In September, 1969, President Martin L. Meyerson of the State University of New York at Buffalo announced that he was taking a two-thirds leave from the university for the forthcoming academic year, in order to become director of the American Assembly on Goals and Governance of the University—a new task force that had just been established by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At the end of the year, Meyerson would resume his full responsibility as president of the university; while during it he would continue to assume responsibility for long-range planning of the university’s development and to reside—as in fact he has done—in Buffalo. Daily operations would, however, be directed by the then Executive Vice President Peter F. Regan, a psychiatrist and former dean of the School of Medicine, who would serve as acting president and locum tenens for the academic year 1969-1970.
The announcement of this decision—deferred as it had been till the very beginning of the academic year—gave rise to extensive rumors that President Meyerson was planning to leave permanently. These rumors were promptly and repeatedly denied as they recurred throughout the fall semester. The university community had, in any case, grown accustomed to them, since Mr. Meyerson was reported to be under serious consideration for every major university presidency that had become available, beginning with Columbia. If so, he had accepted none of them; and there were good reasons for thinking—apart from his own statements—that his commitment to SUNY at Buffalo might be deep.
As president, his job was difficult. During his first year at Buffalo—the academic year 1966-67—he had been viciously harassed. The Buffalo populace and press had reviled him as a leftist refugee from Berkeley and, after Leslie Fiedler’s celebrated pot-bust in April, 1967, a condoner of immorality and of the corruption of youth. An organization with the inimitable title of MAM, or Mothers Against Meyerson, was formed to campaign for his removal; while the more conservative members of the Buffalo Common Council—the municipal governing board—attacked Meyerson and the university at meeting after meeting of the Council, urging legislative investigation of the university. The strain and hazards of President Meyerson’s position were clearly so great that even the climatic and cultural advantages of life in the Queen City—as Buffalo is called, with no implication of gaiety—could scarcely be expected to compensate.
Nevertheless, he had not only remained but was succeeding in making the university an interesting and promising school, with a national reputation for high academic quality and intellectual excitement. The University of Buffalo, during its 120 years as a private institution, had few claims to eminence. It is true that it shares with Princeton and Columbia Universities the otherwise unique distinction of having had as its president a man who also became President of the United States—indeed, at one time the Buffalo president held both offices simultaneously—but Millard Fillmore was hardly comparable to Woodrow Wilson. Vice President Fillmore became President when Zachary Taylor died in 1850, and was not renominated in 1852. He was nominated by the American (Know-Nothing) Party in 1856, partly on the strength of his sponsorship of such legislation as the Fugitive Slave Law, and was then defeated; but he would probably carry Buffalo if he were running today, and would certainly make a popular president of the university.
In a social climate in which “know-nothing” strains have continuously run high, it is astonishing that the University of Buffalo—or UB, as it is still called—should have become as good as it did. Over the years it developed a first-rate law school and considerable strength in the sciences and, later, in English and philosophy, by conventional academic standards. Its clientele were primarily middle-class local youth; its pretentions more genteel than intellectual. When it became a part of the state system—and the largest unit of that system—in 1962, heavy changes occurred.
The financial position of UB, which had been driven into the state system by the threat of destitution, of course improved. Tuition charges were greatly reduced; enrollments climbed rapidly; new staff soon vastly outnumbered their seniors. The anticipated resentments and power struggles ensued; but the most important consequences were really demographic, largely unanticipated, and crucial to the current catastrophic state of the university.
Those who had objected to “UB going state” had envisioned that it would become less parochial, more bureaucratic and crowded, and not as nice generally; the prospect displeased many of Buffalo’s gentry. But working-class Buffalonians were ambivalent in their response. They certainly didn’t want a large, cosmopolitan university in their community; but they did want what they regarded as greater educational opportunity for their own children. And “going state” meant that the place would be cheaper and, as a kind of public school, probably easier to get into and with connections to a wider prospective range of economic opportunity. They might even get some return in the form of higher education for their taxes.
