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Interview with Dr. Lois DeFleur

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McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Dr. Lois DeFleur
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: Kimberly F Mourao
Date of interview: 10 August 2004

(Start of Interview)

SM: How is a- going there? I just interviewed last week, Arthur Levine. And what an interview, it was great.

LD: He is a phenomenal human being.

SM: When you think of the 1960s, and the early (19)70s, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? When you think of that period?

LD: It is a period of expanding voices and expanding rights for people who had been on the margins of society. Including women.

SM: Explain a little bit more about the, the women's aspect?

LD: Well, you see, I mean, I remember when I have been the first woman in all of my different positions, I was only the second woman who got a PhD from Illinois in my field. And I remember the difficulty and trying to get a job, and just working on my PhD, and they did not really take you seriously. And then they would have trouble. If you were a single woman, they would say, well, you just going to get married, or, and I had gotten married. And then they said, well you are not serious about your career, and you, we will hire you, but you can be the so called “Junior professor” who works for one of our stars. And, and then just, I mean, as a student, and then later as a professional, and then seeing other women come along in their, and, you know, I helped in the (19)70s, early, late (19)70s, early (19)80s, I helped the Air Force integrate women. So, what I see is I know it was a period of national divisiveness. But what I, I just see is so important to this whole society and to the people are all of these, you know, reaching out and having developing a more inclusionary society, even though we still are not. I mean, obviously. So, to me, it was not just about the political, but I guess that I just really felt that it was the key time for the social revolution.

SM: It is interesting that in recent years, I can even go back to when Newt Gingrich was in power, you can, George Will all the time when he writes, he likes to take shots of the, the boomers in that period of time. Your thoughts on you know, the criticisms of the boomers in terms of boomers are often defined as those born between (19)46 and (19)64. But anyone who knows what happened in the (19)60s knows, as a lot of the leaders of that particular era were born around 1940, (19)41, (19)42. But your thoughts on this concept of it, George Will and Newt Gingrich were the boomers responsible for the breakdown of our society of its values, because they you hear that criticism a lot from people like that?

LD: Well, if I look at the values of this society, we talk about equality, opportunity, openness, democracy, I mean, the we were not fully I mean, there were so many people who were not fully able to take advantage of the values. I mean, it was really you know, the gunner Murdock Murdock book, The American dilemma, which is here as your theory about equality opportunity. And here is reality. And the American dilemma is what do you do with a society where there is such a gap between theory and the reality. And to me, this was a period when we began to close some of that gap between theory and reality.

SM: I have the first edition of that book. I go into a lot of use bookstores, if you looked at the boomer generation, again, when as a university president, but also as a scholar and as a great sociologist to what, what has been the impact of the generation at that particular time on our society. As these as the boomers has evolved in the middle age, and now we were approaching old age, have they lived up? To this a lot of the things that they were involved in, in that group?

LD: I do not know. I mean, you could, I mean, many of the leaders of different movements have, I mean, they do not sustain a life of, of, you know, challenging and rebelling. In the society. I mean, very few people do, there are a few people who probably their entire lives are, you know, challenging and rebelling and, and really devoted to major change. I mean, I do not know how you would interpret that, I mean, you have got someone like a Ralph Nader, or, or you have gotten Jesse Jackson, or there is others, John Lewis, but I, in being a social scientist, I think it is more natural for people to evolve over time. And what was so phenomenal about that period is you had such large numbers, who came together, who were concerned about a whole range of social justice issues and the opportunity issues and, you know, the, the direction of our society. So, I would not expect those people to sustain that over a lifetime because that is not the course of natural, sort of, or the typical human development. I mean, what is, you know, as people, it is well known as people get older, they tend to become more socially politically. Con-, you know, you might say, quote, I do not know if it is conservative, I hate to use that label, because it now has different meanings. But people become, well, what people, people become less involved in social change themselves. Not I mean, as a general rule, and most people in social movements are younger people, there is less at stake, there, you are more of a risk taker, when you are younger.

SM: I always remember when we had Dave Dravecky, the baseball player on our campus, and then he is a conservative and not a liberal and we got into a conversation, he said “Steven in time, in time, you will be just like me.” No, I am not going to be like him politically, ever. But-

LD: But, but, you know, you are, there. People when their age and their concerns, and they change, and it makes it, that is why people really, I mean, there is some things that, you know, your general tendencies, I guess, remain the same, but your attitudes and values really do change over the decades of your life, because you are in different life circumstances.

SM: When you look at the-

LD: That was what was so funny, when I came to Binghamton, and I have met so many of the group who were here in the late (19)60s, (19)70s. And some, the bulk of them say, Oh, yes, I remember this. And here, you know, we were doing, we were protesting, we were in your office, we were doing that or that. But to, you know, many of them are in very ordinary and even extraordinarily capitalistic, you might say endeavors.

SM: They became part of the establishment-

LD: Well, right, that is not atypical-

SM: When you break down, if you were to list two or three or four qualities that you most admired in that generation, and, and qualities that you least admired. What would those qualities be?

LD: Well, I think the concern for the what I admire most is looking beyond yourself to other groups and other, you know, things happening in society and being concerned about it being willing to take action to express that concern. Today's students at least here at Binghamton, they are so focused on their individual life course, as opposed to, you might say the broader life, you know, life course of our society. I mean, they still are, there is more. Well, I think, I think that in the late (19)60s, early (19)70s, most students would say, here at Binghamton, they are liberal or to left to center. Today, when we do those same surveys, the students are distributed more on the normal curve. We have a good chunk of students who say they are conservative in their social values and in their attitudes, the bulk of them, of the students today describe themselves as moderate, very interested in their own personal futures. But they also I mean, they, they do worry about the environment, they worry about different things, and then we have a very few who say that they are left to center or they are liberal. And in fact, the women, the young women have no concept that they might not in some future date have legal rights to abortion. I mean, they just or that they might not, I mean, they do not understand that they, it was not easy for, you know, older women like to get loans to buy houses to get, there was open discrimination in jobs like, well, a woman, you are a woman, you do not need to apply. It is not to say everything is perfect now, but things you know, they are women like got, a lot of economic and social rights during that period, as well as other groups did too.

