Spartacus Report (1969)

Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

Spartacus: Discipline and Political Suppression: An Empirical Analysis.  Number 2.  The University of Chicago, May 1, 1969.
William Kruskal Papers, Box 1, Folder 10

The two-issue Spartacus reports present the results of a study carried out by graduate students at the University of Chicago in 1969, to investigate the issue of "political suppression" at the University.  Spartacus reported on the students' statistical analyses of the outcomes of the disciplinary hearings held in February and March 1969 to determine the University's response to the students involved in an on-campus protest earlier that winter.  Spartacus reported that, contrary to the reports published by the Disciplinary Committees, students received harsher punishments based more on their radical political stances or beliefs, than on their involvement in the protests or delayed response to the Committee, which were the stated bases for disciplinary action.  The authors of the Spartacus report interpreted the empirical data they collected as significant evidence to "support the argument that there was a systematic discrimination against radical left-wing students" in the disciplinary hearings.

Background: Student Protests at the U of C, Winter 1969
    In early January 1969, students at the U of C staged a sit-in at the Administration building to protest the University's refusal to renew the contract of Marlene Dixon, a professor in the Sociology Department, which the students believed was due to her radical left-leaning politics, history of social and political activism, and her gender.  This sit-in turned into a student takeover of the Administration Building, which lasted for two weeks in early January, and resulted in disciplinary actions being taken against the students who were involved.  Beginning in late January and going through March 1969, two different disciplinary committees, led by Professor Oakes and Professor Shireman, held hearings for the students accused by the University of "participation in [these] disruptive demonstrations," which resulted in the suspension and expulsion of many of the students involved.  The disciplinary committees' published reports on the hearings explained their decision-making process for the students' punishments, on the grounds of the "nature and degree" of his or her participation in the protests, and delays in his or her response to the committee's summons.  These decisions provoked a range of responses on campus, which the Spartacus report describes as ranging from "charges of 'political purge' and 'political suppression'...[to] responses such as 'rational maintenance of institutional order.'" 

    The authors of Spartacus, who identified themselves as "a group of graduate students in the social sciences," conducted their study to find out what had happened during the disciplinary hearings, and answer the charge of "political suppression" at the U of C.  The report is named for Spartacus, the historical gladiator-slave who led a slave revolt against the Roman Republic in the first century BC, and has come to be seen as a modern symbol for the fight for freedom against an oppressive authority, as in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film.
    Spartacus I, the first issue of the report, presented a theoretical argument in an essay entitled "The Politics of Discipline," which introduced the hypothesis that students with more radical political positions were punished more harshly for their actions than their more moderate counterparts.  Spartacus II presents the group's report and analysis of the disciplinary proceedings in an essay entitled "Discipline and Political Suppression: An Empirical Analysis."  In this report, first published on April 23, 1969 and re-issued with updated data on May 1, the authors present statistical analyses of the proceedings and results of the hearings, which, they argue, provide support for their "central hypothesis...that for any given level of participation in the sit-in, those students with radical political views received much more punitive treatment than moderate students." 

    The Spartacus II report is composed of two sections; "A Look at the Data: Hard Facts about Disciplinary Proceedings at the University of Chicago," which presents the statistical analysis of Professor Oakes' disciplinary committee's proceedings and decisions, and a section on Case Histories to illustrate these findings.  The sample used in the study was restricted from the 150-plus students who received summons to appear before the Disciplinary Committees, and ultimately included the 38 students who appeared before the Oakes committee for disciplinary hearings.  The students excluded from this study were those whose hearings were decided by the other disciplinary committee, led by Professor Shireman, and the students who did not respond to the Committee's summons at all.
    The Spartacus study collected its data from a 10-page questionnaire that each participant filled out, which asked about the nature and degree of the student's involvement in the protest, and the proceedings and outcome of his or her disciplinary committee hearing.  In regard to the proceedings of the hearing, the study's questionnaire asked about the committee's questions to the student, the evidence cited in the case, the nature of the case made in the student's defense, and the interactions before and during the hearing between the student and the members of the Committee.  Responses to the questionnaire showed that the disciplinary committee regularly questioned students about their "orientations toward political tactics, political strategy, or political goals...[which] tap extremely important dimensions of the student's political outlook" in the course of their hearings, such as:

Do you believe in the demands of the sit-in?
Do you believe in the tactics of the sit-in?
Did you believe in political meetings in the building? 

    The authors of Spartacus hypothesized that, while it was not publicly acknowledged as a factor in the committee's decision-making process, information about students' political views that these types of questions provided was also taken into account by the members of the disciplinary committee in determining the punishment handed down to each student.  The authors hypothesized that the committee showed a bias against "students with a more radical left-wing political position," who were "systematically issued more sever discipline" than their more moderate counterparts.  More specifically, the Spartacus study hypothesized that if the degree of the student's participation in the protests is held constant, "the student with a more radical political position will receive harsher punishment" than one with more moderate views. 
    The authors of Spartacus used the designations of "radical" and "moderate" to categorize students in some of their statistical analyses, although these terms were not used by the disciplinary committee during hearings.  The authors defined "radical" as the group of student protesters who emphasized "issues of university racism and political suppression within the university."  The study defined "moderate" student protesters as concerned primarily with issues of good teaching, student power, and moderate reform inside the university. 
    The Spartacus report included five subsections, which presented statistical analyses of the data to establish a relationship between students' punishment imposed by the disciplinary committee, and their level of involvement at the sit-in, delay of response to the committee's summons, political views, cooperation with the committee during his or her hearing, and general presentation to the committee.  The category of "general presentation" included the student's willingness to answer the committee's questions, instead of remaining mute, the political views he or she chose to discuss in the hearing, and how clearly and articulately these political views were expressed. 

