On Tuesday I put up a blogpost, intended as the first in a series, tallying all the campus occupations that were taking place at US colleges and universities. Since then, one new occupation has begun, one has ended, there have been developments in several others. Here’s the latest…

Clemson University

Students and faculty at Clemson occupied Sikes Hall on Wednesday, April 12 as a response to a string of bias incidents on campus and broader complaints about campus climate and racial exclusion. Some students camped out overnight on Wednesday on the building’s steps. #SikesSitIn

University of Massachusetts

Students at UMass Amherst launched a sit-in at the Whitmore Administration Building in support of fossil fuel divestment on April 11. The students voluntarily left the building Monday night, but they returned the following morning. Since Tuesday, a group of students have been arrested each night when the administration closed the building, and the occupation has resumed each morning. #SitAtWhit

Appalachian State University

Students occupied the administration building at Appalachian State in North Carolina on April 7, demanding that the university’s chancellor condemn HB2, the state’s new anti-LGBT law. The students ended their occupation on April 13 after the chancellor made a public statement in opposition to the law. #OccupyAppStateAdmin

Duke University

A weeklong occupation of the Allen Building in support of campus workers’ rights ended on April 8, but a tent encampment in front of the building continues. #DismantleDukePlantation

University of California, Davis

Students protesting Linda Katehi, the president of UC Davis, have been occupying Mrak Hall for 35 days. On Wednesday, April 13, news media revealed that the Katehi administration had spent $175,000 to try to suppress negative publicity surrounding the 2011 incident in which peacefully protesting Davis students were pepper-sprayed by a campus police officer. #FireKatehi

Harvard Law School

Activists have been occupying a student lounge at Harvard Law since February 15 in support of marginalized students on campus. #ReclaimHLS

The wave of student organizing that we saw last semester continues to build this spring, and has spread so widely that it can be difficult to keep up with. As I write this, spaces on at least five different American college campuses are under occupation by students, with the oldest, at Harvard Law, closing in on its two-month anniversary.

What follows is a list of the campuses where occupations are taking place right now. I will be updating the list regularly over the course of this semester.

University of Massachusetts

Students at UMass Amherst launched a sit-in at the Whitmore Administration Building in support of fossil fuel divestment on April 11. The students voluntarily left the building last night, but they have returned this morning. #SitAtWhit

Appalachian State University

Students occupied the administration building at Appalachian State in North Carolina on April 7, demanding that the university president condemn HB2, the state’s new anti-LGBT law. The occupation is ongoing. #OccupyAppStateAdmin

Duke University

A weeklong occupation of the Allen Building in support of campus workers’ rights ended on April 8, but a tent encampment in front of the building continues. #DismantleDukePlantation

University of California, Davis

Students protesting Linda Katehi, the president of UC Davis, have been occupying Mrak Hall for 33 days. #FireKatehi

Harvard Law School

Activists have been occupying a student lounge at Harvard Law since February 15 in support of marginalized students on campus. #ReclaimHLS


The Argus, the student newspaper of Wesleyan University, became a target for activists on that campus last semester when it published an op-ed that was aggressively, and in some respects unfairly, critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. When a petition was circulated demanding reforms at the paper and urging the paper’s defunding if those demands weren’t met, the story went national as a free speech battle.

A few weeks later, reports appeared on Twitter that the WSA, Wesleyan’s student government, had slashed the Argus’s budget. As I wrote at the time, though, those reports were a bit garbled — what WSA had actually voted on was a draft proposal for Argus restructuring, one that contained no budgetary language and established a timeline for further discussion on the issues it raised. My own sense then was that while the WSA proposal had flaws, it appeared to be a good-faith effort to address questions of diversity and accessibility in Wesleyan campus journalism. (I should note that some Argus supporters thought I was being too generous to the WSA. You can judge for yourself here.)

I checked in on the story a few times after that, as I recall, but didn’t see any major developments until yesterday, when this Argus editorial found its way into my Twitter feed.

Here’s the deal.

The WSA, according to both its editorial and a statement on the WSA website, has revoked the remainder of the Argus’s funding allocation for the current academic year. The stated reason for the revocation is the existence of an Argus “emergency fund” of non-student money.