From the viewpoint of working-class interests, none of this has worked out. The mean income of UB students’ families has risen, not fallen; the university is harder for working-class youth to get into, not easier, even though it would now be a little cheaper, except for inflation, to attend. The reason, of course, is the social-class bias built into the normal measures of academic achievement in America, which Americans stubbornly refuse to recognize, thereby preserving their egalitarianism and their bias, too. Admission to the SUNY system is now almost wholly meritocratic, on the basis of grades and test scores, and these are very highly correlated to family income. It is far easier for a hard-working blue-collar youth of moderate intelligence to get a few thousand dollars together than it is for him to reach college with the kind of grades needed to compete in the state system.
And demographically, UB has gone state, if not with a vengeance, at least in a manner to arouse vengeance in the rejected. A very large proportion of its formerly almost entirely local student body would now come from New York and “out on the island”; probably a majority, if there were not an admissions policy limiting downstate enrollment. Under the Meyerson administration, too, there has been a steady drive to expand services to parts of the Buffalo community with which the university has had little previous relationship, and to open enrollment to those of its members who had previously been almost completely excluded. A rather promising pilot program under which 100 poor youths from the inner city were admitted provisionally in 1968 under a waiver of normal requirements has been expanded to about 400. Most of the people affected by these programs are, of course, black.
By going state, UB has thus, under an ideology of expanded educational opportunity, reduced its availability to white “middle Buffalonians” as it developed a social climate they feel to be profoundly obnoxious. And there has been another power shift, this one formal, structural, and presumably totally predictable in its effects and accepted by all parties concerned. When UB went state, nearly all the powers of the former local governing board—the University Council, composed largely of Buffalo financiers and industrialists—were transferred to the trustees of the total state system meeting in Albany. The local council relinquished authority over fiscal and personnel matters, retaining only two basic functions which it has not often been called upon to exercise. One of these is to set standards of conduct and to appoint investigating tribunals to bring charges against any miscreant before the statewide administrative body in Albany that has the power to discipline or dismiss.
The other residual function is that of nominating the president of SUNY Buffalo, as the Council did Martin L. Meyerson, when that office shall become vacant.
In January, 1970, it did become vacant. During the fall semester, President Meyerson was reputed to have incurred the enmity of Governor Rockefeller by supporting a demand made by the faculty senate of SUNY Buffalo and the corresponding student organizations that construction on the proposed new campus of the university, to be located in whitely suburban Amherst and to cost upwards of $600 million, be deferred until effective means of including black workers in the construction crews for the campus could be put into practice.
The proposed new campus, which has been funded in the state’s longrange budgetary plans, has been a major factor in President Meyerson’s own plans for the development of the university and a major inducement used in recruiting new faculty over the past three years. It is also by far the largest project for which definite commitments had been made and to which Buffalo’s sagging heavy-industrial economy could look for support. The prospect of building the new campus, and perhaps getting a job there—for UB, as projected, would have become Buffalo’s largest industry—had come to constitute virtually the sole utility of the institution to the white working class, which otherwise hated it. The “moratorium on construction” lasted about a year, during which construction unions refused most of the plans that had been presented by the university and community groups; while moderate black community leaders denounced the concessions the unions were prepared to make as tokenism.
Finally, Governor Rockefeller flew to Buffalo and, at a meeting at an airport motel, announced that construction would begin this spring on terms acceptable to the unions. The university administration had not been consulted at all. President Meyerson, who was present at the meeting, used this fact as a basis for urging on the black leaders the same spirit of modest acquiescence which he himself had adopted on behalf of the university. He agreed with the governor that, after all, the policies adopted, which provided for the inclusion of some blacks and gradual training and admission of more into the unions, though unilaterally imposed, were progressive in that they went further than any other state had gone to commit itself to improvement of opportunities for blacks in the construction industry. The blacks present, however, bitterly denounced the action of the governor, and spokesmen for the more radical students announced that they would attempt to block construction should it be begun under these conditions.
