MSU Faculty News

May 12, 1970

"To strike or not: Responses vary"

by Gene Rietfors

Last week was, as characterized in a statement from President Clifton R. Wharton Jr., a period "traumatic on the Michigan State University campus."

And whatever else occurred, it must be reported that most departments and most faculty and students did not have apparent overt support for a strike. But the words and actions of those calling for a strike commanded significant attention.

The University’s own position, outlined in the May 11 report of the president, emphasized its "responsibility to the State of Michigan to provide educational opportunities" was clear and couldn’t be abdicated. It added, "Students who are here for that purpose cannot be morally denied their rights to attend classes because some of their fellow students may feel that a closed university somehow will hasten an end to the war in Indochina. Similarly, faculty members with appointments to teach at MSU have their responsibility clearly defined by the Code of Teaching Responsibility adopted by the Academic Council and Academic Senate in 1969."

At least four departments in the College of Social Science met and issued statements supporting activities that conflicted with "business as usual." Class attendance in the social science and arts and letters colleges, as examples, ranged from near normal to almost zero. And one instructor in the University College reported that a Thursday class meeting in his required course had only six attendees out of 90 enrolled.

Although daily enrollment figures are not kept for all closed—circuit television courses, one CCTV spokesman said that there were reports of absenteeism in some classes. But no television courses were cancelled, he added.

Some classroom disruptions were noted, but few serious incidents occurred.

One of last week’s casualties was an annual counselor’s day conducted by the Office of Admissions and Scholarships. Scheduled for Thursday in the Auditorium, the event was cancelled in anticipation of possible disruptions. Cancellation meant telephoning more than 270 high schools throughout the state and getting word to some 2,500 freshmen on the campus.

EVEN IN the departments with reportedly wide support for a strike, there were concerns voiced for students who chose to miss classes, their grades and their credits. And some faculty were concerned about how they could meet the needs of students who boycotted classes as well as those of students who wished to continue having class as usual.

The University Business Office reported getting several calls from students who requested tuition refunds for classes suspended in favor of last Friday’s teach-in.

Some colleges held meetings to discuss the implications of large-scale absenteeism and possible suspended classes.

The College of Social Science, for example, met last Thursday at the request of its student advisory committee to clarify policy toward faculty who "unilaterally cancelled classes" and toward students who "absent themselves" from classes to participate in strike activities.

The meeting’s consensus, according to Associate Dean John C. Howell, was that the college did not yet need to issue a "blanket statement" to remove any consequential effects on striking students. He said that most department chairmen agreed that there had been no cases of students penalized for absences, and that faculty seemed to be discharging their responsibilities to provide instruction.

The Department of Communication issued a statement reiterating its acceptance of the University’s public obligation to provide educational service. The statement pointed out that students have an option class attendance, but that faculty have contracts to provide services.

Faculty and students in the College of Home Economics held a meeting Saturday morning at which both campus and national issues were discussed.

And there was the inevitable appearance of "counter-strike" groups, such as a faction calling itself "Students for Rational action," which Friday issued a statement opposing moves to "force the University into the political arena."

Another group distributed "The Bulletin of Strike Tactics," nine tongue-in-cheek suggestions ranging from "ignore your legislators" to "prohibit all firearms from campus" ("knives, clubs and molotiv cocktails are far more spectacular"). The group calls itself "The As Hoc Committee to Eschew Obfuscation and to Prevent Mental Pollution."

LITTLE OR NO support for a strike was reported in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Chairmen in agricultural economics, animal husbandry and horticulture said class attendance was at or near normal.

H. John Carew, professor and chairman of horticulture said that attendance was good in this department. We assume "that the student has an individual choice regarding class attendance," he said.

Ronald H. Nelson, professor and chairman of animal husbandry, reported that everything was normal last week in his department, "except for disruptors who stand in the door ways and shout."

All was reportedly near normal in the College of Engineering. The chairman of chemical engineering, M.H. Chetrick, said classes in that department were reporting about 100 percent attendance last week.

"We are very sympathetic to the cause," he said, "but we don’t think the way to solve the situation is to strike. As long as there are students who want to have class and who have paid their tuition, we’ll meet."

THE DEAN of the College of Business, Kullervo Louhi, said that the college had experienced no class cancellations "to my knowledge." He reported that about 100 business students met Thursday and voted not to strike.

A spokesman for the College of Natural Science said that his group had not had any meetings or issued any statements as of last Friday. But he said the topic would likely come up this week in a meeting of the college’s department chairmen.

He said that attendance in the natural science college seemed to be good. "Let’s be practical," he noted. "If you were a chemistry major and you knocked out a week of work, you’d be in a fix."

And he questioned the propriety of discussing political matters in a science class.

"I have an apolitical science class," he said. "Politics can play no part in it. You can’t drag in politics, unless you’re conducting a class in political science."