"Citadel of Apathy"?: Student Activism at UNL, September 1968-May 1969

Project Editor:Jillian Gotfredson, History 470: Digital History, Spring 2008

Active or Apathetic?

Lincoln, Nebraska: A Reflection of the Movement on a Different Scale
Public Displays of Activism: from protests to talk-ins
Hyde Park Forum
Students Unite: committees, groups, and unions
Who Protests?
What is Apathy?
National Context: a timeline of student activism on campuses
International Context: a timeline of student activism on campuses
Works Cited

Students Unite: committees, groups, and unions

The University of Nebraska was home to several student groups/organizations during the 1968-1969 school year each with its own goals and support. Despite the decentralization of leadership and organization, groups would often come together for demonstrations (i.e. the Open Housing March). Student membership in each group may have been small in comparison to those of Berkeley or Columbia, but Berkeley and Columbia were also settled in very different environments (See the Who Protests? section for more information). The student groups described below are evidence that students of Nebraska were not wholly apathetic and were interested in student power. The question here is not did the students do anything, but how active does one have to be, to be considered an activist?


Wayne Williams was resident of the A-ACS for the 1968-1969 school year and organized demonstrations over a three-day period to raise awareness and issue a list of concerns from the African American population at the University ("Afro Society's twelve...").


Craig Dreezen, ASUN president for the Fall semester, created Time Out as a day for student concern on campus. He urged teachers to call off classes so students could attend the day's activities and those who didn't were encouraged to discuss the war, education, or other issues of broad interest. The goal of Time Out was to get the students "turned on" and interested in what is going on in the world around them ("Biafra, ROTC, march...").

In the November 20, 1968 edition of The Daily Nebraskan, Craig Dreezen was quoted as saying "we (ASUN) are nothing but an advisory group with no inherent power" but the Association plans on changing that by asking for "control of student fees, control of the Union, final say in disciplinary action concerning students and of the non-academic social affairs of the student body" ("No power in..."). ASUN proposed Government Bill No. 24 which would make the Association "the supreme student governing body in the regulation and coordination of all phases of student self government..." ("Government bill..."). The bill marked a turning point as the ASUN realized its lack of power and took action against it.


The Human Rights Committee, part of the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN), became an official student organization in 1968 with the aim that all student groups will be "able to conduct their respective activities with proper guarantees of legally established and commonly accepted precepts of human rights" ("Human Rights Committee gains..."). The Human Rights Committee aims to work in three areas: recruiting more black students to the University and assisting them in working in campus organizations, campus housing, and trying to inform white students "of the magnitude of racial injustice and unrest in America" specifically on campus and in Lincoln ("Human Rights Committee seeks..."). Dan Looker resided as the Chairman of the ASUN HRC with 31 members ("Administrators leery..." and "March to city hall to...").


In 1968 Charles Marxer, a visiting philosophy professor, formed the NDRU. Located at 15th and R in the basement of the United Ministry for Higher Education, the Union was comprised of 12-13 members and provided draft counseling (Dietz). NDRU also passed out leaflets at local high schools and around town stressing they help those who are concerned with any aspect of the draft ("Biafra, ROTC, march..."). However, like many groups formed during the 1960s the NDRU suffered from a lack of resources, mainly access to "well-trained counselors" ("Draft Resistance Union..."). The NDRU set up headquarters at 15th and R in the basement of the United Ministry for Higher Education (Dietz).


The Nebraska Free University formed in 1966 as a counterinstitution to make students' classwork more relevant to their lives. The University did not give grades, exams, and did not take attendance. The University is student oriented and aims to get rid of the "teacher image." It encourages individual participation allowing students to set up their own courses on such topics as racism, politics, problems of underdeveloped nations, and urban politics in American cities. The chairman of the Free University, Jim Humlicek, saw 1300 students register for the Fall semester but, much like many organizations in the Movement, suffered from financial instability during the spring semester as enrollment declined and student staff disappeared. However, a chemistry grad student said the Free University could become "the lever to pull the University into change" ("NFU more...", Eckholt, "Humlicek says...").


In September of 1968, the Nebraska Students for Peace and Freedom sprang to life with Phil Medcalf as a temporary chairman. Dave Bunnell, an organizer, said, "this will be an organization that is not dogmatic, that is democratic, that embraces all of the ideologies of the left" and will try to "unite black and white students against the administration" ("Human Rights group seeks..."). One of the goals for the group was to raise funds for Ernie Chambers campaign for the Omaha School Board and organize the Midwest Regional conference on Movement Politics. The group decided its first action would be to make a statement about student organizations. The Students decided they would not formally file with the ASUN and therefore would technically not be a student organization or at least be recognized as one by the University ("Issue of...").

In an editorial by Jack Todd called "A Revolution That Wasn't" Todd said the group should not have been debating whether to be formally recognized or not but should have focused on issues like revolution, racism, or Vietnam because "these are powerful issues floating around if the group would just take a little time to look them over. The way it is now, they're just proving that Nebraska can't do anything right" (Todd). Whether their statement on student organizations was heard or made a difference, the group did take part in the Midwest Conference and several other campus activities.


History of University of Nebraska's SDS Chapter

SDS formed in 1965-1966 when Carl Davidson attended the University of Nebraska as a grad student from Pennsylvania. While at Nebraska, Davidson had a core membership of 25 with up to 100 on the edges. Though Davidson only remained at the University for a couple years he organized several large scale protests: a coalition of 200, including several Black football players, against South African apartheid marched through the city stopping at businesses and reading their connection with apartheid; 500 showed up for a Vietnam teach-in; got Allen Ginsberg to come to the University; and formed the Campus Freedom Democratic Party winning a number of positions (Lieberman).

The SDS House was located at 22nd and T and often worked with the U.S. Farmers Association renting buses with them to send farmers and students to march on Washington, D.C. against the war (Gotfredson).

1968-1969 SDS Chapter

Despite having only three members on record at the Office of Student Activities, SDS sponsored the New Left conference called Midwest Regional Conference on Movement Politicswhich included not only campus SDS but the Black Panther Party and members of the Nebraska Peace and Freedom Movement. Ernie Chambers, an Omaha Black Panther, spoke at the conference ("Administrators leery...").

In November, SDS passed out anti-ROTC pamphlets outside of Love Library before quietly attending a Faculty Senate meeting ("SDS demonstrators hosted..."). SDS was also the sponsor of the weekly Hyde Park Forum at the Nebraska Union. Although SDS may have been criticized for lack of protests on campus, the national "Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other organizations with identifiably radical views, commitments, and rhetoric, were only 28 percent of all protests." (Levine, 68).


John Schrekinger, leader of the young adult suffrage movement ("No power in...") and John Piester, chairman of the Nebraskans for Young Adult Suffrage (NYFAS) supported Amendment I which called for the voting age to be lowered to 19. Piester said, "the time has come for Nebraska voters to realize that young people care and are qualified to do something about this nation" ("Piester..."). Piester argued that 19 year olds are educated and their interest and involvement are at their peak because by the age of 21they are no longer interested in voting. Piester said "if young people become frustrated because they can not participate in government, some will keep trying and pushing and end up further from the middle of the road toward extremism" ("Piester...").