At the Hands of the Radicals

His home was attacked. His office was bombed. Forty years later, Richard Lyman reflects on a violent era that shook the campus.

January/February 2009

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At the Hands of the Radicals

Chuck Painter/Stanford News Service

Richard Lyman arrived at Stanford as an untenured associate professor of history in 1958, a time when the pastoral setting and sleepy campus climate prompted a colleague to comment that “anyone in search of intellectual excitement would have to journey 50 miles to Berkeley.” Another characterized the University’s role as “educating the children of the middling rich of Los Angeles.”

When Lyman was appointed provost eight years later, much of that had changed. Stanford’s admission rate had gone from seven-of-every-eight applicants in 1951 to one-in-five by 1965. Between 1960 and 1963, graduate enrollment increased by more than 1,100. Although still overwhelmingly white and male—the University did not rescind a decades-old resolution limiting female enrollment until 1972—the undergraduate population was becoming more diverse, with more students of color and more from outside California. And they were beginning to stir.

By 1966, inspired by the civil rights movement and hardening antipathy toward the war in Vietnam, student activists were challenging Stanford on many fronts. Sit-ins and campus demonstrations targeted admission policies, University governance, the draft, ROTC and classified research. One of the most consistent targets was the Stanford Research Institute, a lab located in the Stanford Industrial Park. Formed in 1946 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the University, SRI was conceived as an innovation center aimed at economic development for the West Coast. In the mid-’60s, SRI received much of its funding from the Department of Defense, and its contracts included work on chemical and biological agents with potential military applications.

Contentious but mostly peaceful in the beginning, the activism turned violent in 1968 when arsonists burned the naval ROTC building to the ground and destroyed the office of outgoing president J.E. Wallace Sterling, PhD ’38. Sterling’s successor, Kenneth Pitzer, inherited a campus bristling with rancor. He resigned just 19 months later, replaced by Lyman, who became Stanford’s seventh president on September 24, 1970.

In a new memoir, Stanford in Turmoil, Lyman describes the events from 1966 to 1972 that he witnessed and helped determine. In this excerpt, drawn from several chapters, he provides an insider’s view of the days leading up to the student occupation of Encina Hall on May 1, 1969, and the police intervention that ended it.

Later, he reflects on the impact of the most disruptive period in the history of American higher education, and Stanford’s particular expression of Sixties radicalism.

Classified research had been an active issue for some time. As the Committee on University Policy put it [in a 1966 memo], “It is clear that research carried out under the restrictions of security classification runs counter to the traditional principle of open inquiry.”

The impact of classified work was limited. Over the 15 years 1950-65, just 19 out of a total of 582 PhD and engineering theses in the department of electrical engineering were classified, more than half of them during the Korean War. But in 1968, almost 35 percent of the research funding in electronics (centered on the Applied Electronics Laboratory, a site soon to be famous) was for classified work.

Critics of the war were not interested in the possible virtues of having university scientists be the ones to advise the military. Their objective was to make deploring the presence of classified research at Stanford the spearhead of a more general attack on the University’s involvement in Southeast Asia.

From a University standpoint, by the late 1960s the ties with SRI had become gossamer-thin. There were Stanford trustees who also served on the board of SRI—that was about it. A few faculty had individual ties to SRI. But the University’s academic administration had nothing to do with planning or administering SRI’s program—let alone paying for it.

For the radicals, SRI presented a hugely tempting target. Almost one-half of the institute’s support in 1968 came from the Department of Defense. According to the critics, “$6.2 million is seen as directly related to Southeast Asia, and $404,000 was directly related to Chemical-Biological Warfare (CBW).”

The presence of CBW work at SRI provided opportunities galore. As “disease control in reverse,” it was inherently repugnant to most people. The links between disseminating infectious diseases by aerosol and the massive program of defoliation then underway in Vietnam made this subject topical.

[Early in 1969,] Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) kept pressing for an open meeting of the Board of Trustees to explain their involvement in Southeast Asia, a proposal that met with no enthusiasm from the trustees. When a body called the University Advisory Committee, consisting of student, faculty and trustee members, invited the board to send five of its members to an open forum on campus, the stage was set for what turned out to be a sudden change in the climate. The session was scheduled for two hours on the afternoon of March 11.

Paul Rupert [’67], a member of the Resistance and of the United Campus Christian Ministry, summed up what happened exultantly: “Five powerful and legitimate trustees came before the people they ruled, most of whom were trying to keep an open mind. . . . But by the meeting’s end, the rulers had lost control of their audience, and the people were demanding an open meeting.”

Leaving aside phrasing like “the people they ruled,” this was an accurate summation, and Rupert was a major contributor to the outcome, opening the session with a blistering attack on the trustees for subordinating the true educational aims of the University to the economic interests of the corporate world whence they came.

