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University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-2018, bulk 1968-1972

Summary Information

Abstract

The student strikes of this era, in particular that of 1968, represent the main focus of the collection, although other issues and many voices are expressed. The collection contains material authored by Columbia University administration, faculty, students, as well as non-affiliated organizations and individuals.

At a Glance

Call No.: UA#0007
Bib ID 4080180 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Columbia University. Archives
Title University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-2018, bulk 1968-1972
Physical Description 38.59 linear feet (82 document boxes, 1 half-sized document box, 4 record storage cartons)
Language(s) English .
Access

This collection is located onsite.

This collection has no restrictions. Some personal material may be restricted due to the presence of personal names and information.

Arrangement

Arrangement

Arranged in 13 series.

Description

Summary

The collection consists primarily of flyers, correspondence, news clippings and releases, transcripts of electronic media reports, memoranda, legal documents and meeting minutes. The bulk of the material held in this collection relates to the 1968 strike, however, strikes and protests are documented as well: 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972 strikes prompted by student opposition to the Vietnam War, the draft, the presence of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, military recruiters, concerns of Columbia's contribution to the war effort through the School of International Affairs programs and research performed by professors associated with the U.S. Department of Defense's Jason project. There is also extensive documentation on a number of student organizations, one of which was the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the most instrumental in channeling student activities into demonstrations and other strike activity.

  • Series I: Administration, 1965-1972

    This series contains correspondence, legal documents, memoranda, news releases, reports, and other public statements documenting the actions of Columbia University's administration prior, and in response, to the campus protests of the mid-1960s through mid-1970s. The files are arranged hierarchically and then alphabetically. Folders for Columbia's Board of Trustees are followed by files for the president and then by other University offices (arranged alphabetically). Within this listing of offices are subject-oriented folders entitled "Chronologies," "Legal Proceedings Involving Students," and "Witnesses to Student Demonstrations," which contain documents used by Columbia administrators but not traceable to any one office.

    The documents contained in the files for University trustees pertain primarily to the student strike of 1968. Correspondence from alumni, parents, and the general public indicate attitudes regarding the University's response to the strike, which is documented by public statements found here. The reports of the Special Committee of the Trustees reveal efforts to examine and alter the university's governing structure. Materials for the three University presidents in office during this era cover a wider range of topics including: president's public statements representing the University's response to the strikes and protests, and its position on the underlying issues that prompted this activism.

    The materials organized by office and by subject demonstrate various administrative responses to student protests. These include public statements by chief academic officers David B. Truman, Provost, and Vice President for Academic Planning Herbert A. Deane, as well as memoranda, notes, and other administrative records of Harold E. Emerson, a chief presidential aide. News releases issued by the Office of Public Information reveal the university's public voice on the events of the era. Legal pleadings and associated records document the administration's disciplinary actions against student protesters.

  • Series II: Administration; Schools, Departments and Programs, 1968-1970

    Items in this series, including correspondence, meeting minutes, memoranda, notes, and reports demonstrate the response of Columbia University's constituent units to student protests and demands for curricular and governance reform. Present are statements by deans and other officials concerning class attendance, examination schedules, grading, and procedures for other routine academic activities during the strike periods. More significant are statements taking positions on the actions and demands of protesters, as well as materials documenting disciplinary action taken against students.

  • Series III: Alumni and Parents, 1968-1971

    Correspondence, memoranda, flyers, notices, and other public statements created by alumni and parental organizations are contained in this series. The former include alumni associations and alumni groups organized on the basis of identity and issues. The materials contained within the files for these organizations reflect alumni views on the student unrest at Columbia, the University's response, and its potential restructuring. Letters from individual alumni to the associations, the report by Alumni Federation President Laurence E. Walsh, and public statements and publications by alumni groups are particularly useful sources. Alumni groups also addressed high profile topics, including the Vietnam War. Documentation produced by parental groups relates to the 1968 student upheaval at Columbia and its consequences, and, to a much lesser extent, anti-war activism. Materials found in Box 73 are part of Accession

