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Cornell '69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University Hardcover – February 25, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0801436536 ISBN-10: 0801436532 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (February 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801436532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801436536
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,157,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The scenes recalled here of armed black students leaving a Cornell University building in 1969 speak loudly of the rule of law, radicalism, racism, power politics, intellectual honesty, and the relations between academia and society. For Downs (political science, Univ. of Wisconsin), the author of several books, including Nazis in Skokie (LJ 3/1/85), the context for the Cornell uprising was shaped by the history of liberalism in 20th-century American higher education as well as campus events and university policies. A Cornell undergraduate that infamous spring, Downs narrates the issues argued by the Afro-American Society, other student organizations, and factions among administrators and faculty. He clearly details the complex, rapidly unfolding events, which embodied contested notions of progressive education, academic freedom, racial justice, and identity politics and which made the Cornell uprising more significant than most American student revolts of the 1960s. Readable, at times fast-paced, and based solidly on interviews and primary sources, this is highly recommended for academic libraries.ACharles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"The scenes recalled here of armed black students leaving a Cornell University building in 1969 speak loudly of the rule of law, radicalism, racism, power politics, intellectual honesty, and the relations between academia and society. . . . Downs clearly details the complex, rapidly unfolding events, which embodied contested notions of progressive education, academic freedom, racial justice, and identity politics and which made the Cornell uprising more significant than most American student revolts of the 1960s. Readable, at times fast-paced, and based solidly on interviews and primary sources, this is highly recommended for academic libraries."—Library Journal



"This book is a fine addition to the literature on the history and politics of higher education. It should interest everyone in the academic community."—Perspectives in Political Science



"Of all American university disturbances . . . those of Cornell University were uniquely instructive. . . . Donald Alexander Downs, the author of this useful book, correctly points out that 'never before had students introduced guns into a campus conflict.' . . . He tells the story in a straightforward, chronological manner."—Academic Questions



"An engaging and evocative read. . . . I would urge that everyone interested in this period read this book."—Journal of American History



"Cornell '69 shows, in engrossing detail, how Cornell's white professors reacted to demands and protests by black students. Donald Alexander Downs focuses on this faculty perspective, taking seriously their fear that the life of the mind was at stake."—Andrew Hacker, author of Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal



"This engrossing work is the best book about any of the campus disturbances of the 1960s. Although I was a participant in the events described here, I nevertheless learned an enormous amount about what was going on behind the scenes."—Richard Polenberg, Cornell University



"Donald Alexander Downs's speciality is using micro events to illuminate macro issues of political theory and constitutional law. Cornell '69 is his best work so far. Everything seemed to happen at Cornell and everything seemed to happen at once. Through Downs's gripping narrative, we learn about the origins of political correctness, the conservative revolt against it, and the politics of race on the American campus. This scrupulously honest and painfully fair book is the best thing to come out of the awful events described in the book."—Alan Wolfe, author of One Nation, After All



"Downs does an extraordinary job of documenting the biggest crisis in Cornell history. Every participant in the crisis, no matter what his/her position, will learn things he/she never knew before reading this book. Every student of campus crises of the '60s and '70s will see here, in stark perspective, how the issues played out at Cornell."—Dale Corson, President Emeritus, Cornell University


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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on June 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The dust cover picture of armed students leaving Cornell's Straight Hall in April 1969 tells a story close to my heart in time and geography. Downs' wonderful study of student power shows the inevitable problems that emerged when well-intentioned university liberals surrendered their fundamental academic principles in the name of compassion. Downs illustrates the unintended consequences of affirmative action, from students who did not want so much to learn from the institution...they wanted to radically change the institution.
The students understood politics, public relations and the power of the "big lie". While they may not have been competent to lead Cornell through needed change, Downs makes it clear that neither was the Cornell administration ready or able to manage change.
Once the violent takeover began, what little control President Perkins had was lost. The subsequent finger-pointing and resignations were unavoidable. Yet questions remain: Was it institutional racism fostered by a priest or political correctness that set off the furor? Who burned the cross in front of the African-American residence hall? Did the administration have a hand in the fraternity "counterattack" on Straight? Was this a spontaneous act out of frustration by African-American students or an SDS plot to radically reform Cornell? After it was over, did Cornell learn any lessons?
I could not put it down. A must read for baby boomers, especially those intent on understanding events that formed the ideology of those in the White House today.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I was a junior at Cornell in April, 1969, and only after having read this book did I really understand what events happened that weekend. I'm not sure I understand even now what the significance of those events has been, but this book has put my own history in perspective for me, along with Cornell's.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on June 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cornell campus events in April 1969 ran beyond the power of university administrators to manage them. The world witnessed the decline of docile, gentle student behavior, managed by old white men in tweed coats. Students found new, forceful ways to express themselves, and opened an era of campus struggles.
Downs demonstrates that students know enough to know they don't want to learn some of the things that there teachers are teaching, yet they are also young and naive enough to stumble about agressively and sometimes irrationally for a solution. And the senior professors, save a few stalwarts, had no capacity to deal with this new breed of students.
Based on Cornell's desire to "do good", to promote social justice, to provide meaningful educational opportunities, and to add diversity (before there was such a common, abused term on American campuses), the Trustees approved a plan to enroll disenfranchised students from urban areas at their bucolic campus. Cornell was Ivy League, yes, but more rural than sophisticated, more agricultural than urbane. Cornell was to provide a strange environment for a noble experiment. Did it work? After the takeover of the administration building by armed students, most Americans never looked at university education the same way again.
Meticulous archival research of previously unsurfaced or unpublished records brings life and details to a college's uncomfortable history.
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