Fifty years ago this month, the University of Wisconsin had a new chancellor and an old issue. It also had a funeral.
Madison, September 1968. The University of Wisconsin opens a new academic year under its third Chancellor in four years – H. Edwin Young, recommended by President Fred Harvey Harrington and unanimously confirmed by the regents to succeed William Sewell, who quit before he was fired after one troubled year. “I was the wrong man for the times and the situation,” Sewell later writes a friend.[i]
But Young’s appointment, which Sewell predicted months before, almost doesn’t happen; Harrington’s handpicked search and selection committee inexplicably does not include Young among its list of candidates. Harrington has to call the members in and direct them to do so, which they do.[ii]
Harrington believes Young to be more aggressive in cracking down on students, including using undercover agents among them. Young’s first press conference proves him right. “Demonstrations are appropriate behavior for students,” he says, “but we won’t tolerate disruption of this university. There are always people who would like to destroy the system,” he adds, “but I don’t regard closing down the University as a legitimate demand.”[iii]
The 1968–1969 protest season starts on Saturday, September 14 with the return of an issue from years ago – Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). About 250 students meet on Library Mall and proclaim themselves the “Freshman ROTC Resistance.” They vote to boycott the mandatory ROTC orientation classes, which are still required of freshmen males even after ROTC itself was made voluntary in 1960 – back when the new Chancellor chaired the powerful University Committee.
At just about the same time the students meet on the mall, a decorated 1967 UW graduate in the ROTC program – Army Lieutenant Harry B. Hambleton III, 24 – dies aboard the hospital ship Repose in the South China Sea. A 1963 graduate of West High School, Hambleton had been injured during a firefight seven days prior. In his nine months in Vietnam, Hambleton had been awarded three Purple Hearts, a Presidential citation, the Army Commendation Medal for heroism, and numerous other commendations.
Back on campus Monday morning, about thirty of the three hundred students walk out of the first ROTC orientation; another sixteen do likewise at the noon session.[iv] That night, about two hundred students meet and agree to engage in prolonged disruptive discussions during the class sessions, which continue through the week.
There are two important developments on Wednesday. History professor Harvey Goldberg, the hero of radical and revolutionary students, becomes the first professor to have a class disrupted by the radical History Students Association. Interrupting Goldberg’s European Social History lecture to a capacity crowd in the Ag Hall auditorium – the day’s topic is seventeenth-century market capitalism – the HSA’s Michael David Rosen successfully diverts the class into a critique of the course itself.[v]
That night, about seven hundred activists meet in 6210 Social Sciences for the merger meeting of the Madison Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Wisconsin Draft Resistance Union (WDRU). The WDRU’s John Fuerst, founding chairman of the SDS chapter at Columbia University, says the unified group will focus on organizational activity rather than the previous strategy of confrontation.[vi]
The next night, the Student Senate endorses making the orientation voluntary and schedules a referendum for October.[vii]
The voluntary ROTC program itself, in place since 1960, is already hurting; combined enrollment for the Madison and Milwaukee campuses last fall fell to 1,257, its lowest level since 1962.
Saturday morning the 21st brings the first women-directed antiwar action, as about sixty women and a handful of men rally at Lincoln Terrace, where Naomi Puro urges the start of what she calls a “women’s liberation movement” on campus, focusing on issues beyond ROTC, including abortion, birth control, and discrimination in employment. Then they march march on Ag Hall to invade a Naval ROTC class. Using the microphone provided by Captain C. E. Olson, first year student Laurie Rosen (Michael’s younger sister) reads a statement denouncing the military presence on campus and the war. Then the program resumes. That’s when the hissing, hollering, foot stomping, and clapping begin. Olson twice warns that “further disruptions will not be tolerated,” but takes no action to expel the protesters.[viii]
While the ROTC action is underway, other students are heckling US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, because he refuses to denounce or even discuss the war during a well-attended Union Theater appearance. the first African American on the High Court, Marshall is able to finish his talk, part of the Law School’s commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.[x]
[i] “Chancellor Sewell Resigns after Disquieting Year,” Wisconsin Alumnus 69, no. 9 (June 1968): 5; Pommer, “Courage Marked Sewell’s Term,”CT, July 1, 1968; Harrington OH #0135; Editorial, “Bill Sewell—The Victim of the Irrational Right and Left,” CT, July 2, 1968; Brautigam, “Protest Problems Plagued Sewell Era,” CT, June 29, 1968; Cronon and Jenkins, The University of Wisconsin, 468.
[ii] Harrington OH #0135; Sewell OH #0101.
[iii] Harrington OH #0135; “Young Wants to Be Chancellor, Not Policeman,” WSJ, September 14, 1968.
[iv] Pommer, “Freshman Group to Try ROTC Challenge,” CT, September 12, 1968; Rosemary Kendrick, “Academic Year’s First Demonstration Proves to Be Spirited but Peaceful,” CT, September 14, 1968.
[v] Rob Gordon, “Goldberg’s History Course Questioned by Class,” DC, September 19, 1968.
[vi] Mike Gondek, “Tactic Change Seen in Merger of WDRU-SDS,” DC, September 19, 1968; Pommer, “SDS, Draft Resisters on Campus Merge,”CT, September 19, 1968.
[vii] Rena Steinzor, “Freshmen Continue Disruption of ROTC,” DC, September 17, 1968; Monica Deignan, “Senate Bill Passed to End ROTC Requirement,” DC, September 20, 1968.
[viii] Steinzor, “Women Students Disrupt ROTC Meeting,” DC, September 24, 1968.
[ix] Kendrick, “Women Invade Protest Movement against ROTC,” CT, September 20, 1968.
[x] Julie Kennedy, “Justice Thurgood Marshall Speaks Here; Applauded, Heckled by 1,000 in Union,” DC, September 24, 1968.