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Counter-Commencement Exercises



Counter-Commencement Exercises


A flyer for a counter-commencement protest in 1969 includes names of faculty and students who participated. Attached is a summary of recent protest activities on the Queens College campus, including a sit-in incident that is documented in the Campus Unrest Collection.


Students--Political activity--United States


Queens College (New York, N.Y.). Counter-Commencement Steering Committee




Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives (New York, N.Y.)




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Queens College Campus Unrest Collection


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Queens College (New York, N.Y.)



11 A.M.
JUNE 3, 1969


GLEN BRUNMAN -- Student Association President
DR. MICHAEL WRESZIN -- Professor of History, Queens College
DR. LLOYD DELANY -- Professor of Education, Interim Director, Operation SEEK, Psychologist, Queens College
DR. LOUIS KAMPF -- Chairman, Humanities Department, M.I.T.
DR. EKKEHART KRIPPENDORF -- Visiting Professor of Political Science from West Germany

There will be a musical interlude




The protest movement on the Queens College campus that has brought us here today is not merely rooted in local and provincial grievances. It is part and parcel of a much larger national upheaval that involves such complex questions as the management of the universities, the way they educate or fail to educate, the relevance of their instruction to the special concerns of their students and finally their complicity with outside political interests.

It is only natural that how these issues are confronted depends upon the local conditions prevailing on each college campus. At Queens the recruitment issue was the starting point. Concerned students and faculty have long opposed the use of college facilities for the purpose of recruitment, and they have been particularly sensitive to recruitment by agencies serving the interests of the military or war industries. Late in March the student protestors did disrupt the normal functioning of the Placement Bureau and were subsequently brought before the Student Court, charged by the Dean of Students with misconduct. However, there was such disagreement over the judicial proceeding that a trial was never held, the student prosecuting attorney refused to prosecute, declaring that no genuine due process was possible under existing procedures and the Student Association subsequently dropped all charges.

Nevertheless the Dean of Students, despite the action of the Student Association, refused to drop the charges. After a rally protesting the Dean's intransigence on March 27th the students and concerned faculty went to the Dean's office in the Social Science building to discuss the issues with him and to request that the charges be dropped. The Dean, the President, and members of the Faculty Council all refused to discuss the matter with the students and the students then decided to remain in the Social Science building hallway until they could gain some satisfaction from the administration. That was the first of four long days and nights of the sit-in which was subsequently interrupted at 3 A.M. of the morning of April 1st by over 500 members of the New York Police Department's Tactical Police Force.

During those first four days the students created a real community on the campus and in meetings and workshops came to the realization that underlying the initial recruitment issue lay other related problems concerning the hiring and firing policy of the college, the practice of bureaucratic autonomy and secrecy and ultimately the administrative reliance on force rather than reason as a means of coping with the vital issues of life on the campus.

Many administrators and faculty members are reluctant to admit that their colleges and universities are constantly evolving to accommodate the existing interests and prevailing routines of the larger society. Universities and colleges have become increasingly important instruments for the maintenance of ends that often have little to do with the traditional ends of education. College life-styles are no longer esoteric and talked about only at cocktail parties. College professors are no longer viewed as absent-minded idiots; they produce atomic bombs and head powerful complex organizations dispensing billions of dollars. It is not the Queens College student protestors that have perpetrated violence and disruption on the campus, but a routinized indifference to the traditional values of democracy in the name of national ideologies that has to become the acceptable norm. The student protestors did in fact disrupt these normal routines of the campus, not to deprive students of educational opportunity but to return the campus to its essential function--not a reflector of the larger society, but a beacon lighting the way to a more humane future. The administration through a policy of accommodation and indifference became so immune


to the traditional aims of education that it saw no incongruity in calling 500 of the Police Department's most military troops to protect the college from "anarchy and violence," all in the name of academic freedom and rational discourse. So far did this over-reaction go that members of the faculty acted as plaintiffs against their own students, seeing themselves as defenders of the sacred house of reason.

On the day following the arrest of 38 students and one faculty member the protesters reoccupied the same hallway of the SS building. After negotiations with the administration, faculty and student-wide convocations were arranged. These proved fruitless in terms of the responsiveness of the administration or the tenured faculty, but they did serve to point up, even to the opponents of the protest movement, the sterility and bankruptcy of the administration and the students' articulate ability to expose the astonishing weaknesses of the educational bureaucracy.

As the intransigence of the administration and tenured faculty became increasingly apparent the protestors took over the four top floors of the A building (the tower on the hill which so symbolically illustrates the distance between the administration and the college life below its olympic heights.) This occupation ended with the separate action of the SEEK Coalition which prompted the administration to again call the police, whose first action was to surround the A building--at which point the student protestors left the campus and student demonstrations came to an end.

As matters now stand the administration has remained totally unresponsive; thirty-eight students and one faculty member face not only second degree criminal trespass charges but the prospect of a Grand Jury indictment on conspiracy charges; a professor, with obvious professional accomplishments and ability, still has not been reappointed, and the secrecy stipulations which are responsible for the breakdown of genuine due process in her case (as well as others in the past) have not as yet been substantially challenged by the administration; the one faculty member arrested with the thirty-eight students not only faces civil action but stands under the clod of campus disciplinary charges of "conduct unbecoming a faculty member."

There is more than a little irony in this situation. Of all the protests on college campuses throughout the country, none was less violent and more reasonable, responsible, and rational than that waged by the students and faculty members of Queens College, and yet they have brought down upon them the most blatant example of punitive political oppression.

With cries warning against the invasion of the "new barbarians" from the Assistant Attorney General, with a local District Attorney seeking "ringleaders not on the scene, who counsel, command, induce, and procure impressionable students," the American people are urged to ignore just who these young college protesters are. In the opinion of many, they are the best informed, most intelligent and most idealistic generation this country has ever known. They are the products of middle-class America: middle-class mothers, fathers, and homes. These are college students who have finally demanded that the American deed conform to the American creed. The students are indeed one of the few items of the gross national product that is less concerned with the acquisition of things and more concerned with the quality of life.

The students at Queens College did take action, but they did so not to destroy the university, but to make it better meet its own professed standards. They were met with the force of the police and the force of outside political agencies. It is in order to protest this response by the administration that we are gathering today in our counter-commencement.

I don't think Forbes was very involved with this, but he attended.
Perhaps it is of general interest.


Original Format

8.5 x 11 inches (216 x 279 mm)


Queens College (New York, N.Y.). Counter-Commencement Steering Committee, “Counter-Commencement Exercises,” Queens College Civil Rights Archives, accessed May 17, 2022, http://archives.qc.cuny.edu/civilrights/items/show/327.