A few days later, President Myerson announced that he had accepted appointment to the presidency of the University of Pennsylvania, effective in the fall of 1970, instead of returning to his post. Meanwhile, he would continue on leave as he had been doing throughout the academic year thus far, devoting two-thirds of his time to the American Assembly on Goals and Governance of the University, and one-third to planning SUNY Buffalo’s longrange prospects, which were certainly becoming much clearer. The Buffalo Evening News, the calmer and more responsible of the two city dailies, reported Meyerson’s announcement with mingled regret and lavish praise for his service in building UB up as an institution of national stature and recruiting a distinguished faculty. Buffalo Common Councilman Raymond Lewandowski, a frequent and bitter critic of the “new UB,” among others, disagreed:
Maybe this university is too big! Maybe we should cut it down in size! Maybe we should make the university become a City of Buffalo university, for the citizens of Western New York!1
On Tuesday, February 24, 1970, a group of students prevented a scheduled basketball game between SUNY Buffalo and SUNY Stony Brook from being played by sitting on the floor of the gymnasium, in protest against what they perceived as discrimination against black athletes by the men’s physical education department. All but one of the black athletes on the basketball team had previously resigned. Negotiations on their grievances were already being conducted in the acting president’s office. In anticipation that a game scheduled for Wednesday night might also be disrupted, some twenty campus police in blue, Chicago-type helmets and carrying clubs—but not guns—were stationed, concealed, in a small room in the gymnasium. The game, however, was neither disrupted nor played. Shortly before its scheduled beginning, word that it had been postponed swept through Clark Gymnasium and was calmly received.
The negotiating teams in the administration building were thought to be reaching agreement; to permit this, the game had been rescheduled for the unusual hour of ten the next morning. At about 8:30 on this bitterly cold evening, the throng of spectators in the gym dispersed and went about their business or pleasure. Many walked over to the nearby student union building, Norton Hall, which remains open until one A.M. for a variety of conventional recreational activities.
The building, overcrowded and increasingly squalid but lively, is the center for campus student activity. It has cafeterias and a rathskeller with a beer license, craft and hobby shops, pool tables, the excellent campus radio station WBFO, offices of the campus publications, and a professional recreational staff. Classes in less academic subjects—like rock music—organized by students are taught there. A small Conference Theatre is used for plays and art movies. And, since UB has no auditorium larger than an academic lecture hall, meetings of all kinds and scheduled appearances by speakers and panels are held in its two large lounges.
In fact, over the past years these have tended to become the de facto preserve of UB campus radicals, who use them continually for rallies and raps on various topics. It would be fair to say, too, that UB campus radicals have become steadily harsher, more humorless, strident, and hostile during the past few years, and are on the whole rather more doctrinaire and intolerant and considerably less graceful than their counterparts on many other campuses today.
They have reason to be: The authorities of the city of Buffalo are continuously and unremittingly hostile to them and boast—thereby winning elections—of the undercover agents who infiltrate student groups to search for pot and sedition. Some of these are regarded by the students—I think justifiably—as provocateurs. Well-documented instances of police brutality against students and, more recently, faculty have been sufficiently abundant to lead the rather conservative New York Civil Liberties Union to file suit in federal court to force the city police department into receivership as unable to police its own police. While the court declined jurisdiction over the city’s affairs it did sustain the action against the numerous individual officers named in it; and this suit is still pending.
But with whatever justification, the student activists in Norton have recently come to constitute a bad scene; in style the most articulate of them lack not only civility but originality. Taking part in panel discussions with members of Buffalo’s new left and faculty colleagues has gotten to be a real drag: cliché abusiveness from the left, ritual uptightness from the right. This should not, however, obscure the basic issue that the radical students are more nearly correct in their moral appraisal of our society than its apologists are. In 1970, you do not have to be very thoughtful or elegant in order to tell it like it is. How it is has become obvious.
On the evening of Wednesday, February 25, in any case, Norton Union was carrying on its normal activities; from angry raps in the Haas Lounge to scheduled broadcasting on the third floor and beer in the basement. Normality was not long to continue. While the basketball game was being postponed, several of the more politically aggressive students went to Dr. Regan’s office to demand to see him and check for themselves on the progress of the negotiations on the issue of the black athletes. They were brusquely denied admission, and left, but two of them were seen throwing stones, or snowballs, at the second story windows in the acting president’s office. The windows broke. The students split, for Norton Union. And the acting president ordered the campus police, who had been chafing in their bivouac in the gymnasium and were anxious to discharge their professional responsibilities, to pursue them.
