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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

The Angry Years
By Sylvia Tiersten


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Photography: Mandeville Special Collections - Glasheen Archive Costume Illustrations: Jennifer Tiranti, M.F.A. ’03

During the sixties, America’s college ­students felt they could change the world. But as the Vietnam War dragged on, their voices grew louder and angrier—even at UCSD’s fledgling campus.

As the 1960s dawned, California was in an upbeat mood. Defense contracts and aerospace jobs were pouring in—along with a thousand-plus new residents a day.

One of them, William J. McGill, would become UC San Diego’s third chancellor. In 1965, the New York City native left Columbia University where he was chairman of the psychology department and joined UCSD’s start-up psychology faculty. “I felt the center of gravity was shifting westward and I wanted to be part of that movement,” he told a New York Times reporter in 1970. “I came to UCSD to make a new life in my academic discipline.”

La Jolla was also part of the lure—“one of the rare places on earth where a traveler can actually feel the nearness of the Garden of Eden,” McGill wrote in his 1982 memoir, The Year of the Monkey: Revolt on Campus 1968-69.

But balmy weather and spectacular ocean views counted for little when California’s—and the nation’s—optimism succumbed to darker forces. “When I think of the sights and smells of UCSD, my unconscious generates shards of broken glass and the odor of burning rubber rather than memories of carefully manicured green lawns and the perfume of jasmine,” McGill wrote of his turbulent years as chancellor from 1968-70.

The 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the 1973 resignation of President Richard Nixon over Watergate bookended a decade of war in Southeast Asia and social unrest at home. America’s young men were dying in Vietnam, while others awaited the dreaded “Greetings” letter from their local draft boards. In the South, civil rights workers struggled to register African-American voters and integrate public schools. In the North, segregated urban neighborhoods such as Watts in Los Angeles, Harlem in New York, Detroit and Newark, N.J. were marked by urban riots, clenched fists and jeers of ‘burn baby burn’. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968 unleashed explosions on campuses that were already festering with moral outrage.

That same year, McGill chaired a search committee to find a replacement for outgoing UCSD Chancellor John S. Galbraith. After five finalists respectfully declined,  McGill himself was recruited for the position—and accepted.

“Something was about to blow: you could feel it,” McGill wrote of his first weeks on the job. “Governor Ronald W. Reagan was a political conservative whose hostility toward the University of California could hardly be more evident. At the same time, New Left radicalism was growing rapidly on campus. It was only a question of weeks or months before these two antagonistic forces collided.”

UCSD: Calmer Than Most
As a backdrop for sixties activism, UCSD didn’t quite fit the mold. The fledgling University welcomed its first 188 undergrads, mostly science majors and mostly male, in 1964. First College, soon-to-be renamed Revelle College, consisted of Quonset huts and wooden barracks on a dusty mesa—relics of Camp Matthews, the Marine Corps rifle training facility that formerly occupied the site.

“It was pretty bleak,” recalls San Diego political consultant Tom Shepard, Muir ’72, who enrolled as a freshman in 1966 and served as student body president for the 1968-69 academic year. “A lot of kids spent their time studying, and there wasn’t much else to do.”

As for nearby diversions, there weren’t any. A short walk from campus was a trucker’s greasy spoon—pretty much the only option for those who craved a burger and fries.

By 1968, Revelle College had moved west to its permanent location—re­placed by Muir College in the Camp Matthews staging area for new colleges. Revelle Plaza had become the central gathering place—UCSD’s equivalent of Berkeley’s Sproul Hall, where students could exercise their free-speech rights. But comparatively speaking, the preponderance of science and engineering students and the newness of the campus kept the volume of protest down.

“If you’re in the social sciences, the humanities or the arts, there is a close intellectual connection between social and political issues and your major,” says Joe Watson, a 1966 arrival and the former vice chancellor of student affairs. “It’s not so in science.” He reckons that laboratory courses and Revelle College’s demanding curriculum also kept student activism in check—at least until 1968. That was the year that violent confrontations erupted around the world.

