Students: Nixon Takes Sides

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When French universities erupted last year, the usually inflexible Charles de Gaulle startled many Frenchmen by declaring that he understood why the students wanted more say in their affairs. Last week Richard Nixon (who, ironically, was about to visit De Gaulle) took a very different approach toward campus disorders in the U.S. Despite his trouble establishing rapport with young Americans during his campaign, the President tackled dissident students head on. In a publicly released letter, he lambasted demonstrators in general, giving no hint of any distinction between their valid and invalid aims.

Nixon's letter was to Notre Dame's President Theodore Hesburgh, and it went out of its way to "applaud" the priest for recently decreeing automatic expulsion after two warnings for any campus demonstrator using force (TIME, Feb. 28). The President denounced all demonstrators for "grossly" abusing the rights of the majority of students, and accused them of "intolerance of legitimately constituted authority." Many activists, of course, have stressed their belief that university rule without student participation is, in fact, illegitimate.

Depopulating the Center. The President ordered Vice President Agnew to meet with the National Governors Conference and explore possible actions at state and federal levels to "cope with the growing lawlessness and violence on our campuses." The Governors took a middle course, voting approval of Nixon's stand but rejecting a proposal by California's Ronald Reagan for a "full" federal investigation of whether the disorders are part of a nationwide plan. New York's Nelson Rockefeller insisted that disturbances should be handled at the state level without federal intervention where possible. Meantime, Father Hesburgh wrote Agnew urging a Governmental hands-off policy for the present.

Many students were disappointed at Nixon's pronouncement, but few were surprised. "Nixon's statement shows little understanding of the nature of student grievances," said Thomas Dawson, a Stanford junior. "The letter doesn't deal with the real issue at all," added John Simpson, editor of the student newspaper at the State University of New York's Binghamton campus. "We ought to be looking at what is wrong rather than talking about quelling student outbursts." John Michael, a University of Kansas senior, argued that students would be disillusioned by Nixon's stand "because it seems to eliminate any form of dissent." Nixon has "contributed to the polarization of left and right," declared Roland Trope, a senior at the University of Southern California. "He forces the mid-left and the mid-right to make a choice, and so depopulates the center of its buffers. This is more dangerous than anything else."