The customary evening throng of students in Norton Union were bewildered to find themselves suddenly and inexplicably engulfed by a wave of club-swinging campus police who behaved more like Chicago police than like university peace officers. Many panicked as the police swept through the building. Some tried to erect foolish barricades of furniture, the damage to which was later denounced as vandalism. One of the two miscreants alleged to have broken Dr. Regan’s windows was collared and one of the police who were attempting to remove him from the building reportedly called the security office on his walkie-talkie for reinforcements when a student, defending his friend, pulled a leg off a table and thrust it in the officer’s stomach. The chief of campus security called for the city police as his own men temporarily receded. The students, enraged and terrified, surged around in their shabby and beleaguered castle, breaking its large plate glass windows. Nevertheless, by about 9:30, things had settled down and calm returned to the scarred student union building.
At about ten minutes after ten that evening, a dozen Buffalo city police cars swept onto the campus, with two K-9 corps cars and one or two campus police cars, to clear Norton Union and thus disrupt the precarious calm that had become re-established. By the time they left two hours or so later, “Twenty-seven persons were injured seriously enough on this campus to report for treatment to the campus infirmary or one of the area hospitals. Five of these were police officers.”2
During the rest of the week, the university drifted into deeper crisis. The administration took no responsibility for precipitating the violence in Norton Hall, though the three-man Greiner Committee, which the administration itself had appointed to investigate the events in Norton Hall, was soon to report that:
We find the presidential group’s prolonged ignorance of these events negligent, given the ample opportunities and the considerable time available for inquiries…in the light of nation-wide experience of police-student confrontations, we find their anticipation of a peaceful outcome to intervention, inside or around the symbolic center of student life, Norton Union, to have been, at best, naïve.
We find that our administrative leaders must share the responsibility, along with vandals and physical assaulters of every kind, for the course of events.
We believe that administrative errors, whether errors of commission or omission, contributed to escalations of force and to resulting physical injuries. We ask them, as leaders of our community, to make a public reappraisal of their own actions and judgments of Wednesday evening.
We believe that such a review appraisal, if it had been made immediately after the events would have reduced campus tensions and would have made unnecessary this delayed inquiry. The university community, we believe, can require from the president a swift and candid review of events such as these.3
No such review was, however, forth-coming; and a month later none has been made. President Meyerson, questioned shortly after the affray, observed that he would have handled things differently, but that the acting president had asked him not to intervene; he did not, then or later, but continued to devote himself, one-third time, to plans for the university’s future.
The acting president’s less hawkish advisers, including Acting Executive Vice President Warren G. Bennis—who were soon to resign one by one—urged him to suspend classes for a long enough period to permit the university to pull itself together and sort itself out. He granted one day: Monday, March 2. John Holt, the distinguished educational critic, had been scheduled for several weeks to speak on campus that afternoon; he appeared under the sponsorship of College A, one of the newest and most controversial units of SUNYAB, which has been under continuous attack by the community for its intervention into public school practice and the problems of the black community. An article by him coolly and critically examining the current situation at Berkeley had just been published in the New York Times Magazine. Its bearing on the current situation at SUNY was clear. When he spoke, an audience of about 7,000 students and faculty jammed into every inch of space in Clark Gymnasium—the largest structure on campus—to hear him; and to turn the assembly into a strike meeting, to demand action on a number of issues that had been plaguing the university community for a year. A student strike was called to begin the following day.
The issues in the strike are important in themselves, and were certainly sincerely advanced by the striking students. But they are not very interesting, because they are much the same issues that have occasioned conflict on other campuses, and because they do not, I think, really have very much to do with the situation here. They concern such matters as increased student participation in running the university, open admission to the university, the abolition of ROTC and of research sponsored by the Department of Defense, support for unstructured modes of education possible in the proposed new colleges like College A. All the demands of the strikers, except for one new one—the resignation of Acting President Regan—had been under active and sometimes stormy consideration through normal university channels for at least an academic year and a half. Indeed, it was the frustration of trying to work through these channels that the students and many of the newer faculty—and most of the faculty is new—had found so intolerable.