“Underneath it all was the draft,” says Ernie Mort, former dean of Revelle. “As the Vietnam War dragged on, it wasn’t just students on the left who were distraught.”

Learning From Berkeley
By the late 1960s, noontime protest speeches at UCSD’s Revelle Plaza were a common occurrence. “As the rhetoric heated up and there were concerns about what the next steps would be, McGill often made the decision to come out and confront the speakers directly and debate them. He was so effective that he blunted some of the more extreme rhetoric,” says Shepard.

But then on May 15, 1969, the murder of James Rector at People’s Park in Berkeley inflamed student sentiment throughout the UC system. A mob of 2,000-strong had converged on the park angered by the Berkeley administration’s construction of a fence around it. Rector, a bystander with no ties to the university, was shot by police, who were unable to disperse the crowd.

McGill urged UCSD students to refrain from striking in sympathy. Some students and faculty disagreed with him and wanted the campus shut down in protest.

On May 27, when 35 members of the UCSD chapter of The Students for Democratic Society (SDS) voted to break into McGill’s office, faculty and administrators were there to head them off. The group eventually withdrew in frustration, settling instead that day for a lengthy argument with McGill and his supporters.

“It was a long, undirected, semi-obscene discussion,” McGill recalled. “It went on like that for hours, around and around. There was not a fighting spirit left in the room as the meeting broke up.”

Town-And-Gown Tensions
While Berkeley, UCLA and Columbia had off-campus rabble-rousers and neighborhood people to stir up the revolutionary pot, UCSD faced provocateurs from the right. James S. Copley, for instance, owner/publisher of The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune, had an ambivalent relationship with the University, recalled Chancellor Emeritus Herbert York in 1984. “He wanted a university here, but he didn’t want a university with real students and real professors. He had some kind of an idealization of bringing culture without bringing all those painful political and social things that go with it.”

Copley was not alone in this regard. “San Diego was more conservative and parochial in the sixties than it is now,” Shepard, the former student body president, recalls. And indeed, as late as 1966, many La Jolla and Del Mar landlords were still reluctant to rent to Jews or Blacks.

Following Martin Luther King’s assassination, a group of undergraduates—Shepard included—went door to door to discuss civil rights with the locals. “The interactions weren’t entirely pleasant,” he recalls. “Many of the residents were not interested in being educated by a bunch of 19 year olds.”

Local conservatives tended to tar UCSD with the same brush as UC Berkeley. In 1964, a group of 22 UCSD students and faculty members marched peacefully around Revelle Plaza, bearing signs protesting the landing of U.S. troops in the Dominican Republic. Afterwards, a San Diego Union editorial noted that demonstrators had “milled around in the manner of the rioters who brought the parent university at Berkeley to a state of anarchy.”

In rebutting the editorial, Galbraith said that while his personal views differed from those of the marchers, the demonstration was perfectly legal. “The policy of the administration, as long as I was chancellor, was that as long as people operated within the rules of the University, I was going to support their right to do that,” he recalled in 1982.

When a group of students flew a Viet Minh flag on the 50th anniversary of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution, local assemblyman John Stull launched a blistering attack on Galbraith for supporting a “two-flag policy” and called for his suspension as chancellor. The Regents ignored Stull and anyhow, by that time, Galbraith had already decided to leave for Cambridge University.

Shortly before his departure, Galbraith received an anonymous postcard that read: “Three terrible things happened in 1917. The U.S. entered World War I, the Communist revolution broke out, and you were born.”

New Left Idol
As scholar of Marxist philosophy Herbert Marcuse was largely unknown to the general public until the 1960s. That was when the civil rights and antiwar movements embraced the man and his writings, including One-Dimensional Man, on the repressive nature of modern society.