That emergency fund, amounting to about one semester’s worth of Argus operating expenses, consists primarily of donations the paper solicited from alumni and others last fall during the last round of the funding dispute. (WSA says some of it came from ad revenue too.) The Argus collected the money as a hedge against problems with WSA, and as a way to keep the paper afloat if its funds were frozen or its budget was cut.

WSA’s position is that student groups are not allowed to carry over unused funds at the close of the academic year — if you don’t spend all your allocation by the end of the spring semester, they say, it goes back into the general pool. The WSA statement doesn’t address the question of why the current semester’s funds were revoked now rather than at the end of the year, but it appears likely that the intent of doing so was to force the Argus to draw from the donated funds, which are held in a separate account.

Seen in the light most favorable to the WSA, this could be interpreted as a matter of fiscal prudence and sound governance. If it’s true that all unexpended funds have always reverted to the common pool each spring, then they have precedent, if nothing else, on their side. But there’s cause for concern as well.

To begin with, the bylaw provision WSA cites in support of its action—”Article VI, Section 2, II, F”—doesn’t seem to exist in the version of the WSA governance documents that is posted online. And the posted document seems to my uneducated eye to be at odds with the WSA’s actions in at least two ways.

First, while the bylaw says that “all money allocated to student groups by the SBC or the CC remaining in that group’s account at the end of the year shall automatically revert to the SBC,” it goes on to specify that such funds may not be reverted before April 1. (The SBC is the Student Budget Committee, which funds the Argus.) And second, the same passage says that while SBC and CC funds revert to those bodies, “any funds not allocated by the SBC or the CC but deposited into that group’s account shall remain in the account indefinitely.” This seems to suggest that while SBC funds revert, independent funding doesn’t—which in turn suggests that it’s not appropriate for the WSA to pull money from the Argus’s SBC account to force it to spend its fundraised money.

And this brings us to a more fundamental issue. When the Argus was faced with the prospect of a financial crisis last semester, it didn’t sit back, it hustled. It went out and got alumni and other supporters to provide it with a cushion—an insurance policy. And while that cushion wasn’t needed this semester, it could be in the future. But as a result of WSA’s actions, if it is needed, it won’t be there.

The people who donated to the Argus could have donated to the general fund of the WSA if they’d wanted to. They didn’t. They donated to the Argus to provide the Argus with supplemental funding above and beyond what the WSA gave them. By cutting the Argus’s other funding in response, WSA is in effect appropriating that donated money for its own purposes. That’s wrong.

And it’s wrong even if it isn’t (as it appears it may be) a violation of both the letter and the spirit of WSA’s own bylaws. It’s wrong because it has the effect of discouraging student groups from taking the initiative to fundraise, and of discouraging outside individuals and groups from making such donations. If I’m thinking of donating to a Wesleyan student organization, and I know that any money I give the group will be cut from the group’s budget, I have no incentive to give.

When I was on my own student association’s budget committee years ago, we took evidence of outside fundraising as evidence of a group’s health and vigor. If you were committed enough to your mission to spend your time and energy raising outside money, we believed, you were likely to spend the money we gave you well—and likely to get a bit more from us the following year.

Student group fundraising isn’t a zero-sum game. It lifts up all organizations on campus—not by freeing up additional student government money (though it may do that, at the margins), but by increasing the total pool and enabling groups to do more with their fee money than they would have been able to do otherwise.

And the arguments to be made for the Argus are even stronger. The WSA has not completed the publication review process initiated last fall, and when that process is done, it’s possible that the budget for the Argus—for next year, or the year after—will be cut. If that happens, surely the Argus should properly be able to draw on the money it raised last fall to provide it with flexibility in making the transition to the new funding structure, and in shaping its future spending to its own organizational priorities. That’s what the donors who provided the money would have wanted, and it appears to be what the WSA’s own bylaws anticipate.

Now, it’s possible I’ve gotten this all wrong. I’m a generation and several hundred miles removed from the Wesleyan student body. I have no personal stake in this argument, and I usually don’t use this platform to take positions on student-student conflicts.

But the relationship between a student government and a student newspaper is a special one. It’s fragile, and complex, and essential to the interests of the students and the campus as a whole. And while student governments and student newspapers are often adversarial, their relationship is a symbiotic one — each contributes to the health of the other.

