Lines crossed and lines held


William “Wild Bill” Tate came to the University of Georgia from a farm near Fairmount Georgia in the fall of 1920. He was a long-distance runner on the Georgia track team, and following graduation he taught English and courses in debate at the University. Tate earned advanced degrees at Columbia and Harvard and taught at other colleges before returning to Athens. He became the Dean of Men at UGA in 1946 and put his name on that position for all time. Tate loved and lived for the University of Georgia, and he could be either the best friend or the worst enemy of the young men in the student body. He was strict, but fair, and he was more feared and more powerful than a Federal Judge when it came to matters involving the quality of behavior and conduct of University of Georgia students. He recognized the vital part that discipline played in the lives of those young people, and he did not shy away from applying it when needed.

In the Spring of 1970, the political atmosphere of many universities in this country was becoming volatile, heated by student protests over the war in Vietnam. In early May, four students were killed on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio protesting the expansion of the war. The level of campus unrest across the country peaked. At the University of Georgia, a variety of organizations from the Students for a Democratic Society and the Socialist Workers Party to the Black Panthers and Student Mobilization Committee, and many other lesser-known groups took the opportunity to hold marches, sit-ins and finally organized a failed attempt to occupy the University Administration Building. Dean Tate, just like he had done in helping manage the peaceful desegregation of the University in 1961, once again was right in the middle of all the controversy. During two days of growing agitation and demonstrations on campus, Tate , who was then approaching 70, marched with the students, camped out with hundreds of them on the lawn of Old College, sang activist songs wearing the “love beads” the protestors had given him, and spent the night sitting with them, talking and listening to student’s fears and concerns. Throughout all of it, he also made it clear to them that the law could not and would not be violated, and the standards of the University would be respected. By the morning of May 8, the campus was calm and nearly 450 student protestors had packed up and gone back to their dorms or apartments and back to class.

Dean Tate retired from the job he loved in 1971. He was famous for saying he would rather be the Dean of Men at the University of Georgia than the President of Harvard or Yale. Some said he was a harsh disciplinarian, but I think what most of the students who were there, including myself, would remember about Dean Tate is the idea that there is always a line that cannot be crossed; a line that is there for a reason and cannot be bargained away or negotiated or backed down from. Because if that line means nothing, then authority and order mean nothing. The events of the past two weeks on many college campuses clearly show us that there are more and more groups in this country who exist solely for the purpose of crossing lines and tearing down the basic principles that are foundational not just on a college campus, but throughout our entire nation. The more we continue to allow these lines to be pushed back, the more often it will continue to happen, and this country and its values will eventually become less and less recognizable. No matter who you are or where you stand, the spectacle of chaos and destruction from these recent events raises a serious warning that deserves serious thought. Some lines are “absolute” and in the end are the basis of what we believe this country stands for and what holds it all together. Those are the lines that we need to stand behind and protect. I know better than to try to speak for Dean Tate, but I think if he were still around, he might just tell all of us to speak for ourselves in a calm, convincing manner, then go on about your way and behave.