Resistance and Revolution: The Anti-Vietnam War Movement at the University of Michigan, 1965-1972

Fall 1966

The threat of communism in the 1950s continued to remain one of the United States' greatest fears, during the Vietnam era. The House of Un-American Activities Committee, HUAC, was a reflection of the United States own insecurities that communist influence would corrupt its citizens. HUAC began investigating student organizations at Universities like UC-Berkeley and the University of Michigan. Their investigations were mainly focused on those who were involved in anti-Vietnam War activities, but also condemned those they believed were communists.

Selective Service Classification

Flyers begin to spread around

in resistance to U of M's violation

of its students' civil liberties.


On August 4th, 1966, HUAC issued a subpoena to the University of Michigan’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Richard Cutler, stating that, “copies of certificates or statements of membership filed with The University of Michigan for the purpose of obtaining status as an accredited campus organization…” were needed from certain campus organizations. Thus, information from 65 students and faculty including: the name of the organization, purpose of the organization, names of the officers and members, and faculty sponsors . In addition, HUAC asked to inspect documents at open Student Government Council meetings. On August 11th, the University handed over information on the organizations HUAC asked for, which included records from Voice-SDS. Those affected by the subpoena received notice by mail on August 15th from Vice President Culter stating, “My staff, in recent, months, has considered such documents as confidential, even though they are of necessity publicly reviewed by Student Government Council in carrying out its responsibilities for recognition of student organizations.” Those affected by the subpoena were told they may have to testify before HUAC, many days after the subpoena was issued.

Students and faculty were outraged by the University's decision to hand over its faculty and students' records. Students and faculty felt that their First Amendment Rights should be protected by the University. Their rights had been protected by the University at various points throughout the movement. For example, when students were re-classified after receiving deferments from Selective Service during the Ann Arbor Selective Service sit-in. The frustrating aspect for faculty and students was that the University could have challenged the validity of the subpoena on First Amendment grounds and the information and records “did not bear sufficient relevance to the committee’s purpose to require compliance.” 

Tuesday, August 16th, four members of Voice met with Vice Presidents Cutler and Smith. They questioned the administration about their decision to release the documents, along with various other dissatisfactions, but did not receive answers to their “specific factual inquiries.” The administration promised that a notice about the subpoena, and its implications, would be sent to the community. As the day ended on Wednesday, the community letter was not sent out. This led to a student sit-in on Thursday, August 18th in Vice President Smith’s office. They were dissatisfied with the, “Report the the Community,” they received upon arrival, demanding for a sit-down with the press and administration so their questions would receive satisfactory answers.

The University released documents

about organizations on campus to

HUAC. HUAC began investigating

students and faculty who were

involved in anti-war activities.

"We found out that our university here at U-M 

believes fiercely in protecting individual 

liberties-even if that means on occasion some

individuals be sacrificed to HUAC..."

On August 18th, the “Report to the Community” was issued by Vice President of Smith and Cutler to the University of Michigan community. “There are other questions, however, that concerned members of the University Community in this connection, and we personally share this concern, We have long questioned the methods sometimes used by this congressional committee in its activities, and its apparent harassment of political dissenters. If, as now appears, the present hearing is an effort to stifle the voices of dissent from American foreign policy in Southeast Asia, we decry its purpose. We intend to work diligently to safeguard the groups and individuals in the University from unwarranted intrusions into the academic community.” The University clearly regretted its decision to disclose, normally confidential documents, without notifying those affected prior to their release.

Students and Faculty expected that their peaceful anti-Vietnam War activities would be protected by the University, but this failure led to a distrustful relationship between the University of Michigan and the Community. A flyer from a rally held in protest of HUAC compliance stated, “We found out that our administration here at U-M is as adept at rationalizing its actions, no matter how immoral, as the regime in Washington is in justifying our presence in Viet Nam, no matter how many bodies are burnt.” Students and Faculty now were not only protesting the Federal Government, but also, their University, who had also betrayed them.

The ACLU sends out a statement

in disagreement with U of M

administration's compliance to HUAC.

ACLU Response:

The Washtenaw County Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union expressed their “distress,” as they described it, towards U of M’s compliance with HUAC. “What is even more distressing is that one of the great universities in the nation has abdicated its responsibility to uphold and protect the tradition of dissent. This is especially disturbing in view of the not very subtle efforts by HUAC to intimidate opponents of our foreign policy. Furthermore, we believe that the University’s commitment to the widest possible expression of ideas should have dictated that it exhaust all judicial remedies to determine whether HUAC was engaged in activity which violated the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Class Rankings

As the draft protests started to increase throughout the rest of 1965, and well into 1966, students at the University of Michigan started to focus on other dissatisfactions. Students focused their attention on the ranking of students within the University following the March 1965 request of Selective Service System’s to “compute special class rankings for all male students” as  Universities including Cornell University, Wayne State University, Antioch College, and San Francisco State University refused to collect class ranking. The ranks were used to determine the student's draft status. Alongside Voice-SDS, students at Michigan began to protest the University’s decision to report student rankings which led to events including a sit-in at the Administration Building and separation of the Student Government Council from the Office of Student Affairs.