SM: We hear talking about the qualities question later on, but I am going to move right in here. When you think that today's college students are the sons and daughters of boomers, and now we are seeing the first sons and daughters of the generation Xers, the real, the ones that had children very young, so I cannot say they are all boomers. But what have, what have the boomer parents really done with their kids? I remember interviewing one person at Westchester University, she said, I am not going to bore my kids with the civil rights movement, because it does not. Oh, Mom, you are going back to your past. And I and I do not know how often that happens. I am curious as to have, have the boomer parents instilled in their sons and daughters a concept of service, a concept of caring about others, a concept of “we” as opposed to “I” and I, and then but then as to the some of the qualities you are talking about where their career oriented? Maybe this has not been instilled in their sons and daughters. And I want to know what your thoughts are.

LD: Well, I think it is a mixed picture. Because we have a much higher proportion of students who come here who have already done volunteerism participated in community service, and who are concerned about their communities. I guess what I would, they do not have I think they, they, believe in some things, and they have some causes. But they also, I think, they are more. At the same time. They are conflicted, because they really are very career oriented, very, very, particularly the students at Binghamton, a high proportion have double majors, they want to have internships, they want to get leadership experiences, so they have a competitive edge. At the same time, I would have to say that there are some that you could call are, you know, that their social and political views are more conservative, but the bulk of them say that they are, they described themselves as moderate. And actually, they all they just take it for granted. That for example, as a young woman, I have to tell you when I talk to young women they take for granted that whether they personally ever wanted to be able to have an abortion that it would be available, they take for granted that they will be able to have a full-fledged real high-powered career and through you know, whatever arrangement be able to do family. So they, they really want it all, but they are less, I guess they are less focused, focused on broad, you know, broad groups of people and trying to change things for like, even though we have a, you know, fairly active rainbow pride here, I do not see the students really talking to me about we are concerned because here is the group that like women or minorities, they do not, they know do not have all the rights, or they do not have the possibility of even the opportunities or taking full advantage of the so called rights in our system.

SM: There is a brand-new book out it's a fantastic book, I went to the ACPA conference and I went to force sessions on millennials. You know, my nephew's a millennial trying to understand them Bowling Green University has a tremendous staff there that has really studied this issue very hard. And there is a book out by Irving Howe and, and I would like your thoughts on his-, and I asked this to Arthur Levine as well, his premise is exactly what you are saying with today's college students. You cannot criticize the parents. Today's college students do care about a career. And in fact, a lot of the boomers have done very well in their lives. There is some very rich ones, the richest people in the world. And they were the ones that were antiestablishment. But one of the qualities that this young generation of millennials thinks about already is a legacy. Now, it is interesting Howe believes the millennials have no time, right? They want their career, they want to raise a family, they want to know, you know, their career and all these other things. However, they are thinking about giving back when they when they get older, and have the money to be able to do so and, and Howe basically states that the millennials are very close to the World War II generation in wanting to give back, and Arthur Levine said that, oh, wait a minute. He got right into what the boomers going to give back. So, I do not know if your thoughts on Irving Howe thoughts on today's students, but-

LD: I think they do what I think they are concerned about legacy. And I think they do, you know, to some extent want to give back. I think that varies. But what I do not see them doing is, you know, if we have a protest, we have occasionally still we have protests. But it only draws a few people.

SM: Christopher told me about a few that were here.

LD: I mean, but it only draws right 30, 40 people. But, you know, I think that is understandable because they are there for a variety of reasons. There began to be people who say, look, we have not been treated, right, we have been disenfranchised in a variety of ways. And then they are also at the same time going on in the society with the Vietnam. There was a sense that, you know, we had the draft, people were getting killed. I think having an all-volunteer army takes a lot of the wind out of the sails for some of these international issues.

SM: That could change next year.

LD: I do not think so knowing the military, they do not ever want to go back to that. They would rather use incentives and get people because they just I mean, they I know it may be challenging, but they it is just a much better situation for them.

SM: We have some activist students on our campus that are organizing a two day teach in, in October, about, about Iraq trying to-

LD: Well we had one here and we actually brought in some speakers. there We were out of we have about 13,500 students, and maybe a couple 100 participated and they had it over a period of a week.

SM: We have Bobby Miller coming in. And H. Bruce Franklin from the Newark campus of Rutgers and Dr. Radu from the Foreign Relations Council. So, it is an interesting group for and against. Do you think that, getting back to Vietnam, that the antiwar movements, particularly the college students, were responsible for ending that war? Or they were, what? How important were they in ending the war in Vietnam?

LD: They were very important. But I think it was a combination of things. It was not just the protests here, the simple fact was we were losing the war on the ground over there, we were fighting a war that we did not understand. And we did not understand the people, we did not understand that the Vietnamese have been, you know, what, they have had four different major powers try to invade and dominate them. And they are very proud of the fact that they beat back all of them. French, the Japanese, Chinese and, and Americans, I mean, they, you know, they are very proud people.

SM: Vietnam-

LD: There is that if you, you know, I went there with a group of educators before we had all the formal relationships, and we were looking at the universities, which were in terrible shape. And in talking to people, you know, you are friendly, do you know, what do you feel about the Americans and they said, we do not feel anything, we won the war. And now, America is in competition with Australia and Sweden and other countries trying to get, you know, opportunities over here. We have a long history, there is a wonderful museum in, in Hanoi, about the sort of the social cultural history of Vietnam. And it shows how they feel like they beat back all the foreigners who wanted to remake their society.

