College life was an interesting experience for administrators in the 1960s.
Former Dean of Students at Wichita State University Jim Rhatigan shared some of those experiences and his insight during a presentation at the El Dorado Rotary Club meeting Wednesday.
His talk was titled “Student Unrest in the 1960s.”
“It was probably the most unique decade of college history,” Rhatigan said.
He talked on three points, the war in Vietnam, the black student movement and free speech.
Rhatigan worked at the University of Iowa as the dean of men from 1960 to 1965 while he worked on his degree. Then in 1966 he came to WSU as the youngest dean in the state for a college with more than 10,000 students.
He said he had no strategic plan from 1966 to 1970.
“I am going to talk about how the three elements all ended up on the college campus,” he continued.
During Vietnam, Rhatigan said he had many students who contemplated going to Canada to avid the draft when the numbers were low.
“The intensity changed on college campuses,” he said.
There also were protesters on the campuses.
He said he told the protesters if they told him what they were going to do and it was legal he would protect them and if it wasn’t legal he needed to know about it.
He said those who wanted to punish others were the dangerous ones.
“On our campus it was different,” Rhatigan said. “A lot of our students used drugs, and the drug of choice was alcohol and the second drug of choice was marijuana.”
One example of something he couldn’t approve was when a representative came in and told him they wanted to lower the flag to half mast. He told the student that couldn’t be done and the student said he wasn’t asking for permission. Rather than try to stop them, once they lowered, he called the security officer over to raise it again, a process that went on all day.
There also was a black student union movement. He said there was a black student union that formed out of nothing at WSU.
“Within a two-month period, negro had not only become unacceptable, but a fighting word on college campuses,” Rhatigan said.
He said one-to-one he did fine with black students, but when a group got together they had a group mentality.
“They didn’t know how to protest,” he said. “My job was to let them express themselves but not ruin themselves,” he said.
Page 2 of 2 - He told of one story when two black olympians were going to give the black pride salute during the National Anthem and they lost their medals. At WSU, they had two black basketball stars who were going to do the same thing before the start of one of their games. To solve this, Rhatigan and others decided to play the National Anthem while the teams were still in the locker rooms so they never had the chance.
From that, the National Anthem was always played while the teams were in the locker room for the next 30 years until a coach wanted his teams out there for the National Anthem again. Rhatigan said before long he was the only one left who knew why it had begun to be played early and it was his own private joke.
He said black women had a particularly hard time because there also was the women’s movement around that time.
The final topic was the free speech movement which started at the University of California-Berkley. This was a movement that spread across the United States in days.
The first problem he dealt with involved religion on campus. This religion a small group had created said their religion called for them to smoke marijuana. Another incident involved a student who was sitting naked on the middle of the field one night. He wasn’t being violent, so Rhatigan asked the police to hold him over night then send him to his office the next morning. That next morning, he got a call from the college president’s office asking if he knew anything about this student. He had shown up at the vice president of the college’s office rather than Rhatigan’s office. When Rhatigan asked where he was at then, he was told he was having breakfast with the president’s wife.
“He was the only student to eat breakfast with the president’s wife that year,” Rhatigan said.
“Being a dean of students is serious business, but along the way things happen,” he concluded.