Baby boomers stir things up

Kristine Gill

When William Hildebrand came to Kent State in 1948, he was honored to have professors referring to him as Mr. Hildebrand. Professors did that then; they used proper titles like Mr. and Ms. to address students who had reached a new level of maturity.

“It gave us the status of adult,” said the emeritus professor and author of “A Most Noble Enterprise: The story of Kent State University, 1910-2010.” “We liked it. We didn’t challenge it.”

But even in his four years as a student on campus, Hildebrand noticed a change in that tradition.

“That completely began to be challenged in the 1960s,” he said. “Most professors began calling students by their first names instead of Mr. and Ms. The students seemed to want that. They wanted the more informal, nontraditional campus atmosphere, and they succeeded.”

• Number of students in 1971: 22,000

• Number of library volumes: 500,000

• Number of campus buildings in 1971: More than 100

• Most popular boys’ names in 1960: David, Michael, John

• Most popular girls’ names in 1960: Mary, Susan, Maria

Credit: “The Years of Youth” “A Most Noble Enterprise”

The 1960s marked the age of the baby boomers and would be remembered for the political unrest felt at college campuses across the nation. American society was changing. The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War draft were in full swing and students picketed and protested against both.

And on May 4, 1970, perhaps the most well-known event in Kent State history occurred when National guardsmen shot and killed four students, and wounded nine during a protest of the Cambodia invasion.

“Nobody paid attention to any rules at all,” said 1971 graduate Greg Long. “People rebelled against everything.”

Long recalled with mixed feelings the dinks freshmen were required to wear. Those traditions faded in the 1960s along with the social codes and sexual mores that had been in place on campus since the first day of class.

“Colleges and universities were in the place of parents for students,” Hildebrand said. “So they established codes of conduct and dorm regulations, but those relaxed in the 1960s.”

As Hildebrand’s wife, Ann, put it, there was a huge shift in the way students would relate to the university.

In 1968, recruiters from Oakland, Calif., came to campus, and Black United Students and Students for a Democratic Society demonstrated against their presence. Hildebrand wrote, “The Oakland police had become anathema to African American students following a series of violent clashes with the Black Panthers.”

When the Dean of Students threatened to charge protestors with disorderly conduct, 300 black students left campus. They returned when President White promised no charges would be filed.

Just a month after coming to Kent State, Alan Canfora joined the SDS. The group was a local chapter of a national group and had replaced the KCEWV, the Kent Committee to End the War in Vietnam. SDS was more militant than the KCEWV, which was a pacifist group. SDS members staged protests and rallies until they were banned from campus in 1969.

“In 1969 the SDS issued a list of four demands of the KSU administration to really increase the pressure on the college,” Canfora said. “There was a confrontation at the administration building and eight people were arrested.”

Students disrupted the trials of those students at the Music and Speech building in protest later that year.

Police barricaded the students on the third floor of the building to arrest them. About 60 students were arrested that day and the leaders of the SDS went to jail.

“There were 200 students trapped up there (in the Music and Speech Building),” Canfora said. “But a professor had a key to the elevator and would help students escape. My sister and I escaped down an elevator with 100 other people.”

Not all students were politically active on campus in the 1960s.

“I was never in any of the protests,” said Greg Long, a 1971 graduate. “I was the guy they were protesting.”

Long and 1967 graduate Rex Ray were ROTC students at the time. On the days when they wore their uniforms to campus, they dealt with heckling and name calling from those students who opposed the war.

“That never bothered me because I figured they had the sense not to mess with me,” Ray said.

Long, then an accounting major, was also a member of Phi Kappa Theta.

“Our fraternity house was a lot like Animal House,” he said. “It really was. It was a miracle anyone got out of there and they weren’t brain dead. I loved it — what I remember of it.”

And despite the obvious divide between those students who were against the war and those who were a part of it, Ray remembers the campus as having an accepting atmosphere.

“Kent had an all-inclusive culture,” he said. “Once I got there I knew that’s where I should be. I was tempted to leave school and go work in the steel mills, buy myself a car, but I kept coming back to Kent.”

Professor Laura Davis remembers that same culture on campus when she began as an English major in 1969.

“It was great because part of the values and principles of that time was that you could do your own thing,” she said. “It was a wonderful atmosphere. People were sensitive to the need for social change and the need to make connections to other people. Kent was a great place to be.”

It was the age of the baby boomers, a generation that would define itself by rejecting the traditions of generations before.

“They were uncomfortable with tradition. They thought they could do without tradition like they supposed they could do without their parents advice,” Hildebrand said. “They thought their parents had made a lot of mistakes, and they wanted to make their own mistakes. They were idealists, excessive idealists, and they put down the wisdom of the past.”

The 1960s saw the first waves of organized student protest against the Vietnam War, the draft and unfair treatment of blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. Hildebrand said students wore jeans and mini skirts and listened to Rock ‘n’ Roll music.

“All those things were shocking by the standards of my days,” he said. “I was still shocked sometimes as a professor even though I was a young man.”

Davis remembers being able to wear jeans to class was a big deal.

“I went to public school and they did not allow students to wear jeans,” she said. “And no slacks. We had to wear skirts. At Kent State there were plenty of people who were very traditionally dressed and wore the traditional hairstyle. It was a big place. There was room for everybody to do what they were interested in.”

So not all students rallied and picketed.

“Most were apathetic, I’d say. They were concerned and aware but generally apathetic,” Canfora said. “A lot of the younger generation now wrongly assume that everybody was a hippie, had long hair, was a radical, but it was really a minority.”

George Bowman retired as university president in 1963, and Robert White took up the post the same year, picking up where Bowman had left off in expanding the campus.

“He purchased land down by the library, clear out to the road where the last dorms are,” Hildebrand said. “He bought that land and built dorms and the science complex. Some of these were planned in Bowman’s day, but it was under White that they were built.”

Campus landmarks, including the Library, the Student Center and Dix Stadium, were all constructed under White.

State money paid for academic buildings and bonds built the dorms. Students would pay those off when they rented the rooms each semester. The campus had expanded so much that the university invested in a new campus bus system in 1967 and gave students an additional five minutes between classes in 1968.

White also worked to increase standards on campus by starting a university press, hiring more faculty that would earn Kent State the title as a first-rate research institution, and offering University Professor status to select faculty.

“He was a very reflective man, extremely intense and hard driven,” Hildebrand said. “He had very high standards and he was responsible for the whole graduate development. It was his handiwork. It has his fingerprints all over it.”

And rather than detract from the progress White sought to make for the university, Hildebrand said student protests and groups like the SDS helped the school.

“The tensions undoubtedly did stir up this intellectual atmosphere, and that, on the whole, was very good I think,” he said.

Contact enterprise reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].