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Frequently Asked Questions
Campus unrest in the 1960s and 1970s

The social and political climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s affected Princeton as it did many other campuses across the nation. The civil rights movement and the American involvement in Vietnam initiated a new kind of political activism on campus. The Vietnam War and the personal implications of the draft were issues of hot debate, along with other wrongs in society like racism and poverty. More directed towards the University were criticisms concerning the role of the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) leasing University property behind the Engineering Quadrangle, and the lack of student involvement in University decision-making. In the fall of 1965, the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded and in short order became the lead organization through which radical campus activism was organized. When President Lyndon Johnson came to campus in May 1966 to dedicate Robertson Hall, the new headquarters of the Woodrow Wilson School, 400 students picketed the event. In October 1967, SDS organized a sit-in at the IDA demanding the University sever its ties with the defense contractor. In March 1969, fifty black students of the Association of Black Collegians occupied the New South building for 11 hours protesting University investments in companies doing business in South Africa.

The University administration responded to the spirit of the 1960s in numerous ways. Applicants from minority groups were actively recruited to build a diverse student body. Also, opportunities were created for student involvement in University policy. In May 1969, the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) was established in order to “consider and investigate” University policy, governance, and any general issue related to the welfare of the University. Around that same time Princeton faculty overwhelmingly approved proposals that converted the ROTC into a non-credit program in the company of other extra-curricular activities. And, although the social and psychological well being of the hitherto all-male student body was only one of the many considerations, the trustees voted in favor of coeducation in January 1969. When President Robert Goheen announced that coeducation would become a reality that fall, the student-run newspaper The Daily Princetonian congratulated Goheen and the trustees for their “courage, foresight, and ability to change with the times.”

The culmination of protest activity on campus followed the American invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970. On May 4, nearly 4,000 students, faculty, and staff members assembled in Jadwin Gym and wholly endorsed a “strike against the war.” Faculty agreed to suspend final examinations for those who did not wish to take them. Robert Goheen was one of 37 university presidents who had petitioned for the ending of American military involvement in Indochina. The CPUC recommended a rearrangement of the fall academic calendar to permit a two-week recess preceding congressional elections in November 1970. The two-week hiatus was meant to enable students and faculty to campaign for political change.

Protests continued after 1970, notably against the University's investments in South Africa . However, by the mid-1970s the campus had quieted down. Due, in part, to the flexibility and wisdom of President Goheen and his administration, the destructiveness and perilous civil unrest that afflicted many other campuses had been avoided.

Related Sources

Annual Reports to the President, 1940-2003

Communications Office Records, 1922-1995

Council of the Princeton University Community Records (CPUC), 1965-2000

The Daily Princetonian (Student newspaper)

Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005

Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, c. 1850-1996

McEnany, John Merrit. The Princeton Strike of May 1970: A Narrative and Commentary. McEnany's senior thesis was submitted to the history department of Princeton University in 1972. This thesis can be viewed on request at the Mudd Manuscript Library. For information on how to request of photocopy of this thesis please click here.

Neuwirth, Lee. Nothing Personal: The Vietnam War in Princeton 1965-1975. ( Booksurge Llc, 2009.)

Office of the President Records, Robert F. Goheen Subgroup, 1924-1988

Princeton Alumni Weekly

Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection, c. 1968-c. 1991

Princeton University Library Records, 1810-2005

Helene van Rossum (2003)

Last modified: Tuesday, 24-Apr-2012 13:58:18 EDT