Student Unrest at the University of Chicago from the Perspective of the Administration

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Student Unrest at the University of Chicago from the Perspective of the Administration
Caroline Ouwerkerk

The Kruskal Papers at the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago were donated by former University of Chicago professor William Kruskal, a statistics professor who was very active in the administration of the University of Chicago, serving as chair of the statistics department from 1966 to 1973 and also as dean of the Social Sciences Division. Kruskal was very interested in the student protests of the late sixties and he collected information about the protests that took place both at the University of Chicago as well as on the campuses of other institutions around the country at the time.

Kruskal's Papers tell the story of student unrest at the University of Chicago from the perspective of the administrators. Collected toward the end of the era of student protests at the University of Chicago, the papers are indicative of the impact multiple student actions over multiple years had on the administrators and the University itself. The collection contains a wide variety of materials, none of them authored by William Kruskal himself. Instead, we find reports from various committees on disciplining students, but perhaps even more interestingly, memos from several professors to the President of the University, Edward Levi, imploring him to act swiftly and strongly against the disruptive student protesters, to put an end to the era of "four sit-ins in four years.

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"Memo from James Redfield to Faculty and Students, April 10, 1969" William Kruskal. Papers, Box 2, Folder 4, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

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Student action seems to have had a significant history at the University of Chicago. Beginning with 1966, students at the University took to various forms of protests in order to express their frustration and anger with various University policies. In May 1966, the Students Against the Rank University of Chicago held a six day sit in of the Administration Building with over 450 protests to protest the formulation of ranking of students in order to help the government better decide whom to draft for military service in the Vietnam War. Specific protest was successful, and in February 1967, the Council of the Faculty Senate of the University of Chicago announced that they had abolished male class ranking for the Selective Service.

On January 30,1969, after the latest student sit-in at the University of Chicago involving over 165 students, the Committee of the Council, a collection of faculty representatives from each of the divisions of the college as well as the dean of the College

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Information taken from University of Chicago website

, appointed the University Discipline Committee, asking them to review the disciplinary procedures for students engaged in "disruptive student protests."

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"Final Report from the University Discipline Committee, appointed by the Committee of the Council" William Kruskal. Papers, Box 1, Folder 4, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

The Committee reviewed existing procedures as well as proposals for the revision of the procedures that were submitted specifically in response to the latest student action. Their spokesman, Edward Rosenheim, Jr., was given a seventeen-page report detailing their findings in March. The Council's report also included a twelve-page appendix specifically detailing the various forms of disciplinary procedures associated with "disruptive student protests.

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"Final Report from the University Discipline Committee, appointed by the Committee of the Council" William Kruskal. Papers, Box 1, Folder 4, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

" The findings from the report were then used in the drafting of a memorandum to the faculty and students of the University, describing a resolution based on the University Discipline Committee's findings had been passed by the Council of the University Senate. The Senate had decided not to alter the disciplinary actions it had imposed on the students involved in the protest, as well as to allow "established disciplinary procedures (to) remain in effect unless and until revised by the Council."

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"Final Report from the University Discipline Committee, appointed by the Committee of the Council" William Kruskal. Papers, [Box 1, Folder 4], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Instead of naming a plan for creating more efficient disciplinary procedures or for discussing when that might happen, the document goes on to say, "The council is now engaged in a comprehensive discussion of the desirability of modifying procedures in future disciplinary cases.

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"Final Report from the University Discipline Committee, appointed by the Committee of the Council" William Kruskal. Papers, [Box 1, Folder 4], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

" This question of identifying whether or not reviewing procedures is even a good idea is a maddening insight into the perspective of the University administration at this time. It is seemingly unthinkable for the University to appoint a committee to decide on a particular action—it seems to decentralize the process even further rather than just making procedures immediately. Rather than addressing the problem directly, the University perpetuates the issue by not amending its regulations, given the climate of the University during this period.

The Kruskal papers give a decidedly one-sided view of the student unrest at the University of Chicago. The documents in the collection indicate frustration, cluelessness, and a lack of understanding of the perspective of the students in the College. Wayne Booth, professor of English, drafted a memorandum to the faculty and students of the University of Chicago on April 14, 1969, the first paragraph of which demonstrates a lack of understanding of the situation at hand. He writes, "It is not at all clear to me what are the real causes of our present disturbances on campus. The sequence of demands issued by students over the past two and a half months will make an interesting historical study for someone someday.

