Ten years ago, Virginia officials worried about student radicals overthrowing the state's colleges and university.
Last week, some were troubled about protecting the First Amendment rights of militant student book clubs, politically active spelunkers and dance troupes with a legislative bent.
Members of a legislative committee rushed to the aid of such unlikely groups, decisively killing a Fairfax County delegate's bill that would have denied state college funds to any student group that actively supported candidates or legislation.
"If a fox had gotten a chicken out of your chicken house, you'd almost be sending a tank out to get him," Del. Robison B. James (D-Richmond) said of the proposal.
James, himself a university professor, argued that college officials should be left to themselves to distribute funds to student groups.
Offered by freshman Del. John S. Buckley, the bill was aimed at protecting university students from being forced, through student fee-collection systems, to promote candidates or legislation they do not support.
Quoting Thomas Jefferson, the conservative Buckley, a 26-year-old Republican, told the House Education Committee that compelling students to make such contributions was "sinful and tyrannical."
Opponents of the measure, which included almost every committee member, said the author of the Bill of Rights and founder of the University of Virginia could hardly be claimed as a partisan for a measure denying students the right to dissent.
"I'm inclined to think that Jefferson would roll over in his grave if he came back to his great university and found that discussion of vital issues of the day was being inhibited in his name," said Del. Lewis P. Fickett Jr. (D-Fredericksburg), also a college professor. Fickett charged that the measure would lead to be "political sterilization of campus activity."
Legislators fretted that passage of the bill would keep student spelunkers from lobbying for protection of their caves and prohibit rare books fanciers from seeking funds for new libraries. Even student newspapers might have to look over their shoulders, some said, for fear that one editorial on the wrong subject would cost them their livelihood.
Buckley offered assurances that newspapers would not be covered by the bill and that imaginary book clubs could always ask student governments to serve as their lobbysists, but committee members weren't convinced.
"The rare book club people might have a different view from the student government people," said Del. Thomas J. Michie Jr. (D-Charlottesville). "It sounds like you might be stifling discent."
Legislators also complained that the bill, which they sacked by a vote of 14-to-0 with one abstention, didn't define lobbying or spell out conditions under which a student could engage in independent political activity without endangering funding for his group.
The defeat came as no surprise to Buckley, the youngest member of the General Assembly who is the same age as Jefferson when he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
"Maybe I should go to James Madison University and ask them to fund my next campaign," he joked after the decision.