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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 >>

Lack of violent social unrest at UNC

Sitterson credits his mission to maintain university order and open communication lines with students kept UNC afloat during the turbulent social times.

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

J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
Yes, it was remarkable. I think that two or three things that explain that… I think a lot of people really had a role in it. I think traditions in student government on campus were important in that. The power structure of student government, while in many instances critical of University policies, at the same time was a positive force in trying to keep the students involved in the processes of orderly consideration of things, rather than departing from that and damning the whole system.
PAMELA DEAN:
They shared your commitment to procedures?
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
That's right. That's correct.
PAMELA DEAN:
To maintaining the basic structure?
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
That's right, and so I think that was one thing. I think the second thing was that when I came, I came in first in the midst of a crisis, as we've already seen in the Speaker Ban crisis. And I knew that one of the major tasks that I would face in the years immediately ahead was to maintain an orderly examination of the things with which the University was concerned. I recognized that there would be a lot of dissension, a lot of difference of opinion. My goal, that I kept above all else, was that when this was over, and I knew it would be over in some years, how many nobody knew, but I knew the period of the sixties would not last forever. I mean, anyone who studied history would know that. So my goal was that when that was over that we would still be a University in the sense of recognizing free inquiry, right of dissent, treating each other civilly, and being a University community.
PAMELA DEAN:
Why were you able to do that when so many other places weren't? Is this something unique to you and were you particularly fortunate in the student leaders you worked with? Is it something endemic to the University?
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
I think a combination of all those. I was going to say this, one of the things in pursuing this goal, that I just indicated, I maintained all the time personal communication with all elements of the campus. My door was open all the time, day or night. Any student who wanted to see me or to give his protest, what was going on, could come in my office and do so.
PAMELA DEAN:
You had been a very popular teacher. You had a reputation for that. Do you think that contributed to the students believing that you were, in fact, open?
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
Well, I think, I'm not sure of that because, actually, one thing we should not forget is that the number of students who were activists, in the sense of actively doing something as distinct from watching on the sidelines, was always a very small percentage.