It is intolerable; but the brickshit stubbornness of academic conflict is like a genuine neurosis. It is not the result of anybody’s simply stalling, or of incompetence, or even of procedures that are in themselves inadequate to handle conflict. It is, rather, evidence that the real interests underlying the conflict are profound and the conflict genuine. The best of our students and faculty simply want a better and more honorable institution than their colleagues, of either status, want or even think they could survive in; and one that would threaten the political vested interests of the city and the nation. Nothing has changed about this; nor are the issues as salient in SUNY Buffalo as at many institutions that have resolved them more easily. There is very little military research on our campus; the project that has occasioned most of the conflict involves the study of conditions for underwater movement and survival.
The strike, on the contrary, and really regardless of its specific demands, was an expression of general outrage shared by most of our students in varying degrees. The outrage, sharpened by real fear, was occasioned by the administration’s action in summoning the police to deal with what the acting president had called “vicious vandals”; the fact that they had seen their friends insulted and beaten by police or been so treated themselves; and that the administration had expressed great indignation at the vandalism but none at the injuries sustained by students who, in any case, had simply been trapped in the event.
The administration responded to the strike call by obtaining, on Wednesday, March 4, an injunction prohibiting interference with normal university functions—whatever those might be judged to be under such circumstances—and by suspending, on Thursday, March 5, twenty students who were known to be actively engaged in radical activity and were presumed to be attempting to disrupt the university in defiance of the injunction. No hearing of any kind had been held. The courts have held such suspensions without due process to be unlawful on numerous occasions, and when attorneys for the students filed an order requiring the university to show cause for the suspensions in these cases, they were revoked.
By chance, I had been present at one of the ugly little scenes in which the suspensions were invoked; as a member of a standing Faculty Student Observer Corps appointed by the administration early in the academic year to function during and if possible defuse situations of campus tension should they arise, I was moving from place to place on campus wherever little knots of tense-looking people were gathered. Since it was a miserable, snowy day there were not many of these, and the most sheltered were standing in the ell formed by the administration building on the side facing the campus. Some of the strikers had gathered there in front of the doorway to demonstrate and remonstrate with persons who might wish to enter; though the only person who wished to enter during the few minutes I was there was permitted to do so. Suddenly, a protracted shout, or snarl of derision, was heard from the other, or street side of the building, which was, of course, out of sight. So was what was taking place there.
It was a genuine invocation. Around the side of the building, a small procession came into view, like a mean funeral procession in a short story by Joyce, or the people who come to a condemned cell in grade B movies to read the death warrant—in real death, I suppose they do it on closed-circuit TV. The procession consisted of the vice president for university relations, bearing a screed and managing to look both pinched and florid; a provost, or dean, of one of the more liberal faculties; and the vice chairman elect of the faculty senate—who is actually its chairman, since the title of chairman is held, ex officio, by the president of the university—with, in their wake, a number of other members of the Observer Corps—we had armbands—and some merely curious.
The three principals were, of course, familiar personages in our academy; but I had never seen them look as they then did; their solemnity quite failed to mask an underlying tension and excitement that I found obscene. The vice president, over a barrage of catcalls, read his list of the arbitrarily suspended twenty, formally excommunicating them from the university community and, more mundanely, firing them from any jobs and cutting off any emoluments they might be receiving from the university. A few days later, the university rescinded these suspensions, pending the formation of a temporary hearing commission not much less arbitrary.
On Sunday morning, March 8, at about nine-thirty, I received a phone call from a very quiet colleague who happens to be a middle-aged German refugee—as we used to think of such people. He was phoning from his office on campus, where he was trying to catch up on some of the work we had all been missing, and he was worried. About the only people in sight on the campus, which is normally deserted on Sunday mornings, were Buffalo city police. And there were a lot of them—about 400, we were later to be informed. He didn’t know why.
I switched on the campus radio station, which had proved to be the only reliable and swift source of information, to hear a prerecorded statement in which the acting president was announcing that he had requested that these city police be stationed on campus to patrol it and keep order; and that they had been moved onto the campus on Sunday morning, when few students would be around, to minimize the dangers of confrontation. Some students were around, of course; many were awakened by police in their dormitories; and if confrontation was avoided, alarm certainly was not. Concerned faculty and students began converging on the campus to see what was going on. We gathered in Norton Union and began phoning colleagues, especially from the law school, to come down to see for themselves and try to decide what to do next.