What soon became clear to a sophisticated listener was that the trustees had absolutely no experience that would prepare them for this, or for the torrent of hostile questions that followed. They were not people accustomed to examining, much less defending effectively, the assumptions that underpinned their lives. Assertions that the University was involved in the war, on the wrong side, left Bill Hewlett [’34, Engr. ’39] puzzled. “Stanford University is an organization of the United States. . . . It is not a South Vietnamese organization.”

On April 3, a mass meeting involving some 700 people from SDS, the SRI Coalition, and [other activist groups] met in Dinkelspiel and drew up an updated version of the now-familiar SDS demands, focusing on establishing closer supervision over SRI and on halting all classified research and all CBW work. The movement at Stanford . . . henceforth became known as the April 3rd Movement.

Students shut down AEL
Chuck Painter/Stanford News Service
LYMAN ON BELEAGUERED PRESIDENT KENNETH PITZER: A handsome six-footer with rather impressive eyebrows, he could be very sure of himself, even arrogantly so on occasion, but he found direct conflict difficult. He was always looking for a way to reconcile opposing viewpoints, to square the circle, to have things both ways. I have always thought that perhaps his greatest vulnerability was a lack of combative instincts. Leadership requires different qualities at differing times, and sometimes some of the qualities needed are not among those generally considered admirable. As the 1960s waned, combativeness was an essential ingredient of university presidential survival.

At 10:45 a.m. on April 9, some 400 students poured into the Applied Electronics Laboratory, where most of the classified research on campus was conducted, effectively shutting it down. Over the next few days, the Faculty Senate debated and eventually banned classified research. Meanwhile, University administrators looked for a way to dislodge the students without resorting to force. Finally, threatened with suspension, the students agreed to “temporarily” end the occupation, and left the AEL building on April 18.

I do not think many on campus saw the end of the AEL sit-in as anything more than a truce of uncertain duration, for all the standing ovations, congratulatory resolutions and romanticized descriptions of what had gone on.

In fact . . . the decision to eliminate classified research resulted from the confluence of opposition based on the fundamental devotion to openness as the basis for all University life, on the one hand, and opposition rooted in the effort to hamper the war effort in Vietnam, on the other.

The difference was not lost on the April 3rd Movement. At a meeting 700-strong held outside AEL the following day, the A3M demanded a “positive response” from the Senate “on the issue of war-related research, particularly at SRI.”

But this was done almost in passing: the real thrust of the meeting was the demand that an open meeting of the full Board of Trustees be held on campus on April 30, replacing the hearing scheduled for that day before a five-person committee on the subject of the University’s relationship to SRI. Board president Parmer Fuller [’33] rejected the demand.

The [April 30] hearing was anticlimactic. Since the setting did not lend itself to a repeat humiliation of the trustee committee members, the A3M representatives walked out after a while and began a series of meetings to decide what to do next.

The A3M meeting that evening was chaotic. Members of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), the right-wing student group founded by the ubiquitous Harvey Hukari [’68, MA ’73], a graduate student in communication, were on hand, heckling the majority. After three hours and at least one fistfight, the question of whether to sit in that night was called and passed.

Immediately after the final vote, 700 people streamed across the campus still discussing the merits of different buildings, the possible effects of the sit-in, and violence. It was well past midnight.

Hundreds who had been listening to A3M over KZSU all Wednesday evening, April 30, came out to see what would happen when the action started at Encina. But the sound of shattering glass and the presence of YAF with their inseparable cameras deterred most from entering the building. That said, about 300 did so.

In Building 10 I met continuously through the evening with the members of the Faculty Consultative Group on Campus Disruption, appointed by the Senate to play a part in just such situations. Reports from the front were alarming to start with and did not get less so. Encina was the home of most of the University’s finance departments—the Controller’s Office, the Vice President for Business’s Office and the Development Office. Records, many of them sensitive, filled the files of the large rabbit warren of a building.

The occupiers were told that they were under immediate temporary suspension, pursuant to the president’s emergency powers, unless they left forthwith; some did leave, but most stayed.

As the night wore on with no sign at all that our internal mechanisms were going to work in this case, and with fears that among the items the occupiers might dig out were plans of the University’s underground sewers and power lines—a potential map for saboteurs—the long-feared necessity for calling in the police became ever clearer. The sheriff’s representatives told us that if we wanted them to clear the building, they would have to get their orders by 4 a.m.—otherwise their normal daytime duties would make it impossible for them to muster sufficient numbers. As 4 a.m. approached, we were unanimously convinced that we had to ask for help.

The decision taken, I rushed home for a couple of hours of sleep, then accompanied my spouse and children to the street across from Encina Hall to watch the confrontation. My wife, Jing, thought our kids might face questioning about their father’s behavior when they got to school that day, so they should see for themselves what happened. Faculty went into Encina to tell the occupants that they faced imminent arrest if they did not leave forthwith. “In a hurried but calm meeting” the 100 or so remaining in Encina decided to leave. According to the Peninsula Observer, “many said they were voting to leave because they considered themselves revolutionaries and didn’t believe that revolutionaries should allow themselves to get caught.”