The class ranking placed students into several categories. In a paper on the University policy on ranking, Michael Zweig, the Chairman of Voice-SDS, discussed the categories,

Specifically, all freshman are classified 1-A, at least until the completion of their first year of study. The lower half of the freshman male cohort retrains the 1-A classification and is immediately draft-eligible. The upper half of the freshman class receives a 2-S student deferment. Similarly, the lower third of the male sophomore class retrains the 1-A status, the lower quarter of the junior class retains it, and the lower three-fourths of the male senior class in 1-A for those who continue on to graduate work.

The I-A classification meant that the students were immediately available for military service, while the 2-S classification mean that the students received a deferment. Students were also eligible for the 1-A-O classification as Conscientious Objectors, which meant the students went before the Draft Board to say their beliefs prevented them from participating in war whether they were religious, moral, or ethical.

In addition to the class rank, the draft boards began administer “Draft Tests,” which were required to maintain or obtain student deferment. Undergraduates were required to achieve at least a 70 with graduates of at a 80 out of the possible score of 100. SDS organized a contradictory test called the “National Vietnam Exam,” in order to announce their opposition to the war. Around this time, the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee accused that Communist were playing a role in the numerous demonstrations occurring around the country. This is similar to the accusations of being involved with Communism that SDS faced following the International Days of Protest.

Students began to voice their opinion on rankings more openly as they were not impressed with the Administration's agreement to cooperate with the Selective Service. Voice’s position on class ranking was that it not only hindered the learning process, but penalized students participating in extracurricular activities since their focus would be on achieving grades to prevent being classified at draft eligible. The faculty expressed concerns with “the effect of a competitive ranking system on the learning process” of students as well. Voice discussed the possibility of a referendum to the class rankings with the Vice-President of Student Affairs, Richard Cutler, and Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Allan Smith. In a document entitled, “A Petition from Students to Our Teachers,” students reached out to the faculty to support the binding of the referendum. The signees of the petition asked their professors to withhold their grades until the University Administration agrees to stop compiling class ranks to send to the Selective Service.

The student referendum was held on November 16, 1966 by the Student Government Council, or SGC, with the proposal of “The University should cease the compilation of class ranks to be used by the Selective Service.” The result of the referendum was in favor of the University stopping class ranking with the results being 6,389 to 3,508. President Hatcher and administration said, “The University shall continue to compile class rank,” which prompted a Voice-proposed sit-in. Richard Cutler banned sit-ins shortly before the proposal as it was “necessary for the continued operation of the University.”

Subsequently, the Student Government Council, led by President Ed Robinson, cut ties from the Office of Students Affairs, or OSA, citing the continuation of class rankings as the reason on November 17. The University argued that there was a requirement to send 6,000 male student rankings, and ending the compilation of rankings would create a problem with the Selective Service System. Presidents of the four major campus organizations, including Interfraternity Council, Inter House Assembly, Panhellenic Association, and Michigan Union President, on campus did not agree Ed Robinson as he was acting as an individual, and was not a representation of the SGC. The Presidents present a motion that include three points: “SGC seeks a reasonable approach with the Administration; SGC urges legitimate and constructive means of protest, if protest is needed; and SGC recognized that many decisions affecting students are interrelated with decisions affecting non-student segments of the campus community. The motion did not prevent the sit-in from occurring.

In response to the SGC’s severing of times from the OSA, a teach-in that transformed into a sit-in was discussed by Voice again. In the document, “Teach-In Action Proposals,” the students proposed several ideas in order to draw attention to class ranking, and offer an open forum to debate the University's relationship with the Selective Service System. The ideas included a teach-in at Hill Auditorium, a sit-in at the Administration Building, and a rally on the Diag. The students had a rally at the Diag on November 29 to protest Hatcher’s decision of continuing the rankings with the establishment of three committees, which was viewed as “not meeting the ultimatum.” This lead to a sit-in at the Administration Building which saw the participation of 1,500 students despite the a few SGC members, not including Ed Robinson, advising against the action. The members thought that the “administration has started to work with us” and “we must continue to work with the administration.” Ed Robinson supported the sit-in, and “it should be clear that this is just the beginning.”

The students participated in teach-ins in early December following the the Administration Building Sit-In. The faculty encouraged students to act responsibly in order to end the conflict. Professor Alexander Eckstein of Economics said, “the surest way for the students to alienate the faculty is to insist the continuation of the sit-ins,” and that the “students say they seek a participatory democracy, but the mass meeting is not democratic, it resembles a fascist form.” As the students realized that the protests against Hatcher and the Administration's decision to continue the class ranking, the participation began to decline.

Citations for this page (individual document citations are at the full document links).

HUAC U-M, Collection Michigan, University Office of Student Affairs, Folder RL Cutler HUAC subpoena 1966-68, Box 7, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Report to the University Community, Collection Harlan H. Hatcher, Folder 45-12, Box 45, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Statement by ACLU, Collection Harlan H. Hatcher, Folder 45-12, Box 45, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.  

U of M Helps HUAC, Collection Harlan H. Hatcher, Folder 45-12, Box 45, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.