Madison, the fourth week of May 1966. The anti-draft sit-in, part 2
For the second Saturday in a row, about two thousand young men take a three-hour test at the UW Fieldhouse that could determine their lives and deaths.
Those who do well enough on the test from the Selective Service System, or have a high enough class ranking, can keep their 2S student deferment. Those with low scores and rankings – about ten percent of all freshmen and sophomores — will be classified as “marginal” students, and lose their deferments, and likely be drafted.
Eight thousand young men have already returned the big blue IBM card to the administration building on Murray Street, telling the registrar to send their academic records to their local draft boards, so they can keep their deferments.
But antiwar activists see compliance as complicity, and want the university to stop cooperating – not use campus facilities to give the test, not provide academic records. It’s part of their national effort to end all student deferments, so middle- and upper-class young men have the same risk in the war as the poor. Making their politically powerful parents more likely to support peace.
For the five days prior, a great crowd embodied as the Committee on the University and the Draft held a peaceful, non-obstructive sit-in at the administration building which ended after the faculty scheduled a special meeting to consider the anti-draft demands.
It’s a dark and stormy Monday afternoon, May 23, when a record 892 faculty pack the Music Hall auditorium for that special meeting; about an equal number of students listen to the proceedings piped into the Great Hall and other rooms in the Union. The students are stunned and outraged when the faculty allows only 90 minutes of debate on the four resolutions — barely a minute of meeting for each hour of sit-in.
History Professor Harvey Goldberg, the darling of campus radicals, moves that the UW not release class rank “in any form to anyone,” provide academic transcripts only to students, and only notify draft boards as to whether or not a student is enrolled,; his motion is silent on the use of university facilities for draft exams.[i] His colleague Professor William Appleman Williams, a graduate of the Naval Academy, presents the CUD’s resolution that the university “not cooperate with the Selective Service System” by releasing class rankings to them or permitting the use of campus facilities for the deferment examination, and that it not provide transcripts directly to students, but only to potential employers.[ii]
The Williams and Goldberg variations are both rejected by voice vote, as is one offered by Professor Michael Petrovich on behalf of the new teaching assistants association. With little debate, the faculty overwhelmingly adopts the version from its own University Committee—that while class rank “should not be transmitted” to draft boards it remain available directly to the students, along with transcripts, for whatever purpose they wish, and that campus facilities should remain available for the draft deferment exams. The resolution also creates a student-faculty committee, as urged by the WSA, “to review all Selective Service problems and procedures facing the University.”[iii]
As introduced, the University Committee’s resolution also denounced “illegal and unauthorized” means of protest, declaring the faculty “unalterably opposed to coercive methods which interfere” with normal university operations. But, at the insistence of History Professor George Mosse, the faculty deletes those two paragraphs.[iv] That symbolic change doesn’t soften the blow; the activists can’t believe the faculty let them down like that. “A total defeat,” Evan Stark says, as the movement’s trust in the faculty evaporates in an instant.[v]
After denouncing the faculty, the protesters decide to resume the sit-in; finding the administration building locked, about a thousand go back up the hill to Bascom Hall, which they occupy throughout the night – thanks to a teaching assistant with a key.[vi]
Although Fleming had earlier forbidden further sit-ins, he doesn’t roust them. But Tuesday morning, he tells the leaders that he’s “deeply disturbed” by the occupation and warns of “serious disciplinary action” if it’s not ended promptly. Is is, as voted by the by the remaining two hundred activists. That night, about 120 students vote to make the CUD permanent, with Stark and Lowell Bergman as co-chairs.[vii]
Thursday, finals start.
University officials praise the protesters. Harrington calls the leaders “predominantly high-level students,” explains that students weren’t trying to avoid the draft but protesting their own special privilege of a student deferment, and he describes their decorum inside the administration building as “quite extraordinary.”[viii]
Regent Kenneth Greenquist, a past commander of the state American Legion, does have one complaint—with press photographs that he says unfairly represent the protesters as unwashed and unkept. “Ideas are not related to how men dress, shave or cut their hair,” he tells his colleagues, adding that the university “has come out of this particular situation with greater prestige than it had going into it.”[ix]
And with greater internal cohesion, too, according to history professor Robert Taylor. On a campus with several distinct – and often combative – subcultures of students and academics, he says the most important result of these nine days in May was “the discovery that a university could operate as a community.”[x]
At least for a while.
That’s it for this week’s installment of Madison in the Sixties. For the award-winning WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan
[i] Faculty Document 79, May 23, 1966.
[ii] Faculty Document 80, May 23, 1966.
[iii] Faculty Document 78, May 23, 1966; Richard Scher, “Profs. Pass Resolution,” DC, May 24, 1966; Brautigam, “UW Faculty in Compromise on Draft Stand But Pleases No One,” CT, May 24, 1966.
[iv] Faculty Document 78, May 23, 1966.
[v] John Vaugn, “‘Total Defeat,’ Committee Says,” DC, May 24, 1966; Mate, War at Home papers, Box 4, Folder 17.
[vi] Bednarek, “Students Defy Ban on Further Sit-Ins,” WSJ, May 24, 1966.
[vii] “Renewed Demonstrations Follow Faculty Proposals,” DC, May 24, 1966; Dave Zweifel, “Defiant Sit-In Is Ended,” CT, May 24, 1966; Bednarek, “UW Sit-In Protesters Become Stand-By Group,” WSJ, May 25, 1966; Well, “CUD Gets Tentative Approval by WSA,” DC, July 22, 1966.
[viii] BOR minutes, June 10, 1966.
[ix] BOR minutes, June 10, 1966; Pommer, “UW Praises Protesters; Pictures in Press Hit,” CT, June 10, 1966; “’Beatnik’ Pictures of Sit-in Criticized,” WSJ, June 11, 1966.
[x] Dolly Katz, “Sit-Ins Draw ‘U’ Together,” DC, September 28, 1966; Steven Barney, “Professor Hails ‘Unifying’ Factor of UW Sit-In Protesting the Draft,” WSJ, September 28, 1966.