SM: That is, 80 percent of people live in Vietnam now were not even born when the war ended in 1975. It is amazing.

LD: See I think, I think that one of the big differences is that the young people do not face going off, being forced to go off, you know, fight really challenging or being, you know, a very, very distant and very, very foreign to most of them, they do not know and understand a lot about, you know, the Asian cultures, which are very different than the western one. And, you know, having all of that, and at the same time overlaid with, with minorities and women and others saying, look, we have been excluded from opportunities in this society. So it all came together.

SM: Yeah, the, the arguments right now, about if there is going to be a draft cause in Westchester, we have several individuals who are in the National Guard, and the Guard has been talking about there is talk behind the scenes, whether it will ever happen or not. I do not know, currently, Rangle has been one of the members of Congress has been kind of pushing for it. And the declaration and the talk at Westchester and data renew is going to bring this up from Foreign Relations Council that if it does happen, it is going to affect college students, but that was, they are going to make it, it would be totally different than it was before. College students that maintain a B or above average would not go would not be drafted. And the pressure to maintain a B would be pretty high.

LD: See I do not know how they could do to tell you the truth. I mean, the military needs a wide range of skills, and they need some of the people who are doing you know, different levels and different kinds of work. I just, I just do not you know, I just having worked with the Air Force for four or five years. I was on loan, I was not in the Air Force. And they just felt that when you look at all the other indicators, like getting the skill levels that they need, having people you know, really work together as a unit, having lower rates of AWOL, I mean, all of those things. I mean, what they have done of course is reached out to people and said look like women and women who go in like it a lot of them because it offers them the opportunity to get training that they cannot easily get whether it's pilot training, whether it is mechanics, training, whether it is military police training, whether you know, being you know, whatever. A lot of these jobs is too hard outside here to really go in. And they and the military is the only institution in this society where men and women and different racial groups get equal pay and equal benefits. The only one, the only one.

SM: Well it should be interesting. I also do not believe it is going to happen. But, but to hear discussions at National Guard, unit weekend gatherings is interesting because they do not want to, they feel they are going to have to take the brunt of it.

LD: Well they are.

SM: Yeah, well, they are not too happy-

LD: Yeah because I know-

SM: We have a couple of Westchester that ended up just getting off my interview. But we have a couple at Westchester that signed up and because of the fact that their college education is being paid for, but they did not think they would have to fight. So, this, this gets into the whole issue of trust. We all know people that live during that period young people at Watergate and Vietnam War it was full lies. We saw leaders like Johnson the Gulf of Tonkin was really a lie. I have even met-

LD: Oh, I am sure glad it is not going on today.

SM: Oh, oh you are darn right if the university-

LD: Oh, it is not going on today, there are not any liars.

SM: The next time you see Arthur Levine ask him about knee pads. What? How did you find out about that story about knee pads? Well, when you do see him, ask him just I will not tell you the story, knee pad. But the whole issue of trust. I think a lot I am seeing on my campus at Westchester is students are not trusting their leaders are not trusting national leadership. And that is why there is a question they think that they will sneak the draft in. And of course, we went through the boomers went through a whole period of not trusting their leaders. What, what influence as a sociologist in this society as a nation, what did that period do? The Boomer when boomers were young, to affect the concept of trust in this nation toward leaders toward, toward anything and is an ongoing?

LD: It still is, I mean, to some extent, I think that that people are, you know, they are not just passive and acceptive, accepting. But they, you know, I would say, yeah, I mean students, that was the whole era of student rights too, remember? I mean, and when we really lost the in loco parentis, the whole thing. And so, I do not think you ever go back to that period, where any group is willing to just sit back and say, oh, well, you tell me what is good for me. I just do not think any group in our society is willing to do that anymore. Maybe there are some that I do not see, because I am in academia, but you know, I just do not see in the workplace. I mean, are the workers here? I mean, I cannot just go out and say, okay, we are going to change, you know, the way you know, what people do in certain work, you know, place settings were going to change. I mean, they, they want to know why they want to know, you know, you know, what's happening why, and, and they are, I mean, this, of course, is a very open egalitarian organization compared to I think, to a lot of what should I say sort of traditional businesses compared to an IBM and all of that.

SM: When you look at you mentioned one of the qualities of students today well they want to be involved in leadership roles they want to get Marines. So how does that compare to the, the boomers who, in general, did not trust at least the people that were involved in the antiwar movement in any kind of activism did not trust and young people are striving to be leaders, but they do not trust leaders. Is not that an oxymoron or there is a conflict here. I want to be a leader but I do not trust them people who are leaders or is that the inspiration to become a leader is I am going to become a better leader.

LD: I think that I think through you know, our experience that people are, people are just more questioning and they are more skeptical. And I mean that. I do not think it has anything to do with saying I can do a better. I just think in general people are. They are more litigious, and they are more, you know, they are more assertive. Well, you see it in the university, the students and the parents, they are demanding, they are assertive. And I think that is because, you know, it is hard to take advantage of the so called, you know, opportunities in America it is still hard. It is very hard. Back then, probably harder than it was at other times. And so, people are, you know, God, they are questioning, they just do not, you cannot, I mean, they do not trust you. On the other hand, they are not. They are not ready to, like, say, the heck with most other things, I am just going to devote myself to these one or two causes. They are going to question they are going to demand their rights they are going to send, you know, our students were upset because the Provost changed the drop deadline. You know, itis the longest of any, it used to be, you could go, what, 10 weeks or 12 weeks. And so, we figured out that that was that was costing a lost opportunity of seats for students, other students, because they could, you know, you at the other. I mean, on the one hand, you could you could not drop, I mean, you could drop, but you could not add for all that time. And so, what happened is that people were taking this time, and others did not have the opportunity, like to get in courses and do that. And it's just so competitive, that, you know, they, they wanted to retain that. And so what did they do? A couple of students, the leaders, the SA passed resolutions, but more importantly, some of our students in our so called Honors Program, scholars, organized a giant like both petitions plus they got a listing of parents, I think, from the directory, and they do they sent they got money, they raised money themselves, plus the SA gave them some so they sent all of these letters to parents say, you right, you know, here is a letter they included a draft letter send this to the provost, and then it says, “We are never going to give any money to bring him to we are not going to do this or that and you are mistreating my students and all of this.” So, they are activists. But you see, it was over a very and they did it, it was some of our best students and they did it in a rather creative way I thought, I thought, within the system almost

