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Letter to the Editor: H. Bruce Franklin responds to Gordon’s portrayal


During the ill-fated invasion of Laos in early 1971, workers at the Stanford Computer Center discovered that the main university computer was running a program code-named Gamut‑H, a Stanford-designed plan for a U.S. air, sea, and land invasion of North Vietnam.  In the ensuing protests against the university’s deep and protracted involvement in the Vietnam War, I gave speeches which led to me being fired, despite my academic tenure, for “urging and inciting disruption of campus activities.” Contrary to the assertions in A.Z. Gordon’s Jan. 12 column, I was never even charged with, much less convicted of, leading anybody to occupy the computer center or “inciting a riot.”

For my view of the Stanford affair, see “Perceptions of Stanford: Or `Can We Have Quiet Please'” in my political autobiography “Back Where You Came From” and “The Real Issues in My Case.”  Steven Choi’s “The Case of Bruce Franklin” is a well-researched reexamination of the proceedings done as a Stanford senior honors thesis in 1998.  The many other writings about the case range from boxes of documents produced by eight years of legal proceedings to Paul Levitt’s play “The Trial of Benedict Spinoza, Melville Scholar.”

Although the Advisory Board that acted as judge and jury in the case acknowledged “Professor Franklin’s exceptional competence as a scholar and teacher,” it ruled that dismissal, rather than any lesser sanction, was the only practical punishment for words that I had spoken in public. The three acts for which I was found “guilty” were two public speeches and a verbal protest to the police against their declaration that an entirely peaceful gathering outside the Computer Center was an unlawful assembly.

In the published version of its ruling, the Board explained the basis of its decision in a section entitled “Differing Perceptions of Reality,” where the following was presented as proof that my “perception of reality…differs drastically from the consensus in the university”:

In his opening argument Professor Franklin proclaimed deep convictions about the evils of American foreign and domestic policy and about the inevitable influences of our socioeconomic system in shaping that policy.  Essential to this perception is a mistrust of the allegedly intricate interrelationship between the economic power of American’s [sic] “ruling class” and the maintenance of policies that are imperialistic abroad and oppressive at home.

Arguing that this perception of reality was too “deeply-held” to be changed by any punishment (or at least by any they could administer), the majority of the Board members then offered the following logic for my dismissal as the only viable solution to the problem:

We are highly dubious whether rehabilitation is a useful concept in this case…”Rehabilitation” might appear to Professor Franklin as a highly unfair mandate to change his convictions. Barring a dramatic change in perception he is unlikely to change his conduct; thus “rehabilitation” is likely to fail, whatever the sanction.

Given its premises, this is a compelling argument, and its forecast, I’m happy to report, has turned out to be accurate.

Bruce Franklin, The John Cotton Dana Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies, Rutgers University, Newark

Contact H. Bruce Franklin at hbf ‘at’

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