Hampshire’s President Responds to DFMIL..And I respond to him

January 25, 2010

DFM coverHampshire President Ralph Hexter wrote a letter about DFMIL. Doesn’t appear to be a fan.

His letter includes the line: “While I was not at Hampshire during the 1980s, colleagues and alumni who were have questioned the “composite” characters created by Rushfield. In reality, most students then pursued their education with serious intent and maturity, as they do now”

Now I guess I’ve tip-toed around this question, by just saying the book is about me, and I want to focus on my experience. And some people may have been hard working students, while some were not, i have no idea… I was just writing about my own experience,…not meaning to cast general aspersions beyond the scope of my own experience…etc.

And all that is true, that is my meaning.

However, when the criticism begins to suggest that i am more or less creating a fantasy world of deadbeats out of a land of dilligent, nose to grindstone, highly motivated pHd’s in the making, I must respond.

There may have been many in that above category. It many have even been in the majority. And Hampshire since for all i know may have become a veritable sweat shop of academic labor. But the stereotype of Frisbee U did not come from nothing. My friends, my extended circle may or may not have been the typical Hampshire student, but if they were a minority, they were an extremely sizable one.

A few facts and question about Hampshire College circa 86- 88, the years when the events described in this book occurred:

– The drop out rate at the time. If some would care to pony it up, im not going to name exact figures because i dont want to be off, but im willing to bet anything they would be very significantly higher than the liberal arts average of the time. If it’s not, I’ll be delighted to learn that and put up another post here so proclaiming.

– I had a friend there who went three years without finishing a class. And until the end of that period, no one seemed to notice or care. That’s one example. I’m sure if President Hexter wants to check the academic records of the period, he would find thats not the only one. By far.

– As described in the book, one student earned her diploma by getting her friends to lie on the ground in the shape of a peace sign and renting a helicopter to fly over and shoot it as the center of a music video. Buy me a cup of coffee and I’ll share with you a few dozen examples comparable to that.

– The presence of drugs on the campus. If anyone truly wants to dispute the ubiquity of marijuana and other drugs on Hampshire campus at that time, if anyone who was there from 1986- 88 can look me in the eye and say they rarely encountered them, heard about them, were aware of them, say more or less every time they walked across the quad, I would really have to look that person right back and ask, do you really really think your Hampshire experience of the period was more representative than mine? Really?

– And what no one seems to dispute, not President Hexter, nor anyone else, is the part of my book this the really crucial climax here – the rise of the armies of PC’dom, the little mini-stalins they unleashed and the body count that crusade claimed, all tacitly or actively abetted by the school. People lives were horribly horribly damaged in that period in a way that school is directly responsible, and has never addressed their part in those issues. So if we’re really going to reopen the record of the past, how about we take a look at that too folks? Not just the question of what percent of the student body was stoned what percent of the day?

In any event, this is, truly an argument about the past. If you have read my book, you will know that the final third is devoted to the end of this period, how by the time 1988 came around, the atmosphere that had encouraged this sort of debauchery was behind us. The word “Twilight” is in the very title of the book for crying out loud.

But happy to debate the question forever. I would just ask those who were there at the time and say that their experience was completely different than mine, what makes you so sure that your experience was more typical or representative of the era than mine?

Your servant,

Richard Rushfield

Comments (6) | More: News

6 Responses to “Hampshire’s President Responds to DFMIL..And I respond to him”

  1. Reefer Man says:

    Hey- Ralph has a college to sell. Whaddaya expect him to do?

    The PC folks were so easy to upset it was hardly any fun. In ’83 (during the Reagan-El Salvador-Nicaragua circus) there was a group that called itself CASA (Central American Solidarity Alliance), distinctive for the fact that it contained not one member who was in the least bit Central American. Dave Taub & Stevie Hormone (who had somehow established a beachhead in otherwise whole wheat Enfield) started an organization called SACA – Students Against Cuban Aggression. I was interim chair of the community council, and I think we managed to kick some beer money their way.

  2. beentheredonethat says:

    One Hampshire professor when asked by concerned parents that were dropping their kids off for the start of their college careers if there was a drug problem on campus famously replied: “There’s no problem getting drugs here.”

    True story.

  3. HaHa says:

    Your slacker resume for the last 20-years, which is padded with a 3rd-rate reality show and a TMZ-like blog editor position shows you are still the slacker sort. Less the seer than the conceited.

