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Student Spring Offensive On! (1969)

By Carl Davidson

The opening assault in the radical student movement’s spring offensive rocked campus after campus across the country last week. The full range of the nation’s institutions of higher education felt the attack: from Ivy League colleges and state universities to community colleges and working-class high schools. Tens of thousands of students have taken militant action against the class and colonial oppression built into the educational system. The following reports of campus revolts are only a few of the hundreds that occurred:

Columbia University, New York: Fourteen black freshmen took the lead in the attack on Columbia’s privileged admissions policies last week by occupying the admissions office. The students, members of the Students’ Afro-American Society, demanded a black admissions board, nominated and controlled by black students, to evaluate the applications of all potential black students. On April 21, 150 black high school students came on campus and sat in to demand open admissions for students graduating from four nearby Harlem high schools.

While SAS has not yet endorsed the open admissions demand (they want to establish a black studies program first), they responded by calling for a 24-hour evacuation of the campus to press for their demand for a black-controlled interim board setting up the black studies program, a black cultural center, and determining guidelines for black admissions.

SDS, which has been pushing the open admissions demand, organized several militant rallies in support of the black students. Many sympathetic white students, however, looking to SDS for leadership, have been confused about how best to relate to the struggle of the black students because of serious internal divisions in SDS.

City College of New York: Black and Puerto Rican students chained the gates of CCNY’s south campus April 22, forcing the school to close for the rest of the week. About 200 students took part in the action, demanding a school of black and Puerto Rican studies, an admissions policy reflecting the racial composition of New York high schools, black and brown control of preparatory programs, and required courses in black and Puerto Rican history and the Spanish language for all students seeking teaching degrees.

SDS has tried to rally white student support, but has been hampered by internal disputes. Meanwhile, 700 engineering students and faculty ignored the administration’s order to close the school, heckled the picket lines and held classes anyway.

Fordham University, New York: More than 150 students and a few faculty members pushed aside five campus cops and occupied the office of the school’s president in an anti-ROTC action April 23. No negotiations, no committees, no referendum, no deals, read their statement of demands; ROTC must be abolished now. After holding the building for 24 hours the students left, leading a march around the campus. A mass meeting on the issue, called by the president, revealed a clear division among both students and faculty. The leaders of the sit-in, organized by the Committee Against ROTC and by SDS, considered the action a partial victory, since they won many more students to their side than they had expected.

Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.. Marine recruiters were blocked by a sit-in of 40 SDS activists April 21. A vigorous debate followed between some SDSers and the Marines, and few students were interviewed. Two days later, about 100 SDS students blockaded the offices of the Institute for Defense Analyses adjacent to the campus. Several IDA employees tried to break through the line and a brief scuffle broke out. SDS left the scene after the police arrived, not wanting to risk arrest.

Suffolk Community College, Selden, N.Y.: Marine recruiters were forced to leave the campus last week after a sit-in of 400 students led by SDS. One of the SDS leaders is a Marine Vietnam veteran. The administration also agreed to a demand to call off all campus recruiting until students and faculty could vote on the issue.

Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard students continued their militant anti-ROTC campaign last week, along with their fight against Harvard’s expansion policies into surrounding working-class neighborhoods. A two-week-long class boycott, however, was called off. The boycott ended after the faculty voted to establish a black studies program controlled equally by black students and by the faculty.

The faculty also voted to make ROTC an extracurricular activity. This was condemned by SDS, which charged that . . . extracurricular genocide is still genocide. Most students in the strike, including most of SDS, saw the decision on black studies as a victory. But the worker-student alliance caucus of SDS saw it as a smokescreen and a black student-power measure designed to co-opt the student movement.

Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va.: At this predominantly black college, 1500 students of a student body of 2500 occupied a building last week to protest paternalistic administration policies and defend two popular faculty members. The president closed down the school completely, locking the dorms and shutting down the cafeteria. One student remarked, I’ll just have to take a diploma in insurrection.

University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.: A protest march of 200 persons was held April 18 in reaction to police harassment of black people near the campus. After the firebombing incident, police occupied a housing complex for a week, subjecting blacks to racist insults and trumped-up arrests. The Black Student Union and SDS led a march on the mayor’s office. The mayor was spotted in a car near campus, and was immediately surrounded and held for 20 minutes until he agreed to a public hearing on the issue.

Merritt College, Oakland, Calif.: Chicano students pressed for and won approval of a set of demands from the faculty and trustees after a week-long struggle, April 14 to 21. The demands called for naming Froben Lozada, a chicano member of the Socialist Workers party, head of a new Mexican-American studies department, free textbooks and meals for needy students and increased hiring of third-world people. The students had to barricade the faculty into their meeting room and threaten the same to the trustees to win the demands. Merritt College is the alma mater of Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther party.

University of Montana, Missoula, Mont.: After 1600 students, faculty and townspeople turned out last week to hear Dr. Benjamin Spock denounce the Vietnam war and the draft, 19 students and two instructors turned in their draft cards and refused to cooperate with the Selective Service System.

Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisc.: Anti-ROTC protests broke out April 22 when students and faculty occupied a campus building. More than 70 persons were arrested when police were called in to break up the sit-in.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.: War research laboratories were picketed by more than 300 students and faculty members April 22. When the lab’s director refused to talk to the demonstrators, they marched to the office of MIT President Howard Johnson and sat in until he arrived to debate the issue.

After defending MIT’s cooperation with the Defense Department, Johnson came under heavy attack from students and faculty who demanded that a moratorium be called on all war research until MIT’s entire research program could be democratically reviewed. The. protest was organized by the Science Action Coordinating Committee.

American University, Washington: SDS students ejected university President George Williams from his office April 24. The administration was charged with pursuing policies resulting in the oppression of black and white working-class people.

Source: Guardian May 1969

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