Richard M. Nixon authorized the invasion of Cambodia on
April 30, 1970, thereby embroiling the United States in even more
military conflict, students at Emory
University opted for a more immediate anti-war strategy: terminating
Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFROTC) program. Student
government leaders and faculty members of Emory
College, the University’s equivalent of a College of Arts
and Sciences, began discussing AFROTC’s role as a credit-granting
department in 1969. The discussion lay dormant until the spring
of 1970, culminating in a faculty vote on May 7 to remove AFROTC
from Emory College. Before the vote could be finalized, however,
SGA president Doug Silvis suggested a campus-wide referendum so
Emory students could direct the course of policy change.
referendum, documented in this WSB clip, takes place on Monday,
May 25, 1970 and is open to all students at Emory and on sister
College. It asks:
- Should AFROTC be retained as a credit-granting department at
- Should AFROTC be modified at Emory University to be an extracurricular
Administrators discarded the results of the student referendum
because the voting procedures failed to meet Emory’s election codes.
Several days later, College faculty voted anyway to remove AFROTC
no longer allowing it to provide academic credit. AFROTC would still
be a part of Emory University, albeit as an extracurricular activity.
Anti-war and liberal students were not amenable to this option.
They felt that the AFROTC’s presence on campus, in any guise, demonstrated
complicity with war. Emory publicly and unconvincingly claimed neutrality,
but students discerned a clear bias. While the University trained
students for military careers, it did not likewise train students
for careers as Black
Panthers or Weathermen,
organizations no more violent and no less valid than the military. Some
students argued the immorality of the war also contradicted Emory’s
Emory University President Sanford
S. Atwood countered that the purpose of ROTC was not to militarize
Emory, but to liberalize the nation’s military officers so that
they could think critically on the battlefield. Military Science
courses did not so much encourage free critical thinking, however,
as they did discipline students’ minds and bodies to respect authority
and follow orders. Military
Science aimed to bring students into the Armed Services fold,
teaching the depth and detail of military history, strategy, ideology,
and procedure. Classes also trained students to wield the technology
and weaponry of combat.
President Atwood further argued that Emory could not immediately
terminate its AFROTC program because of obligations to students
already enrolled. The President agreed to reconsider the issue.
In the meantime, Emory’s Board of Trustees removed AFROTC from Emory
College and placed it within the jurisdiction of the Vice President
and Dean of Faculties. This move diminished faculty and student
decision-making authority over the program.
In its new incarnation, AFROTC became the Division of Aerospace
Studies, women were allowed into the Corps, and contrary to what
students and faculty had voted and protested for, Aerospace students
could continue to receive college credit, unless academic departments
specifically voted against it as did the Law and Business schools.
On November 2, Emory College faculty voted to prohibit Aerospace
Studies courses from conferring academic credit as of the fall semester
After Emory’s Board of Trustees instituted these changes, interest
in the Aerospace Studies program declined. By 1974, enrollment
had dropped to such lows that it was no longer economically feasible
to continue the program. On May 7, 1974, Emory University representatives
met with the Department
of Defense and agreed to terminate AFROTC’s twenty-three year
tenure at Emory, effective June 30, 1974. The last four AFROTC
students were commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants in the Air Force reserves
on June 10, 1974. To this day, Emory’s Army, Navy and Air Force
ROTC courses are offered at cooperating institution, The
Georgia Institute of Technology.
Whereas much of the success of the Civil
Rights Movement was due to its strategy of direct nonviolent
resistance, by 1968, the year of the
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, violence had become
an almost accepted fiber within the national fabric. Students,
student government leaders and faculty members at Emory University,
however, as well as members of the Weathermen and the Women’s
Liberation Movement, were not satisfied to condemn the federal
government for all of society’s ills. Instead, as the AFROTC
debates show, this new wave of activists called upon every citizen
to consider her or his own contributions to condoning and perpetuating
violence. They declared that if the federal government would
not immediately withdraw from Southeast Asia and Indochina as
public opinion demanded, then the people must examine their own
lives and communities and immediately withdraw their support from
any institution furthering the militarization of the United States.
Perhaps the activists reasoned that by asking individuals rather
than institutions to commit to nonviolence; that by asking individual
people to – as Mahatma
Gandhi advised – “become the change you want to see in the world,”
they could more successfully work together to create the beloved
community envisioned by civil rights activists. Perhaps the late
1960s and early 1970s were not so far removed from the prior decade
Resources (click here)
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1. What currently are the arguments in the debates over military
recruitment on high school and college campuses? What are the implications
of an intersection between the military and the schools?
2. What is a referendum? What kinds of issues are normally voted
by referendum? What are some other ways in which citizens can exercise
their right to direct popular sovereignty?
3. Why are some voting procedures more indirect, such as the national
vote for President of the United States? How is the President elected?
Take it to the Streets!
As a class, discuss whether you think it is within students’ rights
to direct the course of policy change within your school or any
school. Present and hear arguments for and against students’ rights. Discuss
at what age or stage students should be granted rights, if at all. Then,
working in small groups, write a serious Student Bill of Rights
appropriate to your grade or age level. Write also a Teacher’s Bill
of Rights. Make sure your wording is articulate and your arguments
well-reasoned. Reconvene as a class and consolidate (debate if you
need to) your enumerated rights into one Student Bill and one Teacher
Paste these to your classroom door (a la the theologian Martin
Luther) and use them as guiding principles within the classroom
for one week. At the end of the week, discuss, as a class, what
changed in the class’s interactions and what stayed the same. Discuss
what you would add and what you would take away from the Bills.
Ask yourselves, should classrooms function as democracies as such,
or should they be ruled by some other decision-making system?
Writer: Aggie Ebrahimi
L. Davis, Aggie Ebrahimi, Mary Boyce Hicks, and Professor Barbara
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