  • Series IV: Commissions and Committees, 1950-1970, bulk 1966-1969

    This series documents the efforts of University-appointed commissions and committees to examine campus unrest, particularly the 1968 strike, and to address the issues that prompted the upheaval. It also includes material relating to conferences at which issues like student protest, the Vietnam War, and civil rights were discussed. Reports, hearing proceedings, news releases, and flyers represent the types of items found in this series. The bulk of the series relates to the work of the "Fact Finding Commission Appointed to Investigate the Disturbances at Columbia University in April and May 1968," published and popularly known as the Cox Commission report. Available here, in addition to the commission's final report that presents a narrative and analysis of the strike, are the proceedings of the hearings at which witnesses were examined. Reports issued by bodies addressing discipline, university governance, ROTC, and relations with external research funding agencies are also contained in this series, as is documentation on the University Senate, which was created in the aftermath of the strike.

  • Series V: External Organizations, 1967-1974

    This series contains flyers, notices, and other public statements created by organizations unaffiliated with Columbia, but which dealt with issues concerning the University, the Morningside Heights area, or New York City at large. Groups that held events at Columbia and recruited members of the campus community to their causes are also represented here. In contrast to most of the collection, these materials have been grouped according to the issues addressed by these organizations, under headings like "Anti-Vietnam War" or "Labor." The folder headings represent topics relating to Columbia University, principally the 1968 Student Strike, as well as broader local, national, or international issues. These materials provide a useful perspective on how non-Columbia individuals and organizations viewed events at Columbia in this time period. A particularly useful resource for examining the university's relationship with the community is the file on Columbia's campus expansion and landlord role, which includes information on the long-running conflict over the proposed site for the university's School of Pharmacy.

  • Series VI: Faculty and Staff: Groups, 1967-1975

    Flyers, news releases, reports, and other kinds of public statements and publications comprise this series. The groups represented here include faculty and staff organizations varying widely in type and aim. Important bodies included in this series are faculty committees, such as the Executive Committee of the Faculty formed to deal with the 1968 strike and other student protests, or controversial issues like the role of ROTC on campus. Issue-oriented groups are also represented in the series, which address national topics, including the Vietnam War (i.e., the Faculty Peace Action Committee) and Columbia-specific situations. The Radical Faculty Group and Employees for March 25th, for example, were active on the matters of student protests at Columbia, disciplinary actions taken against participating students, and attempts to reform the university's governing structure. Other campus issues of interest to faculty groups included civil rights issues such as working conditions for employees, campus expansion, programs for black students, and military research on campus. Other groups, such as Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action, were Columbia chapters of national or regional organizations. An important body of material may be found within the file entitled "Faculty Members – Unaffiliated – Public Statements – Individual, Joint," which contains petitions, open letters, and other public statements by individuals and groups of faculty members taking positions on various issues, in particular the 1968 strike.

  • Series VII: Faculty and Staff: Schools, Departments, Programs, 1968-1972

    This series contains flyers, news releases, meeting minutes, and other public statements created by faculty members and staff from various schools, departments, and programs within Columbia University. While some of the documentation touches on the response to national issues like the Vietnam War, the bulk of the material in this series deals with student protest activity at Columbia, especially the 1968 strike. Also addressed are issues of curricular and governance reform within individual schools and departments and the university as a whole, as well as working conditions for staff members.

  • Series VIII: Students: Groups, 1966-1975

    The student strikes that occurred at Columbia between 1968 and 1972 figure prominently in the material found in this series. This series contains extensive holdings on three campus organizations in particular; the Strike Coordinating/Steering Committee (SCC), the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and Students for a Restructured University (SRU). The SCC, formed by the Columbia chapter of SDS, was composed of representatives from the various units of the University and from other student organizations and quickly assumed the mantle of strike leadership from the Columbia University Student Council (CUSC) and the Coalition of Student Leaders (CSC), whose early activities are also recorded here. The Columbia chapter of SDS had taken an early activist lead on a cluster of issues that prompted student unrest and ultimately the strike. Among them were the proposed gymnasium and other instances of campus expansion, the University's relationship with the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) and the School of International Affairs, ROTC and military research recruiting, and conditions for campus workers. SRU sponsored numerous strike activities and these materials reveal their role in the administration's efforts to address student concerns about the governing structure of Columbia, including the group's co-sponsorship of hearings on University restructuring.

