The Princeton Strike, 1970

The student protests against the Vietnam war discussed in last week’s post are documented in numerous photographs and records in the University Archives, but none were captured on film. The Historical Audiovisual Collection, however, contains live recordings of several protest assemblies that were broadcast by Princeton’s student-run radio station, WPRB. Featured here is part of a broadcast from Jadwin Gym on Monday, May 4, 1970, when nearly 4,000 students, faculty, and staff voted for a “Strike against the War,” four days after President Nixon announced the US invasion of Cambodia. Taken from a four-and-a-half hour meeting, this four-minute audio clip is accompanied by a selection of photos from the Historical Photograph Collection (presented in random order) that were shot during the event. Many photos were scanned from contact prints and have not been published before.

On Thursday, April 30 at 10 pm, half an hour after the conclusion of Nixon’s televised announcement, 2,500 students and faculty had gathered in the University Chapel and voted for an immediate university-wide strike. According to Peter Brown ’70 in the Princeton Alumni Weekly (May 19, 1970) the word “strike” was used to mean “not a closing of the university but rather a redirection of Princeton’s energies.” How people would strike and against what precisely was decided during the assembly in Jadwin Gym on May 4th, where three proposals were discussed. The first, which was submitted by the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) and included a statement of opposition to the war and the recommendation to suspend final exams (a summary of the proposal can be heard at 1:08), won with a majority of 2,066 votes. The second, more strongly worded proposal from the “Princeton Strike Committee” (summarized at 2:38) gained 1,522 votes. The audio clip does not capture the counting of the votes for the third proposal from the “Anti-Strike Committee,” which only got 181 votes. “Resolution One urges a strike against the war. Resolution Two is a strike against the university,” said Harold Kuhn, professor of mathematical economics, at the meeting, who added that the more radical proposal from the Strike Committee would “tear apart this university by adopting simplistic solutions to complex problems.”

Princeton was, according to the national press, among the first universities to declare a strike. Protest demonstrations occurred in more than half of the universities and colleges around the country, many of which turned violent. On the day of the strike meeting at Jadwin Gym, the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four students at Kent State University, and ten days later, local police killed two student protesters at Jackson State University. Many attributed the wisdom and flexibility of President Robert Goheen’s administration as the reason that Princeton was able to avoid the turmoil and violence on campuses elsewhere. In the aftermath of the Princeton Strike, the academic calendar for the fall of 1970-1971 was revised to allow students to canvass for political change during a two-week recess before the November elections.
The photos accompanying the audio clip feature four of the faculty members who spoke at the assembly, including Stuart Hampshire (Philosophy, 1:21, 2:10, 2:29), Professor Robert Geddes (School of Architecture, 2:18)  and Stanley Kelley, Professor of Politics (1:22), sitting next to President Robert Goheen (1:22, 3:16 and 4:12), who also spoke during the meeting. The only students identified are John Semida ’72 (0:57),  Gilbert Stamp ’71 (1:38), Steve Charen ’71 (sitting on the podium, 2:11), and Rick Ostrow ’71 (3:47, far right). If readers recognize other faces or can provide information on what is depicted in the photographs, please comment on this post!

The audio recording is from the Historical Audiovisual Collection (item 1593). The photographs are from the Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (MP094-MP095). For a personal narrative of the events following Nixon’s announcement on April 30. 1970 see the article by Gregg Lange ’70 in the Princeton Alumni Weekly (July 7, 2010).

2 thoughts on “The Princeton Strike, 1970

  1. The man with dark hair and a beard in a trench coat is Anthony Vidler who was a professor in the architecture school at the time. The student in the striped shirt with a headband is John Ringel, a graduate student in the architecture school at the time. He also appears in the photo with Dean Robert Geddes, the image just before the close-up.

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