SM: Right. It is a different type of an activism but it is not the Vietnam War, but it is-

LD: They were not willing I mean, to, like not go to their classes. That is the difference too. And they are they are not willing. In fact, they get mad if professors like canceled their classes.

SM: And heard of students going to protest and this is-

LD: No no.

SM: One of the things and I this is a general question you touched on it a little bit is I can remember even the students here people, a lot of the boomers will always think as a group that we are going to change the world. We are going to be the most unique generation in American history, and almost kind of an arrogance. Of being young the world's going to be a lot different. We are going to end racism, sexism, homophobia, all the -isms for bring peace to the world, nuclear arms are going to disappear. There was that attitude and a feeling when you think of that, was that all was it sincere. Your thoughts on that was it a sincere feeling at that time and have they lived up to it. Were, I guess basically I am saying were they the most unique generation in American history.

LD: I do not know that would be hard because when you go back in I think that is hard to say. They certainly but they are different. And they you know, but I do not know. I mean, there have been other generations where there is been tremendous social change. And only it has been done in different ways, in a different way, I would say. I mean, you know, I mean, the technological revolution, I mean, it is the students who are leading that the ones who were, you know, at the, at the cutting edge, in terms of all the computers, the technology, I mean, they are more at the cutting edge than most of our faculty, and so the students are out there on the cutting edge, and they talk about how they are going to change the society but not point in the same ways. I think, I think, I think this generation, they are so concerned about what is going to happen to them. What is going to happen to them when they are older? What is going to happen to them, when they you know, when they are middle aged, old age.

SM: If I was a, if I was my nephew today, I would be thinking, what is a college education going to be costing in 20 years? At the rate things are going. God what kind of a salary, am I going to have to make that and then you, then you have to think as we think of equality within our society, the concept of opportunity, making sure that minority students will continue to come, there is access to grants and monies to bring all students in and we are cannot forget that as, as prices go up.

LD: I mean, what, what they are seeing is a diminishment of that access, not only for some minorities, but for the lower socio-economic levels, we are seeing educational accesses has been curtailed. Because today, basically, although not for the really lowest income, I mean, most of the things today are need base, not, of course, merit based. And so, it is sort of the working class and the middle class that are feeling the real pressure, real pressure. Most of the parents I talked with here, when they are bringing their students they number one, both of them have jobs of some kind. Number two, it is often a merge sort of family. So, they would say, well, her daughters we are sending her daughter to this school, and my son is going here. So, they have multiple children to pay for. They have got you know, trying to do you know, their jobs, multiple jobs. Plus, in New York, we have a lot of immigrants we have, we still have a lot of students who are first generation college here a lot of more immigrants we have, what is it 20 some percent where English is not spoken in the home.

SM: Did not know that, how many Vietnamese students do you have here?

LS: Not a lot, some but you know, the Vietnamese I mean, there are some around this area and some in New York, but I do not think that New York was as big a resettlement area as some of the other places really

SM: Philly is a strong Vietnamese community. And I advise the AAAO. I am their advisor, I have gotten so close to them. They are. They are the sons and daughters of the boat people. And the stories about their parents met and when they were on an island camp waiting to come to United States, but it is just a tremendous story. Because they are such a successful group of people. I- it is amazing. It is a very sensitive issue. You know, I read a lot of sociology too. And a lot of books that have been written about the Korean community, about the African American community. They got the Latino community, and the African American community in Miami. And then and then in Philadelphia, the community of Vietnam. They started on a lot of businesses on the streets of Philadelphia selling glasses and, and then they work their way into businesses that have become very successful and their kids are going to school and they are doing real well. And it has become a very sensitive issue in the African American community. And so, there is a lot of tensions with a minority group. So yeah, and but what the university seems to bring people all together, you kind of get a family there. But then in society, they got to deal with all these issues.

LD: Well, you still, you know, we still have very segregated housing patterns.

SM: Now, that is still the same in Westchester too-

LD: It is everywhere.

SM: I wanted to ask this business about healing. A lot of the things that I have been working on deal directly with the Vietnam War, and the Vietnam Veterans and those who protested the war, the whole concept of healing. The Vietnam Memorial was built in 1982. It has been there now for 22 years. And we all know that the Vietnam Memorial was supposed to be a nonpolitical entity to heal the families and to heal the vets. It was done a pretty good job with the vets and their families. Although the question I am asking is what have, what has that wall really done with respect to healing the nation and this war? And have we as a nation healed as a society from that war? The healing processes?

LD: You know, I think the society is forever impacted by it.

SM: And I am referring to the boomer generation as they age, because you hear the stories about the, the sons and daughters being at the wall with their parents, what do you do in the war Daddy, and he was a protester or something like that. So, and the story is over, and over and over. So, I do not know. What is whether healing is an issue within the boomer generation.

LD: I think they have moved on, I do not know whether maybe for some it was the healing. I look at it more that most of them have gone on to different phase in their life. And they believe that our society has gone on to another phase in its life.

