News & Politics

NYU’s Very Own Vietnam-Era Protest!

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December 15, 1966, Vol. XII, No. 9

NYU Campus Erupts, but No Berkeley Develops

By Don McNeill

A $200 hike in tuition sent the Washington Square campus of New York University into unusual convulsions last week. Students protesting the financial pinch picketed, boycotted classes, hurled invectives at NYU President James Hester, and staged an overnight sit-in in the lobby of Main Building.

The tuition increase is the fourth since 1962 and will bring the cost of a year at NYU to $2000 in 1968. Dr. Hester announced the decision by the board of trustees Tuesday, explaining that the move was necessary due to rising costs, faculty salaries, and inflation. “The word leaked out Monday,” explained Jerry Bornstein, a leader of the protest activities. Bornstein and other students met Monday night to set up an Ad Hoc Committee to Oppose the Tuition Increase.

For many years, student apathy has been overwhelming at NYU. It is rare when 10 percent of the student body vote in student elections, and many student government leaders run unopposed. The leadership of the ad hoc committee, many of whom were civil-rights veterans, sensed that the tuition issue might prove to be a break in the apathy. They printed handbills, got hold of sound equipment, and were on top of the movement when the action began.

After the official announcement Tuesday morning, 800 students marched on Vanderbilt Hall, where the administrative offices are located, and demanded to see Hester. Guards blocked the entrance to the building an students sat in the courtyard and held a protest meeting.

The next day, the ad hoc committee sent a letter to President Hester demanding a moratorium on the tuition hike until student and faculty representatives could consider alternatives. The letter, which had the tone of an ultimatum, demanded that Hester reply by 7 p.m. He did not reply to the letter, but met with representatives of the student governments and agreed to a delay in a proposed increase in dormitory and food prices. That night, the ad hoc committee gathered 1000 students in a public meeting and, rejecting Hester’s compromise, voted to boycott classes Thursday.

Thursday morning picket lines wound around Main Building, and less than half of the students at Washington Square attended classes. At 3 p.m. the protestors rallied in front of Loeb Student Center, prior to a public meeting with Hester. Bornstein, a militant speaker of a Mario Savio image, spoke to a crowd about “Student Power” in a hoarse, amplified voice. “We’ve had a successful boycott.” Bornstein rasped, “and now we’re going to get the closest seats in the house, face to face with President Hester, so he’ll know how we feel and we won’t be afraid to show him.” Students jammed into the auditorium and waited for an hour for Hester to arrive.

The mood in the auditorium was tense when Dr. Hester finally made his entrance. The aisle seats were reserved for guards. Hester sat in the middle of a long table on a stage, amid 18 student dignitaries. Bornstein was two seats to his right. Hester was calm, smiling, almost condescending.

“We’re not perfect,” he began, “and obviously there has been a breakdown of communication which I regret very much.” He explained that “the choice was to go into unreasonable deficit, to limit the quality of our faculty, or to have a moderate tuition increase. I know that you’re not in a mood to believe this, but we want to keep the tuition as low as possible.” The audience laughed.

…On Monday, students met again on the floor of Main Building and a delegation was sent to meet with President Hester. While they met, Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist, and Paul Goodman addressed the students.

In his discussion, Goodman mentioned other issues relevant to student protest, such as Vietnam and the draft. His suggestions were not well received. “We’re talking about tuition, not Vietnam,” shouted one student, and there was loud applause. For many of the sit-in students, the protest was a one-night stand. “These kids are middle-class and apolitical,” commented one leader. “They aren’t ready for a movement”…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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