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by Jo Freeman

Published in Moderator, Vol. 8, No. 3, April 1969, p. 17-19.

This is a sit-in? It's more like an educational fair!" commented one student last February as the marathon sit-in at the University of Chicago entered its second week. The atmosphere of euphoria that pervaded the campus that week after 400 students had invaded the Administration building gave the University a carnival-like climate that remained almost until the end of the 16-day sit-in.
During this time, in response to the massive demonstrations, virtually every department canceled classes for one or two days to hold special workshops and meetings on the structure of the University and the quality of education being offered. It was these two developments which prompted many students to comment that this week was the most exciting and educational one they had experienced in their university careers.
This joy was in marked contrast to the tension that characterized the first massive student sit-in at the University of California at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement of 1964. At that time sentiments of anger, fear and suspicion were the only ones to be found on the campus, and the only classes canceled were those stopped by the student strike.
In the slightly more than four years between the first sit-in and the longest sit-in there has been a drastic increase in the frequency of massive demonstrations and the ease with which student grievances are escalated into protests. There has also been a change, on some campuses at least, in Administrative response. The differences in the course of the demonstrations at the California and Chicago campuses illustrate some of these changes as well as some fundamental differences of style and organization between the two universities.
Two important factors contributing to the ease with which protests are mounted at Berkeley are: (1) a student community traditionally committed to social criticism and change; and (2) its centralization. The Administration building, rally area, student union, cafeteria, and bookstore all face each other across a mall which forms the main entrance to campus. Thus a few leafleteers can gather an audience very quickly and inform them of the situation. However, these same factors make it easy for the Administration to know what the students are saying and doing and the extent of their support.
At Chicago, where there has never been much commitment to activism, everything is decentralized; even the major decision making power is in the hands of the tenured faculty of the different departments rather than the Administration. This makes it difficult for radicals to recruit support, but they can and do utilize the student infrastructure as a substitute. This infrastructure, composed primarily of student departmental organizations, does not exist at Berkeley. It is a less efficient means of communication and recruitment, but its diversity also makes it virtually impossible for the faculty and administration to know the extent of student feeling.
Thus everyone was surprised when more than 1,000 students showed up at a meeting in late January to decide whether to hold a sit-in. The conflict had been brewing since the quarter began, when the campus paper, The Maroon, announced the Sociology Department's decision not to reappoint Assistant Professor Marlene Dixon, committed radical scholar, active feminist, and the first woman to hold a teaching position in that department in 19 years.
This issue provided the catalyst for a lot of student demands that had been festering for along time. In addition to the rehiring of Mrs. Dixon, the students made several student power demands, including that of joint power with faculty on tenure and other important decision making committees. The local chapter of the Women's Liberation Front, WRAP (Women's Radical Action Project), also protested the University's general attitude toward women students, the lack of women on the faculty, and the absence of courses on women.
These demands were much more radical than the students at Berkeley would ever have thought of making during the FSM -- at that time faculty power was considered a step forward. But the underlying dissatisfaction of many Chicago students with the quality of education and the nature of the University was the same as it had been at Berkeley. The response of the Administration, however, was vastly different.
During the Battle of Berkeley, the Administration and the students played a strict confrontation game. There were clear issues, clear polarities, and many of the faculty eventually sided with the students because they, too, had grievances against the Administration and something to gain from the disruptive situation. The Administration precipitated all the major clashes at Berkeley. The FSM Steering Committee tried several times to get student support for confrontation but only succeeded after some particularly gross Administrative "atrocity" -- such as the arrest or suspension of students. The Administration either ignored the students or overreacted and most of the time the faculty was uninterested or powerless to alter the course of events.
Chicago, however, was not a battle but a siege, and one in which the Administrations' endurance proved to be the strongest. Despite the fact that the Administration had appointed a special committee to look into the Dixon case and was at least paying lip service to some of the other student demands, over 400 students took over the Administration building one Thursday morning and turned it into a combined student union, free university, revolution central, dormitory, and self-expression center. The walls, inside and out, were festooned with graffiti, art, balloons, and posters. All-night political meetings alternated with all-night parties. University typewriters, Xerox machines and mimeographs were put to constant use. Community sympathizers brought in hot food many nights to relieve the monotonous peanut butter/apples/bologna fare. The students barricaded themselves inside to await the Administration's attack.
