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A UO History Lesson: Free Speech on Campus

In honor of EMU Director Dusty Miller’s retirement (see an interview with him in today’s ODE), I have been reading A Common Ground, a book by EMU Director Emeritus Adell McMillan about the first 50 years of the EMU’s history. In addition to lots of fun information about the building and surrounding culture, the book talks a lot about the ASUO and student groups, as the building and the entities that operate inside it have an inherent connection. I’d like to share something I found in this book, one of the many gems that are hidden in its pages:

One of the early public incidents involving radical student protest, occurred in late January 1969 in the EMU when U.S. Navy recruiters had scheduled table space to hand out literature and talk with interested students. According to [Richard C.] Reynolds[, Director of the Erb Memorial Union], a notice had been placed in the Oregon Daily Emerald that a “mock trial” would be held in the building during this time where students would try the recruiters for war atrocities. Radical students approached the table and put ona guerilla theater type trial that lasted for 45 to 50 minutes. Most of that group left and then a student “spontaneously attacked the table; doing damage and assaulting the recruiters.” . . . bit by bit the students told [University President] Johnson what had happened: the Navy recruiters had been manhandled and literally ejected by force and the protesters had burned the recruiter’s literature and the Navy flag.

The next part is the best part. I call it proof that the ASUO Senate, once upon a time, had balls.

The ASUO Senate took a strong position in opposition to the actions against the recruiters and passed a bill, titled “Free Inquiry and the Eviction of Military Naval Recruiters,” that stated:

WHEREAS: This University has repeatedly upheld the principles of free expression and free inquiry.
WHEREAS: Free inquiry is so vital to this University and any university.
WHEREAS: No man or group of men should sit in judgement upon and thereby limit or restrict ideas of another man or group of men.
WHEREAS: The recent forceful eviction of U.S. Naval recruiters from the Erb Memorial Student Union was a violation of and great discredit to these traditions of free expression and free inquiry.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT: The ASUO Senate condemns the actions taken by those involved in the eviction of military recruiters, as well as any other action taken by anyone to curtail the free exchange of ideas.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT: The ASUO Senate proudly reaffirms the University of Oregon’s belief in freedom of expression and free inquiry and trusts that the actions taken by an intolerant minority may not be construed to reflect the official policies and practices of the University of Oregon.

A free and open exchange of ideas is one of the building blocks of a legitimate institution of higher education. It is one of a few delicate factors that are integral to a complete and legitimate collegiate experience. Higher education is not about the memorization of facts or getting good grades. It is about learning how to think critically, hearing different opinions on a variety issues and becoming a more informed world citizen. By silencing speech and ideas of those entities which we find offensive, we are “sitting in judgment upon” fellow members of our world community and working directly in opposition to the goals of higher education institutions.

The importance of free speech on campus is something the 1968-69 ASUO Senate knew very well, and it’s something for which the University community of 2010 should continue to fight. I tend to have a large amount of faith in my fellow students at this university. The ability to think critically on the issue of free speech is something that all of us are capable of.

In the words of John Stuart Mill, “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

  1. Jay Knott says:

    Provocative post and an interesting bit of history. I’ve always admired the generation who opposed the Vietnam war. Actively opposing an organization which is forcing people to kill civilians – which is what the US military did in the sixties – isn’t quite the same thing as opposing freedom of speech.

  2. C.T. Behemoth says:

    Tell me about it.

    Even serving in the late 90’s was no heyday. The government even stopped (which meant we didn’t get paid), and no one so much as batted an eye. Even in Georgia, you’d go out to the bars and girls would avoid you if you were military. Most of them anyway. It was one of those rare instances where a buddy of yours would get a civilian girlfriend. An improbable feat based upon people’s amazement when it happened.

    If you were serving, you were a mindless grunt. End of story.

    Not that the late 90’s is in any way comparable to what this post was about.

    On a side note, where’s Dizzy Gillespie?

  3. Sean says:

    Diamond comes from DOWNTOWN with the Mill quote!

    In all seriousness, excellent post – I could not imagine having served during such an anti-military period in our society.

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