By afternoon, several thousand faculty and students were meeting; a peaceful protest march was held on campus. To the credit of both the students and the city police, who on this occasion showed more restraint than either they or the campus police had on February 25, there were no incidents. The one concrete accomplishment of the occasion was the gathering of enough faculty signatures to call an emergency meeting of the faculty senate to consider resolutions aimed at getting the police off campus and rebuking the acting president for his conduct of the university’s affairs and, especially, for calling the police in.
The meeting was originally set for the next day, then postponed by the executive committee of the faculty senate until a site for it could be found off campus because, according to one member, such a senate meeting with excited student observers would provoke a dangerous confrontation between students and police. This was probably true, but ironical in view of the fact that the executive committee, though not consulted, had voted after the fact to support the action of Dr. Regan in calling the police on campus as necessary to preserve order there.
The meeting was, in fact, held on Wednesday, March 11, in the grim War Memorial Auditorium downtown, which is usually used for hockey games and prize fights. Student observers are customarily admitted to faculty senate meetings; and on this occasion the balcony was given over to them, while the faculty occupied the floor. By normal standards attendance was huge; nearly 700, or about half the eligible roll of faculty and three times the number who usually come. The meeting was tense and the rhetoric turgid, but it got through its two items of business without real trouble. Acting President Regan opened it with a long summary statement accounting; in general terms, for his stewardship and announcing that he was undertaking a “phased withdrawal” of police from campus. The faculty senate voted, overwhelmingly, to demand immediate withdrawal, and it rejected, by 417 to 263, a motion requesting Dr. Regan’s resignation. We then filed out of the auditorium as the student gallery chanted, “On strike—shut it down.”
The worst, to coin a phrase, was—perhaps still is—yet to come. If I recount the remaining events more briefly and less vividly, it is not because they were less shocking. They were more shocking. But I was away during this part of the crisis and did not personally experience its flavor. Moreover, we have all grown weary of academic atrocity stories, and the detail offered so far has been given in the interests of understanding the peculiarities of what is going on here, rather than to move the reader to pity and terror by our tragedy.
So, let us continue. It soon became apparent that Buffalo police were not, in fact, being removed from campus; and Police Commissioner Felicetta, with apparent and convincing candor, denied that the acting president had approached him with any suggestion that they should be. The acting president clarified his position as undertaking, initially, merely to have the police withdraw to a bivouac on campus instead of actively patrolling it. The next night, Thursday, March 12, they were patrolling it actively enough that a riot ensued on campus, in which, police reported, twenty-seven of themselves, twenty-two students, and one campus security guard received injuries serious enough to lead them to seek hospital treatment. Eight more policemen stated that they intended to seek medical assistance the next day; and twenty-five students were treated in the campus infirmary. Seventeen of these were sent to the hospital, and some of them were probably included in the twenty-two reported by the police.
The director of Student Health Services stated that most of the injuries sustained by students were cuts; the police report published in the Buffalo Evening News for March 13 shows thirteen students injured about the head and face; police injuries were largely to the limbs, though one officer was knocked unconscious with a brick. “Acting UB President Peter F. Regan,” the Evening News further reports, “praised Buffalo police for showing ‘remarkable restraint under very provocative circumstances.’ ”
As indeed they did in the face of much verbal and physical abuse that might well have provoked gunfire; and did, in fact, provoke the Buffalo Common Council into passing a resolution incorporating into the definition of disorderly conduct forbidden by law the use of the word “pig” as an epithet directed against police or school officials. The response of many organizations in the community and portions of the press was less restrained. Since the original violent encounter in Norton Union, public outrage—and most of the response of the administration—had been directed against property damage sustained by the university and law enforcement agencies. Clubbing and other injuries sustained by students aroused no comparable ire and some expression of approval.
Certain of the incidents of property damage were of a kind sure to arouse public rage: an attack on a police car and on the campus security office itself; fire damage, apparently in imitation of Santa Barbara, to a branch bank in a university shopping center; and, from the point of view of an academic community perhaps most repugnant of all, a fire bombing in the library which damaged a valuable collection of Spanish language documents not easily replaced. The fact that the March 12 riot on campus was reported in such a way as to suggest that the police had been worsted added fuel to the flames of public outrage, which could hardly, in any case, have been said to be merely smoldering.
