Fifty-two years ago this week, Senator Edward Kennedy came to campus to campaign for the Democratic candidate for Governor, Lt. Gov. Patrick Lucey. Thanks to heckling by the Committee for the End of the War in Vietnam, it did not go well.
Madison, October 27, 1966
Six years to the week since Sen. John F. Kennedy electrified 12,000 in a powerful campaign appearance in the Field House, his youngest brother comes to campus to boost the gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Pat Lucey, a long-time family friend and supporter. But Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Stock Pavilion appearance isn’t as successful, because the Committee to End the War in Vietnam – CEWV – decided in September not to let any federal official speak on campus, in any capacity. The committee has managed to get members on stage behind Kennedy, their antiwar chants picked up by his microphone, their placards in his photographs. More members are out among the capacity crowd of about 4,000.
Given a standing ovation as he rises to speak, Kennedy is immediately interrupted with catcalls and shouts of “talk about the war.” Unable to continue, Kennedy finally invites CEWV chair Robin David up to the podium. David speaks for nearly ten minutes, reiterating the Socialist Workers Party slogan, “Bring the troops home now,” but he’s unprepared to debate a United States Senator and obviously outmatched by the charismatic Kennedy.
Aware that Kennedy is winning the room, CEWV leaders quickly decide to disrupt his speech with continued heckling, which spreads.[i] Down front, Lea Zeldin starts in with some of the loudest and most urgent shouts of the afternoon. “I have four sons,” she cries out, “and I don’t want them to die in Asia.” A student tries to silence her with a coat over her head, but she throws it off and keeps it up for nearly thirty minutes, until Kennedy gives up, unable to finish his remarks on behalf of the liberal, pro-student Lucey. “Certainly a spirited occasion,” Kennedy said later as he flies to La Crosse for a more orderly appearance.
Reaction is swift and unanimous in condemning the action, which UW President Fred Harvey Harrington and the Daily Cardinal both call “disgraceful.” Over 8000 students sign an apology. The very evening of the incident, the city council unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by all 22 alders, apologizing to Kennedy and inviting him to come back and speak on city-owned property. State Senator Fred Risser warns – correctly – that conservatives controlling state government will cite this incident in pushing to cut the university’s budget.
Although CEWV does not direct the widespread heckling after Kennedy dismissed David, the group initiated the overall action, and so gets the blame. The Wisconsin Student Association puts the CEWV on probation its role in the protest; many regents wish the discipline had been more serious. WSA Senator Paul Soglin thinks there shouldn’t have been any discipline at all.
The faculty’s Student Conduct and Appeals Committee holds a special Saturday session and declares that deliberately interfering with a university-sanctioned speech “may constitute grounds for university disciplinary action, not excluding the possibility, in flagrant or repeated cases, of suspension or expulsion.” The next day, the University Committee holds a special session and votes to create new policies and procedures to protect the rights to speak and hear.[ii]
In December, the faculty overwhelmingly adopts a new rule forbidding obstruction, section 11.02 of the University Rules and Regulations, with no ambiguity about its cause. “This may be called the Ted Kennedy section,” says its chief drafter, political science Professor David Fellman.[iii]
The resolution adopting the rule, immediately binding on the Madison campus, states that those attending a program sponsored by a campus group “have the duty not to obstruct it, and the university has the obligation to protect the right to listen and participate.” Exactly what those terms mean, Fellman says, will be up to the dean of students and the Student Life and Interests Committee.
Almost exactly a year later, it is to enforce this rule, section 11.02, that Chancellor William Sewell will call on the Madison Police Department to clear the Commerce Building, opening the Battle of Dow on October 18, 1967.
[i] Stark interview, War at Home papers, Box 4, Folder 27; Stark email, July 14, 2017.[to author? Date of email?[.
[ii] Faculty Document 96, 4; “Future UW Hecklers May Face Discipline,” WSJ, October 29, 1966; Faculty Document 96, 5, October 30, 1966; “Heckling Spurs Request by UW Group for Rules,” WSJ,October 30, 1966; William Mullen, “UW Hecklers Isolated Selves, Professor Says,” WSJ, October 31, 1966; Pommer, “Faculty Maps ‘Right to Listen’ Policy,” CT, October 31, 1966.
[iii] Gribble, “New Policy Will Protect Speaker from Hecklers at UW Facilities,” WSJ, November 17, 1966; Sinks, “Speaker, Listener Rights Reaffirmed by ‘U’ Faculty,” DC, December 13, 1966; Behnke, “UW Faculty Approves Anti-Heckling Rules,” WSJ, December 13, 1966; “Faculty Adopts New Speaker Policy Rules,” Wisconsin Alumnus 68, no. 4 (January 1967): 22–23.