Archival Collections
Columbia University Archives

University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-1999 bulk 1968-1972 

Columbia University. Archives
Phys. Desc: 
38.59 linear feet (38.59 linear feet 82 document boxes, 1 half-sized document box, 4 record storage cartons)
Call Number: 
Columbia University Archives
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Biographical Note

Throughout the mid-to-late 1960s the Columbia campus was a hub of political activity: teach-ins, Sundial rallies against the Vietnam War, demonstrations against class rank reporting, and confrontations with military recruiters. Concurrent with these events, the University had begun construction on a new gymnasium in Morningside Park. Columbia's plan to build a new gym had been in the planning stages since 1959, but had been delayed repeatedly by financial challenges. By the mid 1960s, the decision to build a gym in city-owned Morningside Park created increasing negative feelings among government officials, community groups, and students. Many students were offended by the design, as it provided access for the University community at the higher level of the building while residents of the access fore members of the surrounding Harlem community would enter on the lower level; what was perceived as obvious inequity prompted cries of segregation. In February 1967, the first sit-in at Columbia took place in Dodge Hall, by 18 members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) protesting CIA recruitment on campus. Other protests erupted: opposition to the University's submission of student class rankings to Selective Service Boards, military recruitment on campus and University involvement in the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA). On April 21, 1967, the first clash between students erupted when 800 anti-recruitment demonstrators were confronted by 500 students favoring the policy of open recruitment on campus. The disruptions of military recruiters by students prompted University President Grayson Kirk to issue a ban against picketing and demonstrations in all University buildings as of September 25, 1967. In March 1968, demands for Columbia to resign from its affiliation with the IDA came in the form of more sit-in demonstrations, this time held in Low Memorial Library. Despite limited enforcement of his ban prior to this event, President Kirk, in conjunction with the Administration, placed six anti-war student activists-all SDS leaders known as the "IDA Six"- on probation for violation of the ban on indoor demonstrations. The Strike Coordinating Committee (SCC), formed by the Columbia chapter of SDS, was composed of representatives from throughout the University and from other student organizations and quickly assumed the mantle of strike leadership from the Columbia University Student Council and the Coalition of Student Leaders. The Columbia chapter of SDS, led by its chairman Mark Rudd, took an early lead on a cluster of issues that prompted student unrest and ultimately the strike. Among them were the proposed gymnasium and other instances of campus expansion into the surrounding community, the University's relationship with the IDA, R.O.T.C. and military research recruiting, and conditions for campus workers. Partly in response to the fate of the "IDA Six", Mark Rudd and SDS, as well members of the Society of African-American Students (SAS), rallied at the campus Sun Dial on Tuesday, April 23. After a failed attempt to get inside Low Library to present President Kirk with a list of demands, members of the crowd were encouraged to proceed to Morningside Drive where there was an attempt to break into the gymnasium construction site. They were restrained by police and some were arrested. The demonstrators did not return to the Sundial as originally planed, instead they headed into Hamilton Hall, the main classroom building on campus and also home to the office of Dean Henry Coleman, and stayed the night. Around midnight, the SAS leaders held a caucus and decided that the ongoing occupation of Hamilton should be a blacks-only project. Mark Rudd and SDS followers were surprised, but did not challenge this arrangement and all white protestors left quietly. The white evictees of Hamilton Hall took over Low Library the following day. On Day 2 graduate students refused to leave Avery Hall when told it was closing at 5:30 pm as a preventative measures to thwart strikers. Fayerweather and Mathematics were also eventually occupied by other groups of students. The April 1968 protests saw faculty groups formed with the intention of mediating resolutions to the stand-off. Faculty in Philosophy 301 formed an Ad Hoc Faculty Group (AHFG), which was chaired by Political Scientist Alan Westin and directed by an AHFG steering committee. Membership in AHFG was based on support of three resolutions: immediate suspension of gym construction; establishment of a tripartite disciplinary mechanism; and a commitment by faculty signers to put themselves between police and students should police be called on campus. After six days of standoff, some 1,000 policemen forcibly reclaimed the occupied buildings on behalf of the Administration resulting in 712 arrests and 148 reports of injury. For the remainder of the academic year, the University was in chaos. Formal education more or less ceased as large numbers of students and many faculty lent support to the SCC, an umbrella group for the protesters. A second occupation of Hamilton Hall from May 21-22 led to an even more violent confrontation with the police. Even commencement was marred, as most of the graduating class walked out of the ceremony being held in The Cathedral of St. John The Divine to attend a counter-commencement on Low Plaza. Eventually campus disorder gave way to efforts toward restructuring the University, especially after the more moderate student protestors split from the SCC and created Students for a Restructured University (SRU). Among the new elements was the establishment of the University Senate as a representative body for the entire University community. Immediately following the clearing of occupied buildings, the Ad Hoc Faculty Group convened to vote for support of the strikers and to admonish the administration. Chair Alan Westin would not bring this matter to vote and instead left the meeting. The remaining group reestablished itself as the Independent Faculty Group (IFG) and voted to support the strike. The same day, Joint Faculties met to consider both pro-administration and anti-administration resolutions. An intermediate resolution was approved in the creation of the Executive Committee of the Faculty, who proposed the creation of an outside fact finding commission on May 2. On May 7, the Fact Finding Commission, composed of five members and chaired by Harvard law professor Archibald Cox, convened. The report Crisis at Columbia, highly critical of the administration, was published in October. The University's affiliation with the IDA was eventually severed, gymnasium construction was halted, the ROTC left campus, military and CIA recruiting stopped, and in August President Kirk resigned with Andrew Cordier named as acting President. Springtime building occupations continued for the next few years, but were eventually replaced by other, less politically minded, activities. The protests achieved two of the stated goals of the protest: Columbia disaffiliated from the IDA and it scrapped the plans for the controversial gym, building a subterranean physical fitness center under the north end of campus instead. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, student protests addressed other campus issues, namely Columbia's control of real estate in the Morningside Heights area and its relationship to the local community. Several student groups emerged with a focus on local issues such as New York City housing, schools, transit, labor, electoral politics, and support for the Black Panthers and political prisoners. Protests, which some might characterize as a right of passage, have been a fixture of the Columbia experience throughout its history. However, the occupation of five University buildings in April 1968 signaled a sea change in the way in which students would not only interact with Columbia administration, but in universities throughout the nation.

Scope and Contents

The student strikes of this era, in particular that of 1968, represent the main focus of the collection, although other issues and many voices are expressed. The collection contains material authored by Columbia University administration, faculty, students, as well as non-affiliated organizations and individuals. The collection consists primarily of flyers, correspondence, news clippings and releases, transcripts of electronic media reports, memoranda, legal documents and meeting minutes. The bulk of the material held in this collection relates to the 1968 strike, however, strikes and protests are documented as well: 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972 strikes prompted by student opposition to the Vietnam War, the draft, the presence of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, military recruiters, concerns of Columbia's contribution to the war effort through the School of International Affairs programs and research performed by professors associated with the U.S. Department of Defense's Jason project. There is also extensive documentation on a number of student organizations, one of which was the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the most instrumental in channeling student activities into demonstrations and other strike activity.