Appointed by the Illinois Wesleyan Student Senate in my senior year to chair the Religious Activities Commission, I presided over the committee that organized the weekly chapel series, two annual lectureships by theologians or religious leaders, two symposia on current events related to the world of religion, and coordinated several volunteer groups, including the Student Christian Movement and the Community Tutoring Program. It was my third year serving on the commission in those latter capacities, and it was turning out to be a challenging year.
We determined that the Fall 1967 symposium would address the issues raised by the Vietnam War, and it was customary when dealing with controversial issues to have different sides well-represented. An expert in the history of Indochina agreed to come to provide background. Several of the IWU faculty agreed to serve on discussion panels. To present the case for the continuing conduct of the war we found a U.S. Defense Department analyst, Craig Spence. The cost of bringing these experts to campus had eaten most of our available budget. I asked for more funds.
I began to promote the plans for the symposium, using an art student volunteer for poster design, and, among other efforts, publishing the key documents that represented the sides of the conflict, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, various statements by North and South Vietnamese leaders and assemblies, and considerations of Just War theory and applications by ethicists. These documents were left in several areas of the campus for students who were interested.
Four weeks until the symposium, when we still had not secured a bona fide critic of the war, the Dean of Students summoned me to her office. She informed me that I should not secure someone to present a criticism of the war, I should stop distributing propaganda representing our enemy’s viewpoints, and, if I continued to undermine the reputation of the university that she had worked so hard to maintain, I would be expelled. Anything else that she said during the minutes that followed fell on deaf ears as I prepared my case. I was not alone in planning this program; other students and faculty were just as committed to it as I was. If the university was doing its job, it would consider different positions as objectively as possible. If she thought she could threaten me into submission on this, she was mistaken.
The next day I learned that no additional funds would be available. I called Staughton Lynd, a well-known academic and activist, who had written and spoken extensively about the war, and explained the situation to him. We could provide a modest honorarium, and I would drive to Chicago to bring him to campus and return him to his home after the presentations and discussions. He agreed to come.
I confided in the college chaplain and two other faculty members about the threats from the Dean of Students, and received reassurances from them, but I didn’t see any value in alarming the other students who were involved in planning the conference until and unless they experienced the same threats.
The symposium occurred with high participation, full reporting by the Bloomington Pantagraph as well as the Wesleyan Argus, and Staughton Lynd made a thorough presentation to a packed ballroom at the Memorial Student Center. Craig Spence said that the war would probably last another thirty years, if we intended to win it, and an important benefit could be the destruction of China’s nuclear arsenal. If it was evaluated as a debate no one won the symposium, but as a fair representation of views it accomplished its purpose. I mostly remember the extraordinary five hours on the road between Chicago and Bloomington, learning from Staughton Lynd, who shared his experiences with the human rights crisis in the United States as well as opposition to the war in Vietnam.
I didn’t hear any more from the Dean of Students, but a few weeks after the symposium, the Dean of Men called me into his office, and he warned me about the dangers of the passive aggressive anger that I had displayed in the fall. He didn’t know that I had that in me.