    Numerous other student organizations active during the 1968 strike are represented in this series, including the Students' Afro-American Society and the groups of students who occupied campus buildings, known as "communes." Beyond formal organizations, students acting independently or in informal associations are represented by items in the files titled "Students – Unaffiliated," which contain open letters, petitions, and other public statements, as well as accounts of strike events. While the bulk of the material relating to the 1968 strike in this series was produced by pro-strike organizations, the voices of strike opponents are also evident. The Majority Coalition, Students for Columbia University, Students for a Free Campus, and the Committee for the Defense of Property Rights criticized the actions of the SCC, SDS, SRU, and other leading student groups. These strike opponents urged students to avoid strike demonstrations and to attend regularly scheduled classes.

    A smaller amount of material exists for the student strikes of 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1972. Renewed demonstrations and strike activity in 1969 were prompted by continuing student concern with Columbia's role as a landlord in the neighboring community, as well as the presence of ROTC, military recruiters, and military researchers on campus. Demands for the development of a black studies curriculum also played a contributing role.

    Numerous student organizations at Columbia in the late 1960s and early 1970s precipitated disruptions that addressed other campus issues. Columbia's control of real estate in the Morningside Heights neighborhood and its relationship to the local community were taken up by, among others, the Community Action Committee, the Columbia-Barnard Citizenship Council and its Morningside Housing Committee. The literature produced by these groups, such as the Citizenship Council's detailed report entitled Columbia and the Community: Past Policy and New Directions, provided analyses of the campus expansion issue. This and a cluster of topics featured in the strikes prompted activist efforts for a slate of student groups: military and war research recruiting on campus, Columbia's defense and intelligence contacts through the IDA and the School of International Affairs, conditions for campus workers, the role of students in the governance of the University.

    International affairs, particularly U.S. foreign relations, were of great interest to student groups at Columbia. The ubiquitous issue, of course, was the American military presence in Southeast Asia. Opposition to the Vietnam War was expressed, in some form, by nearly every student organization represented in this series. It was a major part of the program of SDS and other groups that addressed multiple issues, often in the context of protest against American "imperialism." Numerous campus organizations emerged from the mid 1960s though mid 1970s for the primary purpose of expressing opposition to the war and the draft, among them Action for Peace, the Moratorium Coalition, the Resistance at Columbia, and the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War. Their voluminous literature is contained in this series; as is material issued by unidentified student groups.

  • Series IX: Students: Schools, Departments, Programs, 1968-1973

    Flyers, meeting minutes, news releases, newsletters and reports comprise this series of materials produced by students from Columbia's constituent schools and departments. The strike activities of committees and assemblies of students within the various units of the university are revealed in numerous publications and public statements. Beyond demanding changes in the structure of the university as a whole, these student bodies called for changes within their own schools and departments. Demands and efforts made to enlarge the role of students in the governance and curricular development of these units are prominent in these materials. Opposition to the war in Vietnam represents another topic of activism present in this series; students in the School of Library Service, for example, issued a series of research reports on the war in Southeast Asia.

  • Series X: Columbia Daily Spectator, Editor's 1968 Student Strike Materials Chronological File, 1968

    Materials in this series, including correspondence, flyers, memoranda, and publications, were compiled by Robert Friedman, editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator, in the course of the newspaper's coverage of the 1968 student strike. Documents are organized chronologically and marked according to date received or issued, as well as with internal coding notations.

