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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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General Strike for Peace, ca. 1936.

General Strike for Peace, ca. 1936. The "peace strike" encompassed many of the issues which concerned students. From left to right the banners called for more spending for schools and less on the military, support for Senator Nye's neutrality act, opposition to fascism, and an end to ROTC training on campus.

 

Chicago Maroon, January 31, 1969.

Chicago Maroon, January 31, 1969. The occupation of the Administration Building brought the tensions of a decade into sharp relief. Students followed the story in the Maroon and in the general print, radio, and television media.

 

Bill Aron, Radical Ideology on the University of Chicago Campus, 1970

Bill Aron, Radical Ideology on the University of Chicago Campus, 1970. Sociology graduate student Bill Aron (AM 1969, PhD 1972) conducted his doctoral research on student attitudes toward social and political problems at home and abroad. The cover of this pamphlet summarizing his research expressed the numerous issues about which students were concerned.

The Student Voice

War, Peace, and Politics
After World War II, conservatives and the House Committee on Un-American Activities charged that universities "had been the breeding grounds of a series of insidious, communist inspired organizations." In response, students, faculty, and the administration alike rallied together to defend the University, galvanized by a common interest in protecting academic freedom. The student group American Youth for Democracy believed that the University, as a microcosm of society, had to remain steadfast against these attacks lest infringements upon freedom and free thought spread to other institutions and the rest of society.

By the 1960s some students at the University of Chicago had become suspicious of authority, especially the administration, which they no longer viewed as a partner in higher education but as a privileged elite. Several student groups formed on campus to protest the war in Vietnam. As in the late 1930s, political alignments differed. Some promoted Democrat Eugene McCarthy as the peace candidate in the 1968 election; others chose to march and protest in Chicago or Washington, D.C.; still others, the majority, continued their studies and remained committed to the academic enterprise.

The sharpest protests were products of a tumultuous era and the occasion of controversial events on campus. A dinner marking the inauguration of President Edward H. Levi was disrupted by anti-war protesters, and in early 1969 the University was more directly confronted when a group of protesters occupied the Administration Building. After the protesters abandoned their occupation two weeks later, University disciplinary committees held individual hearings for students involved in the sit-in and suspended eighty-one, expelled forty-two, and placed three on probation.

More recent campus political activity has re-emphasized the historical pattern of ideological diversity within the student body. Some students have demonstrated against South African apartheid or protested sexual discrimination and the mistreatment of racial minorities while others have promoted neoconservative thought and defended a wholly free market economy. In these and other ways, the tradition of student activism continues to provoke and challenge.


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