  4. rfd says:

    I was a hamp student from 81-86. you have hit the nail on the head. drugs were prevalent. strange events having nothing to do with academia were common place.DaveDave filmed himself crapping on a plate. i dragged a rigamortized NYC punk down from atop Norwatok in the middle of the night and took him to the hospital. he was pissed at me for helping. i could go on and on. school officials did nothing to reign anyone in. At least the wayward drug addicts were tolerant, especially when the 8 way windowpane came in from California. woe unto anyone who fell out of favor with the politically correct elite. despite all that i managed to make real and lasting friendships and i learned something. i think.

  5. steveradhe says:

    All of what Richard says about Hampshire in his nice book is completely true. I should know as I was in the heat of it all as Stevie Hormone.
    God bless Richard and keep up the good work

  6. Jonathan says:

    Well, I have read the book, and I was an F85-90 Hampshire student, so here’s what I have to say about the subject.

    First of all, the president’s letter was silly, and of course simply reinforces the humorless portrait of the administration depicted in the book.

    Secondly, I enjoyed the book; I think the most representative thing about it, in fact, is Rushfield’s own experience as an awkward oddball wandering around campus in a confused and lonely fashion. Plus, I had forgotten that SAGA had a middle room.

    However, on the question of “representative” experience, I have a few things to say; if the book was not subtitled “a memoir of Hampshire College”, I’m not sure I would care.

    The book does seems accurate to me regarding, well, one particular subculture at Hampshire College (given the above comments, I’d say that some, um, fortysomethings are still clinging to it). On the other hand, I would have to agree that the book does misrepresent Hampshire–but not in the way the president suggests.

    Mainly, the problem is that Rushfield’s narrow scope depicts a culture where a small, heroic band of mischief-makers face off against an unsmiling, politically correct mob, and at the same time differentiate themselves from “tribes” of punks and hippies.

    The annoying thing about this picture is not the casual deployment of frisbee-U stereotypes, which are true as far as they go. The problem is twofold:

    On one level, it represents a ridiculous level of paranoia. Many passages in the book suggest that the Dicks were the target of the entire campus, that everyone was up in arms about their behavior. Now, I have cross-checked my memory of this with several other 80’s Hampshire alums, and I have to report: The Dicks were a relatively minor blip in the consciousness of most Hampshire students. Moreover, they were hardly universally hated; most people found them to be a mildly entertaining phenomenon, when they thought about them at all. There were a number of humorless administrators and a fairly small number of students who I can imagine being triggered by the Dicks in the fashion presented in the book, but I can only attribute the Dicks-vs.-the-Campus narrative to (sorry) megalomania and narcissism. It is untrue that the “entire campus” (or really, hardly anybody) was upset about the prospect of a fake fraternity, wet t-shirt contest, and so on. Mostly, we either smirked or rolled our eyes.

    The bigger sin, though, is really one of scope. Hampshire in the eighties was, in fact, a deeply strange place–much, much weirder and more complex than the book bothers to investigate. It was certainly not the place that President Hexter describes in his letter (I don’t think any accurate description of the period would be great publicity), but neither was it the shallow bastion of punks, hippies, and the PC police that Rushfield describes in his book.

    If Rich had bothered to emerge from Greenwich occasionally, he would have noticed that most Hampshire students were closer to the slightly lost, slightly oddball, slightly lonely version of himself that he depicts himself as being than a bunch of conformists and hypocritical aggressors. It is, of course, true that many of use were wearing either Dockmartens or Birkenstocks, but that was often as far as being a punk or a hippie went. It is also true that Hampshire students tended to become involved in causes ranging from the admirable to the easily mockable–someone is going to bring up the lawn-mowing protests, eventually–but that does not mean that we were all a bunch of Stalinists.

    It IS true, though, that Hampshire was a deeply processy, deeply incestuous, deeply navel-gazing place filled with a lot of earnest, smart, political, emotionally inexperienced, depressed social misfits. What Ralph Hexter says has some truth, also–though there were some legends of academic infamy, a lot of people were also working pretty hard.

    That doesn’t mean that they weren’t also eating mushrooms, leaving angry refrigerator notes for their modmates, fighting about whose dog ate the greenhouse bunny, attuning themselves so carefully to the subtleties of their relationships and friendships that their emotional lives became perversely distorted and byzantine, giving a lot of backrubs, creating separate cultures for each individual mod and hallway that had to be understood and respected, engaging in intellectual posturing in the sauna, exploring various marginal beliefs, and having small-group pseudo-therapeutic experiences that broke up a lot of solitary, unstructured time.

    In other words, the problem with the book is not inaccuracy–it’s that it misses the richness of the place and time. On balance, I miss it–despite Rushfield’s claims, it was a place that was tolerant of misfit personalities, creative and intellectually serious, and socially idealistic in both admirable and naive ways. I much prefer it to the smug, unreflective, crass, angry, dumb-ass, conformist forms of culture that replaced it.

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