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"Memo from Wayne Booth to the Faculty and Students of the University of Chicago, April 14 2969" William Kruskal. Papers, Box 2, Folder 4, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

" In addition to failing to see the point, Booth's comment that someone in the future will be studying the circumstances is at once spine tingling for the researcher and a prescient analysis of the circumstances unfolding. Booth goes on to fault the student movement for mishandling their protests and thus in the process enacting many of the same actions it accused the University for doing:

(There have been many historical ironies throughout these troubles, but surely none more wry than the spectacle of men and women making public charges of political suppression, in meeting halls provided by the University, and without the slightest fear of any reprisal; everyone on this campus ought to know that no on e has been touched or will be touched for political reasons; punishment is connected only with coercive action against the University. To call sanctions for such action a political purge is to play the kind of corrupting verbal game that only a George Orwell could do justice to.) (Underlining and parentheses original)

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"Memo from Wayne Booth to the Faculty and Students of the University of Chicago, April 14 2969" William Kruskal. Papers, Box 2, Folder 4, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

By emphasizing the "historical ironies" of the students' actions instead of seriously addressing the concerns beneath them, Booth's statement comes across as condescending and petty. Clearly, the 165 students involved with this particular sit-in felt strongly enough about their cause to risk expulsion for it, a punishment forty-two of them received. This was by no means an action taken lightly by either party, and to see such mockery from a University official in a public document distributed to the entire University community is disappointing and gives further insight into the attitude of the administration in this period.

By no means was Wayne Booth's disbelieving, condescending attitude unique to him. In his response to the students arguing that by disciplining the protesters the school was engaging in political repression, Chairman and Associate Professor of the Committee on Social Thought and the Master of the New Collegiate division James Redfield, in true University of Chicago style referenced Proudhon, writing:

The disciplinary proceedings are not political repression. If someone steals books from the library and then appears before a committee to declare himself a follower of Proudhon and a believer in the doctrine that property is theft, the committee which suspends him is not punishing him for acts consistent with his beliefs. An act cannot be made political by calling it political, nor can any community survive if all acts declared consistent with the same political premise are treated as the exercise of free speech. If a community has not some constituted means for moderating conflict it collapses into a chaos of private wills. In our University those means are founded on the principle of faculty governance, and that principle is in the interest of every member of he University and deserves the support of us all. Disciplinary proceedings, distasteful as they are, are in the interests of students as much as everyone else

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"Memo from James Redfield to Faculty and Students, April 10, 1969" William Kruskal. Papers, Box 2, Folder 4, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

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Redfield goes on to urge the students to cease protesting in the interest of preserving the University of Chicago, arguing that the school was in danger of falling apart if the faculty continued to have disruptions in their academic work and citing the students and morale of the school's constituents as the sole factors for its appeal. Redfield appeals to that feeling shared by many generations of University of Chicago students—that of collective frustration of Chicago's weather:

The University of Chicago lives on its morale. It is located in an unpleasant city, in a nasty climate, a thousand miles from anywhere; most members of this faculty could immediately increase their salaries by going to other universities. They are here rather than elsewhere because they value their colleagues and their students and their relations with their colleagues and their students. If the web of those relations is torn the University will fall in on itself. The faculty will cease to teach (that has been the usual result of disruptive demonstrations at other universities): the best of them will go elsewhere and so will the students most concerned for education it will be impossible to recruit to position of administrative leadership anyone who cares about the real life of the place. The University of Chicago will become another mediocre, impersonal, routine institution and will probably perish. It will deserve to

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"Memo from James Redfield to Faculty and Students, April 10, 1969" William Kruskal. Papers, Box 2, Folder 4, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

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This plea takes a rather apocalyptic tone. Without actually addressing the underlying issues, Redfield insists that the end of the University is nigh and that its demise is warranted. Given the patronizing tone of many of these memoranda from the University administration and their demonstrated inefficacy, it seems like it might have made more sense and helped to ameliorate the situation if the administration had taken the students' demands seriously, helping to address the grievances and worked with the students to achieve a solution to the underlying issues involved.

While it certainly is important to consider the context of the administration's response to the actions of the students, this is information is somewhat more difficult to glean from the University's archival resources. It is interesting to consider why the University eventually sided with the student demands of ending the class ranking system, but refused to alter University policy when it came to disciplining with the same student protesters, though of course no information answering this question is available. The internal justifications for the changes in policy are not contained in these archival materials, nor is it clear exactly which factors contributed to the inconsistency in administrative decisions related to the student protesters.

While activism is by no means defunct at the University of Chicago. Student actions against the University appear now appear on a smaller scale, with protests attracting dramatically fewer students and lasting a few hours instead of a few days. Students at the University of Chicago in the late '60s took the lead from similar protests on other college campuses where students were all reacting to the same issues at the same time. Educated in a country embroiled in a tumultuous period of war and political conflict, students at the University of Chicago share commonalities with the University of Chicago students of today. What makes our experience different from theirs? Why do we approach the issues about which we are passionate with a similar fervor and zeal? While the answers to these questions are probably nowhere to be found in an archive, they give important insight to the changing face of student unrest between the sixties and today.

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