they were quietly acquitted.
Trifenia Radil resigned as president of the university, citing health concerns.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy, adhering to the Special Committee’s recommendation, offered to renew Hiram Reid’s contract. Reid declined the offer, and is now teaching in Canada.
The Campus Development Office bulldozed three hectares of parkland, but, following a massive campus and community protest led by Sanders Brand, the area was never paved and Lot M never expanded. No shortage of parking spaces was noticed the following year, for enrollment did not increase at the expected rate. Today the trees and plants have largely returned, but the boundary between the old growth and the new growth is still perceptible.