In this atmosphere of urgent crisis, on Sunday afternoon, March 15, forty-five faculty members—three of them full professors—went to the administration building to force a confrontation with Dr. Regan on the issue of the police presence on campus and the unresponsiveness of his administration generally. The building was guarded, but one of the group whose office is located in Hayes Hall had a key to it, and was allowed to let himself and his colleagues in. They proceeded to what they apparently believed to be the acting president’s office, but which was in fact a part of the suite on the ground floor still assigned to President Meyerson.
They were stopped by the Vice President for Operations and Systems, whose organizational bailiwick includes the campus police, and the somewhat more urbane Vice President for Facilities. When asked what they wanted, a spokesman reportedly replied, “We want to see Dr. Regan,” and asserted that they planned to remain until they did. The Vice President for Operations and Systems informed them that they were violating the injunction against interfering with the normal operations of the university—though the presence of so many vice presidents on Sunday afternoon is itself abnormal—and would be arrested if they did not immediately leave. The Vice President for Facilities offered to meet with them himself, if they would repair to another point on the campus.
Both requests were refused. The campus police were called; the forty-five members of the faculty were arrested, taken downtown, booked, and jailed for eight hours until they were brought before Judge Joseph S. Mattina, who humanely released them on their own recognizances—an action for which he has since been greatly abused by civic organizations. They have since been charged with criminal trespass and with criminal and civil contempt. The district attorney Michael F. Dillon, has held over the March grand jury to investigate disorders on campus and press for indictments of faculty and students. The master of College A, who was one of the three full professors arrested on March 15, has received two threatening letters from a group calling itself “The Rough Riders.” The first of these was typed on an intradepartmental Buffalo city police form—a pink one—and had a .38 caliber bullet, which fits police revolvers, attached.
On Tuesday, March 17, at another emergency faculty senate meeting, attended by fewer than the previous meeting but still by more than twice as many as usually attend, a motion of confidence in Acting President Regan’s handling of the present crisis was rejected, 284 to 156, reversing the earlier endorsement. The meeting also acted on one of the original strike demands, voting 229 to 92 to “phase out” the ROTC program as officer candidates currently enrolled complete it. Almost simultaneously, however, the University Council—the former governing body of the University of Buffalo whose functions, vestigial and continuing, were briefly discussed earlier—issued a rather truculent statement supporting Dr. Regan, “wholeheartedly” supporting the district attorney’s grand jury investigation, and observing:
Obviously we reject with utter finality the opinion of those, be they students or faculty, who would destroy this society. We therefore take the position that ROTC should not be abolished.
Whatever one may think of the logic of this statement, one thing is clear. The faculty senate at SUNYAB, as elsewhere, has less power than it thinks it has; nearly all its actions are, finally, advisory to the trustees in Albany. The no-confidence vote on the acting president is clearly such an advisory vote. There is, indeed, only one area in which the action of the faculty senate is final and binding—and that is the area of the curriculum, in which the ROTC decision falls. If the council should attempt to perpetuate the ROTC program in the teeth of the adverse senate vote, it would find itself embroiled, on this relatively peripheral issue, in a classic violation of academic freedom; far less serious, to be sure, than the violations involved in the arrest and prosecution of the forty-five faculty; but much less debatable and potentially, in a quieter way, just as disruptive.
During the rest of the week of March 18, the campus was quite dull. The following week was spring recess, and everyone who could left early for it. During the recess, the police were withdrawn from campus. At least, as of April 8, we haven’t seen them lately.
May 7, 1970
Interview, The Midnight Oil (the weekly paper of SUNYAB night school, Millard Fillmore College), 41, 12, April 2, 1970. ↩
The foregoing account of the events in Norton Union on the evening of February 25 is based on the interim report of a three-man faculty committee, appointed by Acting President Regan and headed by the chairman of the Legal Studies Program of the Faculty of Law and Jurisprudence at the university, William R. Greiner. ↩