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  • The Ohio State University in the Sixties: The Unraveling of the Old Order by William J. Shkurti
  • Christine Anderson
The Ohio State University in the Sixties: The Unraveling of the Old Order. By William J. Shkurti. (Columbus: Trillium, an imprint of the Ohio State University Press, 2016. 436 pp. Cloth $39.95, ISBN 978-0-8142-1307-0.)

William Shkurti, a student at The Ohio State University in the 1960s and a vice president of the university from 1990 to 2010, is well equipped to explain the story of The Ohio State University in the Sixties: The Unraveling of the Old Order from multiple perspectives. Shkurti devotes a chapter to each academic year during the 1960s organized around the themes of students, university (faculty, administration, and influence of state politics), and national context. The introductory chapter describes Ohio State in the 1950s almost stereotypically as a quiescent, conservative campus. The epilogue is the best chapter in the book because it draws conclusions about the causes and effects of unrest that are sometimes difficult to see amid the details in earlier chapters. Of course historical actors respond to immediate concerns and situations without being able to foresee the broader results of their actions, so the book's organization enables the reader to understand how gradually the social and political climate changed at OSU.

Using archival records, the student newspaper the Lantern, and interviews with former students, Shkurti traces the challenges facing the university. One of the most important was growing undergraduate enrollment. The administration was caught between student dissatisfaction with rising fees, increasing class size, scheduling difficulties, and a penurious governor and legislature. Moreover, administrators had to negotiate the competing claims of undergraduate education and Ohio State's emerging identity as a research institution. Changing culture and behavior among students perplexed an administration [End Page 127] torn between student demands and conservative politicians and trustees. Controversies over free speech and charges that athletics, ROTC, and the Greek system were valued over intellectual depth arose throughout the early and mid-1960s. Despite a 1948 Speakers Rule prohibiting speech "favoring the overthrow of government by force," a list of speakers in 1963 suggests that students had access to the intellectual ferment of the decade; Betty Friedan, Paul Tillich, Bayard Rustin, and George Wallace spoke on campus (24, 104–5). The reader is left curious about causes of students' critical attitudes beyond cultural change and lack of clear institutional direction.

The focal point of The Ohio State University in the Sixties is the burst of campus unrest in the spring of 1970. A range of issues animated student discontent at Ohio State in the late 1960s: the massive new dormitories, Lincoln and Morrill Towers, social freedom for undergraduate women, African American protest against discrimination, and the war in Vietnam. Shkurti identifies organizations and individuals active in challenging the status quo and administrators' response to protest. For example, he conveys that flavor of events in his description of confrontations between black students and administrators in 1968 and the hard-line reaction of the Board of Trustees and Ohio congressional representatives. Activism and protest mounted as the decade passed, while administrators remained unsure of how to react. In late April and May 1970, frustrated students clashed with university, local, and state law enforcement. Details of the train of events do not offer much help in identifying the motives and strategies of student groups involved in confrontations, and it appears that many students gathered merely to observe. Nevertheless, it seems clear that in general students resented law enforcement, especially the National Guard, which they saw as "invading" their campus. Efforts of university administration to clamp down on the unrest only made matters worse. The heroes were members of the Green Ribbon Commission of Faculty, who attempted to maintain calm and who interceded between rival groups at several key points.

Closure of Ohio State for twelve days in May was unprecedented. Yet despite the violent riots of late spring 1970, which contrasted sharply with the university's past, it was relatively less tumultuous than many other schools. Shkurti argues that unrest was the result of pent-up frustrations caused in large part by structural changes in...


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pp. 127-129
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