Again, it’s possible I’ve gotten this wrong. It’s possible that the WSA’s position is more reasonable than I’ve made it out to be, and that the Argus is arguing unfairly. But based on the public statements from both sides, and my own reading (perhaps faulty) of the relevant governance documents, it appears to me that the WSA should at least consider revisiting its decision.


This is the second part of a three-part essay comparing USNSA in 1966 with its successor, the United States Student Association, fifty years later. You can read the first part here.

•          •          •

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Hendrik Hertzberg of the Harvard Crimson described the 1965 National Student Congress of the United States National Student Association (USNSA) as “in some indefinable way hipper, more aware that life does not begin and end with resolutions and caucuses, than the one that preceded it.”

The 1966 Congress would need less equivocation.

Where the big speaker of the 1965 Congress was pro-war US vice president Hubert Humphrey, in 1966 the gay beat poet Allen Ginsberg appeared on the scene. He participated in a panel on drug policy reform, and then stayed to give a poetry reading afterwards. (“Language, language … you pour it forth like napalm,” he recited, in an apparent reference to the convention’s plenary.) When the business of the meeting got underway, one delegate put forward a resolution advocating the legalization of homosexuality, and another introduced a proposal to remove the word “God” from the USNSA constitution. Danny Boggs, a conservative Congress attendee (and now a federal appeals court judge) put forward a libertarian argument for the regulation of LSD on the same basis as alcohol, and the plenary itself endorsed the repeal of the nation’s marijuana possession laws.

The center of gravity of the Congress was shifting rapidly. For years, the various political factions in USNSA had organized themselves as caucuses at the annual Congress, and 1966 each of those caucuses repositioned itself to the left: The Conservative Caucus renamed itself the Moderate Caucus, the Radical Middle Caucus renamed itself the Progressive Caucus, and the Liberal Caucus, for years the voice of the New Left in USNSA faced a schism between its liberals and its radicals.

The Liberal Caucus, which had been created by dissenters from the moderate liberal leadership of USNSA, was now the dominant faction in the Association. On Vietnam and the draft, along with several other issues, its position was by now essentially that of the Congress as a whole. But with the Liberal Caucus now dominant in the plenary, the Congress’s most radical delegates had little reason to continue to identify with that faction — as the Liberal Caucus gained power and influence, the radicals took up the oppositional role that the caucus itself had previously played.

With the Liberal Caucus’ view on Vietnam ascendant, the radicals proposed a new Vietnam resolution in 1966, one that described the war as an attempt to advance “the American empire … in a calculated barbaric fashion.” They didn’t win adoption of their stance by the plenary, but the delegates went much farther in the resolution that eventually passed own resolution any previous Congress had. They declared, by a vote of 181-83 with only ten abstentions, that the United States had ignored the “legitimate aspirations for social revolution” of the Vietnamese people, and that the escalation of the conflict had alienated the Vietnamese, made the establishment of democracy there “virtually impossible,” and brought the world closer to nuclear war. USNSA called for an immediate halt to American bombing and other offensive operations, and for the opening of multilateral negotiations.

A shift in USNSA was also seen that year in the delegates’ growing willingness to challenge the inner circle. Outgoing president Phil Sherburne picked Gene Groves as his successor, but while Groves had a long history in the Association — he had been the chair of the Liberal Caucus in 1964 and a member of the USNSA board of directors the following year — he had been out of the country on a Rhodes scholarship in 1965–66. As a result, he had no direct ties to any American campus, and no obvious way to obtain the delegate credentials he’d need to run for office.

In the past, this wouldn’t have been a problem. USNSA leadership regularly finessed such issues for their preferred candidates, and in the run-up to the 1966 Congress Groves had arranged with the student government at the University of Chicago, his alma mater, to be seated as an alternate in their delegation. But that placement had been challenged by Danny Boggs — himself a University of Chicago law student — and overturned by a campus judiciary committee. A few weeks before the Congress Groves approached Roosevelt College, which was less finicky. When he applied for admission to Roosevelt’s graduate school, their student government credentialed him while his application was still pending.