SM: You kind of believe what Senator, I interviewed Senator Nelson. And he said that people do not go around Washington, DC boomers that are in politics with on their sleeve with healing about the Vietnam War. But he said it has forever changed the body politic. It had that kind of an impact.

LD: Probably, I would say is true. Well, you saw it, as we start to go into any kind of conflict. Is this going to be quote, another Vietnam? You know, I mean, it. It raises questions about, again, about the US, and do we have the right to just go in anywhere? And I mean, it brings a lot of questions about our foreign policy, about our priorities about, you know, relationships.

SM: Civil Rights was the center core of the (19)50s and (19)60s and most people realized that all the movements use their example, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and certainly the anti-war movement. Your thoughts on the civil rights movement, where it is today? Obviously, what the boomer, we talk about the boomer generation having a direct bearing on the civil rights movement. Well, they were the young people, the marches, but they were older people that were the leaders of the marches. They were not boomers. And just your thoughts on where we are with civil rights today, and the impact of that period had on civil rights.

LD: Well it was transforming. But again, if you look at what is theory in terms of our nation, our political theory, I mean, you know, women still make lists. And then, man, the bulk of the people who are in prison or African Americans, they, African American males do not finish school. The height of the unemployment is huge, the AIDS, HIV among you know, and each of these different, you know, minority groups has some different, you know, challenges that that it faces. And so, I think they are, I mean, there is still quote, an American dilemma. There still is a gap between what our theory says about how we run our society and what reality is, I mean, you just look at our older people, our healthcare or, you know, any of these social problems. And I will tell you, I mean, we still got a lot of, we have got a big gap between, you know, this so-called what America, it says in terms of our rights and our opportunity living up to living up to this theory. Yeah, living up to the dream.

SM: Yeah you cannot really blame the boomer generation because every generation has a responsibility. And including this new generation-

LD: Yeah it will be interesting to see if, in a few years, if, you know, we are in an era where they are not paying attention to social and a lot of economic issues. A lot of social, cultural and economic issues here in the US, they are not putting those at the top of the priorities. And it will be interesting to see. Particularly, the boomers come into the retirement and they need the health care, and they, they need the drug, the prescription drugs stuff, and, and, you know, a lot of surveys show that Americans really value having, you know, a good environment, open spaces, you know, and all of that, and that Americans are not necessarily behind the assault on a lot of these areas of our life. So, it will be interesting to see, not only what happens in the short term, but if, you know, there is sort of ups and downs like this. And I think we are at a point where there are a lot of people who are older, and they are. They are from a different generation, and they are willing to accept a lot more than the group coming up.

SM: I think a lot of the boomers refused to join AARP for many, many years. Either like, not admitting that they are, they are 50, or finally, in deciding when they get into their mid-50s, or late 50s. “Well gee there are some benefits.” Actually, definitely Levine was hilarious on this one, he refuses to join. Because it was the was the drug policy that happened this past year. That infuriated him, he said I will never that that particular organization-

LD: They sold out, they sold out. My poor mother who was in her nineties. I mean, she was gone, she and some of her friends. I mean, they are lifelong. I would say rather, not super conservative, but republicans a whole area, my whole family. And they have had it because they do not understand these new drug programs. They were losing different benefits. They have my mother lost finally, my dad's like executive pension. And so, they are getting to be, you know, like a gray Panther. And I said, well, Mother, what are you and your friends going to do? They are all women; the men had died. And she said, “Well, we may not vote.” And I said, “No.” She said, we cannot bring ourselves they are not they are not comfortable with carry. But do you know the way they are talking is back, you know, is really, that we have given and lived all these decades in this society. We have worked hard we have given you know, sweat and blood in different arenas, whatever it might be. And we have supported it. And like now, they are not going you know, we were we cannot make it on social, maybe on Social Security, the medical and the drugs. I mean, are scaring them to death, long term care.

SM: My dad had that. He was just so totally confused we had to help him. My dad was always smart. He was up to date on everything. He was in insurance sales but-

LD: But I you know what I was, I have been stunned to hear and I mean mother in her mind, she goes and volunteers that the old people's home, she is in her 90s these other people, she is taking care of them. But they are all so upset because they worry. You know, will they have to choose between paying the rent or paying, my mother said I am not going to renew my cable, because she has to take a couple of these drugs are so expensive and I do not want any charity, you know? So I say, Oh, well. So, I say, Okay, I am not going to pay for your drugs, you take care of that. But then I go there, and I pay for all the other stuff. And somehow, I guess that she sorts of pushed that out of her mind. But you know, they are upset. They are upset-

SM: Yeah, that organization disappointed a lot of people. And the ramifications on this are pretty substantially are pretty substantial because I believe the concept of trust, again, the faith within an organization, within a generation, and particularly if you know, the boomers and they question that either that either they will never join, or they will eventually join, but then revamp the philosophy and the leadership and the whole kinds of policies, and you know, and they may do it, because, I have one more question. All right. And then I have just some names that I want to ask you real fast. The last basic question is about referring to a couple of times as the concept of empowerment. We had Tom Hayden on our campus this past year, and Tom came into meet with our students before his lecture. It was a we have what we call active state. WC you and yours truly. Yeah. And we have had the Berrigans there. And we actually have Holly Near come in, the singer, and Randy Shaw from San Francisco works in the tenderloin, really good people who devote their lives to others. But Tom came in and sat down with the leaders of student government who were at the dinner and he said that you, you realize, I like to ask you, what does student power mean to you. And this is Tom Hayden. And student government of Westchester University, said, Well, we have we have power, you know, we give money out to student organizations we, we give we, you know, we are part of the decision-making process with Dr. Adler assets, we are involved in a lot of things, you know, we hand out monies and so forth. Tom is sitting there, and it looks like he is getting No, I mean, I am talking about student power. Well, and then I remember why just we just told you. And so already the tension was forming within the room between these students and Tom Hayden, do you understand that you have real power, do you want me to explain what real power is? And I do not know if they really liked him in the end, he gave a great presentation that evening. But what I am getting at here is the concept of student empowerment, the belief that students, students voices, and students can have a say in just about anything. And to and, and, like Tom did, he used the philosophy what life was like when he was young. And he was he had just come off a fellowship up at Harvard. And he had the same issue with Harvard students. And he had a class with about 300 students. And he said, he talked about power with them. And he said, they just did not get it, but they were brilliant.