At age 70, Marcuse was a media celebrity and an adjunct professor at UCSD with a teaching appointment that was renewable on an annual basis. “He had been in a visiting chair for two years, when The San Diego Union suddenly discovered that he lived in their backyard,” says oceanographer Walter Munk, Ph.D. (Scripps) ’47.

In 1968, the American Legion San Diego Post 6 demanded Marcuse’s dismissal and offered to buy up his contract. When a reporter from The San Diego Union mentioned the Legion’s offer a few days later, McGill responded: “They must think Marcuse is a football player.”

McGill successfully opposed the attempt of the California Regents to block Marcuse’s reappointment and also spoke on behalf of Marcuse’s star graduate student, Angela Davis, when the latter was attacked as an avowed communist. “We could not allow even a suspicion to arise that the University was permitting its faculty to be scrutinized for patriotism by the American Legion,” McGill wrote in 1982. “The Regents must understand that any such impression would hold us up to national ridicule.”

The Worst of Times
It was May 10, 1970, the U.S. had taken its fight to Cambodia, and the shooting of unarmed college students at Kent State by members of the Ohio National Guard was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Hearing screams, Mort, Revelle’s resident dean at the time, raced down to the plaza, where George Winne, a third-year student, had doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire to protest the war. Another student dashed out of one of the classrooms and tackled Winne, who was running as he burned. Winne died about ten hours later in the hospital.

But Winne’s death has repercussions far beyond the campus. The story was picked up by the national press and several weeks later, Mort received a phone call from a White House aide who worked for H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff. The aide said the President had read about the death and wanted to send a representative out to some of the troubled campuses to talk to a cross-section of students about the political situation.

A White House aide flew to San Diego and met with a student panel assembled by Mort. It included a few SDS members and others representing right, left and center viewpoints. Despite the political differences between the students, it did not go well for the President’s man. “It was crystal clear that they were very opposed to our involvement in Vietnam,” says Mort, who sat in on the discussion.

As the seventies progressed, revolutionary fervor seemed to recede on campuses across the country. “There was a sense of exhaustion,” says Shepard. “You would go through a cycle of crisis and disruption of your routine . . .You can only do that for so many years. . .” As the war wound down and a lottery replaced the draft, many people assumed they would never get called up.”

Finally, in January 1973, the United States and North Vietnam signed the peace accords in Paris. At the same time, the economy was changing. The 1970s was an age of limits—a time to think about the rigors of the workplace and how to find one’s niche. Campus acti­vism was beside the point. Students became less interested in liberation and more interested in jobs. 

In future issues, our Witness2History series will feature articles on the ­creation and naming of Third College and Che Café. Send us your memories.

One Decade—Four Chancellors
During UC San Diego’s first decade, the chancellor’s office was a revolving door. Founding Chancellor Herbert F. York (1961-64) retreated to the physics classroom after two years—muttering only half jokingly that chancellors mostly made decisions about parking structures, while the real power lay with the faculty.

His successor, John S. Galbraith, took over in 1964—the same year Berkeley staged its first sit-in and UCSD welcomed its first crop of undergraduates. At UCLA, he had chaired the history department and was a distinguished scholar of British-Empire history. UCSD’s distinctive central library, built by William Pereira & Associates, is a testament to Galbraith’s tenacity. He decamped for Cambridge University in 1968, just as student activism was coming to a boil.

William J. McGill (1968-70) reluctantly accepted the chancellorship when the University of California was in turmoil and none of the existing candidates wanted the job. With one exception, he managed to keep the police from intervening on campus. Impressed with his conflict-management skills, Columbia University hired McGill as its 16th chancellor—a job he held for 10 years.

York, who returned as interim chancellor from 1970-72, “poured oil over troubled waters,” says former Dean of Revelle College Ernie Mort. York wholeheartedly supported the Academic Senate’s resolution to move classified research off campus and over to the Naval Electronics Lab on Point Loma.