Although credentials had in past years been approved with little fuss, by 1966 NSA’s membership was growing more restive. Groves’ Roosevelt credentials were challenged, and the issue became one of the major debates of the Congress. Ultimately the Congress Steering Committee supported Groves by a vote of 16-7 and the plenary upheld his credentials in a 278-95 vote, but after doing so they closed the loophole that he had used to secure his eligibility for office. They passed a constitutional amendment that restricted campus delegate and alternate seats to individuals who had been “registered and in attendance” at the school in question within the past two and a half years. A student government could, in other words, grant delegate to a recent alum, but not to a candidate with no connection to that campus or one who, like Groves, merely pledged to enroll in the future.

In the battle over credentials, as in so many struggles within USNSA before, the leadership of the Association came out on top. But each victory forced them to shift course, and each challenge left them with less power to dictate the direction of the organization in the future. This is how reform came to NSA — not through the overthrow of the establishment, but through insurgencies forcing insiders to make concessions, and through the Association’s leadership clique weakening from within as a result.

At the end of the Congress, Groves faced Danny Boggs in the presidential race. Boggs, running as an anti-establishment candidate at least as much as a candidate of the right, won one-third of the total vote. Significantly, Groves had won more support in the credentials battle than he did in the presidential race — in a classic show of the membership’s belief in fair play and procedural evenhandedness, a large group of delegates voted to put Groves on the ballot … and then voted against him when he ran.

As Donald Trump inches closer to the Republican presidential nomination, protests at his speeches are heating up. And with those protests comes hand-wringing about whether the activists targeting Trump are helping him more than they hurt him.

It’s a hard question to answer. Trump has certainly become more popular with Republican primary voters in recent weeks, but he’s also become less popular with the electorate as a whole, so it’s possible that anti-Trump demonstrations may be giving him a boost him in the primaries while damaging him for the general election. It’s also possible that how public opinion on these protests shakes out depends on how they develop — if a protester is badly injured by Trump supporters, say, that could change public perception quickly.

The bottom line is that we just don’t know how these actions are shaping public opinion. We have guesses, but we don’t have data. And in the absence of data, we tend to fall back on analogies and historical precedents.

One such appeal to history came this afternoon from Jonathan Chait, who tweeted that

civil rights protestors had rigorous criteria for justifying civil disobedience. They didn’t try to shut down Goldwater.

I was curious as to whether this was true, so I did what Chait clearly had not — I googled it. More precisely, I did a search of the New York Times’ archives for 1964 on the terms “Goldwater” and “protest.” And it turned up this:

That’s a July 16, 1964 Times article about a demonstration at the Republican National Convention in which twenty civil rights activists were ejected from the floor for disrupting the proceedings in protest of Barry Goldwater’s nomination for president.

And if you read the whole article, you’ll see that the activists, who were members of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), a major civil rights organization, used tactics that were essentially identical to those used by Trump’s critics today. They smuggled in a banner. They linked arms. They chanted. They went limp when arrested.

And Barry Goldwater went on to defeat in one of the biggest landslides in American political history.

The Goldwater protest wasn’t unique, either. After I tweeted it, others quickly provided similar cites —  of LBJ supporters jeering Goldwater at a Toledo campaign stop in 1964, and of student activists heckling George Wallace in 1968. The Wallace incident has additional resonance with today, too: According to the newspaper’s account, Wallace supporters assaulted protesters before the candidate even arrived, Wallace himself taunted the activists at the start of his speech, and several protesters were beaten further as they were dragged handcuffed from the venue.

And how did those campaigns work out? Well, like I say, Goldwater was defeated in one of the most devastating landslides in American political history. Wallace steadily declined in the polls as the campaign wore on, failing in his goal of throwing the race to the House of Representatives in order to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in negotiations over the presidency.

Does this mean that the Trump protests are destined to have a positive effect, or even that the Goldwater and Wallace protests were a good idea? No. But it does serve as a reminder that our memories of past social movements are woefully limited, and that it’s always a bad idea to judge today’s activists by the standards of an invented, sanitized past.

Update | For more on this kind of historical amnesia, see this post from last November, in which I discussed some ways in which criticism of today’s student organizers echoes the rhetoric that was used to attack the civil rights activists of the 1950s.

About This Blog

StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out AngusJohnston.com.

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