It never came. On the surface the Administration steadfastly ignored the protestors. They refused to meet with them or to call in the police. They evacuated their employees and left the building to the students. The students, in turn, kept out all non-students except sympathetic faculty, switchboard operators (the university hospital switchboard was on the sixth floor), and known security guards (out of uniform for their own protection). The latter remained in the building, on shifts, two to a floor, 24 hours a day, for the duration of the sit-in and became quite friendly with the protestors, even sharing in the community food and coffee. They were there to prevent vandalism but did not stop students from making extensive use of university supplies and facilities. When a dozen outside right-wingers invaded the building to beat up the protestors, the campus police helped evict them and even stood security detail for the students when their numbers dwindled during the last days. (They let no one in the building without a student ID).
As a tactic, the sit-in was used too soon at Chicago. By the time the University executed its major atrocity, the students had exhausted themselves and their major weapon. Thus, when the special committee upheld the decision not to rehire Mrs. Dixon, the only way the students had of reacting was to de-escalate and call off the sit-in. So 16 days after it began, tired and dispirited, the students packed up and left.
In the meantime, other faculty and students took things into their own hands. Several faculty members showed up at the building to "finger" students they knew and 60 protestors were suspended. Many were also fired from University jobs and kicked out of University housing. Other students joined in WITCH (Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) hexes, or in roving guerilla bands which combined the hippie and political styles of the campus into a bizarre and mindblowing synthesis. They called themselves the "Chicken-shits" because they wanted to support the sit-in but were too chickenshit to go inside. Many of these students had been suspended for participating in a sit-in protesting academic rankings two years before.
The guerilla bands were the most innovative tactic used by the students. The sit-in, once it occurred, was no longer a threat but a fact, and could be dealt with predictably. But no one knew what the guerrillas would do next as they wandered around the campus tooting horns and whistles, shooting cap pistols, carrying a bright orange flag, and harassing members of the Administration and the disciplinary committee. The latter changed its place of meeting so often to escape the guerrillas that the common joke on campus was that it was really a floating crap game.
Apart from these two developments, the general attitude of the University was that of extreme permissiveness. Faculty and graduate student organizations vied with each other to cancel classes to hold departmental workshops. The college likewise scheduled special discussions in the evenings for the undergraduates. Many of these discussions were intense, but the faculty were almost too polite, to the point of disinterest, when graduate organizations suggested abolishing prelims and other groups suggested abolishing courses. The faculty and the Administration were so co-operative that the students felt they were not being taken seriously. As the student radio station, WHPK, commented, the University had not overreacted, it had underreacted.
It was frustration at this failure to get much of a reaction pro or con out of the faculty or the Administration coupled with a growing realization that the real power to meet students' demands lay with the faculty and not the Administration, that led to the increasing mass hysteria after the sit-in ended. Acts of terrorism began. Student stormed the President's house and kicked in a glass door. Faculty members who had turned in students' name were pushed and spit at. The effects of stink bombs were smelled everywhere. Classes were disrupted with guerilla theater skits. The Quad Club, favorite luncheon spot and bastion of faculty power, was marched on by the moderates who circled it seven times chanting, "Walls fall down." The University closed its computer center because protesters at a Montreal campus had destroyed one there, and plainclothesmen policed the library and other strategic spots.
With these developments the campus settled down to an uneasy truce. The Administrative juggernaut expelled some students and disciplined others. Faculty liberals talked of bringing police on campus to arrest the terrorists -- a move they would have been totally aghast at only weeks before. Most of the students were tired and just wanted to return to their classes, but they were also dissatisfied with the course of events.
The Administration had failed to respond to their demands. The faculty had raised expectations with their initial concerned response but, after the immediate crisis was over, had tried to return to normalcy. Nothing was settled. The revolution had been thwarted by the promise of reform and that promise was in danger of being breached. There was neither a feeling of victory nor that of a battle lost but well fought. Yet slowly, painfully, some changes in attitudes were taking place. During the FSM, Mario Savio had remarked that he would prefer a brilliant defeat to a drab victory. This is what happened at Berkeley. The students gained a psychological victory but little substantive change came out of their efforts. At Chicago, it may be that the opposite is the case, despite psychological defeat.
Although the Thermidorian reaction has now set in, for a while the university community went through one of those intense emotional experiences that generally occur only during nervous breakdowns, religious conversions, and political revolutions. Tremendous creative energies were released and it is doubtful that they can easily be repressed again. The future is not yet clear but it may well be that at the University of Chicago the students have gained a drab victory.

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