Research biologist William D. McElroy (1972-80), UCSD’s fourth chancellor, arrived in San Diego by way of the National Science Foundation, which he directed for three years. He encouraged expansion of the arts, humanities and social sciences at UCSD and enhanced the University’s research budget. McElroy resigned after the faculty cast a vote of no-confidence. He had offended some faculty members by appointing a new vice chancellor of research without consulting them. McElroy’s personal and business relationships with local real estate developers were rumored to be another bone of contention.

The George Winne Memorial Shrine: We deeply admire George’s courageous act, which has illuminated the possibilites of the future . . . Passive Resistance can only have the effect under conditions of complete self-sacrifice.

We are looking for memories, memorabilia and photos for our ongoing Witness2History series. If you have  remembrances of your time at UCSD contact us at alumnieditor @ucsd.edu.

Joe's Escorts
By AnnaMaria STephens, ERC '97

In 1976, when UCSD was less than two decades old, getting around campus could be harrowing. The school’s eucalyptus grove was as dense and dark as a forest, long stretches of pathways were unlit, and students referred to the Central Library (renamed Geisel in 1995) as “Not-So-Central.”

Joe Formusa, Revelle ’79, was a freshman at the time, living in Revelle’s Blake dormitories. As a last-minute fill-in for another resident, he attended a meeting of residence hall program advisors, where they discussed a recent spate of sexual assaults.

Formusa worried about his girlfriend, a Warren student, walking alone in the late evening to visit him or study at the library. “I asked what they were doing about campus safety.” None of the student representatives had solutions in mind, so Formusa offered an on-a-whim idea.

“Why don’t we set up an escort service to walk girls back and forth across campus?” he suggested. The response? “They looked at me like I was from outer space.”

His brainstorm became Joe’s Escort Service (“No, it’s not a dating service,” one Guardian article proclaimed), which would later turn into UCSD’s Community Service Officer (CSO) Program. Today, CSO is an active and essential part of campus life that employs between 30 to 50 students during the school year.

But before Joe’s Escort Service earned official status, Formusa had to jump through some hoops.

“I wanted them to work closely with campus police so that everything would be correct and they’d know how to conduct themselves,” recalls Ernie Mort, who served as Revelle’s college dean from 1972 to 1993.

Mort didn’t doubt Formusa and his friends, who included Carlos Montalvo, Revelle ’81 (who’d go on to serve as student body president), Christopher Arrott, Warren ’80 (a current member of the alumni board), and Gary Jacobs, Revelle ’79 (son of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs).

Mort urged Formusa to contact the campus police department, where Formusa found an ally in Jay Dyer, then an officer, now the assistant chief.

“Joe wanted to get this thing moving and help the women now, not wait for six months as the idea went through bureaucracy and committee after committee,” says Dyer. “So he pushed it along and we made a deal.”

Joe’s Escort Service was a hit, despite a few dissenters. One woman wrote a letter to the Guardian accusing Formusa of encouraging “passive dependence” among women, though Mort counters that “it was more about safety in numbers.” (That letter, along with original mimeographed flyers, signup sheets, etc., can be viewed at ucsdmag.ucsd.edu/magazine)

In addition to his escort service, Formusa, now a senior vice president at State Farm Insurance, also organized fun student events ranging from parties to film screenings, and a men’s social group called SOAP that preceded the school’s fraternities.

“When I first heard Joe’s story, it got me thinking about how many students contribute to the campus,” says Armin Afsahi, assistant vice chancellor for Alumni Affairs. “From an alumni standpoint, it’s really important for us to offer a gesture of gratitude.” With that in mind, the Alumni Association decided to honor Formusa and a handful of original escorts for their leadership at a luncheon in February.
“You have this time in school to try out ideas and try out your leadership in a very safe environment,” explains Formusa. “What happens if you get it wrong? Nothing.”

Sylvia Tiersten is a freelance writer who lives in San Diego.
AnnaMaria Stephens, ERC ’97, is a freelance writer.

As the Vietnam War dragged on, the student voices at UCSD's fledging campus grew louder and angrier.