University Business - June 2012 - (Page 28)

independent outlook Seizing the Chance to Teach Change The newest challenge to educating for civic responsibility By Richard Ekman f young people hope to influence the direction of political and social change, they need to adopt a better strategy. The amorphous protests embodied in the recent Occupy movement and the ambivalent responses by most colleges to them were disappointing. The intermittent camp-ins and other protests failed to attract widespread support, and—as college leaders no doubt predicted—dissipated fairly quickly. As an unintended strategy in cooptation, ambivalence by college leaders was reasonably effective, but the responsibility to prepare students for greater civic responsibility remains with colleges to restore students’ belief in the use of durable institutions to work for the common good. A stance of either benign neglect or lukewarm support was short-sighted. The Occupy movement revealed widespread lack of confidence among young people in American political, social, and financial institutions and—even more worrisome—the inability of the protestors to use existing institutions to work for change. A major opportunity for colleges to seize a “teachable moment” was lost. The absence of confidence in institutions led to a protest movement without wellarticulated goals of its own. Even today, the followers of the Occupy movement lack cohesive proposals for change. Instead, many protesters still only decry the problems. Campus leaders could have characterized this phenomenon as the dumbing down of the more strategic protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s, but they did not. Instead, a few argued that when massive numbers of people protest 28 | June 2012 I Why didn’t more campus authorities criticize the Occupy protesters for lack of a clear purpose? peacefully it is a use of a Gandhi-esque tactic. Gandhi had clear goals, however, while many Occupy protesters are content to wait for someone else to translate their frustration and dissatisfaction into a remedy. Why didn’t more campus authorities criticize the Occupy protesters for lack of a clear purpose? Today’s campus leaders include many former social activists of the 1970s who, as younger protesters, had been counseled by their elders to channel grievances into “the system” and to pressure the system to fix what was wrong. Many did and saw the system produce results. With this experience, the boomers today—even those who may now be wavering in their own faith in American social and political institutions—might have expressed indignation over the protesters’ naïveté and given them tactical advice, lessons from history or schooling in political theory. If today’s campus officials can be faulted for being overly forgiving of students’ missteps in their protest activities, the reactions to the Occupy movement by leaders in other sectors have also been surprisingly bland. The Wall Street Journal, for example, usually pro-business and conservative in its perspective, bent over backwards to emphasize the thread of a positive strategy for change in the Occupy movement. In attempting to impute a more sophisticated strategy to the movement than it may actually have, the Journal’s view was that, in the case of the Occupy Oakland site, there were two groups of protesters—the main group whose agenda was incoherent but peaceful and a smaller group of well organized “anarchists” who relied on disruption and selective use of violence as a deliberate tactic to radicalize people and to demonstrate the ineffectual responses that stodgy institutions inevitably exhibit. Shouldn’t colleges seize this opportunity to teach the deeper lessons of this demonstration of theories of social change in action? The “anarchists” in Oakland are not the inheritors of the traditions of such theorists of the Russian Revolution as Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin. And the frequent comparisons of the Occupy movement with the Tea Party, which also has a strategy of not compromising, ignores real differences between two fringe movements. Because only one of them has a strong following among young people, its character as neither a manifestation of classic anarchism nor an extension of the strategy of Gandhi ought to be a concern of educators.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - June 2012

University Business - June 2012
Editor's Note
College Index
Ad Index
Behind the News
Independent Outlook
Special Section: Thinking Green
4G: Is It Time for an Upgrade?
Unified Security: All Together Now
Collaborative Workflow
Campus Finance News
3 Student Aid Myths
Deepening the Donor Pool
Keeping Tuition Within Reach
Internet Technology
End Note

University Business - June 2012