Coming Apart

On April 9, 1969, radical students invaded and occupied the main administration building at Harvard University in protest against the war in Vietnam and the university’s involvement in it. Deans and other staff were forcibly ejected from the building. Twenty-four hours later—in a move unprecedented in the school’s history—the university president invited local police to retake the building. Outfitted in riot gear, and using tear gas and truncheons, the police attacked and drove the students out. A number of students were arrested and jailed for trespassing.

In the weeks that followed Roger Rosenblatt found himself drawn into the aftermath of this violent event. He was a popular teacher and lived, with his wife and baby, as an advisor in one of the undergraduate dormitories. Only a few years older than his students, he spent many late nights counseling frightened, angry young men. As an identified rising star among the younger faculty, Rosenblatt was appointed to the university committee formed to investigate the takeover and to determine punishments. There he found himself first courted and then mistrusted by both the liberal and conservative elements among his peers.

Rosenblatt’s memoir draws heavily for its details on the twenty-five-year-old recollections of faculty and students who were directly and indirectly involved. The main thread of his narrative, however, focuses on his own turmoil and confusion. In retrospect, he faults himself for seeking to be all things to all people—although he cannot say where his loyalties would have fallen had he mustered the courage to think them through and make them known. Before the year had ended, however, he realized that he had become completely disenchanted with his future as an academic and thoroughly disabused of his previous idealistic view of the university as a sheltered community of thoughtful and reasoned discourse.