  • Series XI: Publications, Articles, Clippings, 1965-1975

    This series includes articles and publications produced between 1965 and 1975 that deal with the issues of protest and activism at Columbia and at universities in general. The contents of the series are arranged in three parts. The first includes folders containing contemporary articles, monographs, or serial volumes, organized alphabetically by the name of the author, publisher, or serial title. These items deal with the student strikes at Columbia (especially that of 1968), and include works of reportage, opinion, analysis, propaganda, and satire, written from a great diversity of perspectives.

    The second group of materials within the series consists of clippings concerning student protest activities at the university and elsewhere, compiled primarily by members of the office of the President and the Alumni Federation. These materials are arranged topically and cover the student strikes at Columbia, other targets of student and faculty activism, and individuals and organizations active during the period. Also present are clippings on student protest activities at other universities, and as a phenomenon in general, which are organized chronologically or by topic.

    Finally, the third section of this series includes transcripts of electronic media reports of the 1968 student strike at Columbia, transcribed and compiled by an outside agency, Radio TV Reports, Inc. These are arranged chronologically by date of broadcast.

  • Series XII: Commemorations and Historical Accounts, 1970-2018

    This small series contains materials relating to the commemoration of the 1968 Columbia strike and post-contemporary accounts of that event. Flyers, correspondence, and clippings document the 1988 reunion of strike participants, as well as other commemorative events like the showing of films of campus. Articles from subsequent anniversaries are also found in this series. The files containing historical accounts consist chiefly of articles and newspaper clippings providing overviews of the strike events and recording the reminiscences of participants.

  • Series XIII: The Office of the President Records, 1958-1974

    This collection reflects the record keeping of the Office of the President from the mid-sixties and early seventies with regard to student activism, demonstrations, protests, the 1968 crisis, and the subsequent restructuring of the University. The bulk of material relates to the events of April–May 1968 and their aftermath. This series was a collection on its own up until August 2007, when it was added to this collection. For this reason some materials contained in this series are duplicates of existing materials.

  • Series XIV: Photographs and Negatives

    This series consists of approximately 7,100 photographic negatives almost entirely in 35 mm black and white format, 41 color transparency slides, five reels of 16 mm black and white film, and approximately 300 8 x 10 inch black and white glossy prints with eleven related contact sheets and two folders of administrative documents and clippings belonging to John C. Gardner, Columbia University's Director of Buildings and Grounds.

    The images depict protest, activism and campus life, and off campus protests, between the fall of 1967 and 1973, primarily from the perspective of student and university photographers, with a particular focus on the 1968 student strike, or Columbia Crisis. The John C. Gardner Files subseries contains photographs used to identify participants and leaders in the immediate aftermath of the April 23-May 1 campus occupation in 1968, as well as to document and assess damage to buildings and grounds.

    The negatives and slides in this series were made by Columbia students primarily for university publications including the Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia College Today, and the Columbian yearbook, while some appear to have been made recreationally. Some of the photographs were published and disseminated widely around the time of the 1968 student strike, including in Life magazine and internationally, entering into the iconography and public visual discourse of the event and era. Some images have also been republished in subsequent histories of the crisis.

    The negatives were collected by documentary filmmaker Paul Cronin for use in his film, A Time to Stir, and deposited at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library between 2008 and 2009.

  • Series XV: Reel to Reel Tapes

    A series of 35 reel to reel tapes. There is a numbering issue with the tapes. Many of the tapes have two numbers--a large, printed label and a hanwritten number. The tapes are arranged by the large typed number on the tape. Please note that there is no Reel 17. The list below notes whatever infromation was found on the tape boxes/reels as the "title". There is a series of index cards with tape information, but it is unclear how it related to the physical tapes. We expect to have a better sense of what is actually on these tapes after they are digitized as part of CUL's AMI project in 2020-2021. These tapes are part of Accession 2012.2013.M111. In 2018 we added (4) additional reel to reel tapes to this series of interviews conducted by Michael Steinlauf (CC 1967) for Liberation News Service.

