Protests and Controversies at the University of Dayton in the 1960s and Early 1970s
The 1960s were a time of turmoil across the United States. Protests occurred over the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and demand for individual freedoms. Also, a counterculture movement that emphasized freedom spread across the states. Colleges became a place of protest, as some youth were vehemently opposed to things such as the Vietnam War and Civil Rights discrimination. Many were eager to join protests against such problems. The city of Dayton had long been affected by racial tensions, culminating in a race riot in 1966. Although the University of Dayton was isolated and relatively unaffected by the city’s racial conflict and no campus protests occurred throughout the 1960s, by 1967 UD could not escape the protest and counterculture movement that was sweeping the nation. The protests experienced at the University of Dayton revolved around issues being protested across the country and related to the changing attitudes of these times. Major events at the University of Dayton in the 1960s and early 1970s include the 1967 heresy affair, which involved teachings in the philosophy department and related to the changing views of the Catholic Church, the 1968 ROTC protests, related to mandatory ROTC at the university and more largely to growing discontent over the Vietnam War, the Grant controversy, which also occurred in 1968, where the students protested over the unfair firing of a professor, and the 1971 library protest, where students protested the firing of union workers during the construction of a new library. Overall, these protests showed a student desire for control over their education and changing attitudes of the students. This relates to what is happening more widely across the United States during this time period.
National Protests of the 1960s
The entire United States was undergoing a time of turmoil in the 1960s. The early 1960s focused largely on the Civil Rights movement in the South, and the protests did not really spread to northern cities until 1964. The protests of the early 1960s called for basic Civil Rights for African Americans.
In 1964, protests in large, northern, African American urban centers began. These protests were largely over civil unrest due to unequal conditions. Protests in 1964 occurred in Harlem and Brooklyn, killing one, injuring hundreds, and leading to over 500 arrests and millions of dollars of damage. Similar protests quickly followed in other major cities, including Rochester and Philadelphia, and later spread to smaller northeastern cities. In 1965, there was a major protest in Los Angeles, which killed 34 and injured over 1,000. 1966 brought a large number of riots to several major cities, as well as did 1967, with one major 1967 protest in Detroit.
People became fed up with their living conditions, as African Americans were often segregated through various processes. They were left with inadequate housing, schooling, and neighborhoods. Eventually, their frustration built and led to riots, which often caused death, injury, and millions of dollars worth of damage.
National Campus Protests in the 1960s
College campuses are imagined today to have been hotbeds for protests in the 1960s. The reality was that while many colleges did experience protest movements, many colleges did not. Several factors predisposed some colleges to have a large number of protests. One of these was the selectivity of the school; generally more elite and selective schools had more protests. These schools had a larger amount of resources, and more students did not have to work, leaving them more time to protest. Another influence on protests was the size of the schools; larger schools generally had more protests. It takes a certain number of people to mobilize for the protest to become significant, which is easier to achieve at a larger school. Lastly, schools with a history of protest movements were more active in the 1960s because the foundations for these movements were already there.
The biggest nationwide campus protest movement of the 1960s was the Vietnam War. Protests against the Vietnam War on college campuses began in 1965 with major protests in Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and Madison. While these campuses started protesting early, the majority of college students were not against the Vietnam War until 1968. It was at this time that many more campuses began to see protests against the Vietnam War.
Conservatism at the University of Dayton
The University of Dayton did not fit the above criteria for schools prone to protests in the 1960s. For one, UD was a relatively small school lacking the resources of a larger school. Additionally, the University of Dayton was not incredibly selective or elite. In addition to these factors, the fact that the University of Dayton is a Catholic school likely played a role in its lack of protest activity. Being a Catholic school, students were likely to be generally conservative, making protests unlikely.
Evidence suggests that towards the beginning of the decade, UD students did not seem very concerned with the issues going on around them both on campus and in the wider community. According to an analysis of student newspapers from the time, students seemed naïve to the issues occurring around them. Many of the students being raised in an environment where they did not have to worry about these issues.
Overall, the students at the University of Dayton took a fairly conservative approach to controversial issues of the day. As the decade progressed however, students became more active and vocal on campus. These students were met with a general respect from the administration, which tried to approach issues in a way that took into account student opinions while also recognizing their responsibilities as a Catholic higher-education institution.