That afternoon I described in detail to a special meeting of the Academic Council the process by which we had arrived at the decision to call the police. I recounted all the arguments for delay and the counterarguments to each.

Concluding my account of events, I made what seemed to me a vital point especially given the apparent success of the police intervention:

“No one is entitled to consider the clearing of Encina Hall a victory. Any time it becomes necessary for a university to summon the police, a defeat has taken place. I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s declaration after Dunkirk, when too many of his fellow countrymen imagined that Hitler was on the downward path: wars are not won by successful evacuations. The victory we seek at Stanford is not like a military victory; it is a victory of reason and the examined life over unreason and the tyranny of coercion. To be forced into coercive acts to meet coercive acts is in itself a setback on the path that leads to our kind of victory. But surrender does not produce victory either. . . .”

By May 13, the eve of the Board of Trustees meeting at which separation of SRI from the University would be decided, the radicals had recovered sufficiently from what even they called “an abortive sit-in at Encina Hall” to mount a daylong event during which hundreds wandered through the White Plaza Carnival, practicing breaking windows in the building of their choice, smashing a police car and knocking over dummy trustees; it cost them dearly at 25 cents a hit. Other fun and games included bombing Vietnamese peasants, fitting your child for a coffin and questioning a Wheel of Fortune about your revolutionary future. That sort of scene, and that kind of humor, are at least as effective reminders of those days as the big demonstrations.

The spring of 1970 saw more on-campus violence than ever, before or since. On April 23-24 there was a confused sit-in at the Old Union in which some 50 sheriff’s deputies swept into the building without warning and arrested 22 people while the rest fled, hurling rocks at the police as they went. Many faculty protested the police action, and I had to point out on-air on KZSU that the police were no doubt fed up with “coming on campus in major force at major cost to the Santa Clara County taxpayers . . . only to play juvenile cops and robbers” with the rock-throwers.

During the afternoon of April 24, we had given a garden party at our home on campus for the outgoing and incoming deans of humanities and sciences, Bob Sears [’29] and Al Hastorf. That noon, Professor Barton Bernstein of history had thoughtfully given a White Plaza rally directions for getting to our house, where radicals lined the approaches to shout abuse at arriving guests, including the Pitzers. That night I returned from a visit to the police station and was talking with my wife in a bedroom at the back of the house when there was a loud crash. Someone had hurled a big Coca-Cola bottle full of red paint through our kitchen windows, narrowly missing the head of a security guard who was taking an ill-timed coffee break in the kitchen, and smashing against the refrigerator.

Worse yet, in the morning we discovered two large rocks that had been thrown through an upstairs window; fortunately they fell harmless in the sewing room; [my daughter] Holly’s bedroom, with Holly sleeping in it, was next door. No one throws rocks through upstairs windows in the middle of the night unless they intend to maim, if not kill, occupants of the house.

In some ways the most mindless atrocity took place a few days later with the arson fire that burned two wings of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, a dollar-a-year tenant of Stanford in the Foothills behind the campus. Ten offices were destroyed, including the scholars’ notes and other materials. A distinguished Indian social scientist, M.N. Srinivas, lost his lifework, 22 years’ worth of study on the caste system in south India.

In many ways, Stanford’s experience was the same as that of other campuses. The same self-destructiveness that was noted elsewhere was visible at Stanford on the far Left. As has been said of the Weathermen, there was “a moral urgency that precluded consideration of political effectiveness and a desire to display one’s personal commitment, especially if it involved risk or injury.”

There was the distrust of hierarchy that made it so difficult for leaders to be effective; “participatory democracy” was supposed to replace leadership with consensus, even if it meant that deciding what to do next required endless—and endlessly tedious—meetings.

But Stanford had a unique history as well. No other university had climbed such a steep curve in quality and reputation as began at Stanford under Wallace Sterling and Fred Terman [’20, Engr. ’22]. This contributed powerfully to our problems with alumni. Graduates of the earlier decades found it hard to recognize their beloved alma mater in the academic powerhouse that was emerging on Leland Stanford’s Farm. Many of them realized that they would never have been admitted to this new Stanford. But this did nothing to appease their wrath when their own children were not accepted for admission. It was therefore not just boarded-up windows and raucous sit-ins that alienated these alumni; the rapid ascent of the institution to world prominence shook them too. What is remarkable is the fact that all the upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s did not halt that ascent; the prestige of the University suffered very little and has since risen to unprecedented heights.

