By: Alison Stankrauff, Archivist and Associate Librarian, IU South Bend
The Indiana University South Bend Archives holds many, many interesting things… More keep getting uncovered and “discovered” each week, in fact!
In 2007, Archives Student Intern Scott Sandberg found a particularly exciting bit of IU South Bend history. Scott had been working with the papers of former IU South Bend Chancellor Les Wolfson, who was Chancellor from 1964 to 1988.
Scott came to me and said that he’d found correspondence between Wolfson and President Richard Nixon! Wolfson was writing to then President Nixon at a particularly turbulent time in our nation’s history. It was also a turbulent time on America’s campuses as well.
Wolfson wrote to Nixon on May 5, 1970, one day after the tragic shootings of Kent State University students who were protesting the escalation of the Vietnam War. On May 4, l970 Ohio National Guardsmen fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students.
At this time, Nixon was moving towards his “Vietnamisation” of the war – that is, replacing U.S. troops with Vietnamese troops. However, early in 1970, Nixon ordered an attack on Northern Vietnamese cells in Cambodia, a neighbor of Vietnam. America responded with many peaceful – and some violent – demonstrations all over. Many of these demonstrations were on college and university campuses.
No doubt Chancellor Wolfson feared that the IU South Bend campus would join in on a nationwide student strike which caused hundreds of American colleges and universities to close (this did indeed happen) when he wrote to President Nixon.
He used rather strong language with President Nixon: “I write to express my deep dismay at the extension of the war to Cambodia, and urge you to re-consider immediately the dire consequences of such an action…I grieve too at the deaths of the students at Kent State University. While the causes of violence are many and complex, certainly one cause over which you can exercise considerable control is the inflammatory language used by high public officials in their comments on the crises of our time.”
President Nixon wrote back to Chancellor Wolfson on June 24 1970: “Your recent message expresses the deep concern which all of us must feel toward the challenges facing our country. The recent deaths at Kent State University and elsewhere have gravely saddened the nation…”
President Nixon goes on to defend his decision to invade Cambodia, “Contrary to an impression many have received, the Cambodia mission does not represent an expansion of the war in Vietnam. I made the decision to undertake this action for the very reason that the dissidents are demonstrating: to end the war sooner.”
This letter is written on official White House stationary, and signed by Nixon. There is a subsequent letter (of May 14) of support for Chancellor’s letter to Nixon signed by over fifty IU South Bend faculty members.
IU South Bend students did indeed go on a Strike in solidarity with other American college and university campuses as well as the peace movement more broadly.
It was co-sponsored by the IUSB Coalition for Peace and the National Student Association, and was known as “IUSB Cambodia Week,” held from May 4 to May 9 to “Protest President Nixon’s Southeast Asian Policies of Murder.”
The week was scheduled with events on campus such as a reading of war dead and ceremonial digging of a grave on campus; talks by student government members; guerilla theater; a teach-in on draft resistance, a history of Cambodia, Southeast Asia, and the United States; a rock concert; and a mass march with the wider community in downtown South Bend on March 9th.
It can be noted that Alice Wolfson, the Chancellor’s daughter, an IU South Bend student, participated in the demonstration, and was in charge of the campus demonstration of reading of war dead and digging of the ceremonial grave.
President Nixon established his “President’s Commission on Campus Unrest” on June 13, 1970. The IU South Bend Archives holds an intact copy of this “Survey of Institutions of Higher Education for the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest.”
It’s not clear if Chancellor Wolfson ever did comply by filling out and sending this survey to the White House – the copy held by the Archives is void of answers to the questions.
It should be noted, too, that there were student groups on the IU South Bend campus that had leftist inclinations previous to this – the Chancellor Wolfson Collection also contains a folder of The IUSB Recourse (“Perpetrated Weekly”), which was published by the IU South Bend chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (otherwise known as SDS).
Active in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, SDS was a national point for radical student organization and activity.
It eventually dissolved into splinter groups, with its largest component being the likewise radical Weathermen (who, in part, called for revolution and the forceful overthrow of the U.S. government, and, through the 1970s bombed several corporations and police stations around the U.S.).
If you are interested in these important parts of our campus’ history, please feel free to get in touch with IUSB’s Archivist, Alison Stankrauff: firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-520-4392.