Cornell '69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University

By Donald Alexander Downs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX PROGRESS OR IMPASSE?

The December actions led to a decline of the radicals' fortunes. In early April John Garner left school to work in the ghetto and Gary Patton and Larry Dickson left for other reasons. During the second semester outsiders such as Michael Thelwell and Cleveland Sellers came to Cornell as lecturers and convinced the AAS that the militants were hurting the revolutionary movement as much as they were helping it. Consequently, a coalition or conglomerate of the AAS's factions shared power, moving the leadership toward the center.

At a meeting in late January, Garner announced that he was going to resign, which some members interpreted as a ploy to rally the organization behind the radicals' leadership. In the past the students had always given Garner a vote of confidence when he threatened to resign, but "the December fiasco had done irreparable damage to [ Garner's] image." 1 Before this meeting several students had met at Tom Jones's home to plot Garner's removal. They knew that Jones's candidacy would not succeed because of his unfavorable image with many AAS members.

At the next meeting, near the end of January, Garner again raised the issue of his resignation, whereupon everyone became serious, expecting conflict. After tense debate, a leading activist who was also a possible candidate spoke up and opened the floor to the selection of a president, and Garner nominated Edward Whitfield, a quiet, brilliant moderate. Whitfield was relatively unknown in the AAS, and his ideology was not purely "black." Garner nominated him because he thought Whitfield had no chance of winning, yet Whitfield won with the pivotal support of Robert Rone and others.

In spring '68 the AAS had elected Whitfield chair of its Philosophy Committee. In this capacity he studied revolutionary literature. But like Robert Jackson and Tom Jones, Whitfield had also had meaningful exposure to conservative thought: he had studied with Allan Bloom. Because of Bloom's influence, Whitfield

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