Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Robben Fleming (1916-2010)

Robben W. Fleming, who led the University of Michigan during tumultuous campus protests during the 1960s and 1970s, has died.  The NYT obituary is here.  Fleming seems to have been a level-headed and savvy negotiator of campus protests and grievances.  Here is one example of his leadership style from the obituary:
Mr. Fleming, who led Michigan from 1968 to 1978, was often described as patient and unflappable. Those qualities proved useful in March 1969, when members of the left-wing protest group Students for a Democratic Society, demonstrating against the presence of military personnel on campus, barricaded a Navy recruiter in a room.

Mr. Fleming, an opponent of the Vietnam War, refused to summon police, and the threat passed. But he stood firm against protesters in defending the right of the armed services to recruit at the school.

“The university must always be a world of ideas, often in conflict,” Mr. Fleming said. “It ceases to be a university, however, when a group which is willing to use totalitarian tactics can impose on the rest of us its views.”
And here is another:
In 1970, an activist group called the Black Action Movement, supported by many white students and the S.D.S., which threatened violent protests, demanded that the university increase black enrollment to 10 percent from 3 percent and called a student strike, which lasted 12 days.

Mr. Fleming, who supported affirmative action, negotiated an agreement with student leaders calling for an increase in financing for recruiting qualified black applicants and setting a 10 percent enrollment goal without committing to it as a quota.

Reaction to the settlement was polarized. Some hailed Mr. Fleming for finding a compromise position, but Vice President Spiro T. Agnew called the settlement an appeasement to radicals, “the University of Michigan’s callow retreat from reality.”

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