Madison in the Sixties – late winter, 1967. Dow 1 – the Skirmish, part two
As February turns to March, the campus is still consumed by the aftermath of the protests against job interviews being conducted by the napalm-making Dow Chemical Company, when hundreds occupied administrative offices in Bascom Hall and 19 persons were arrested during the action organized by Madison Students for a Democratic Society.
On the 23rd, Chancellor Robben Fleming gives a prophetic warning, telling a press conference, “You’ll have unrest on campus as long as the war goes on.” That night, the city council unanimously adopts a resolution calling the demonstrations “irresponsible and reprehensible” and calling for UW officials to take “stringent measures” against the demonstrators.
The council also wants an investigation into whether two adult women who are active in the protest movement – Bourtai Scudder who is divorced with six children, and Lea Zeldin, a widow with four children, are receiving public assistance from Dane County. “If some of the demonstrators learned the facts about these female pied pipers,” says west side alder William Bradford Smith, “they wouldn’t be so eager to follow them.”
Friday morning, February 24, the Daily Cardinal attacks the SDS for “denying student rights and freedoms” and engaging in “vulgar, gross language and incoherent, emotional babbling” that left the editorialist “appalled.” “The protesters have defeated their cause by their action,” the paper continues, “The protest, for any effective purpose, is finished.” The liberal, antiwar Capital Times agrees, editorializing that “because the students were disorderly they have done damage to the peace movement all over the country.”
A little later, Governor Warren Knowles says the action was “far beyond the area of reasonable conduct” and calls on the university to “lay down some strict disciplinary rules” and enforce them.
On Friday the 24th, a new group calling itself the “We Want No Berkeley Here” committee holds a Bascom Hill rally to protest the protesters; about 800 brave the subzero temperature to hear denunciations of the antiwar activists as unkempt, unwashed and unrepresentative of the full student body. Then they pack the Bascom Hall auditorium, by invitation, and give Fleming a standing ovation as he enters the room: “This is the first time I haven’t felt lonely in a crowd in days,” he says to cheers and applause. “No minority can dictate its views to the university,” he declares.
Sunday morning the 26th, about twenty members of the Committee for Direct Action, including Scudder and Zeldin, attend morning worship at the First Congregational Church on Breese Terrace. They sit unobtrusively during the first half of the service, then rise and stand silently in the outside aisles bearing antiwar signs throughout the sermon, part of a recurring CDA action. About 250 parishioners remain afterward for an hourlong discussion arranged by the Rev. Lawrence Gruman and the church moderator, Leslie Fishel, director of the State Historical Society.
On Monday the 27th, Fleming asks the placement officers in the three schools and departments which bore the brunt of the protests to report to Dean of Student Affairs Joseph Kaufmann the names of any students they feel should be disciplined, and how serious that discipline should be. Fleming and Kaufmann also ask the Wisconsin Student Association to investigate the role of Madison SDS in the protest, and determine whether the group agrees to follow the rule against disrupting university activities. If SDS won’t agree, they write, its registration as a student organization “should be canceled.”
The political backlash that began with the disruption in October 1966 of the Stock Pavilion speech by Sen. Ted Kennedy grows, with the cochairs of the legislature’s budget- writing Joint Finance Committee explicitly threatening to cut the university’s budget over the episode. “Let’s be honest,” says Senator Walter Hollandale (R- Rosendale). “If you feel unkindly toward them, they won’t get as much money.” And the criticism continues to spread as the State Assembly votes, 82–15, to demand that the university explain how it’s maintaining “a responsible intellectual and social climate” following “offensive” articles in the Daily Cardinal. Assembly Speaker Harold Froelich, an arch conservative from Appleton, says the brouhaha “adds fire to my fight for higher out-of-state tuition.”
On March 2, the WSA Senate votes, 19–11, to ban SDS from campus until at least next fall; Senator Paul Soglin, who joined the Bascom Hall hallway occupation on February 22, argues against the suspension, which speaker Froelich applauds in a telegram to President Harrington attacking the administration for not kicking SDS off campus, which Attorney General Bronson La Follette says Harrington has the power to do. “Your telegram astounds me,” Harrington replies, calling the powerful legislator “totally in error” in his criticism. The WSA ban, which SDS President mathematics Ph D candidate Hank Haslach calls “a childish act of blind retribution” and which the Student Court quickly overturns, greatly enhances SDS’s popularity and triples its membership to about three hundred overnight.
On March 6, Fleming issues Faculty Document 122, detailing that he will continue to use whatever force is necessary to ensure compliance with rule 11.02: “Given the traditions of this campus, it is fair to assume that the faculty wants to preserve dissent, but without anarchy, and that it wants order, but without oppression.” And the faculty sides with the university’s critics, tightening admission standards and lowering enrollment numbers for out-of-state students.
At a special meeting two days later, the faculty rejects, 249–62, a motion by Sociology professor Maurice Zeitlin to ban job interviews by “corporations involved in producing war materials,” and reaffirms the right of “any bona fide employer” to recruit on campus. Among those voting for the ban is the Vilas professor of sociology, and future Chancellor, William Sewell. The faculty vote echoes an earlier one by the WSA Senate, 25-1 to continue the all-employer placement service. The regents commend the administration “for its courageous, reasoned and farseeing actions, [exemplifying] ‘sifting and winnowing’ in the search for truth.”
In Midland, Michigan, Dow executives make plans for their return to campus in mid-October. Protesters do, too.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing listener-supported WORT News team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Photo of students cheering Chancellor Robben Fleming Feb. 24, 1967 courtesy UW-Madison Archives Image S17028