On the Global Hot Seat: University Presidents in the Global 1968

Deborah Cohen, Lessie Frazier


The claim that ’68 was global has become axiomatic. How so, for whom, with what impact? Scholars have productively pursued two scales of analysis: grassroots and geopolitical. While student movements have been the premier instance of the more socio-cultural scale, seldom has their mobilization been analyzed vis-à-vis the ostensibly more macro scale of supra-state entitie. Intermediaries between these sectors, leaders of major universities occupied an acutely uncomfortable, pivotal place. Through historical analysis based on archival research (on the biographies of university administrators, student movements, and media debates) the Global 1968 is here considered from the perspective of higher education administrators at elite universities of capitalist empire in the mid-twentieth century at metropoles/global cities – London and New York – and semi-periphery nodes – Bloomington (Indiana, USA) and Mexico City. For such elites, consternation over the turmoil of 1968 constituted a kind of global moral panic when universities presidents found themselves the objects of intense pressures on multiple fronts: from students, to relinquish much authority, and at the same time, from fellow elites and much of the public, to forcefully discipline students. In juxtaposing brief biographies of these university presidents, we highlight the experiences and visions of the global that these men brought to the table, in relation to the pressures that they faced from student movements on their campuses as well as from political powers and the general public. These multi-scaler pressures constituted 1968 as a global phenomenon and put administrators squarely on this conjunctural hot seat.


global studies; sixties; higher education; student movements; ideology; moral panic

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