Awakening of Protest at UD: Student Governance
In the early 1960s, students began to want more of a say in life and activities on campus. This led to the formation of several different councils including the student welfare council, a student culture committee, and a student activities committee. In addition to this, male students gained autonomy over Founders Hall, electing “head residents” to manage the facility. While the women in Marycrest did not enjoy these same freedoms, in 1963 they were able to vote on a system of self-government, adopt a Code for Group Living, and elect hall officers.
The push for more control over student life began the protest movement at the University of Dayton. While the students asked for small things, they were able to have a voice in these campus issues. The use and recognition of this voice led to the students asking for bigger things, eventually leading to the major protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
This event did not involve students, but rather the philosophy department at the university. Nevertheless, it shows how divided people were on certain issues at the time and illustrates how the university dealt with this divide.
In the mid-1960s, all students at the University of Dayton were required to complete at least 12 credit hours of philosophy in order to graduate. Students earning a BA degree had to complete 18 hours. The controversy began when there was evidence of dissatisfaction with Thomist philosophy, the standard of the university at the time. This led to the hiring of the first non-Thomist philosophy professor in 1961 followed by an additional professor in 1962. This angered some of the more traditional Thomist philosophers, who believed that the non-Thomists were teaching against the doctrine of the Catholic Church. This ultimately led to a letter being written to the Archbishop of Cincinnati on October 15, 1966 by Bonnette, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Dayton. The letter stated that there was a “crisis of faith” at the university that had been developing over the last few years and asked for a representative to be brought to the university to conduct an investigation.
Archbishop Alter also decided to send a committee of his own to further investigate the controversy. His committee found that the teachings of certain philosophy professors were sometimes contrary to Catholic faith and morals. President Roesch however felt comfortable with his initial determination and said on March 1, 1967 that it is important that the university is free and all viewpoints are welcomed as long as one stays in their discipline and shows respect to the beliefs of the Catholic Church. This approach of appointing committees and peaceful discussions to reach a conclusion became commonplace for issues at the University of Dayton throughout the late 1960s. President Roesch encouraged dialogue and free speech, as long as it did not get in the way of academics. This stance helped to resolve conflicts and keep protests to a minimum.
City of Dayton: 1966 Race Riot
On the morning of September 1, 1966, around 3 a.m., Lester Mitchell, an unarmed black man, was shot on Dayton’s West side. Shortly after the shooting, the black residents of the neighborhood began rioting, throwing rocks and water bottles and destroying the buildings around them. Around 10:30, Mayor Dave Hall called in the National Guard to assist with stopping the protests. When the National Guard finally did arrive, the protests were essentially finished and order was being restored. While the protest itself was short-lived, it caused lasting damages.
The 1966 race riot in Dayton was, on the surface, about the shooting of an unarmed black man. This was not, however, the only cause for the riots. Dayton had long been segregated, with poor conditions on the west side. The west side experienced poor housing, run down businesses, and poor schools. As these conditions continued and worsened on the west side, the people there became increasingly frustrated. This segregation and unfair treatment led ultimately to the race riot on September 1, 1966. The conditions and protests in Dayton were part of a national Civil Rights movement. Dayton only played a small part in the bigger picture of growing discontent over racial issues and a movement of change that was occurring across the United States. These events could not have been invisible to students on UD’s campus. The growing protest movement was now extremely close to the University of Dayton, giving the students a catalyst for protesting the issues they felt passionate about.
The first mention of the Vietnam crisis in student newspapers came in February 1965. Later in 1965, the student council passed a resolution to support Johnson’s Vietnam War policies. In December 1965, there was even a march and rally held in support of the current Vietnam policies. In 1967, the student council spoke in support of voluntary ROTC, a major move from the previously conservative actions of the early 1960s.
The 1968 ROTC protest, the first major protest at the University of Dayton, followed the national trend, as 1968 is when many college students began to be openly against the Vietnam War. In January of 1968, the first major protest on UD’s campus occurred due to the suspension of 12 university students for forging their advisor’s signatures. Over 1,000 students protested and 1,500 signed a petition, as they felt that the punishment was disproportionate to the action. 1968 also brought a general awareness to prejudices on campus and other controversial issues.
