The Living Memory
A Climate of Change
The Vietnam era encompassed not only the conflict in Southeast
Asia and the huge national debate it provoked, but also the emergence
of tremendous social and cultural forces: the civil rights and women's
rights movements, a deepening commitment to solving the problem
of poverty, disillusionment with government and distrust of the
Establishment. Among those leading the charge on these issues was
a new kind of American college students.
As the following reflections from Tufts graduates reveal, the university
was a microcosm of the complex events going on well beyond the Hill.
In such a climate of change, choices were inevitable. Each student
confronted decisions: the choice to speak up or be quiet, to join
in or drop out. And like the outside world, Tufts often reflected
a nation divided, with students clearly split into opposing camps:
protesters on one side and supporters of the war on the other.
Yet implicit in the unrest was a desire for genuine reform. Tufts
historian Russell Miller calls these the "Years of Trial and
Tribulation" in Light on the Hill, but they were also years
that had a profound influence on how Tufts conducted its business.
Parietals (in particular, the much-detested curfews for Jackson
women), how semesters were structured (The January Thing, or winter
term), coed dining and housing, the relevance of coursework (The
College Within offering students a chance to design their own majors)-all
these were signs of students' push to rethink and redefine their
Their actions were both moderate and extreme: sit-ins in Ballou
Hall, picketing, and student rallies in Cohen Auditorium followed
As Provost and Vice President Sol Gittleman, then a professor of
German and chair of the Committee on Student Life, remembers it,
no one anticipated student demands.
"This was a period of great energy and empowerment," he
said. "And it was radically new. In the late 1960s, Tufts was
a traditional liberal arts college that wasn't prepared for any
of the change. I remember when a group of students marched in one
day and said, 'We are now making coed living a fact of life.' And
they did! Whatever problems existed in society the university was
held accountable. They looked for a surrogate enemy and they found
it. Against that, the university was helpless."
Student activism at Tufts varied in its effectiveness, but events
were often characterized by an intense sense of purpose. Opposition
to the war, for example, grew stronger as American involvement escalated
and the draft became more hotly contested. Protests also mounted
over minority enrollment, reflecting growing national attention
to civil rights issues. Students effectively shut down conventional
university programs on more than one occasion. Classes were cancelled
and symposia held in the spring of 1969 to discuss the controversial
issue of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corp (NROTC). After
the invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970, activists "attacked
with growing ferocity the ROTC program, on-campus military recruiting
and the purported failure of the university to admit more Blacks
and to increase their financial aid," writes Miller. That spring,
after four Kent State students were killed by National Guardsmen,
the university saw its first unofficial graduation-the students
held their own ceremony to which the administration was distinctly
not invited-while the university held its formal traditional gathering
the next day.
In spring 1972, more than 1,000 students, enraged by renewed bombing,
voted for a two-day strike. Antiwar actions continued as buses carried
Tufts students to New York for a "March to Bring All the GIs
Home," and as Curtis Hall was transformed into a Strike Center,
from which flowed information on all antiwar activities in the state,
picketing of the Medford military recruitment office and civil disobedience
at the gates of Raytheon. It was at Tufts that representatives from
24 area colleges and universities formed a New England Colleges
Emergency Conference that condemned the escalation of the war.
And Tufts students filled buses to marches in New York and joined
throngs of compatriots marching on Boston Common, and participated
in sit-ins with faculty at the JFK Federal Building where they were
"You had an idealist generation willing to run against the
grain," said retired biology professor and activist Saul Slapikoff.
"But you also happened to have a group of undergraduates who
had good organizing skills. They were young people with commitment
who were bright and capable-they were ready to make a commitment
and they had skills. That is no small thing."
The antiwar movement comprised a relatively small minority, as with
many social movements, and student interest waxed and waned. According
to Phil Primack, A70, former editor of The Tufts Observer, and now
a freelance writer based in Medford, "Vietnam was without doubt
a hot issue at Tufts as on every campus, but it was a relatively
small group of people who were opposed."
