Editor’s Note: February 2005 marks the 35th anniversary of student protests that rocked the UCSB campus in 1970. In reaction to the firing of professor Bill Allen and the expanding war in Vietnam, rioting students burned down the Isla Vista Bank of America on Feb. 25, 1970. The first of four parts, this series looks back on the’69-70 year in UCSB history.
With 1,000 angry students surrounding the administration building, their bodies packing the concrete plaza in front of Campbell Hall, university officials moved to resolve the situation peacefully.
Escorted by campus police, Dean of Men Robert Evans worked his way to the front entranceway of what is now Cheadle Hall. Using a bullhorn, he informed the protesters that their gathering, which had lasted all day, was in violation of university regulations.
This was not the announcement the crowd was expecting.
Gathered to demand an open Academic Senate hearing for anthropology professor Bill Allen, the protesters were not going anywhere until they heard if their request – articulated in a petition signed by 7,776 students – would be granted. Allen’s firing several months earlier caused an uproar among students, who believed he was wrongfully denied tenure because of his unorthodox teaching methods and anti-establishment political beliefs.
In a context of raging discontent with the Vietnam War, an influential counterculture movement and an atmosphere of mistrust between students and figures of authority, Evans attempted to communicate with the sea of jeering demonstrators that Thursday afternoon – Jan. 29, 1970.
Accounts vary slightly about what happened next, but all reference the same degree of chaos.
A student demonstrator standing in front of Evans shouted at the dean, calling him a “pig.” Evans responded by swinging his bullhorn, striking the student, Joe Melchione, in the face. According to eyewitness statements and interviews compiled by reporters on the scene working for El Gaucho, the forerunner to today’s Daily Nexus, the blow broke Melchione’s glasses and left him with a cut above his eye.
Reacting to the scuffle, during which fellow students restrained Melchione as he attempted to kick Evans, campus police officers charged the crowd from their posts inside the administration building. Breaking through the glass door panes, the officers met the demonstrators, batons swinging. In the melee that followed, two female students sustained injuries. Police tackled a student who was holding a bullhorn, Chris Hall, from behind and beat him in front of hundreds of onlookers.
The violence that afternoon – 35 years ago this year – would lead to the arrests of 19 students and spark five days of protests, strikes, and police occupation of the UCSB campus, involving thousands of students. Within those next three months of 1970, there would be more violence, hundreds more arrests, the destruction of the I.V. Bank of America and the death of a student at the hands of police.
With the Long Hair and a Beard
Doug Hewitt remembers getting an A in Bill Allen’s class. He said everyone got A’s in Allen’s class, which was supposed to be about South American Indians, but more often turned into a dialogue about current events – namely, Vietnam.
“He was not a very good teacher,” Hewitt said. “It didn’t matter. He was this guy in the counterculture… but you know, he had his doctorate. He was a bright guy, but all of a sudden, things started getting heated because of [him].”
Hewitt arrived at UCSB in the fall of 1969 as an 18-year-old freshman from Sacramento. From orientation at San Miguel Residence Hall and prior visits with friends, he knew UCSB to be a lazy party school by the ocean. He recalls fraternity outings to the beach with kegs and bikini-clad girls – parties that resembled something “right out of ‘Gidget,'” he said.
Now 53, with a 20-year-old son, Matthew, attending Santa Barbara City College, Hewitt leafs through fliers handed out at rallies and newspaper clippings that he has saved over the years. Interviewed last month outside Silvergreens, during a stop in I.V. to visit his son, he describes an atmosphere on campus that changed rapidly during the late months of 1969 and early 1970.
“There were petitions circulating around and it just all of a sudden was – it’s all that you heard about – was Bill Allen and he was being denied tenure and he’s a good guy and the reason they’re doing it is because he looks like a, you know, an anarchist – with the long hair and a beard.”
Hewitt said he does not remember having to do any work for Allen’s class, and that during a discussion led by a teaching assistant, the group’s assignment was to analyze the meaning of the song “Wooden Ships,” by Crosby, Stills & Nash.
For the most part, Hewitt said he avoided getting involved in the pro-Allen demonstrations because he and other freshmen in the campus dormitories were afraid of losing their 2F student deferments, which were keeping them out of the war in Vietnam. He said there was a pervading sense of fear among his friends that if their grades fell or if they stepped out of line, they would be shipped off to fight.
“I was finishing up my first quarter, and I was more concerned about staying in school,” Hewitt said. “I think a lot of us felt that way, at least the people I was directly involved with. So, just all of a sudden, it was kind of like a groundswell. The next thing I know, [my roommate] Larry’s saying, ‘I’m going down to the rally for Bill Allen in front of Campbell Hall.’ And I went down and looked, and there’s all these people and these fires. I didn’t stay very long; I just went to see what it was like. I was a spectator, not a participant. But it was amazingly exciting, all the stuff going on.”
After the police charge on the afternoon of Jan. 29, demonstrators camped out and slept in front of the administration building all night, lighting fires on the concrete to keep warm. The protests continued over the course of the next five days.
Nixon’s Face in a Toilet Bowl
The 1969-70 academic year marked anthropology professor Michael Glassow’s first time teaching at UCSB. Today, as chair of the Anthropology Dept., he is the last member of its faculty still on campus who witnessed the Allen controversy and resulting campus turmoil 35 years ago.
“I remember that for one of [Allen’s] courses that he taught that year, he had people turn in projects at the end of the course,” Glassow said. “I remember one of them was a toilet with a photograph of Richard Nixon or somebody in the toilet bowl. And that was the project.”
While he never attended any of Allen’s lectures, Glassow said, the projects and easy A’s were typical of what he heard students saying about the workload in Allen’s courses.
“I think the students enjoyed it – I’m sure,” Glassow said. “It’s not to say though, to be fair to Bill Allen, even though perhaps let’s say that in his South American Indians class that he wasn’t talking about South America, it may be that he was talking about topics, current events shall we say, that were important for students to be aware of. I don’t want to say just because he was a maverick at that point that he wasn’t intending to inform students on something that was important.”
Glassow said there was a strong distinction between tenured faculty and untenured professors like himself that kept him out of the loop regarding the department’s decision not to extend Allen’s position. However, he said he tacitly agreed with the department’s wish to fire Allen.
“I certainly did not advocate the kind of academic approach that Bill Allen was taking at the time,” Glassow said. “If I were picking sides, I certainly wasn’t picking his side, and so I guess you certainly could put me with the rest of the department, so far as my opinions about what was going on… I was just struggling to get my feet on the ground, really… I was getting my classes in some kind of shape to be able to teach them, and so it was a difficult year doing those kinds of things as well as dealing with all the campus unrest.”
During the height of the student tensions, Glassow said his lab was one of the many places on campus that felt the effects of the unrest.
“I remember it was during one of the student strikes, there were a few students that had to come into my lab, and one of them I remember was fairly agitated and obviously very hyped up over the events that were occurring on that particular day,” Glassow said. “I don’t know what kind of advice I might have been giving him, but he decided that it would not be a good idea for him to have this knife that was strapped to his – it was either his upper arm or maybe even to his leg – you know, he had just this big ol’ kitchen knife strapped underneath his clothing. So, he left it there in my lab. It was a pretty emotional time for all of us, actually.”