  • Series XVI: Daniel L. Schlafly Material on the 1968 Crisis, 1967-1969

    The Daniel L. Schlafly Material on the 1968 Crisis series consists of the papers that PhD candidate in history, Daniel L. Schlafly, Jr., collected between 1968 and 1969. Although Schlafly was not involved with any of the organizations participating in the strikes, he gathered a significant quantity of student and administrative literature and publications. These items primarily concern the activities that occurred on campus following the student protests that began on April 23, 1968. There are also some items that pre-date April 22, which pertain to the student groups who contributed to the campus crises. Furthermore, Schlafly occasionally annotated flyers or memoranda with his own notes, though most of his writing only indicates the date. In 2011, Schlafly donated these papers to the University Archives. The series has been separated into two subseries that are both arranged chronologically: Chronological Files and Publications.

  • Series XVII: Bureau of Applied Social Research Files, 1968-1978

    This series consists of materials generated by the Bureau of Applied Social Research (BASR) as it attempted to analyze the events at Columbia in the spring of 1968. Materials consist of a questionnaire and codebooks used to gauge the responses of various constituencies on campus regarding these events. Additionally, this series contains the files maintained by BASR director, Allen Barton, which informed the creation of the questionnaire and reflect his views on what transpired on campus. The series has been separated into two subseries: Questionnaires and Allen Barton Materials.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located onsite.

This collection has no restrictions. Some personal material may be restricted due to the presence of personal names and information.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); University Protest and Activism Collection; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Related Materials

Columbia University Archives, "ROTC/Naval ROTC" files in Historical Subject Files (Box 391); Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection; Records of President Andrew W. Cordier; Records of the Joint Committee on Disciplinary Affairs

Joanne Grant Research Files, 1963-1968 Columbia University Archives.

Joint Committee on Disciplinary Affairs Records, 1967-1973 Columbia University Archives.

Central Files, 1890-1984 [Bulk Dates: 1890-1983] Columbia University Archives.

Buildings and Grounds Collection, 1755-2007 [Bulk Dates: 1880-2000] Columbia University Archives.

Historical Subject Files, circa 1870s-2012 Columbia University Archives.

Crisis of 1968, Letters to President Grayson Kirk, 1968.

Columbia Crisis of 1968, Columbia University Oral History Research Office.

1968: Columbia in Crisis, Columbia University Archives online exhibition.

Accrual

Additions to this collection are expected

Ownership and Custodial History

This collection represents the assemblage of material from a variety of sources. Many of the flyers and public statements produced by various groups, offices, and individuals were collected by the office of Harold E. Emerson, Vice President for International Alumni Programs and Assistant to the President.

Original correspondence of the office of the University President originated in that office, including letters from alumni and the general public.

The Columbia University Alumni Federation, likewise, compiled many of the clippings and flyers in this collection, as well as original correspondence directed toward that office.

The collection continues to grow through donations from students who attended Columbia in the 1960s and 1970s, including Franklin Sciacca, Robert Roth, Joel Solkoff, 2004; Hilton Obenzinger, 2005; Joseph Kissane, 2001; Allan Silver, 2007.

The materials in Series 10, the "Columbia Daily Spectator" Editor's 1968 Student Strike Materials Chronological File, were contributed by former Spectator editor Robert Friedman.

Additional items from the Historical Subject Files and other materials from the University Archives were integrated into this collection.

The material contained in Series 13 was transferred from Low Library basement storage in 2002. Originally five series were identified; Subject Files, Disciplinary Records, External Correspondence, Cox Commission and News Files. While integrating this collection into the Protest and Activism Collection, the Disciplinary Records were removed and added to the Joint Committee on Disciplinary Affairs Records. "External Correspondence" has been changed to "Protest Correspondence" as this title more accurately reflects the materials contained here.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Collection, processed by Stephen Urgola, assistance provided by Anthony Spartalis, Marilyn Pettit, Jennifer Preissel, Jocelyn Wilk, Frank Lovett, and Jennifer Comins.

Finding aid wittten by Jennifer Comins, 2007.