Results: "Systematic Discrimination Against Radical Left-Wing Students."

In conclusion, our data strongly suggests that neither of the two stated bases of punishment--evidence and delay of response to the Committee--could explain the punishment which a student received.  The most successful predictor of punishment was the political views of the student.  We feel that the data strongly support the argument that there was a systematic discrimination against radical left-wing students.  (from Spartacus II, May 1969)

    Spartacus first looked at the relationship between students' participation in the protests and the delay in their response to the Committee's summons, which were the only two grounds for punishment that the disciplinary committee had acknowledged.  The study found little correlation between the punishments students received, and their level of participation in the sit-in, measured by length of time.  The study calculated the length of time that each student was involved in the protest using physical evidence that had been available to the disciplinary committee, such as photographs or eyewitness reports, but acknowledge that the committee may have used different methods in their calculations. 
    In their initial calculation, the Spartacus study found a correlation to exist between students' punishment, and the delay before they responded to the Committee's summons.  The study identified three categories for students' responses to the Committee: those who responded immediately; students who responded "late," but before the committee's final letter to students went out on February 27th; and "very late" students who responded to the committee after the February 27th deadline.  The study also found a discrepancy between the average response delays for the politically "moderate" students, who mostly responded to the committee immediately or before February 27th, and the "radical" group, whose responses were either "late" or "very late."
    When the analysis was adjusted to control for students' "political orientation," the correlation between students' punishment and response time disappeared.  However, even when controlling for different delays in their responses, the study found a strong correlation between students' political orientation and the punishments that they received.  While all eleven of the students the study classified as "radical" were suspended for more than three quarters, all but one of the "moderate" students received suspensions for three quarters or less.  This correlation breaks down even further within the "moderate" group of students; while the one student suspended for more than three quarters had responded to the committee's summons before February 27th, the one student with a "very late" response was only suspended for three quarters or less.
    Spartacus also reported a correlation between students' punishment and their level of cooperation with the committee, despite the fact that refusal to cooperate was not one of the grounds for punishment that the committee had publicly addressed.  The effects of students' cooperation and "general presentation" were also addressed in the Case Histories presented in the second half of the report.  While the study only accepted physical evidence for students' involvement in the sit-in, the disciplinary committee publicly acknowledged that the members could base their decisions on "common sense inferences," as well as documentary evidence.  One source of these "inferences" was students' refusal to answer particular questions, which the committee had pointed to as evidence of guilt, but Spartacus defended as the student's Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
    The Case Histories pointed specifically to due process violations in the students' hearings, and "double jeopardy punitive measures" imposed by the University.  Among the due process violations that the study identified were the committee's tendencies to "reward duplicity" in students' testimonies, which ranged from giving evasive answers to questions or expressing remorse, to "outright lying" about degree of their involvement in the protest.  Spartacus also accused the disciplinary committees of holding students to a standard of "guilty until proven innocent," and conducting a "trial of motives," concerned more with the students' political stances than with their actual actions during the sit-in.  Spartacus also pointed to actions taken by the University against the student protesters, in addition to the disciplinary committee's punishments, which "effectively punished students in several different ways for a single offense."  These "double jeopardy" punishments included the administration's instructions for student protesters to be fired from jobs they held at the University, students being thrown out of housing, and cuts in students' funding for grants and fellowships from the University.

Conclusion of the Report

Below are the conclusions reached in the Spartacus report, on the basis of their statistical analysis to explore political suppression at the University of Chicago, in the case of the 1969 disciplinary committee hearings for student protesters.  (Underlining as in original report.)

1. There was no clear, systematic relation between the severity of punishment and the amount of evidence the Committee had against the defendant.  Thus we must look for other factors to explain differences in punishment.
2.  All students who admitted to being in the building, and who agreed to answer questions put by the Committee, were subjected to political interrogation.
3.  Delay in response to a summons from the Committee (the only publicly acknowledged basis for punishment other than evidence) was shown not to be a significant factor determining punishment.  There was no significant relationship between delay of response and punishment when we took into account the political views of the student.  For any two students with the same political orientation, the one who took longer to respond to the summons was not more likely to receive harsh punishment.
4.  There was a strong relationship between the student's political ideology and the severity of punishment received, controlling for the amount of evidence against him.  Radical students consistently received harsher punishments than moderate students with the same amount of evidence against them.
5.  The strong relation between political ideology and punishment was shown to remain even when the amount of time it took the student to respond to the summons is taken into account.  Thus a radical student received harsher punishment than a moderate student even if both took the same amount of time to respond to the Committee.  We also found that differentials in evidence could not account for this difference.
6.  There was a strong relationship between the degree of cooperativeness with the Committee (defined independently of any action stated to be punishable) and the severity of punishment, controlling for the amount of evidence against the student.  Students who were deferent and respectful towards the Committee received less punishment than those who were not, even if the evidence against them was the same. 
7.  There was a strong relationship between the student's general presentation to the Committee and his punishment, controlling for the amount of evidence.
    a.  Given the same amount of evidence a student who appeared confused when discussing his political orientation received less punishment that a student who was rational or articulate when speaking of his political beliefs.
    b.  Among students who did not deal with political issues in their defenses, those who communicated with the Committee received less punishment than those who chose to stand mute, even where the evidence against them was the same.  These students appear to have been punished for exercising their right against self-incrimination.

Spartacus: Discipline and Political Suppression: An Empirical Analysis.  Number 2.  The University of Chicago, May 1, 1969.  William Kruskal Papers, Box 1, Folder 10.
Editorial, "Reply to Reply to Reply," Chicago Maroon, May 27, 1969.  William Kruskal Papers, Box 1, Folder 10.

Enter labels to add to this page:
Please wait 
Looking for a label? Just start typing.