LD: It is a different kind of power. I mean, that's why it's what the students are interested in today as a result of their life of their lives. I mean, to them, power means different things. It is partly what they experience, it is partly the circumstances under which they are, you know, growing up, and it all came together in that boomer generation. And it's, the whole circumstances are so different. They have, you know, that was coming off a relatively affluent time. I mean, these students today, they are so into competition, they are so worried about making it and making it not just for not just for material things, but also making it in terms of getting, whether it's a job, a good job in social work, or, you know, it is just a whole different, you know, they have been shaped by a whole different environment, a whole, you know, different set of situations because they, from their point of view, again, their power, they, I do not even think that they really want to run the university. Truthfully,

SM: I thought, you know, I think at that magic moment there at that particular time, there was a dead silence for a minute. And I said, this is another generation gap. They did not understand what Tom was getting. And Tom was saying, he was talking about the world, the War on Terrorism, the whole issues out there. crime in the streets, do not you get it in?

LD: They do, but it is different. They find it as they can make a difference. Like in Habitat for Humanity. tea or they can, you know, our students, we have the highest proportion in SUNY who have an international experience. And our students, they really are want seeking that out, because they do realize that whether it is economic, environmental, social, whatever political, the problems these days, just like global, instantaneous communication, they the problems are global. So, they are focused in a different way. And part of it has to do you know, with growing up with mass media, instantaneous communication, and, I mean, it is just, I mean, we are a product of our times, I mean, I get so tired of my mother telling me how she had to drive the horse and buggy, you know, and that, that changes that, that, you know, the environment as well as your immediate, whether it's family and friends, and then the, you know, the conditions you are going into that affects you, you cannot escape it. You cannot recreate your generation.

SM: You cannot recreate it. But also, I think that there is a big difference here to understand that issues that we face in this world today are complex, the complexities when you look at the World, War on Terrorism, it is understanding cultures, but it is much more, it is got a historic link goes back, like really everything. And maybe and I am starting to sense that maybe today's students have one up on the boomers. And that is they sense the complexities. And whereas it oftentimes sometimes the boomers did not, it was the we are going to end the war. And that was like, that was our goal and, you know, means justify the answer. There is a lot of things here.

LD: You know I think it is true that with the instantaneous communication, and you know, been in their lives this generation. I mean, can you imagine, I mean, they experience the world in such different ways than I did or you did, I mean, such different ways. I mean, and they are so sophisticated, these little tiny kids. I mean, they know about other parts of the world, they know that technology, I mean, it blows me away these little tiny kids are just so smart. In different ways.

SM: Christopher is a wiz the computer man, he knows everything. It is just I am waffling him around. It is just a few, just some brief comments when I list these names. Tom Hayden, these are all people from the era.

LD: What do you want me to say?

SM: Just any, just your immediate reaction, one or two sentence description, your thoughts on them as people or their impact on society or

LD: Well Tom had an impact at that time. I think he is still trying to have an impact, but he has not found the right way to do it. I mean, he clearly had an impact. He was the leader. But it does not mean that leaders appropriate in a different setting and in a different time.

SM: Jane Fonda-

LD: Jane Fonda, I do not know I mean, she has had so many different lives.

SM: Did you know that she donated money to Harvard and did not I she? She endowed some sort of scholarship there but did not want to win? No, but

LD: I know I mean, she has gone through a variety of transformations I you know, I do not I do not fault her, I, I am I think that she has, she has been able to pursue many, you know, a wider range of opportunities than most people. Because you know, when she was married to Ted Turner, I mean both of them they did phenomenal.

SM: Everybody knows what people say the ultimate mistake was being a gun. SO now she will deal with that for the rest of her life.

LD: She just she is a person who is gone through many more transformations. I think-

SM: This is your interview. So, I just want to bring this into this and be away from the tape, but I know one of her best friends, Torie Osborn. We had her here for Activists Days. She wrote Coming to America, which is a gay story of gays in America, and she runs the Liberty foundation out of Los Angeles. And I am sitting with her at Activist Days three years ago, and I was saying, she knows Tom, can we help me get Tom to our campus? And she said, Well, I know Tom, he has, he had open heart surgeries he is not doing too well. And I said, Yeah, I know a lot of vets that admire him even though he was against the war, but they would really dislike Jane and I started talking about Jane, and she is sitting there, keeping very quiet and I thought she was just going to make a comment about her. She says, Well, I was Jane’s roommate for a year. I lived with Jane after she divorced Tom Hayden. Before she linked up with Ted Turner, and you got to know her. She is a lifetime of causes. And she is really sincere in what she does. And she has made enemies but, but so it was it was, it was, I guess, for me and for all students. It was an it was an experience of not judging someone unless-

LD: I do not judge her as harshly because she you think about her environment, and the way she was raised, and the kinds of influences to Hollywood-ish, all of that. I mean, I mean, it has got to have an impact on you.

SM: Her mother just tried to commit suicide? Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, these are just these are all personalities from the ‘60s.

LD: Well, you know, I think they have pretty much gone a very different direction. You know, I guess as a social scientist, I understand that people change, and people go in different ways. And I do not I do not hold it against people because of that. Because I think that what was most important is people being able to, to change. And you know, whether you like the way I changed or not, is not the issue, but people being able to, you know, develop and change and then having the opportunity to do it. So, I do not begrudge these people, some of them who have gone on, they have made money or they have gone into the establishment. I think that is a natural part of your life cycle.

