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On Strike! Shut it Down! (Exhibit 1999)

Case 6: Students


The 1960s was a period of both idealism and action for American college students. The interests and activities of students varied in the first half of the decade. However, as the decade progressed, a number of students became more politically and socially active. Some individuals, mostly younger students, who had the time, energy, interest and/or money to explore the world around them, to look at wrongs and then wish to right them, began organizing their activities and efforts. Individual leaders representing disenfranchised groups within the society at large, began demanding that their needs be addressed and that they receive equal consideration.

The San Francisco State College student body was not homogeneous and likewise embodied a variety of student perspectives and opinions. There were students of color looking at their educational experience specifically in terms of curriculum changes and a more open enrollment policy to address their needs and correct past history. There were also students of varying political views, with affiliations in the Young Republicans, the Students for a Democratic Society, the Progressive Labor Party, and MAPS ( The Movement Against Political Suspensions ), a less cohesive campus organization. There were students interested in improving conditions in the city of San Francisco and their neighborhoods, also students who looked at civil rights issues in the country as well as the Bay Area. Some students looked at labor issues and radical politics, while other students looked internationally at the plight of citizens in countries like Africa, Latin America and Asia. There were students concerned about the growing "military-industrial complex" which former President Eisenhower had warned of earlier, and our growing involvement in the war in Asia. These students were opposed to the draft and military recruitment on campus. Also, as part of the spectrum, were those students who were enrolled in San Francisco State's Air Force Officers Training Corps Program and students who were working, supporting a family and, at the same time, going to school. Other students lived at home and were supported by their families. There were students exploring the world of the hip culture, the psychedelic, and the unconventional alongside students who wanted simply to come to school, receive their education, and get a job.

Whoever they were, San Francisco State students had to confront the various events which happened here between Spring 1967 and Spring 1969. The impact of these events, in some way, also affected everyone in the campus community, and forced many to evaluate their personal values and beliefs. Within the politically active student population, conflicts between the students and the administration arose because various student groups did not believe their grievances were taken seriously and some students demanded action. As student protest against the administration heightened, so did conflict between student groups, because of their differing points of view. However, all through the conflict, most students belonged to "The Silent Majority" who believed that the campus was the wrong place to change society and who resented the student radicals because their protests and demonstrations interfered with their own private educational goals. So even while protests occurred and many students marched from the Speaker's Platform to the Administration Building, the Library was full of students studying. Some issues and actions were very visible, such as the 15 demands of the BSU and TWLF. Other issues, though less visible, were ongoing, such as the strike of student workers in the Library (OSEL) and in the student cafeteria

Although students were involved in various political activities at the beginning of the decade, the prelude to The Strike began under the tenure of President John Summerskill. In Spring, 1967, sixty students "sat-in" President Summerskill's office, protesting the college practice of providing a student's academic standing to the Selective Service Office. Chancellor Glenn Dumke ordered the campus to continue the practice, generating another protest. Those protests continued in the fall. On November 6, 1967, one year before the actual beginning date of The Strike, several African American students attacked the editor of the Gater. He had written an editorial describing his comments to the Carnegie Corporation in favor of withholding funding for various San Francisco State service programs, which included some of those sponsored by the Black Students Union. The African-American students were suspended, and there were student protests for and against that action. Later, two student writers for Open Process, the campus literary paper, were suspended after publishing a poem which used offensive language and contained sexual connotations. On December 4, 1967, 450 students protested that action on the front steps of the administration building, attacking President Summerskill's so called "liberalism," while also protesting the Vietnam War and the suspension of six African-American students for the Gater attack. Student protesters continued to voice their opposition around these issues. On December 6, they broke into the administration building and staged a "mill-in." President Summerskill would close the campus for the day in light of the violence.

Further protest activities occurred in Spring, 1968. Protesting students entered classrooms to state their grievances. On March 26, the Third World Liberation Front, the Black Students Union, Latin American Students Organization, and El Renacimiento (a Mexican-American student organization) occupied the YMCA office on campus and moved the YMCA staff out. Five days later President Summerskill ordered the TWLF to move out of the offices. In Sacramento, conservative student leaders called on the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Max Rafferty, to protest Black Student Union activities on campus, and the hiring by the liberal student government of African-American playwright LeRoi Jones. On May 21, 1968, police were called in to remove students from an administration building "sit-in," where they were protesting Air Force ROTC on campus, as well as the termination of Juan Martinez, a history instructor. During the "sit-in," protesters also advocated for programs to admit 400 ghetto students in the Fall Semester, and the hiring of nine minority faculty members to help minority students. Two days later, demonstrations for campus reform were led by the Students for a Democratic Society and the Third World Liberation Front.

In Fall, 1968, many students became incensed when English instructor George Murray was suspended for allegedly stating at Fresno State that: "We are slaves and the only way to become free is to kill all the slave masters." Murray also voiced his belief that black students here should bring guns to campus to protect themselves from white racist administrators. President Robert Smith was forced to suspend George Murray, and a strike by the Black Students Union and the Third World Liberation Front began on November 6, 1968. Later in November, a convocation for faculty, students and administrators was held to discuss the issues. President Smith resigned, and Dr. S. I. Hayakawa was named president on November 26, 1968. He closed the campus, which was reopened a week later. School was closed for the Christmas holidays one week early, and classes resumed again in January. Attempts to resolve The Strike were negotiated during the Spring semester, 1969. The Strike finally was resolved on March 21, 1969.