History, contrary to popular belief, does not repeat itself, though some turns of the unending spiral do resemble others. In May 1977, there was a sudden outburst of protest over issues of South African divestiture; the Old Union was once again occupied, and in one night 294 people, mostly students, were arrested. But the whole thing blew over in a trice—there simply was not the context for a repeat performance. I think many of those arrested woke up rubbing their eyes and reminding themselves that they did, after all, want to go to law school.

That said, universities have been spawning grounds for riot and strife, and sometimes revolution, for centuries and in many countries. Young people have energy to burn. Many tend to act first and think later. The urge to tell your elders that the whole system is a fraud and in one way or another to act accordingly is never entirely dormant. The campus, with its concern for free debate and its cherished self-image as the place in all of society most tolerant of deviance and controversy, is a natural home for protest.

For more than a century now faculty members have been trying with ever increasing success to get out of the role of disciplinarian that the early American College assigned them. They are also slow to take alarm at student excess. Today’s administrators are unlikely to be any more able to make the center hold than they were in the late 1960s.

Some barriers were broken in those years that have never been restored. Civility returned, for the most part, but formality did not, for better or for worse—mostly I would agree that it’s for the better, but there is more to be said for adhering to some prescribed forms of behavior than our culture is generally willing to admit.

Although by 1970 there was widespread agreement that violence, even in pursuit of what the perpetrators considered noble goals, was not to be tolerated, if we could figure out ways not to tolerate it, there was far less readiness to condemn coercive tactics, such as preventing the University from functioning by blocking entrance to its facilities. However irrational political processes may be, they are not made any more rational by that sort of behavior.

Rationality itself was widely scorned in the 1960s and suffered setbacks. It has never entirely regained its place in its supposed Temple, the university.

Finally, what were the results of all that turmoil at Stanford? As always, cause and effect are hard to trace in history, which is why history is not a science. Most of what might be considered “effects” of the campus unrest are things that would have happened anyway, but more slowly, in some instances much more slowly, without this stimulus. Governance at Stanford was not revolutionized, but it was substantially altered. Among the new elements were an expansion of the Board of Trustees by one-third, to make room for eight trustees directly elected by the alumni, and the addition of faculty and student representation to most board committees; an elected legislature for the faculty for the first time (the Senate of the Academic Council); a revised and much more formal system, with heavy student involvement for both legislating and enforcing rules of student conduct; the elimination of ROTC and classified research; a sweeping reformulation of academic requirements for the baccalaureate degree growing out of the Study of Education at Stanford; changes in the dormitory and other arrangements for student living that would have been regarded as totally inadmissible just a few years earlier; the opening of Stanford Memorial Church to all faiths; and a divestiture by the University of SRI. In addition to these structural changes, the demographics of the campus population began to evolve from the overwhelming WASP dominance of the past toward the multicultural panorama of the future. The quota limiting the number of women undergraduates that dated back to Mrs. Stanford’s day disappeared; before long more than half of incoming students were women.

Quite ironically, considering the dreams of a university freed from bureaucracy and red tape, the Stanford that emerged from the time of troubles was characterized by more formal structures for decision-making, with more explicit recognition of particular interest groups than existed previously, and a greatly increased involvement of lawyers. Operations of the University have come to resemble far more closely the way things are done downtown than they did before the protests of the 1960s. This should come as no surprise, for few things are more familiar in history than the triumph of unintended consequences.

Beyond all these specifics, radical ideas and practices born of the 1960s have had enormous impact on America, sometimes in unrecognized forms, ever since. As Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin suggest in their interesting essay, “The Failure and Success of the New Radicalism,” in The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980: “The New Left was shaped by and came to embody a profound dislocation in American culture, and, in the end, it had more impact on the ideas that Americans had about themselves and their society than on the structures of power that governed their lives. Young radicals articulated a critique of ‘everyday life’ in the United States, which was, in time, taken up by millions of people who had little notion of where these ideas originated.”

Some of the attitudinal changes are clearly benign: for instance, the fact that, as Isserman and Kazin note, “Since the mid-1970s, any prominent public figure who has castigated blacks as people, even with humorous intent, has quickly lost reputation, employment, or both.”

Without falling into the trap of blaming the 1960s for everything that has gone wrong since, one can argue that American politics has never recovered from the blows it suffered at the hands of the Sixties radicals. Of course more recently it has been the Right that has made disillusionment with, even contempt for government its stock in trade. But the New Left got there first. Their contempt for ordinary politics, with its compromises and evasions, has by now become epidemic in the United States, to the point where many people believe that the only way to deal with any really important question of public policy is somehow to take it “out of politics.” Students of the rise of fascism in Europe may be forgiven for finding this worrisome.

Stanford in Turmoil: Campus Unrest, 1966-1972 (Stanford University Press) will be available on February 16. Stanford alumni can receive a 20 percent discount by ordering a copy and using the promotion code Lyman09.

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