and Monica Miller
No students were arrested for unlawful protest at San Francisco State University last week. And no professors were fired for refusing to hold classes. But the people and ideas behind the longest student strike in academic history were back on campus to commemorate its 40-year anniversary.
"The strike revolutionized the university," said Joseph White, dean of undergraduate studies in 1968. As a result, "no one today would exclude people of color from any aspect of higher education."
The four-and-a-half-monthlong strike that rocked San Francisco State was marked by several violent clashes between police and students. Beginning this week and for the next six months, participants in the strike, scholars and university personnel will explore the lasting impacts of that momentous event.
White spoke Friday on how scholars and activists built the department in the post-strike atmosphere, one of about 30 sessions held at the university during the anniversary's kickoff program.
The strike, which began in November 1968 and lasted until March 1969, changed academic history. It led to the establishment of the first and only College of Ethnic Studies in the United States, the first gender-studies program at an American university, as well as academic rights for students and professors.
During the strike, classes were often canceled, and the campus closed for months. Hundreds of students were injured and arrested in the process, as were police officers called in by then-university President S. I. Hayakawa to dispel protesters. Dozens of instructors who declined to hold classes and walked the picket lines lost their jobs.
"It's difficult to revisit painful experiences," said Ken Monteiro, current dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at SFSU, which includes programs devoted to the study of Africana, Raza, Asian-American and American Indian studies. "But part of our growth as an institution is to look into the past, however painful that may be."
Indeed, the strike still strikes a raw nerve with some faculty members, and the university did not acknowledge the four-day celebration of the 40th anniversary in either the Oct. 27 or Nov. 3 campus memos, an online publication distributed to the university community.
President Robert Corrigan declined to comment on the strike's legacy.
Creation of a College of Ethnic Studies was one of the 15 demands made by the striking students and one of the few demands actually met when the strike concluded. By gaining this small victory, however, academia was changed forever.
"The liberal arts educational system was meant to teach people about themselves," said James Hirabayashi, dean of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State from 1970 to 1976. "And only by defining ourselves can we prevent others from defining us."
During World War II, Hirabayashi was detained in a Japanese internment camp in Northern California. He said that Americans felt justified in imprisoning fellow citizens because of the "stereotypes (at the time) of what it meant to be a Japanese-American. And it was that outside definition that put us in there," he said.
It was this call for self-determination and a more relevant education that was always the rallying cry behind the student-led protest. With 40 years of hindsight, what was gained and lost can both be seen with added clarity.
"This was the place where people were arrested," Monteiro said. "Where faculty not only lost their jobs, but also the ability to teach elsewhere."
Steve Zeltzer, a striking student in 1968, said the loss of teachers was one of the worst results of the strike. "Great people like Nathan Hare and George Murray were fighters for justice, and they were purged from this campus," he recalled. "Their professional lives were destroyed because they made a life decision to fight and change the situation at hand."
Hare, whom students had wanted as the chairman of Black Studies, and George Murray, a graduate associate professor, were both fired and have not returned to campus since the strike.
Zeltzer was also a member of Students for a Democratic Society, an instrumental group that often protested with the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front, two of the leading groups in the strike at what was then San Francisco State College.
He originally came to the campus to study socialism and communism but soon found himself in the heart of the struggle.
"The problem with higher education is the fact that the same system is still in place," he said. "You have trustees and people with money governing the university, and there are no people from the labor force able to make decisions about working-class education."
Anatole Anton, a student, echoes Zeltzer's feelings about the current situation with state-mandated education. "The strike never ended, and the issues were never resolved," he said. "There hasn't been a movement quite like the strike since it happened in '68, and I hope the current students can soon understand what kind of game they are trapped in."
With elections Tuesday and the current budget crisis, revisiting a time when students fought for their futures would seem to hold relevance even today. When current students arrived at one of Friday's sparsely attended panels, there was confusion but a sparked interest.
Tiffany Camp, a transfer student from City College of San Francisco in her first semester at SFSU, said, "I could see something like this happening again. If things don't change, it might not only be our campus, but campuses all over."
Camp had been unfamiliar with the strike. Her professor gave extra credit to students who attended the commemoration.
"The fallacy is that there is one correct lens to see reality," White said. "What we're saying is that there are multiple lenses to see reality. We want to be part of that definition."
For more information on the strike and The San Francisco State University College of Ethnic Studies, go to www.sfsu.edu/~ethnicst/fortieth.html.