Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History
Vietnam War, 1966-1973
The war in Vietnam, from the start a controversial operation, ignited the emotions of young people at college campuses across the United States. Along with the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War served to create an air of radicalism among college-age youth, and led to an upsurge in activism and radical politics on college campuses. The Tufts campus was no exception.
In 1966, students first began paying close attention to the war effort in Southeast Asia. At the time, however, about half of the student body was in favor of military action in Vietnam, and the majority felt that some type of action needed to be taken to halt the spread of communism in Asia. Within two years, these feelings would undergo a drastic shift, as Tufts students began to take part in anti-war activity both on and off campus.
Student action against the war truly began with the spring 1967 formation of a chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The Tufts chapter joined with other local students to protest in Boston, and began to sponsor various on campus seminars about the draft. Writing letters to the Tufts Weekly and distributing flyers across campus, the SDS called for greater student and faculty participation in deciding university policy, and also for the opportunity to take a more aggressive role in bringing about social change on campus. In March of 1967, the Tufts SDS participated in the "Spring Mobilization to End the War" by bringing prominent American Marxist and anti-war activist Herbert Aptheker to speak on campus. SDS then sponsored a five-week course on the "New Left," focusing on the radical politics developing among student groups.
Controversy on campus expanded greatly during the fall of the same year. General Lewis B. Hershey, the director of the Selective Service System, called for the cancellation of student draft deferments for all students found expressing anti-war sentiments. After immediate pressure from students, Tufts president Burton C. Hallowell spoke out publicly against Hershey's policy, but refused to give in to student demands to ban recruitment on campus. In response, SDS set up a "War and Draft Information Center" in Packard Hall. In October, another group called Tufts Citizens Concerned About the War sponsored another forum about the war, bringing MIT professor Noam Chomsky to Tufts. At the forum, Chomsky detailed his anti-war views, all the while fending off hecklers. Soon after, three Tufts students participated in a mass return of draft cards in Boston. One student publicly burned his, while the other two simply passed theirs in.
In November of 1967, Tufts saw its first major on-campus protest. The CIA and the Dow Chemical Company (who manufactured napalm) came to Tufts to recruit students, and were met with a large, but peaceful student protest. Soon after the CIA protest, the military sponsored a draft forum at Tufts to explain changes in draft laws and to try to calm students.
1968 saw similar anti-war action throughout the campus. Upon their arrival at Tufts, freshmen were given anti-war pamphlets printed by the S.D.S., and early in the year, the student council voted 15-5-1 in favor of banning recruitment on campus. President Hallowell, however, continued to reject the ban. By now, student opinion had shifted, with polls showing sixty-one percent of the campus now favored some sort of de-escalation. The spring semester brought increased on-campus action. On April 16, 1969, classes were suspended for the afternoon in order to hold a campus wide ROTC referendum. Many students had protested the presence of ROTC offices on campus, and demanded an end to the program. At the forum, both the pros and cons of the program were discussed in an effort to reach some sort of consensus. Soon after the forum, however, the Tufts faculty voted that the ROTC be completely removed from campus by 1973. The decision angered many students and alumni, especially those who were veterans of foreign wars. Many felt that the faculty had turned their back on an important program. On campus, however, many students supported the decision. At the same time, ROTC students were subject to continuous harassment. Some were pelted with eggs and rotten vegetables when seen wearing their uniforms, and consequently many avoided campus altogether.
On October 15, 1969, classes were suspended for one day to observe National Vietnam Peace Action Day. The Student Mobilization Committee, another anti-war group, organized an overnight vigil at Goddard Chapel, and also held numerous teach-ins and seminars throughout the day. A number of faculty spoke at different campus events during the day. Although the featured faculty differed slightly in their opinions about the war, all of them favored withdrawal from Vietnam. President Hallowell also declared his opposition to the war, but still refused to ban on-campus recruiting.
Campus action continued in the spring of 1970. In March, a speech by David Dellinger of the Chicago Seven drew 1500 people, and in early April, a meeting of 600 students drew up plans for campus-wide action. The students passed five resolutions, including a call for a general strike for the remainder of the semester so that they could focus solely on anti-war activity. The meeting also called for the cancellation of finals and voiced support for a resolution passed at an informal and unofficial faculty meeting condemning the Nixon administration's escalation of the war and calling for immediate American withdrawal. Following the meeting, President Hallowell ordered the flag to be flown at half-mast through Memorial Day to recognize continuing death due to war across the world. The administration allowed the student strike to go unchallenged, and although classes were not officially cancelled, students, faculty, and the administration united in opposition to the war and held various seminars and discussions.
The end of the semester saw perhaps the most severe campus action yet. On April 30, 300 students gathered in front of Ballou to protest the war. During the next couple of weeks, protest increased, ending with the suspension of finals for members of the senior class. In order to voice their opposition to the Nixon administration, the war, and the continued refusal of the Tufts administration to end recruitment activities on campus, the senior class organized a separate graduation ceremony. Instead of handing out programs, students handed flowers to parents and picked their own speakers. The students also declared that their ceremony was done in solidarity for the dead at Kent State and Jackson State colleges. The official ceremony, held one day later, drew almost noone.
The fall of 1970 saw continued student action. The administration and faculty postponed all quizzes and exams until November so that students could participate in political action until the elections without harming their grades. Even with the suspension, the campus continued to experience major disruptions. In October, two bomb threats called in on the same day caused evacuations across campus. First, a threat was called in to Sweet Hall, the home of the ROTC offices. Next, a similar threat was made to the Fletcher School. All though both turned out to be hoaxes, they caused campus wide panic. Then, on October 23, a rally held in front of Ballou to protest the indictment of Kent State students drew a huge crowd.
In the spring of 1971, another teach-in took place, with Noam Chomsky again serving as the featured speaker. Then, the most violent action of the entire war struck the Tufts campus. On March 21, 1971, at 4:30 in the morning, the Fletcher school was firebombed. The offices of Dean Gullion, the head of the school, were completely destroyed, along with the offices next door. Overall, the firebombing did between fifty and seventy five thousand dollars worth of damage. Although the perpetrators were never apprehended, it was generally assumed that the bombing was related to the war.
1972 was the last year for major activity on campus. Early in the year, President Hallowell refused to make payroll deductions for medical aid to Indochine. His action caused a number of protests, especially after Jane Fonda came to campus and spoke in favor of medical aid. Parent's Weekend also became central for anti-war activity, with fifty parents and twenty faculty members signing a petition to Hallowell asking for the end of on campus recruiting. The last major protest to hit the Tufts campus came on October 27, 1972. Students gathered outside of Brown House to protest Marine recruiting. Although no students even signed up to be interviewed by the Marines, the protest continued as planned, eventually developing into a forum with the recruiting officers in the Brown House. The protest was cut short when a bomb threat was called in to Brown House.
Overall, members of the Tufts community showed a great deal of concern about the war in Vietnam. Although the central activists on campus were few in number, their actions made their voices impossible to ignore. The war, however, caused a major disruption in alumni relations, especially with alumni of the ROTC program. Many saw the end of the ROTC program as the end of many qualified students' chances to afford a Tufts education, and also felt it was disrespectful to veterans of Vietnam and previous wars. Across the country, radical politics took hold of many universities, and Tufts was no exception.
Source: LOH2 270-280, TW