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What would Joe say?

Topics/tags: Grinnell, short

Last night, I attended a panel on Joe Rosenfield ’25 led by George Drake ’56. I found the panel interesting, although I’m still not sure what Joe did to inspire such devotion from others. Certainly, he helped a lot of people make money, but money alone isn’t enough to explain the kind of devotion people clearly felt for him [1]. He certainly made a huge positive difference to Grinnell [2]. I’m not planning to muse much about Joe right now; I need to read Drake’s biography of Rosenfield, Mentor, first.

I did appreciate one anecdote that George shared. In the late 1960s, when Grinnell was debating making the dorms co-ed [3,4], the Trustees were split between those who supported the change and those who opposed the change. Eventually, Joe spoke up and said something like, I support the change, provided we make it retroactive to when I was a student. As I understand it, the comment broke the tension and the Trustees moved on to approve the change.

There weren’t many students there. On the way home from the panel, Michelle and I were discussing what it would have been like if more students were there, how they would have reacted to the comments made at the panel, and what questions they might have asked. I hadn’t asked a question [5], but one suddenly came to mind.

What would Joe have said about the student union?

Joe was a liberal democrat. He made it onto Nixon’s enemies list. He was a public supporter of planned parenthood at a time when many donated anonymously. He helped fund Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, a case that reached the Supreme Court and determined that freedom of speech for students does not end at the school door [6]. On the other hand, he led a major retail chain; my quick Web search does not reveal whether or not Younkers workers were unionized.

I wonder not just what he would have thought about supporting the student union, but also how we would have felt about the time and process for considering the next steps. I know that students are frustrated at the time the Trustees are taking to reach a decision. But I also know that they have a responsibility to consider not just immediate implications but also long-term impacts.

In any case, I’m left to ask, What would Joe say?

Postscript: I’m not sure why I switched between last and first names in this musing. It seemed right.

Postscript: I realized retrospectively that some might interpret Joe as Joe Biden. Nonetheless, at Grinnell, Joe should mean Joe Rosenfield.

[1] I think, for example, of John Ruan, who, after Joe died, would regularly have his chauffeur drive him up to Camp Mitigwa so that he could sit by the statue he had donated in Joe’s memory and think about his friend.

[2] More precisely, he made a variety of huge positive differences for Grinnell.

[3] Jon Andelson ’70 tells me that it was necessary because the women helped civilize the men.

[4] It seems strange to look back on a time when co-ed dorms were considered inappropriate. Nonetheless, it was a big move. And I recall visiting at least one college in recent years in which the tour guide said something like, We have co-ed dorms; the north wing of one dorm has men and the south wing has women.

[5] Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

[6] At least that’s what I recall. I see from the ACLU site about this decision that I was pretty close.

On Feb. 24, 1969, the court ruled 7-2 that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.

Version 1.0 released 2019-12-04.

Version 1.1 of 2019-12-04.