Monday, March 16, 2009

Long Live Livingston

When I lived in Greenwich Village in the 1980s, residents had a habit of telling newcomers that they had arrived too late for the really interesting times. The exact date of this golden age varied with the teller of the tale, from the days of the folkies in the Sixties to the beats of the Fifties to the Wobblies before World War I. Something similar applied at my alma mater, Livingston College of Rutgers University. I was graduated in 1977, when the college was committed to educational innovation, egalitarian admissions, and urban issues. In subsequent years, when the school was centralized out of existence and fully absorbed into Rutgers, I was convinced that the old Livingston I knew died. But thanks to a forum last week at Livingston, I'm no longer sure.

The gathering, organized by Marty Siederer for the Livingston Alumni Association, featured three faculty members: Ed Ortiz from community development and Gerry Pomper and Gordon Schochet from political science. Together, and in different ways, they all reminded me of the innovation, improvisation, and tough-minded idealism that made Livingston a great undergraduate college. Our course offerings included urban communications, community development, women's studies and social history. (And zaniness: Where else would students hold orgies and then ask if they could get course credit for participating?)

But what inspired me was to hear more recent graduates--I'm thinking especially of one woman who was at Livingston in the early Nineties--extol "The Rock" as an enduring center for radicalism and innovation. What explains this?

Partly this happened because of an unexpected benefit of centralization: it scattered Livingston faculty and administrators all over Rutgers, where they dramatically improved the place. Also, a few faculty members and grad students really did work to maintain the spirit of the old days, even after the educational structures that supported The Rock were all but gone.

Until now, I felt that I was the graduate of a fine college that was left dead and buried. Now, I feel that some of its best legacies live on.

It wasn't always easy being at Livingston, a place where ordinary Democrats were depicted as conservatives and the left was defined by outfits like the New Jersey Workers' Organization (Marxist-Lenninist). That made a democratic socialist like me, an admirer of Michael Harrington, a flaming moderate.

But I've always cherished my Livingston years, when I received an education that was not only liberal, but liberating as well. For years I was sorry that younger people didn't get to experience that kind of learning. Now it turns out that they did, and I'm very glad for that.


Anonymous said...

In the interest of copyediting, I'm posting this again.

Kudos to Marty for carrying the torch all these years and many kudos to Rob Snyder for his dedication to Livingston. I too, treasure those years and long-believed that the college was buried except for a handful of dedicated people who somehow kept the message alive. Politics in America since 1980 became very conservative, so many "Livingston" people hardly fit in with this new Darwinistic America. Let's hope the next few years will bring some dramatic change to the country and at least some of us will get our ideas across, if not in D.C. then in our local communities.

Steve Zurier

Anonymous said...

I was a Livingston graduate Class of 76 and this was the only school I really wanted to attend when I was looking at schools in 1971. My Brother RU '70 and sister-in law DC 74 kept me informed about this new school that was different from all the traditional education programs. The philosophy and atmosphere turned me onto school. I will never forget how stimulating the education was and how many different directions classes took us. I was sad to read a recent story that called Livingston a failure. It was years ahead of it's time and for those who attended the school it was a blessing. I would have never fit into a traditional school. The recent political changes in this country are a reflection of the mainstream ideals that Livingston promoted.

Kevin said...

Kevin Keller, LC '74 - It's good to read that the spirit of Livingston lives on. I miss you all and cherish the memories.

Joe Z said...

I remember Livingston from the 70's like it was yesterday (and that's no small miracle). I was in House 13, one of the party dorms. Sure enough, if I hadn't transferred, I would have gotten a degree in partying (anyone else remember ENT and the electric kool-aid monster movie marathon?) The parties were great, but the academics were inspiring too (when I made it to class). I enjoyed the sociology class with Lee Weiner, one of the Chicago 8, the urban studies classes and the film, journalism and tv classes that were part of the English department (I think). I still miss the late runs to Greasy Tony's. Lot's of good memories of lots of good people. You may remember me as "Tex", but no one's called me that for years. -Joe Zentner

Kenny Selcer said...

I was a student there from 1969 to - 73. I was in the original class though I didn't graduate from there. The 1st year we had or meals in an army barrack. We took some classes in the dorms because everything wasn't built yet. Just 2 of the 3 dorm areas were completed that first year. When Kent State happened, the place went crazy! We had Lee Weiner of the Chicago 7 teach there. During orientation week, of the first year, 1969, the dorm next door to mine, I think it was 25, was taken over by the black students. They essentially kicked all of the white kids and their parents out of the dorm and put up a black stone panther outside of it! Pretty amazing. I majored in pot and ping pong (I was considered the best ping pong player at Livingston at the time) and participated in many administrative building takeovers at Rutgers. Quite a few years. We seemed to be all tripping and taking classes like mass movements and society. I did see and hear Bruce Springsteen in the cafeteria in 1973. Where are all the people who went the first 2 years of the schools existence?

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Linda J Wilk said...

Hi everyone -- Linda Jennings Wilk, original class of 1974, finally made it in 1981, with many others from the earlier time. I'm glad to see the interest in preserving Livingston's history, it was a shaping influence on my life in oh so many different ways that I probably don't even need to expand on to you all! I'm a latecomer to this history preservation thing, but I've posted a page on facebook, under Livingston College of Rutgers U, so if you are on facebook, please join me!

Unknown said...

Hi Kenny- I attended Livingston for my senior year- twice. I started in the class of ‘70-‘71- dropped out and returned for the class of ‘71-‘72 and graduated in ‘72. I believe I was in the dorm you mentioned - it was the bottom floor- I’d even say it was the basement level. It was next to the dorm that Black Nationalists had taken over. I recall learning quickly that my “radicalism” translated to “moderate” at Livingston- which freaked me out but it was a big chill that came later yo many of my contemporaries. In the suburbs of South Jersey I was still considered a “radical”.
Anyway, another tie in for me is tgat in 1948 I was born in Camp Kilmer, which was located where Livingston stood. Crazy re-birth imagery. Made for great recreation and conversation as we’d pass the peace pipe in the dorm, “Hey man...what the fuck? You might have been born right where we are sitting now...”
I have vivid memories of Lawrence Hall. Kind of the hub of the education area I believe. I recall seeing a steady flow of counterculture heroes and musicians passing through - Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman; in the ourtside commons, jazz great Yusef Lateef would jam on occasion. I loved people watching in that Hall.
My professors included Lee Weiner of the Chicago 7 (8?). He taught a sociology class; Louis Carliner, an old time labor organizer; Miguel Algarin, the Nuyorican Poetry Movement ( founder, I believe); Nikki Giovanni, Nathan Howard, ex con and author of “ Howard Street”; Al LaValley, Hitchcock authority for a Film Appreciation course (he was fantastic); Janet (or Janice) Walker for a Japanese literature class - she turned me onto Yukio Mishima and a prof who wrote “The Urban Guerilla”- I can’t recall his name. And others! There was not a dull prof or course in the mix.
I remember visiting just once probably late ‘70’s or early ‘80’s- the campus was totally different - I think it was mainly a business majors type place. I actually ran into the Japanese Literature prof and spoke with her a bit.
Phew. It was an intense time and an intense place. Pass/Fail grading system. I ended up majoring in Film Studies/ Sociology. I recall opting to not attend graduation. Protested something or other. I wonder if that moved me a little left of moderate?
(Looking forward you viewing the “Chicago 7”film on Netflix.) - Glenn Lillie