SM: The concept of development, lifelong, lifelong learning.

LD: Yeah, I think it is phenomenal.

SM: Some of the political figures, John Kennedy-

LD: Well, you know, he was he embodied sort of the American dream and ideals even though he really did and he came along at a time when he had charisma and he could you know, he was able to mobile, you know, I think inspire and mobilize people because he had ideas he had charisma I think Bill Clinton too, think Bill Clinton you know around Bill Clinton in one was you know, a leader in higher ed and Bill is a charismatic brilliant guy just did not know how to control certain excesses in his life.

SM: Bobby Kennedy

LD: Well, I mean, I, I guess I would say the whole all of the Kennedy’s, he did not have the ability to be as inspirational I think as JFK. Maybe it's JFK had lived he wouldn't have been as inspirational. You know, that is an important question.

SM: His greatest moment was that Cuban Missile Crisis. Because he was a good counsel. For his brother. Robert McNamara-

LD: Oh, god that is really fascinating because his recent, he was certainly had he certainly personified you know, the sort of organizational big business you know, aggressive foreign policy person, but yet in recent years he has come around. I heard an interview with him on NPR A few years ago, he, he went back to Berkeley and he gave some lectures there, where he said that these were wrong decisions. And I, you know, he, he basically said that he did not have good information, they were wrong decisions. I was stunned. I mean, I am I do not know why I should be stunned because people, you know that, to me the mark of a bright you know, inquisitive person, is you look back and say, you know, I believed this or I had these attitudes, I did these actions. But you know, now that I am in a different set of circumstances, I look back at it, and I have a broader perspective. That was wrong, I should not have done it. I mean, to me, that's part of growing and developing. And he has come around and come straight out on all of this.

SM: I interviewed Paul Hendrickson, who wrote the book on McNamara. And actually, this is kind of private, but he, Mr. Hendrickson, almost had a nervous breakdown after that interview, because he had done so much research on doing that book, and he well its quite an experience. I interviewed him on a lot of things. Lyndon Johnson,

LD: Lyndon Johnson's the ultimate politicians, politician. Shrewd. I mean, I guess I admire him for his political acumen, even though I mean, he, he made some decisions that clearly were not, well, it is hard to say. I mean, he made them based on information he had. But he also made them based on the political situation. I guess, that you got the feeling that Lyndon Johnson, to some extent would do what it takes to get the political outcomes. And I do not know, it's hard with, with JFK and Robert Kennedy. You did not see that as obviously with them, but you did not have as long a time to observe it.

SM: Richard Nixon-

LD: Oh god, Well, he, I think he was a I mean, it is, obviously it is coming out more and more, I mean, he was a, you know, a narrow thinking paranoid guy who probably did not have he is willing to do whatever it took, but in a different sort of way. I mean, he basically was a sort of cold, not trusting and non-optimistic sort of guy. Compared I think, I think people like, you know, Lyndon Johnson and others certainly, were had, you know, they just had a different sort of personality. When I mean, some of the things you read or hear about Nixon, I mean, he must have been just not an easy person to be around.

SM: He was, this campus. The night he gave a Cambodia speech. This place erupted. And of course, there were I think two things he said. Arthur Levine told me about the number of college campus that were not even affected by the war was amazing the numbers. Yeah, but he, I think 270, I think the number was 272 schools were so affected by that Cambodian invasion-

LD: And that is out of over 3000. So, you know, it was pretty concentrated.

SM: Well they had here. They have the they have a concert here. The Grateful Dead. They performed here, right after the invasion. And I believe it was because I know I had tickets to the concert I broke my arm. So, I was in the hospital. And but the Grateful Dead concert was here. They were supposed to have the band concert and they were supposed to be within two to three days of each other in 1970. And it is historic right now because the Harper College concert is now you know, they have a they have a CD of that Harper College, which I have in my office and if I ever want to get a there is a- There is a tension there, but they consider one of the top three or four concerts in their history. Because that it was the gym. The West Gym, all the history and I happened right at the right here at this campus. A few more names and then we will be done, Timothy Leary.

LD: I think Timothy Leary was. I mean, he started what I guess I would call sort of a cult, a social movement. And he continued throughout his life.

SM: His ashes are in heaven, not in heaven. That was a Freudian slip. Dr. Benjamin Spock?

LD: Well, that is an interesting man who was influential in his, his specialty, and, you know, but yet, he, he, he was determined to be an activist leader outside of this field. And I do not think you find that anymore. Very much because our fields are so I mean, our fields have become so specialized and so demanding. But I think that there were people who use their status and their knowledge in one field to try to have transference to another. I think he did.

SM: How about the Berrigan brothers? Barragan brothers, Philip and Daniel.

LD: I sort of remember them. I do not remember a lot about them it seems.

SM: Daniel Ellsberg.

LD: You know, I have met him actually heard him talk. And I know one of my sociological colleagues had an affair with him. He, he was, he was a, he was more of an intellectual. And he, I think he saw a broader picture. And he, he took advantage of it. And I think we still have people who do that, where they are not maybe out on the frontlines, you know, doing things with others, but they are trying to expose, they are trying to bring situations to the forefront, whether it is nuclear or whatever, I see him in the same vein, as that, that there, that there is like scientists, like scientists for social responsibility, some groups like that. And I think that I think those groups are really important. There is also it is called Business Leaders for Fiscal Responsibility. And they are, there is some really big heads of some big corporations that are trying to, I guess, redirect more of our resources toward, you know, have a good safe mili- have a good sound military, but also try to also address some of our, you know, our social our health problems, our environmental problems, did you see it was in Sunday's New York Times? Where they said the cost today, it was a whole page on the editorial section. So, the cost today of the Iraq War 144 billion, and that that went on this side. Then it said, “What could that well, how could that money have been spent?” was on the other side-

SM: Can you imagine coming into education that money?

