Brandeis University: A People's History 1970-1971
The March Marches On

The ever-multiplying spate of protests continued into 1970-1971, with a variety of groups vying for attention to their causes. Grito, the Latino student organization, sponsored boycotts of campus cafeterias in sympathy with the United Farm Workers’ strike against non-unionized lettuce growers. Jewish students and members of the Brandeis chapter of Students for a Democratic Society interrupted an on-campus session with recruiters from Mobil Oil, which had been accused of prohibiting its tankers from carrying Israeli and “Jewish-related goods” in order to satisfy Libyan demands. The Mobil protest also brought students into conflict with one another, when SDS members framed their attacks not only against Mobil but against the existence of Israel as well. Afro, the black student group that had organized the 1969 takeover of Ford Hall, continued to press its own demands, even though the University had now established a full-fledged department of African and Afro-American Studies.

The all but continuous state of campus unrest gave the administration worries about the reaction of the university’s benefactors. Marxism was a potent intellectual force among the most extreme students and faculty; they were only too happy to pit their convictions against what they saw as the moral bankruptcy of the university’s wealthy donors. Administrators’ concern that the protestors were damaging the university’s relationship with its financial supporters was particularly evident at the dedication of the Usdan Student Center, when a group of protestors took advantage of the ceremony’s visibility to press their demand for a day care center available to any member of the university community free of charge. Their cause was innocuous enough, but to the visibly angered Chancellor Sachar and Trustees Chairman Lawrence Wien, the protest seemed calculated to embarrass the university before its donors. (The university went ahead with its plans for a fee-charging day care center, which it originally housed in the old snack shop in Usen Castle.)


Davis for President

Brandeis students and faculty were not the only ones challenging the status quo; alumni had their say as well. Over 300 signed a petition nominating Angela Davis, ’65 for Alumni Association president. A prominent figure in the black nationalist movement, she had been studying for her doctorate in the philosophy department of the University of California, San Diego under former Brandeis Professor Herbert Marcuse. The UC San Diego administration, uncomfortable with her outspoken politics, had refused to renew her lectureship for the 1970-1971 academic year.

What brought Davis to worldwide attention, however, was the accusation that she had been involved in a violent California courtroom incident that left four people dead in August 1970. After an extensive manhunt, she was arrested in New York in October, and as sympathetic Brandeis alumni sought to demonstrate their support by nominating her to be their president, she sat in jail awaiting trial. (An all-white jury acquitted her of all charges.) Davis didn’t win the election, but her nomination sparked one of the largest voter turnouts in the history of the Alumni Association. In 1980 she appeared again as a candidate for high office, running for U.S. Vice-President on the American Communist Party ticket.


Never Too Late Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs

Initiated as a means by which to address student issues of alienation from the Jewish past and tradition, a corps of student tutors were mobilized to introduce an intensive learning program with the goal of adult/belated Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Participants learned to chant their Torah parsha (the Biblical portion of the week of their birth) and presented an intensively researched paper on a selected Jewish topic or concept.

—Jeremy Benjamin, Hornstein Intern ’97-’98, Brandeis Hillel