Just as stomach ulcers were belatedly discovered to be caused not by stress but by a humble bacterium, historians of the future may well discover that the real reason campuses erupt in fanaticism is the prosaic fact that the rest of us have started shoveling money at them. The first round in the 1960s took place at a time when the number of college students in America had increased by a factor of five in the space of three decades. Naturally this swollen demographic became conscious of itself as a bloc and wanted to throw its weight around, like new money. The administrators and professors had their heads turned, too, by newfound cultural importance and flush budgets, and so they let them.
On October 4, 1957, the Russians placed a medicine-ball-sized satellite in orbit. It needs an effort to remember how stunned we were when we discovered that the clodhopping Russians were technologically ahead of us, and that we would have to catch up to them. We reacted hysterically. We set out to produce scientists and technologists wholesale by shoveling billions into the universities. And where the billions went there went also millions of people who were not primarily interested in learning but wanted a piece of the action. Thus Khrushchev’s Sputnik toy brought about a change in the tilt of America’s social landscape from the marketplace to the universities. After October 1957, many young people who would normally have gone into business ended up climbing academic ladders and throwing their weight around in literary and artistic cliques from Manhattan to Berkeley, California…They were going to wake up the academic world and turn the university into an instrument of power. They were going to make history, which is an acceptable substitute for making and losing millions. It was these misplaced tycoons who set the tone and shaped events in the 1960s.
— Eric Hoffer, Before the Sabbath