Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with J. Carlyle Sitterson, November 4 and 6, 1987. Interview L-0030. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of UNC professors on campus life

Sitterson describes the role of UNC faculty in the 1960s. During the food workers' strike of 1969, faculty served as mediators between the administration and workers. Their intermediary role translated into the classroom as well. Sitterson explains that when students protested against the Vietnam War, professors remained amenable to end-of-semester demands.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with J. Carlyle Sitterson, November 4 and 6, 1987. Interview L-0030. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Yes, why don't we talk about that, the role of faculty in the…
You asked about the role of faculty in some of the crises of the sixties. Off the top of my head, I can remember several, I think, that we might talk about. One was their role in the food workers strike. The Faculty Council appointed a committee to represent the faculty and provide its good offices to try to mediate whatever problems had been unresolved and were keeping the strike going. The Chairman of that committee was a professor in the Department of Economics, Paul Guthrie. That committee--I don't remember the other members, but they would be on record somewhere--and they were meeting with representatives of the food workers. One night about one or two o'clock in the morning I got a telephone call, and it was from Paul Guthrie, and he was calling from one of the restaurants. I think it was The Pines, but I'm not positive about that. And he said they'd been meeting for a number of hours, and they'd finally reached a settlement which involved a certain adjustment in wages and working conditions and that kind of thing. He had said that he had indicated that that was the agreement that his Committee was going to recommend to the University, and so he was putting the thing before me at that time in the morning to decide whether or not the University would support that or not. And I said to Paul, "Now, you're presenting this to me, and I'm in a position where I, there's no explicit authorization that I can provide these funds, but I don't have any time right now to find ways to do it, and I either have to say yes or no." And Paul said, "Well, that's right, but if you say no, you must recognize that you will be perceived as the one who has stopped this settlement." I said to Paul, "I can see that very clearly." I finally said, "Well, Paul, I think we'll take the risk. I don't know exactly how I'll find the way to get this done, but we'll take the risk. You can convey my good wishes and congratulations that you people have resolved this." So, we did indeed, I don't even remember now exactly whether we used some non-state funds temporarily or whether we eventually got some authorization from Raleigh, but I don't know whether it was right at this time or not. That's one illustration. I think the Faculty Committee did perform a useful service because, in a sense, they were not parties, they were not responsible for… It's much easier sometimes when things get emotionally involved, that people who are not engaged in any of it can bring some good offices to the situation, and that would be an illustration. Another illustration of the faculty, which involved the faculty's problems as distinct from the administration's problems, was the difficulty after Kent State on campus when, you will recall, the--I can't think of it now--the SDS had as its objectives to bring, as they said, to bring down the University, stop the University.
Well, as I said, I had as my responsibility as Chancellor to keep the University going. We did have a lot of demonstrations and so on, and people went to Washington, as you know, to protest the invasion of Cambodia and so on. As that went on many classes were not meeting regularly, and the faculty took, there was a big meeting of the faculty. I went to that meeting and addressed the faculty in the beginning of the meeting, but then, so that I would not be involved in their discussions or present, I left the meeting. They went on, and in the course of that they also set up loud speakers. They met over in Hill Hall, which holds about 800, and there must have been a thousand or two students outside…
They had loud speakers out so they could listen to all the debates. A lot of the debate revolved around a critique on national, all of this was really national policy involving the Nixon policies in Vietnam. So that went on, and eventually, at that meeting, they resolved one issue, and that was the question of whether the University should have its full spring term, finish it, and under what conditions. The faculty finally voted to say that classes would continue. That the term would be finished, but that students could elect to either take final examinations and have that as a regular part of their course grade and so on, or they could choose to not complete but not have any penalty and they could be graded on what they had done up to that point. There were a combination of different choices that they could select. The faculty members were invited to subscribe to this general agreement. I happened to have been teaching that semester, so I simply told my class that they could all do whichever they wanted to do, just let me know which they wanted, and we did that, and there was no trouble. A few people chose, elected to take the examination later on in the summer, not many, but a few, and so far as I could tell, that ended all right. The University, unlike many universities, never lost a single day of classes during all that period of time, and we had no real destruction. The only incidence was the turning over of some tables, which started, precipitated the food strikes in Lenoir Hall. But again, that really involved no substantial… And there was a fire in one of the temporary ROTC buildings at one stage. Again, nobody was hurt and no serious damage was done, so…