Excerpt: Turned On! (2014)
By Monday afternoon thousands of normally conservative Purdue students had converged angrily on the administration building in West Lafayette, Indiana. Fanning the flames of protest was that small core of campus activists opposed to the Vietnam War.
That was when I got the call.
The youthful male voice was raspy. “Dr. Perone, you need to cancel the exam in the Hall of Music tomorrow night.”
“What? Who is this?” I asked.
He ignored the question. “We’re shutting down the campus.”
“It’s the last mid-term exam,” I protested. “People have—”
“We don’t care,” the angry voice interrupted. “Everything gets shut down.”
“I can’t do that.”
The voice remained silent for a few moments. Then it hissed. “Dr. Perone, you really don’t want to be responsible. People are going to get hurt.”
There was a click. And the voice was gone.
A million thoughts swirled in my head. Who were these protestors? What would they do? Could they be stopped?
The chilling vision of sixteen hundred students—trapped in the debris of the cavernous Hall of Music—flashed before my eyes. I caught my breath.
Surely the campus police could maintain order. Couldn’t they?
I recalled the televised spectacle of Chicago police mauling anti-war demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic convention. Student protests had only gotten bolder and more violent since then.
Then the irony hit me.
A few years earlier I might have been right in the thick of it—occupying the administration building along with the students.
But here I was now, thirty years old, on track to become the youngest ever to make full professor in Purdue’s chemistry department. Against all odds, I had become part of the “establishment.”
Don’t trust anyone over thirty was the catch phrase of the day. And I was now on the wrong side.
But it hadn’t always been that way.
Seven years earlier I had been a neophyte professor, painfully naïve, more comfortable running with students than faculty.
Those youthful adventures had taken me into uncharted territory. It had been the 60s, after all. Everything was getting a fresh look.
My thoughts wandered back to the very beginning….
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