No, said David Buryak, the leader of SDS at Cornell in the '60s, when black students took over an administration building and this was one of the country's hottest college campuses--no, the anti-nuclear cause is not yet a student movement.
Could it develop? Could the nuclear issue become the cause that reactivates America's campuses after the somnolent '70s? "It could. I hope so," Buryak replied.
Two days of conversations on the hilly Cornell campus above Cayuga Lake suggest that Buryak--now a poet and lecturer in the English department here--is right on the money. There is student interest in the nuclear issue; 1,600 students turned out for a teach-in on the nuclear arms race here Thursday night. But that interest is not easily sustained; the second installment of the teach-in Friday afternoon attracted less than half as many students.
The townspeople of Ithaca seem to be ahead of the Cornell student body on the anti-nuclear issue. In surrounding Tompkins County an active movement in support of a Soviet-American freeze on nuclear weapons has gathered nearly 10,000 signatures. "To me," said government professor Eldon (Bud) Kenworthy, a Latin Americanist, "the really fascinating thing was to see the town take the lead on this issue."
"The students may be swept away by the rest of the community instead of the other way around, as it was in the '60s," said Jan Grygier, 25, a graduate student in environmental engineering who is active in radical peace activities here.
Reports from other campuses suggest a similar situation. At Yale, for example, hundreds of students helped fill the university chapel last Monday night for a speech by the Rev. Billy Graham, who now endorses a Soviet-American freeze on nuclear weapons. But neither Ground Zero week nor the freeze campaign generated much excitement on the campus otherwise, while the city of New Haven staged an impressive series of anti-nuclear activities.
Cornell is the home of a new national organization called United Campuses to Prevent Nuclear War, or UCAM. Prof. Peter Stein, a particle physicist, is the moving force behind UCAM, which now has branches on more than 400 campuses.
Stein was also a principal organizer of last week's teach-in here. Most of the other organizers were also professors, members of the university staff or graduate students. Stein told a reporter he thought student response to the teach-in was comparable to undergraduate attitudes during the Vietnam era, but the absence of undergraduates from his group suggested a different reality.
"It's too soon to tell," said Ron Loomis, director of student unions and activities at Cornell, "but my gut reaction is that this generation of students is so apathetic and so self-centered that it's not likely this will become a movement, or that a large number of people will get involved."
Loomis said students are decidedly more conservative now than a dozen years ago, and weigh their activities in college against the question, "What is it going to do for me later?" He said the Cornell campus didn't even get very excited about cuts in federal loans and grants to college students.
On the other hand, many students have responded to the anti-nuclear activity on campus. At teach-ins last November and last week, about 800 students signed up on a mailing list and indicated a willingness to help out with future activities.
A year ago, said Roberta Valente, 26, a graduate student in English who has become an activist protesting nuclear weapons, colleagues in the English department were laughing at her for wasting time on the nuclear issue. Today they're helping her. "I give Haig and Reagan full credit for the change," she said, speaking of the secretary of state and the president.