Revision Description

2009-05-06 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2016-04-01 xml document instance updated by Catherine C. Ricciardi

2018-01-29 xml document instance updated by Jocelyn K. Wilk

2018-05-22 xml document instance updated by Jocelyn K. Wilk

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

2020-02-18 xml document instance updated by Jocelyn K. Wilk

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Genre/Form

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Articles Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Clippings (Information Artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ephemera Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Handbills Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Newsletters Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Press releases Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

Subject

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Alumni Federation of Columbia University Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Black Panther Party Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Civil rights movements Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
College students -- Political activity -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia Spectator Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Administration Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Alumni alumnae -- Societies, etc. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Student strike, 1968 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Students Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Students -- Political activity Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. Students' Afro-American Society Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia-Barnard Citizenship Council Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Committee for the Defense of Property Rights Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Community Action Committee Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cordier, Andrew W (Andrew Wellington), 1901-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cox, Archibald, 1912-2004 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Deane, Herbert A. (Herbert Andrew), 1921-1991 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
December Fourth Movement Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Draft resisters -- Vietnam War, 1961-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Emerson, Harold E Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Employees for March 25th Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Faculty Peace Action Committee Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kirk, Grayson L (Grayson Louis), 1903-1997 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kunen, James S., 1948- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lang, Serge, 1927-2005 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lindsay, John V (John Vliet) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
McGill, William J (William James), 1922-1997 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Morningside Housing Committee Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Peace movements Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Progressive Labor Party Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Radical Faculty Group Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Rudd, Mark Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Social movements Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Student Coordinating Committee Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Student Mobilization Committee (U.S.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam a.k.a. SMC Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Student movements -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Student-administrator relationships Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Students for a Democratic Society (U.S.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Students for a Free Campus Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Students for a Reconstructed University a.k.a. SRU Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Truman, David B (David Bicknell), 1913-2003 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Vietnam War, 1961-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Walsh, Lawrence E Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Zinn, Howard, 1922-2010 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Throughout the mid-to-late 1960s the Columbia campus was a hub of political activity: teach-ins, Sundial rallies against the Vietnam War, demonstrations against class rank reporting, and confrontations with military recruiters. Concurrent with these events, the University had begun construction on a new gymnasium in Morningside Park. Columbia's plan to build a new gym had been in the planning stages since 1959, but had been delayed repeatedly by financial challenges. By the mid 1960s, the decision to build a gym in city-owned Morningside Park created increasing negative feelings among government officials, community groups, and students. Many students were offended by the design, as it provided access for the University community at the higher level of the building while residents of the access fore members of the surrounding Harlem community would enter on the lower level; what was perceived as obvious inequity prompted cries of segregation.

In February 1967, the first sit-in at Columbia took place in Dodge Hall, by 18 members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) protesting CIA recruitment on campus. Other protests erupted: opposition to the University's submission of student class rankings to Selective Service Boards, military recruitment on campus and University involvement in the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA). On April 21, 1967, the first clash between students erupted when 800 anti-recruitment demonstrators were confronted by 500 students favoring the policy of open recruitment on campus. The disruptions of military recruiters by students prompted University President Grayson Kirk to issue a ban against picketing and demonstrations in all University buildings as of September 25, 1967.

In March 1968, demands for Columbia to resign from its affiliation with the IDA came in the form of more sit-in demonstrations, this time held in Low Memorial Library. Despite limited enforcement of his ban prior to this event, President Kirk, in conjunction with the Administration, placed six anti-war student activists-all SDS leaders known as the "IDA Six"- on probation for violation of the ban on indoor demonstrations.

The Strike Coordinating Committee (SCC), formed by the Columbia chapter of SDS, was composed of representatives from throughout the University and from other student organizations and quickly assumed the mantle of strike leadership from the Columbia University Student Council and the Coalition of Student Leaders. The Columbia chapter of SDS, led by its chairman Mark Rudd, took an early lead on a cluster of issues that prompted student unrest and ultimately the strike. Among them were the proposed gymnasium and other instances of campus expansion into the surrounding community, the University's relationship with the IDA, R.O.T.C. and military research recruiting, and conditions for campus workers.

