The Rites of Spring
Reminders of April, 1969
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the police raid on student demonstrators occupying University Hall--an event that triggered the historic nine-day strike of April 1969. Next week The Crimson will publish a special supplement on the strike and the lingering effects on Harvard in the past decade.
The police moved in shortly after 5 a.m. The raid began minutes after Fred L. Glimp '50--then dean of the College and now vice president for alumni affairs and development--warned the demonstrators inside that they had five minutes to evacuate the hall. Many demonstrators said later that Glimp's bullhorn-amplified voice was inaudible inside the building.
That detail, like many others, remains vague. The Crimson, for instance, reported that more than 400 state and suburban policemen were involved in the raid; other reports ran as low as 200. Rumors circulated wildly about the number arrested, and injured. Almost all that is clear about the occupation is why the students were there in the first place.
The occupation had begun in the early afternoon of April 9. About 300 demonstrators had taken the building to publicize a list of six demands approved at an SDS-sponsored meeting: abolition of Harvard's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs and contracts; replacement of all ROTC scholarships with University scholarships; reinstatement of the scholarships of students disciplines in the wake of an earlier anti-ROTC demonstration at Paine Hall; a roll-back in rents on all Harvard-owned buildings to their January 1, 1968 level; no destruction of black workers' homes to allow for expansion of the Medical School; and no destruction of University Road apartments to make way for construction of the Kennedy School of Government building.
Ironically, the same meeting of students that approved the demands had three times rejected--by narrow votes--proposals that students occupy University Hall to support the demands. Instead, about 300 demonstrators marched onto the grounds of the house of then President Nathan M. Pusey '28 on Quincy St., the building that now headquarters the Harvard Corporation. Led by Jessie L. Gill--a tenant's organizer and SDS militant who had been active in tacking the community-oriented demands on to the list of anti-ROTC proposals--the group marched up to the house. Gill then pushed aside a guard and tacked the list of demands to the door.
The ironies abound. Four years after the strike, Gill was exposed as a paid informer for the Central Intelligence Agency.
The next day, April 9, hundreds of students gathered in the Yard at noon, for a rally and reading of the SDS demands. The Crimson originally reported that the crowd outside University Hall approved the seizure of the building by an 800-400 vote. In fact, as was subsequently reported a majority of the crowd apparently opposed the move. Within 15 minutes, students had swarmed into University Hall and ejected several administrators, including Robert B. Watson '37, dean of students and later athletic director; Archie C. Epps III, then assistant dean of the College and now dean of students; F. Skiddy von Stade '37, then dean of freshmen; and W.C. Burris Young '55, a freshman senior adviser and now associate dean of freshmen. Most of the administrators put up some resistance--Epps's was reported to be strenuous--but the students held the building.
Shortly thereafter demonstrators asked Glimp, Franklin L. Ford, then dean of the Faculty and now McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History, and J. Petersen Elder, then dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, to leave. The deans left peaceably, with Ford being allowed to return briefly to pick up his coat.
The number of students inside the building fluctuated throughout the day and night. About 200 were involved in the initial takeover; that number reportedly swelled to more than 350 by the late evening, as the demonstrators left the doors open. Pusey and Ford met throughout the day with the Council of Deans and the masters of the Houses. At 10 p.m. they reached the decision to call in the police, according to their later accounts.
At first, Pusey asked Robert L. Tonis, then chief of University police, to clear the building. Tonis said later he had "serious misgivings" about the action, but felt he had no choice. Later however, it became clear that outside police help would be needed; and so helmeted, gas-masked officers from Arlington, Cambridge, Boston, Somerville, Watertown, Newton and the Metropolitan District Commission were asked to make the charge, while University police kept the way clear. About 275 demonstrators were arrested, and about 75 injured. As the full-time cops were mopping up inside. Tonis circulated outside the building, apologizing to onlookers. "As far as the University police are concerned, we didn't want to do anything about it, but they're way over our heads now," he said.
Pusey and Ford justified the police action on the grounds that they had to protect the University and what it stood for. "It was quite clear that the issue was a direct assault upon the authority of the University and upon rational processes and accepted procedures," Pusey said in a statement released April 11. "What is now at stake is the freedom to teach, to inquire and to learn," Ford added in a statement released the same day. "Some now insist that 'storm troopers entered University Hall.' This is true, but they entered it at noon on Wednesday, not dawn on Thursday."
Five hours after the police raid, 2000 students gathered in Memorial Church and voted overwhelmingly to authorize a three-day strike of classes. The SDS backed the strike, but support for the move went far beyond a "radical" faction that wanted to make abolition of ROTC the key issue, and "moderates" who wanted largely to protest the administration's handling of the occupation, and the subsequent police violence. The meeting also called for the dropping of all criminal charges against arrested demonstrators.
The strike itself continued until April 18, when concessions by the Faculty--including a vote of "no special privileges" for ROTC on campus, and a decision to allow student participation in decision-making in the Afro-American Studies Department--satisfied enough of the moderates. Harvard also pledged to build 1100 low-and middle-income housing units in Boston, and to drop all criminal charges against the University Hall demonstrators.
But the after-effects of the strike lingered. Judge Edward O. Viola '50 refused to let Harvard drop charges; 170 students were convicted of criminal trespass, and fined $20 each. The Committee of 15, a group set up to determine academic punishment for the demonstrators, required 13 students to with-draw, and recommended to the Faculty that it "dismiss" three others. In addition, 20 students received "suspended suspensions," and 99 others were placed on warning. The Committee of 15 gave way to the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities, another disciplinary panel that has been the focus of an almost continuous student boycott.
The strike took a personal tool as well--Ford suffered a stroke in late April, and was temporarily replaced; Glimp left Harvard that September and did not return until this year; and Pusey left Harvard in 1971, a year before he would normally have been required to retire. With Pusey's retirement and his replacement by Derek C. Bok, former dean of the Law School, the University began to build a new governing structure--a more bureaucratized system, one of dispersed power, with less emphasis on the "one-man show" that Pusey had run for more than a decade and a half. But despite the change in administration and the graduation of ten successive classes from the College, the memory of the strike has lingered among Harvard Faculty. And more than most undergraduates of the '70s realize, the strike and the attitudes it represented have permanently changed the conditions in which they study and live.
A full history of the strike, along with analyses of its immediate and long-term effects on both faculty and students, will appear in next week's supplement.