Until the 1960s, the University of Dayton had a longstanding policy requiring all male students to take two years of ROTC. As conflicts increased in the 1960s however, students began to question this requirement and call for a voluntary ROTC program. In 1967, after meetings and discussions between administration and students, the decision was made to make the ROTC requirement only one year. Just the next year however, students became dissatisfied and began to push for fully voluntary ROTC.
The first of these pushes occurred on August 30, 1968 when a group of ten students passed out literature demanding voluntary ROTC was passed out to male freshman and army officers. While the students were initially reprimanded for their actions, they received no punishment because they were not clearly violating a university policy. A few short days later, in the early days of September 1968, there was a student rally in Kennedy Plaza for voluntary ROTC. Over 1,000 students and four faculty members attended the rally. On November 8, 1968 yet another demonstration was held, this time in the form of an anti-military ball. The ball was held on the same day as the traditional ROTC ball, and was intended to be a direct competitor of it. The ball’s purpose, according to co-coordinator Bernie Murray, was to, “Celebrate anti-militarism in the same way that militarism is celebrated.” On January 14, 1969, the fourth major demonstration against mandatory ROTC was held on the University of Dayton’s campus. This time, 400 university students and faculty conducted a silent solidarity march across campus. All of these protests indicate a growing distaste for the ROTC program, and likely the same for US involvement in the Vietnam War in general.
As students were clearly unhappy about the issue at hand, something needed to be done. The first action came in September 1968, shortly after the rally, when the Student Body President Chris Kerns formed an emergency commission for voluntary ROTC. The commission consisted of four students who had led the previous protests and demonstrations: Jack Vincent, Jim Potterton, Peter Crotty, and George Marnik. The commission took action by attending meetings with university officials and composing a 40-page paper citing evidence of why ROTC should be voluntary. In October 1968, as the administration became increasingly aware of the unrest on campus, a decision was made to reopen the investigation into the ROTC program that had led to the requirement being decreased to one year. Ultimately, after considering its options, the university council voted 10-7 in favor of voluntary ROTC on January 24, 1969. The measure was then brought to and approved by the administrative council, resulting in voluntary ROTC at the University of Dayton.
Dr. Grant Controversy
Another controversy arose at the University of Dayton in 1968 when Dr. Grant, a history professor, was dismissed from his job. Dr. Grant had been reviewed by a Faculty Committee that recommended he be given a $1,200 raise. A few months after, Grant was terminated. While the reasons for his termination were not made clear to the public, the students and many others believed that he was dismissed due to his involvement with creating a local branch of the American Federation of Teachers.
Many prominent unions and organizations were involved in the initial investigation and protest of Grant’s dismissal including the AAC, the AAUP, the AFT, and the ACLU. The students got involved beginning with a demonstration of about 400 students who marched to the office of Fr.Roesch. The students carried a petition signed by 3,670 students demanding that Grant be given his job back along with a $1,200 raise. Shortly thereafter, the eighteen students began a hunger strike outside of the president’s office, demanding the same things but also saying they were protesting for academic freedoms that they felt were being violated in general. The students demanded that Grant get a fair trial and that the charges be explicitly presented. They also compiled a list of thirty questions for Fr.Roesch to answer about the incident. Roesch compiled by answering the questions, and none of the students got in trouble for the protest.
The Grant controversy resulted to some major changes to the University’s policy on conducting relations with professors and other faculty. The policy including new procedures for the selection of the department chairman and new terms for the chairmen, new patterns of departmental administration, a clearer outline of the chairman’s duties, and the specifications of what exactly a contract means when a teacher is hired. Roesch hoped that these changes would prevent conflicts like these from happening in the future. Ultimately, the Grant situation was handled in a peaceful and democratic way, which was normal for the university at the time.
1970 St. Mary’s Sit-In
Student protests in 1970 returned to the original goal that began the entire protest movement on UD’s campus, student governance and control. On March 17, 1970, about one hundred fifty students staged a sit-in at St. Mary’s Hall, which lasted for about twenty-four hours. The students were demanding increased student representation in university policy making along with educational reform. The protest ended when the students were promised a meeting with the administration the next afternoon.
