Tuesday, May 03, 2016

How Many Of Your College Professors Do You Remember? How Many Are Worth Remembering?


That's me, dead center with the sign about Brooklyn. I was 16. (Hillary was campaigning for Barry Goldwater that day)

I read Malia Obama was taking a year off-- a gap year-- between high school and Harvard. What a great idea! I wish we had gap years when I was a kid! When I graduated from James Madison High School in Brooklyn, I was happy to have a summer off. The summer before I had worked for some mysterious doctor/scientist in Millbrook, New York but I never got to know him. I worked digging an open sewer ditch for him. (Years later I hired him-- Timothy Leary-- as a speaker at Stony Brook, where I went to college, and he gave me my first acid trip when I picked him up at the airport. And years after that he helped with a video for one of the bands on my record label. But the summer after I graduated and before I went off to live at Stony Brook, I worked for Congressman Bill Ryan, the fiery liberal (milquetoast corporate "liberals" hadn't forced us to change the name to "progressives" back then) from Manhattan's Upper West Side, was my hero because he was the first member of the House to oppose the War in Vietnam. I volunteered to work in his campaign for mayor.

I met two people during that campaign who had big impacts on my life, one who wrote to me this morning and the other, who died in 1989, twenty years after I graduated from college. The first was Barry Brown, who's sister's husband, Mel Dubin, was running for NYC Comptroller on Ryan's ticket. Barry was from Brooklyn too, but from Erasmus, not Madison, and he was going to be a freshman at Stony Brook the next year too. We wound up rooming together one semester of our freshman year and becoming lifelong friends. Today he's the head of a department at a New York hospital. The other person, Robert Lekachman, was also going to start Stony Brook in the fall, but not as a student, as the chairman of the Economics Department. In fact, he had written the Economics 101 text book many colleges were using back then.

Until I met Bob, the only serious socialist I knew was my grandfather, who had come to New York as a teenager, fleeing murderous anti-Semitic Russian fascists, and my political idol. Bob Lekachman's ideas about economic and social justice were identical to my grandfather's except my grandfather had already learned not to trust the corrupt Democratic Party and Lekachman was still hoping to reform it from within.

I was out at Stony Brook last week and I blogged about the experience here and, of course, all kinds of old memories came flooding back. The third roommate that semester, Stephen Capson, who was an old friend from Madison, didn't come out to Stone Brook last week but we had dinner and he gave me the photo above. That picture was the cover of the New York Daily News in 1964. That's yours truly leading a little march for Lyndon Johnson on the Atlantic City boardwalk as part of the Democratic National Convention. I was there when Barbra Streisand sang the national anthem. Two years later I was chanting
Hey hey
How many kids have you killed today?
I was arrested for burning my draft card in 1966. I heard about the first big draft board rally in New York and though I was living a couple hours away, on campus, and I was really just a kid, I managed to get there and get to the front of the rally which started out as a protest by 10 people and ended up with tens of thousands. An agreement was reached between the police and the organizers that the 10 leaders would get arrested as a symbolic gesture of nonviolent protest and everyone else would sing a few folk songs and go home peacefully. Well, no one consulted me. As the police ushered the 10 under the barricades I attached myself to Dr. Spock (not the Vulcan, the baby doctor) and claimed I was his aide and he might have a heart attack and die if I wasn't with him. The cop who challenged me-- he knew the difference between 10 and 11-- looked puzzled but Spock laughed and agreed and in I went-- to jail. It was my first time, though not my last. But the first was the best. It was a cell filled with the coolest people in NY: Allen Ginsburg, Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Saunders, Benjamin Spock... Eventually the rest of the crowd got pissed off and everyone wanted to be arrested so the police started arresting everyone until there was no more capacity. And then they let everyone go. It was all kind of good-natured.

Anyway, back to Bob Lekachman for a minute. I took a couple of classes from him at Stony Brook but he left the school even before I went off to travel around the world and live overseas. He was only 68 when he died in 1989, a distinguished professor at Lehman College, CUNY. This is from his NYTimes obit:
Joseph S. Murphy, Chancellor of City University, said yesterday that Dr. Lekachman's "legacy of intellectually rigorous analysis of the economy and the effects of government policy on the poor and working class should strongly influence the way scholars study economics in the future."

Sought Social Justice

Throughout his career Dr. Lekachman espoused a philosophy that sought to promote social justice simultaneously with economic growth. He advocated compassion on the part of government toward the underprivileged. His last published work, which appeared last week in The Nation magazine, was a cautionary article of advice to President-elect George Bush.

"He brought a liberal, left-wing, Marxist point of view to economics, but he was in no sense an ideologue," said Harold M. Proshansky, president of City University's Graduate Center. "He never argued in generalities, and his openness and objectivity captivated even those who disagreed with his basic positions."

Dr. Lekachman was in demand as a public speaker, appearing frequently on television and radio programs dealing with public affairs, where his engaging manner and quick wit enlivened what has been called ''the dismal science'' of economics.

Dr. Leonard Lief, president of Lehman College, noted that Dr. Lekachman "identified strongly with New York City and particularly with the Bronx, where he taught."

Critical of President Reagan

Because of his illness, which was in remission until several months ago, Dr. Lekachman had taken a leave of absence for the fall semester but had recently asked to be scheduled for classes, his health permitting, in the spring semester.

Dr. Lekachman's two most recent books, both critical of President Reagan and written in a pungent and polemical style, were Visions and Nightmares: America After Reagan, published by Macmillan in 1987, and Greed Is Not Enough (Pantheon, 1982), a critique of "Reaganomics." Perhaps his most widely read books are A History of Economic Ideas (1959) and The Age of Keynes (1966), which were translated into several languages and used extensively as texts.
The sound kicks in properly after about three-and-a-half minutes:

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At 10:04 PM, Blogger Avedon said...

I was lucky, I took a sociology course With John Pease, who was the most entertaining lecturer ever - and amazingly enlightening. He would lead straight down a path no one knew they were on until it got right to the surprise ending. And the students loved him for it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pease_(sociologist)


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