Partly in response to the fate of the "IDA Six", Mark Rudd and SDS, as well members of the Society of African-American Students (SAS), rallied at the campus Sun Dial on Tuesday, April 23. After a failed attempt to get inside Low Library to present President Kirk with a list of demands, members of the crowd were encouraged to proceed to Morningside Drive where there was an attempt to break into the gymnasium construction site. They were restrained by police and some were arrested. The demonstrators did not return to the Sundial as originally planed, instead they headed into Hamilton Hall, the main classroom building on campus and also home to the office of Dean Henry Coleman, and stayed the night.

Around midnight, the SAS leaders held a caucus and decided that the ongoing occupation of Hamilton should be a blacks-only project. Mark Rudd and SDS followers were surprised, but did not challenge this arrangement and all white protestors left quietly. The white evictees of Hamilton Hall took over Low Library the following day. On Day 2 graduate students refused to leave Avery Hall when told it was closing at 5:30 pm as a preventative measures to thwart strikers. Fayerweather and Mathematics were also eventually occupied by other groups of students.

The April 1968 protests saw faculty groups formed with the intention of mediating resolutions to the stand-off. Faculty in Philosophy 301 formed an Ad Hoc Faculty Group (AHFG), which was chaired by Political Scientist Alan Westin and directed by an AHFG steering committee. Membership in AHFG was based on support of three resolutions: immediate suspension of gym construction; establishment of a tripartite disciplinary mechanism; and a commitment by faculty signers to put themselves between police and students should police be called on campus.

After six days of standoff, some 1,000 policemen forcibly reclaimed the occupied buildings on behalf of the Administration resulting in 712 arrests and 148 reports of injury. For the remainder of the academic year, the University was in chaos. Formal education more or less ceased as large numbers of students and many faculty lent support to the SCC, an umbrella group for the protesters. A second occupation of Hamilton Hall from May 21-22 led to an even more violent confrontation with the police. Even commencement was marred, as most of the graduating class walked out of the ceremony being held in The Cathedral of St. John The Divine to attend a counter-commencement on Low Plaza. Eventually campus disorder gave way to efforts toward restructuring the University, especially after the more moderate student protestors split from the SCC and created Students for a Restructured University (SRU). Among the new elements was the establishment of the University Senate as a representative body for the entire University community.

Immediately following the clearing of occupied buildings, the Ad Hoc Faculty Group convened to vote for support of the strikers and to admonish the administration. Chair Alan Westin would not bring this matter to vote and instead left the meeting. The remaining group reestablished itself as the Independent Faculty Group (IFG) and voted to support the strike.

The same day, Joint Faculties met to consider both pro-administration and anti-administration resolutions. An intermediate resolution was approved in the creation of the Executive Committee of the Faculty, who proposed the creation of an outside fact finding commission on May 2. On May 7, the Fact Finding Commission, composed of five members and chaired by Harvard law professor Archibald Cox, convened. The report Crisis at Columbia, highly critical of the administration, was published in October. The University's affiliation with the IDA was eventually severed, gymnasium construction was halted, the ROTC left campus, military and CIA recruiting stopped, and in August President Kirk resigned with Andrew Cordier named as acting President. Springtime building occupations continued for the next few years, but were eventually replaced by other, less politically minded, activities.

The protests achieved two of the stated goals of the protest: Columbia disaffiliated from the IDA and it scrapped the plans for the controversial gym, building a subterranean physical fitness center under the north end of campus instead.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, student protests addressed other campus issues, namely Columbia's control of real estate in the Morningside Heights area and its relationship to the local community. Several student groups emerged with a focus on local issues such as New York City housing, schools, transit, labor, electoral politics, and support for the Black Panthers and political prisoners.

Protests, which some might characterize as a right of passage, have been a fixture of the Columbia experience throughout its history. However, the occupation of five University buildings in April 1968 signaled a sea change in the way in which students would not only interact with Columbia administration, but in universities throughout the nation.