The Turbulent 60s and 70s
At the beginning of the 1960s, the student body at P.C. was quite conservative. According to a poll taken in 1960, students supported Richard Nixon over John Kennedy almost 3-1. Thus it isn’t surprising that the first demonstrations on the campus were not political, but concerned more local issues. The first of these actually concerned the tennis program. According to a new athletic plan adopted by the trustees in 1963, related to the college’s planned move to the Carolinas Conference, spring sports were to be allotted only two scholarships. This meant the de-emphasis of tennis, a sport which had brought national attention to PC for two decades. There were numerous letters and articles in the Blue Stocking, as well as a petition to the Board sponsored by the Blue Key leadership society and a mass meeting of protest. A poll at the time indicated that 40% of PC students preferred tennis as an intercollegiate sport, compared to 29% for football and 24% for basketball. Any change in the situation, however, was constrained by Carolinas Conference rules; the only compromise that could be made was to award both of the spring scholarships to tennis.
That same year, the students’ long-standing concern about required chapel surfaced again. According to an editorial published in the Blue Stocking on February 22, 1963: “Although it involves beating one of the oldest of PC’s dead horses, something should be said about required chapel, which is currently a completely ridiculous situation. A speaker must be appalled to look out upon a sea of sleeping and reading people; and no doubt the people are equally appalled at being there…A religion is a chosen discipline, not a dictated one…Many of the students we contacted felt that the religiously associated compulsion placed on them three times a week was more than enough to quell a desire to attend further sessions.” Other causes of unrest were college regulations on class cuts, drinking, ROTC, dormitory visitation, student input into policy-making, and the curfew, sign-out and dress regulations for women students.
On the national front, PC students supported the Vietnam War in its early years. According to a Blue Stocking poll published in 1966, 82% of the students surveyed agreed with the war policy, and 90% were in favor of America’s intervention in Vietnam. Students held blood drives for the troops, and organized projects to send them Christmas cards. Protests were still local in nature. In early 1967, many students and faculty protested the decision not to renew the contract of popular professor. Some faculty saw it as infringement on academic freedom, and some students demonstrated. According to a letter to the editor published in The Blue Stocking on January 20, 1967: “January 17, 1967 is the day on which Presbyterian College announced that it would no longer defend free speech, free thought, and honest inquiry. The announcement came in the form of the dismissal of H. Larry Ingle…from his duties as history professor after this year. Professor Ingle is one of the most qualified men on campus. He possesses a devotion to his subject and to his students that is second to none. His shortcoming was that he spoke out firmly for free speech, for inquiry, and for rational thought. Undoubtedly, his downfall came about because of the probing nature of his questions.”
Students continued to push for improved communication and representation. In 1966 they requested non-voting membership on two faculty committees. Their request was denied at first, but membership on a number of committees was granted the following year. The trustees also worked to improve the lines of communication. At one of their board meetings in 1968, they set aside an hour for an informal meeting with students. The rules for chapel and assembly were also changed, making attendance at worship services voluntary, while attendance at weekly assemblies was still required.
During this period, an alternative student newspaper called The Blue Spectre appeared on campus. According to its first issue, published on March 21, 1967, “The Blue Spectre is able to criticize more directly and without fear of reprisal from the administration. We, the writers of the Blue Spectre feel the time is at last here for the students to actively dissent against administrative policy…Why do we as students at P.C. repeatedly skirt our duties to demand recognition of our beliefs. Saturday classes, too many cars on campus, religion course requirements, the drinking rule. What next? It is our future that is at stake and it is now our decision to make.” The paper also attacked the continuing racial segregation at PC. The college had declared its compliance with the Civil Rights Act in 1965, but the only two African-American students to attend came for summer school. The Blue Spectre was published a number of times during the spring of 1967, and appeared sporadically during the next few years.
Tensions seemed to begin escalating in 1969. In answer to a Board resolution that urged “all segments of the college community…to continue to exercise sound judgment so that institutional and individual freedoms may be preserved in an atmosphere most conducive to learning,” the president of the student body replied “We do not try to usurp any authority from our elders, but students do feel a degree of responsibility to speak up for change where it seems needed.” At this same time, the Board issued a college policy on demonstrations. All such activities were to be registered with the dean of students, who was to “designate an appropriate area for the purpose.” Demonstrations were not to interfere with scheduled college activities, destroy property, or involve any occupation of buildings or physical contact. Students failing to comply with these rules were to be subject to the college’s regular judicial processes.
In April of 1969, twenty students held a peaceful demonstration at the ROTC battalion’s day of Federal Inspection. According to The Blue Stocking, the main issue involved was whether or not ROTC should be compulsory at either a Christian or a liberal arts college. That same year, there were indications that support for the Vietnam War was lessening when a number of students, faculty and staff participated in the national Vietnam Moratorium Day. Student opinion eventually led to changes in the two-year ROTC requirement. Starting in 1970-71, participation was to be voluntary for sophomores and required for freshman. After that, it would become voluntary for everyone.
Other campus issues continued to simmer. In October of 1970, President Weersing and Dean of Students Tom Stallworth, awakened in the middle of the night, held a midnight rap session with 85 students in the lobby of the Administration Building. Student complaints ran the gamut from drinking to the cut system to women’s rights. Unrest continued into 1971. In February, the SGA held an open meeting to address such concerns as student representation on the Board of Trustees, the system of class cuts, the “antiquated” drinking rules, and dormitory visitation. Following this meeting, students marched from Neville Hall to the Broad Street side of Belk Auditorium. There students were allowed to speak and voice their concerns.
The following month, when the Board of Trustees held their meeting on campus, the campus was papered with streamers and signs. The trustees held an open meeting with students, with some positive results. Students were permitted to sit with both voice and vote on the Board’s academic affairs and student activities committees. As for meetings of the full Board, they would be permitted to speak, but would have no vote. The Board refused to grant open dormitory visitation, and discouraged the use of alcohol or drugs on campus. Later, however, limited use of beer was allowed on campus, in certain places at certain times. Limited dormitory visitation was finally permitted in 1974.
The college had actually weathered this period of campus unrest fairly well. In 1974, the Board issued a resolution praising “the Faculty, Administration and Student Government for their part in resolving past problems and in returning the affairs of the college to a condition of tranquility and Christian cooperation.” One of the keys to this success was the college’s commitment to a free press. The editor of The Blue Stocking had the following to say in 1975: “I was forced to take a new awareness of the freedom that the PC Administration has allowed The Blue Stocking. I am also thankful that their tolerance has not been manifested in indifference toward the paper. The fact that PC has protected the freedom of the student press (despite temporary reasons not to) makes it much easier to listen to other ideas that the Administration has concerning other areas of student freedom.”
Posted by Nancy Griffith, Archivist
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