LD: Well they had college, they had education, they had an environment, they had drugs, they had elderly, they had homeless, they had HIV, and they showed how much you could tackle social and health and economic and, you know, environmental, 144 billion, and that is before this next allotment, and what they say that after, if Bush wins the election, he is going to come back for another 80 billion. But it was a you know, it was a whole page. To me, that's people like Ellsberg. They draw attention to some of the disjunctures in our society-

SM: Is he, you know that whole Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg that he is there, he is a direct link of why the Watergate happened. Because, you know, there was a leak, called Nixon call it a leak, you know, and leaks and so, so he so he is trying to go in Well, you know, history of Watergate.

SM: But you see we have some groups, we have some groups like that. I mean, they are they may not be quite as numerous or have quite the depth of the money with them. But you know, there are these business men for something rational priorities. There are, you know, these groups. Well, the so- the Physicians for Social Responsibility, there is a whole set of them that are still really and then then the major environmental groups. They are still out there. I mean.

SM: Physicians for Social Responsibility ended up with the Medal of Freedom Award in Philadelphia, about six years, six, seven years ago-

LD: Was under the Democrats.

SM: Right, right. Actually, Mayor Rendell was the mayor then. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, the Black Panthers.

LD: Well, I have very mixed feelings. Yes, ma'am. We are just finishing. Yeah, I know. Okay, thanks. I mean, I have mixed feelings because of the intersection. I have read enough about sexism and racism. I mean, obviously, they, they took a different tack on the racism and fighting it. But also, I mean, apparently, they were not fighting for women. It was awful the things you read. I mean, they were I mean, I think in a social movement, you need people that are, you know, radical, reformist. And that was a part of that whole social movement, from, you know, the Martin Luther Kings-

SM: Yeah that is my next person. Martin Luther King and comparing him to these individuals.

LD: They serve different roles. Not all social movements. I think a current social movement would be different, particularly with the, you know, with the instantaneous, sort of world global communication. I think it would be different.

SM: Well I know you got your next appointment, but I'll try to end with Gloria Steinem, Muhammad Ali, and Spiro Agnew, quite a combination.

LD: Well, you know, I, Gloria Steinem. I mean, she was she and Bella Abzug and oh, what is her name? Betty Friedan. I mean, they were major figures in, in opening up rights and opportunities for women. Absolutely. I mean, obviously, they took, you know, they took different approaches. And, but god they really, they changed the lives. I mean, for me, even though I was all I was older, but they still I never would be a president, if they had not really, you know, pushed on, on, you know, major rights for women, owning a house. I mean, you know, women could not on their own get credit. If you were married, you could not readily sign up and just buy your own house. I mean, you could not, you just could not do a lot of stuff. You try. I remember trying to get I had an independent job. And I was trying to get a credit card and they said, well, we will give it in your husband's name, but not in yours. I mean, you know, so many things have changed, you know, whether it's no fault divorce, you know, community property. I mean, the whole range of opportunities and thinking about women in new ways. Spiro Agnew, I do not know. I mean, he was a, I do not know.

SM: And then Muhammad Ali.

LD: Well, you know, poor, I guess I see. The boxing world is a pretty awful world. And he tried to bring a sense of humanity to it. But I think that whole thing is a pretty awful, awful world. Pretty uncivilized part of our society. And this poor guy got swept up in it.

SM: There is more names, but I’ll end it with this one final question that is, if you, if you had a room of 100 boomers, and you were to ask them, what was the single event in your life that had the greatest impact on you when you were young? What do you think they would pick? You might try this sometime with the Alumni Association.

Well, you know, we have actually, and they, they say that it was the, I do not know of a single event, but they all talk about sitting around the social and political consciousness. And, you know, that even there in their classes, they spent a lot of time on, you know, sort of social, political, that's what they say, they say that that was, you know, it permeated their- you might say, their personal and their private in a way that I think, you know, today that most young people, they have sort of got their sort of professional, you might say, you know, their student, and they want to make sure they fill in all of the checks, the categories at the same time, then they sort of separate out the, the public and their private. And I think and what amazes me is to listen to them talk about how sort of their public and their private came together during this era. Then, when they thought of themselves, you know, that is making a difference doing these things, and they thought they just thought of their future and what their priorities were in the same way that you know, these broad, you might say public and, and national priorities, and you do not I know you get that separation today, you get the separation, and like, Oh, I am concerned maybe about Iraq but that but first and foremost, I do not have time, I have to worry about getting a double major, getting an internship, you know, so I think people have, you know, separated those more and more in in in succeeding generations.

SM: Very good. I thank you. I wanted to talk to you but I do not have time now.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

10 August 2004


Stephen McKiernan


Dr. Lois DeFleur

Biographical Text

Dr. Lois DeFleur, native of Illinois, was the first female president at Binghamton University (1991-2010). She came to Binghamton after being provost at the University of Missouri. Before that DeFleur had served as a Sociology professor at Missouri State University and Washington State University. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology from University of Illinois.





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Binghamton University Libraries

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Interview Format


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1960s; Women rights; Democracy; Baby boomers; Protests; Millennials; College students; Vietnam War Memorial; Communities; Minority groups; John F. Kennedy.



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Stephen McKiernan's collection of interviews includes more than two hundred interviews with prominent figures of the 1960s, which were collected between the mid-1990s and 2010s. The collection provides narratives of people who were actively involved in or witnessed events in the 1960s, an era which spurred profound cultural and… More

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“Interview with Dr. Lois DeFleur,” Digital Collections, accessed May 28, 2024,