The meeting was held the next day in the Fieldhouse on campus. Over 5,000 students, faculty, and administrators attended the meeting. Fr. Roesch, the president at the time, acknowledged that educational reform was an important issue that needed to be further addressed. He also said that the university would not tolerate protest activities which disrupt the campus or other students. While action against the organizers of the protest was considered, ultimately no charges were filed against them. This is consistent with other university actions against protestors at the time, the administration understood and was willing to listen to the claims of students as long as the students were not being overly disruptive in their protests.
1971 Library Protest
Another major protest that occurred on the University of Dayton’s campus during this time period happened at the grand opening of the new library on September 25, 1971. Thirty-five demonstrators from the UD Solidarity Committee gathered at the opening to protest the firing of eighty-five union workers that had occurred over the past summer. The student protestors chanted, “Hey, Hey, Father Ray, how many kids did you starve today?” Shortly after the protest, Fr.Roesch stated that he recognized the importance of freedom of speech and inquiry along with the right to demonstrate but also recognizes the responsibility that comes along with these rights. Roesch said that these principles were important to uphold and would be upheld in this situation.
Raymond Nartaker, the director of the library, decided to take the protestors to the student court on the principle that they violated a statement on Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Freedoms, specifically the section that said students must refrain from the interference of others when protesting. Nartaker accused five students on these claims: Arleigh Dom, Leonard Kaccinski, Peggy Middendorf, Tom Welch, and Kevin Wires. Welch was the first to be brought to trial, and the student court decided that the case should be dismissed because the statement on which Welch was charged had not been substantially spread throughout the university. This dismissal was displeasing to some faculty, who believed that the students were in a clear violation of university policy. Brother Elmer Lackner, the Vice President of University Relations at the time, stated that, “My frank opinion is that the situation at the library was out of order, and no matter what they were charged under something should be done about it.” While Fr.Roesch had seemed to support the students right to protest a few weeks earlier, Brother Lackner now seemed opposed to the idea that there was any merit in what the students had done.
Nartaker went on to appeal the court’s decision. Ultimately though, Tom Welch stopped attending the University of Dayton at the end of the semester. The Board of Appeals decided that they would still pursue the case because they wanted to disprove the lower court’s dismissal. Ultimately, the court decided to withdraw the charges on January 18, 1972, accepting the student court’s decision. This protest again shows the university’s commitment to upholding democratic policies and peaceful protests on campus. The students were not immediately punished for their actions. They were taken to court where both sides were heard and ultimately a decision was made. This further shows the university’s commitment at the time to giving rights to students as long as the students do not use these rights disruptively.
“Academic Council Reopens Mandatory ROTC Question.” Flyer News, October 11, 1968.
“At New Library Dedication…Protest Disrupts Ceremony.” Flyer News, September 28, 1971.
Brown, Mary J. “An “Inevitable” Campus Controversy: The “Heresy Affair” at the University of Dayton, 1960-67.” American Catholic Studies, 1/2, 113 (2002): 79-95. Accessed November 7, 2018. JStor.
“Chief Justice Kahle Indicts Library Student Protesters.” Flyer News, October 27, 1971.
“Commission formed for Voluntary ROTC.” Flyer News, September 13, 1968.
“Council Urges Optional ROTC.” Flyer News, January 24,1969.
Farrelly, B. (2000). Student Life. In Voices of UD (pp. 47-80). Dayton, OH: University of Dayton.
“First Anti-Military Ball Competes with ROTC Tonight.” Flyer News, November 8, 1968.
“Grant Controversy Continues, Faculty Committee to Hear Case.” Flyer News, January 10, 1969.
Hugh Davis Graham. “On Riots and Riot Commissions: Civil Disorders in the 1960s.” The Public Historian, no. 4 (1980): 7. doi:10.2307/3377640
Kane, Mary Anne. Attitudes of the UD Student During the 1960s. The University of Dayton, 1974.
“Library Case: Is it dead?” Flyer News, January 11, 1972.
