David Keppel letter
To the Administration
San Francisco State University
I understand that you banned ten students from campus for fourteen days — without appeal — for non-violently protesting military recruitment on campus. I am glad you have rescinded this decision and urge you not to take further disciplinary action.
The University exists to foster learning. It is notable that the students in question had not disrupted ordinary academic classes in order to protest the U.S. occupation of Iraq. To the contrary, the intrustion on academic life came from military recruitment. Such intrusion was hardly necessary on behalf of those students who already wanted to join the military, since recruitment centers off campus are readily accessible. Instead it is an insertion of the military agenda into the center of learning that you, as scholars and administrators, have a mission to protect. The students in question were acting only in the interest to which you yourselves should be committed (but may be limited in action by the funding you have accepted).
It is also notable that the students were entirely non-violent and that they did not attempt to block recruiters. They were, on the contrary, expressing their right to free speech. You as administrators and educators should be nurturing civic engagement. Surely you realize that without non-violent protest, this country would never have achieved the level of democracy that the military now claims to defend.
While you may not like the students’ manners, you should recognize that they were trying to fill a gap you yourself created. They are trying to protect their peers from the injury of war — whether directly to themselves, or equally powerfully, to their psyches as they are made agents of an unjust occupation and find themselves killing civilians and sometimes being swept up in an atmosphere that has demonstrably condoned torture.
The peace movement aims to embody the change that it seeks. For us this means not only that our actions should be strictly nonviolent, but also that they should express openness, compassion, and communication. It is very difficult to achieve these fully, and any specific action may have shortcomings. But this spirit of peace should not be confused with timidity or complicity. The Boston Tea Party was not a tea party. And war is no game. As an educator, you can best teach by showing your own moral seriousness about the tragedies and crimes that these students have the vision to grasp.
I believe that it is not only unjust but also unwise for the Administration to forsake its academic sanctity and act as agent for the Federal Government in prosecution of a war that is dishonest and illegal and has lost the support of the American people.
David Keppel is a writer and writes a blog on the Traprock Peace Center website.