Between the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and women’s liberation, the 1960s was a decade ripe for student activism on college campuses. Indiana University was no exception with a number of protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins being organized in Bloomington during this time period. One specific cause that garnered attention amongst students and student groups was, not surprisingly, student power on campus. One group, the New University Conference, found a rather unique way to make this issue known to those in charge.
The New University Conference
The New University Conference was a radical, leftist group made up of faculty members and graduate students. It was a national organization based in Chicago that had chapters on college campuses across the country. While it was active in the aforementioned major issues of the 1960s, one specific to this group was the need for educational reform. They had a number of ideas about how colleges and universities needed to change such as a movement away from the letter grading system to a credit/no credit system and different, less formal ways for PhD students to present their theses. Student power issues also fell into this category and in 1969 the group decided to organize an election for the position of chancellor not only to try and revolutionize the university system but also to give students a chance to make their voices heard.
In 1969, John W. Snyder was named the acting chancellor of the university while a committee went about the process of selecting a more permanent replacement. While there were student representatives on this search committee, ultimately the decision was left to the Board of Trustees as they had to approve the candidate chosen by the committee. As these decisions affected student life, the New University Conference felt that students should have more of a say in the process. Thus an alternative election was organized and the group argued that any group could nominate a candidate for the position. The New University Conference had their own in mind- Staughton Lynd, a history professor with no affiliation with Indiana University. He actually had a rather rocky past with universities, and was involved with the national organization. Running on a platform of student involvement, Lynd noted that while he had ideas about what he wanted to accomplish he would not actually act without support from the student body. John Snyder was also on the ballot although he vehemently denied running whenever asked. The other two candidates were Paul Boutelle of the Young Socialist Alliance and Rev. William Dennis of the New Politics Party. While, again, this election was not considered valid (in fact newspapers often referred to it as a “mock election” or “opinion poll”), the candidates participated in interviews and organized debates. While Lynd ultimately won the student vote, he never was able to take office because the university did not recognize the election as a valid way to choose the chancellor. Despite this fact however, the exercise still made an impact. Students became more involved in both the campaign and the voting process and the university was forced to acknowledge the lack of student power in elections. Overall, this election is just one example of student activism that occurred in a rather tumultuous period of IU history.