But small or not, such groups had enormous impact. To Primack, the
most important benchmark of the era at Tufts was not Vietnam, but
protests that took place at a construction site for a Jackson dorm.
Members of Afro-American societies from campuses across Boston,
joined by some Tufts students and faculty, occupied the site in
November 1969 to protest the construction company's failure to meet
minority hiring standards, standards the students felt the university
had pledged to meet.
"What is probably most fascinating to me about the Tufts experience
is how the war was playing out at home on an issue that had nothing
directly to do with Vietnam, but was a measure of that time,"
said Primack. "The protest over the dorm made Tufts a vanguard
on the issue of the role of an employer-in this case a university-regarding
what would be become known as affirmative action. Tufts became the
first major campus battleground over that issue."
A growing sense of injustice also left indelible marks. Marty Blatt,
A72, would become one of the more outspoken antiwar students on
campus, but he began at Tufts as a freshman who was "particularly
upset" by Phil Ochs' "Love Me I'm a Liberal." Now
chief of cultural resources and historian for Boston National Historic
Parks, Blatt says the songs "forced him to think and question."
From his perspective, the collective antiwar effort was a "defining
moment. There were many people whose lives were changed by that
experience to this day-certainly in terms of their values and/or
career choices. There's no question that the antiwar movement was
transformative-there was no single episode more important in my
development than participating in the 1969 March Against Death in
Washington, DC. It crystallized my emotions and rational thoughts
around issues of war and peace, and the overall meaning of life.
I remember feeling: Is there anything more important than trying
to prevent young men from being drafted and sent to fight in some
For Judith Mears, J68, today a lawyer with a national HMO, change
was about fighting for convictions. Mears, who marked becoming The
Tufts Weekly's first woman editor in chief by printing her first
edition on pink paper, said the existence of parietals depended
on Jackson women's passive acceptance of them. "You can't have
parietal rules without implicit consent," she said. "So
for a long time, women were still 'protected' by the disciplinary
council because they allowed themselves to be. It was only when
we decided we didn't need those 'protections' that we moved forward."
Students were especially vocal about changing the governance of
the university to include student input. They were often incensed
by President Burton Hallowell's refusal to ban military recruiting
on campus on the grounds that it was contrary to his idea of an
An economist from Wesleyan University, and in his own words, "leaning
a little left of center," Hallowell, however, did what he could
to walk that fine line between quick fixes and real, permanent improvements.
Answering directly to the trustees, but sincerely interested in
young people and their passion for reform and relevance (he stated
openly that he was personally opposed to the war), Hallowell sought
solutions that encouraged flexibility and teamwork, such as changing
the composition of various committees to include students, and encouraging
faculty to hold seminars related to the war when student attention
was clearly not directed at routine classwork.
"Universities are really built to deal with problems in a rational,
civil way. They are lost when it comes to a world of emotionalism
and irrationalism," reflected Hallowell recently at his home
on Cape Cod. "I knew authority would be challenged from the
start, that is why I issued a statement in the spring of 1968 about
what I thought a university was, about the responsibility of students,
faculty and trustees, and the conditions under which these responsibilities
could be carried out in a world of chaos and disruption. That statement
had to happen. . . . Besides, presidents don't have the power to
decree. They are only put in strategic positions for exercising
Now 84, Hallowell recalls that, despite his efforts, sometimes his
persuasive skills fell short. "I did not have as much of a
problem as an extremely right-wing conservative might have had,"
he said. "But you were either having a high or a low. You were
subject day in and day out to great frustration and enormous uncertainty."
Still, he cites real changes at Tufts. "I always believed there
should be reforms at universities, and we made some. We radically
changed parietals and improved the rights of women and minorities.
Our trustees voted for an open meeting with the whole community
at least once a year. They also voted for nonvoting participants
drawn from among faculty, students and alumni to attend meetings
of the standing committees of the board. We set up clear guidelines
for dealing with disruptive behavior. We felt we had to do everything
we could," he said, "to adjust to a new kind of world."
We hope the following essays are a reflection on that world and
an opportunity to transform those experiences into enduring lessons.