Maybe you don't like being reminded of the worst years of our lives, the '60s. Maybe the sight of student protesters closing down the University of the District of Columbia and occupying a building brings back those awful days when sit-ins and strikes were principal items on academia's curriculum.
But you would have to admit that the UDC protesters are making demands that are within the power of the authorities to meet. They are demanding education, which seems an utterly reasonable thing to ask when you have enrolled in a college.
They want more books. Is that relevant or what? They want longer study hours. And they want to get rid of the board members appointed by Marion Barry.
That's a lot different from the Vietnam times, when university presidents and deans were backed up against their office walls while students roared at them to stop the draft or stop the bombing or bring about some great change of heart or policy that was utterly beyond their competence.
UDC students want to learn. They want the money that Congress has voted them to be used not to shelter a weird sculpture but for something that will help them to get degrees that mean something, and even jobs.
UDC has had a stormy life. A school for the city, it has had five presidents in its 13-year history. It seems to get just enough money to tempt crooked administrators but not quite enough to make it a first-class school. It has been run like everything else under the blighting hand of Barry, with obtuseness and extravagance.
A feminist sculptress named Judy Chicago created a work of art she called "The Dinner Party." Some people call it obscene. She gave it as a gift to the university. She probably meant well. The students would rather have more computers and other equipment for science classes.
The students have asked the trustees to withdraw their agreement to house "The Dinner Party." It is a brilliant idea. The cost of giving it houseroom would be $1.6 million. A library must be renovated to accommodate it. A great many books could be bought for $1.6 million; several professors, perhaps some with the capacity to upgrade the school's accreditation, could be acquired.
Congress cut $1.6 million for the care of the artwork out of the budget; the students want the money back. Judy Chicago has offered to take "The Dinner Party" back. Maybe the board thought it would lend cachet to UDC. The school needs cash, not cachet. The creation depicts female genitalia; you don't need to be Jesse Helms to regard it as obscene.
The students want the whole Board of Trustees to resign. They sound as if they were non-educable. Maybe the task of easing them out will fall to Barry's rock-certain successor, Sharon Pratt Dixon, a woman who seems to have a low threshold on expensive foolishness.
So deplore lawlessness if you must, let us condemn disorderly, presumptuous, importunate youth. But let us grant the justice of their requests. They can live without "The Dinner Party." There is not an obscenity gap in the nation's capital. 2 Live Crew is in town, singing songs that cannot be printed in a family newspaper and making a powerful case for censorship, an issue being fought in an Ohio courtroom over the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. Now jurors are looking at nude pictures of children, whose parents wanted them shot by Mapplethorpe. Maybe they felt proud to have the kiddies pose for such an artist. The children's right to privacy has been totally overlooked. Fans say only a Philistine would think the photos obscene.
In the North, we are seeing undeniable obscenity, on an Ivy League campus. At wholesome, rugged, woodsy Dartmouth, the alma mater of Daniel Webster, noxious fumes from newsprint are fouling the air. The Dartmouth Review, an obnoxious off-campus student periodical, which feels a periodic necessity to offend women, blacks, Jews and other minorities, has surpassed itself by printing, on the eve of Yom Kippur, an anti-Semitic pronouncement of Adolf Hitler.
To Dartmouth's credit, there has been a great uproar. The Review editor has resigned, claiming it was either a prank or sabotage. Of course. There's another element to the timing, perhaps inadvertent. This political pornography was published just as the two Germanys are being reunified amid a certain apprehension on the part of the rest of the world, precisely because of Hitler and the kind of people who spread his message. One Germany has vowed it will be good; the other doesn't seem to think it ever did anything bad.
It's touch and go. It always has been. Students, above all people, should remember, and learn. That's why they go to college.