“March Reemphasizes Voluntary ROTC Stand.” Flyer News, January 4, 1969.
Nella van Dyke. 1998. “Hotbeds of Activism: Locations of Student Protest.” Social Problems, no. 2: 205. doi:10.2307/3097244.
“President Stresses Student Rights in Dedication Disturbances.” Flyer News, October 8, 1971.
“ROTC Leaflets Bring Early Police Action.” Flyer News, August 30, 1968.
Seymour M. Lipset. “Polls and Protests.” Foreign Affairs, no. 3 (1971): 548. doi:10.2307/20037859
“Students Polarize Over Grant Story.” Flyer News, February 4, 1969.
“Students Stage Rally for Voluntary ROTC.” Flyer News, September 6, 1968.
Sweigart, Josh. “Lasting Scars, Part 1: Shooting Sparked 1966 Dayton Riots.” Dayton Daily News, August 30, 2016. Accessed December 4, 2018. https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/lasting-scars-part-shooting-sparked-1966-dayton-riots/3jKIHlMSeAQwMbAZqh2kQM/.
“Union Supports Grant.” Flyer News, December 13, 1968.
 Hugh Davis Graham. “On Riots and Riot Commissions: Civil Disorders in the 1960s.” The Public Historian, no. 4 (1980): 7. doi:10.2307/3377640
 Nella van Dyke. 1998. “Hotbeds of Activism: Locations of Student Protest.” Social Problems, no. 2: 205. doi:10.2307/3097244.
 Seymour M. Lipset. “Polls and Protests.” Foreign Affairs, no. 3 (1971): 548. doi:10.2307/20037859
 Kane, Mary Anne. Attitudes of the UD Student During the 1960s. The University of Dayton, 1974.
 Farrelly, B. (2000). Student Life. In Voices of UD (pp. 47-80). Dayton, OH: University of Dayton.
 Brown, Mary J. “An “Inevitable” Campus Controversy: The “Heresy Affair” at the University of Dayton, 1960-67.” American Catholic Studies, 1/2, 113 (2002): 79-95. Accessed November 7, 2018. JStor.
 Sweigart, Josh. “Lasting Scars, Part 1: Shooting Sparked 1966 Dayton Riots.” Dayton Daily News, August 30, 2016. Accessed December 4, 2018. https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/lasting-scars-part-shooting-sparked-1966-dayton-riots/3jKIHlMSeAQwMbAZqh2kQM/.
 “Academic Council Reopens Mandatory ROTC Question.” Flyer News, October 11, 1968.
 “ROTC Leaflets Bring Early Police Action.” Flyer News, August 30, 1968.
 “Students Stage Rally for Voluntary ROTC.” Flyer News, September 6, 1968.
 “First Anti-Military Ball Competes with ROTC Tonight.” Flyer News, November 8, 1968.
 “March Reemphasizes Voluntary ROTC Stand.” Flyer News, January 4, 1969.
 “Commission formed for Voluntary ROTC.” Flyer News, September 13, 1968.
 “Academic Council Reopens Mandatory ROTC Question.” Flyer News, October 11, 1968.
 “Council Urges Optional ROTC.” Flyer News, January 24,1969.
 “Union Supports Grant.” Flyer News, December 13, 1968.
 “Grant Controversy Continues, Faculty Committee to Hear Case.” Flyer News, January 10, 1969.
 “Students Polarize Over Grant Story.” Flyer News, February 4, 1969.
 “Grant Controversy Continues, Faculty Committee to Hear Case.” Flyer News, January 10, 1969.
 Shallenberger, Roberta. Comparitive Press Coverage of the University of Dayton: 1949-50, 1966-67, 1969-70. The University of Dayton, 1970. Dayton: University of Dayton, 1970. 1-24.
 “At New Library Dedication…Protest Disrupts Ceremony.” Flyer News, September 28, 1971.
 “President Stresses Student Rights in Dedication Disturbances.” Flyer News, October 8, 1971.
 “Chief Justice Kahle Indicts Library Student Protesters.” Flyer News, October 27, 1971.
 “Library Case: Is it dead?” Flyer News, January 11, 1972.