Where is Sam Hayakawa When We Need Him?

Sam Hayakawa

Sam Hayakawa

With the madness at Yale spreading this week also to the University of Missouri (I’ll comment on that in a separate post), thoughts turned back to the late, great Sam Hayakawa—anyone remember him?—who stood up to the campus left at San Francisco State University back in 1969.

Here’s my account of it from the first volume of The Age of Reagan:

Berkeley’s eminent philosophy professor John Searle wrote in 1969 that “A confident administration bent on defending intellectual values, and consequently determined to destroy the power of its essentially anti-intellectual adversary, can generally win.” Reagan emphatically agreed with Searle, remarking contemporaneously that “the university can dispose of the threat [radicals] represent in a week if they will take a stand.” This is what finally happened at the scene of the most protracted and significant university upheaval in California, which occurred at San Francisco State College. In 1968 black militants decided to shut down UCSF—a campus of 18,000 students at the time—if the university did not immediately act on 15 “non-negotiable demands,” which included a black studies department wholly autonomous from the university administration, and open admission for all black applicants. Black activists alone might not have been able to shut down San Francisco State, but other factions immediately joined up; the SDS naturally, but also a faction of the faculty and the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union, which the SFSC faculty had rejected as its bargaining unit, but which saw the fracas as an opportunity to regain their status.

 At first the scene played out according to the standard script. SFS president Robert Smith—the college’s sixth president in eight years—temporized and evaded, and then stepped down in the closing months of 1968 after a faculty teaching assistant, who also happened to be the Black Panther’s “minister of education,” beat up Smith in his office. Into the breach the trustees appointed a diminutive, 62-year old professor of semantics to be acting president of the college—Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa. Hayakawa quickly showed that he was made of sterner stuff than his witless predecessors in the president’s chair. He drew nationwide publicity when he climbed onto a sound truck from which protestors were shouting obscenities through a microphone, knocked a protestor to the ground who stood in his way (Hayakawa weighed only 145 pounds), and ripped out the wiring of the sound equipment, which the protestors were unable to repair. On another occasion Hayakawa brought a bullhorn to the protest, and shouted back at demonstrators. He also did not hesitate to call in police in large numbers to arrest protestors who disrupted classes. “In a democratic society,” Hayakawa said in justifying his recourse to the police, “the police are there for the protection of our liberties. It is in a totalitarian society that police take away our liberties.” He took activists at their word that their demands were “non-negotiable,” and refused to negotiate. A star was born, and he would serve as a complement to Reagan’s tough approach to campus troubles. Like Reagan, he referred to campus protestors as a “gang of goons and neo-Nazis,” and criticized the hypocrisy of campus liberals who expressed sympathy for the extremism of black radicals. Hayakawa attacked “the intellectually slovenly habit, now popular among whites as well as blacks, of denouncing as racist those who oppose or are critical of any Negro tactic or demand. We have a standing obligation to the 17,500 or more students—white, black, yellow, red and brown—who are not on strike and have every right to expect continuation of their education.” For such forthright resistance to the tides of campus disruption, the state university board of trustees, with Reagan in the lead, removed “acting” from Hayakawa’s title in the spring of 1969, making him president in fact.

Incidentally, at the time Hayakawa took his stand, he was a Democrat. He later switched parties and was elected to one term in the U.S. Senate in 1976. A much underrated fellow. We could use someone like him today, starting at Yale.