Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, December 3, 1990. Interview L-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working with the AAU to assuage tensions between students and the Nixon Administration

Friday discusses his role in the Association of American Universities, particularly in relationship to their efforts to assuage tensions between the Nixon administration and student demonstrators. Here, he describes a meeting at the White House following the Kent State incident and explains the interaction of such leaders as Patrick Moynihan, Nathan Pusey, and Henry Kissinger.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, December 3, 1990. Interview L-0147. 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

And it was not until one time the Association of American Universities was meeting in Washington, and there was a good deal of discussion about graduate education and the financing of graduate schools. And Pat Moynihan, at that time, was in the White House. And Nathan Pusey was serving his year as President of the AAU, and he had contact with Moynihan all the time. And so it just got thatߞMoynihan came and spoke to our group, and the conversation got to the point that Moynihan thought that because there was such strong feeling, a group of representatives should go meet with the President and let them say it to him directly. Well I was the Vice-Chairman of the group along about then, so, four or five of us went over, and we had a visit. And made our case and went back to the meeting, and thought nothing of it. Then came Kent State. And very soon, eight of us who had beenߞsome of us who had been there in that other meeting, I was called, and they said, "Can you be up here tomorrow afternoon at such-and-such a time?" And I said, "Sure, I'll be there." And all of us who'd been invited met at the HayߞAdams House to decide, you know, what would we say to the President about student demonstrations. This wasߞit had reached that level. It had gotten so intense all over the country. And Nathan Pusey was still the spokesman. So we rehearsed and worked out what we thought was a strategy. We go in and we sit down, and he asked us, Nixon did, "Here's the problem, what are your suggestions?" Well, the conversation went back and forth, and back and forth. And this was early on in Mr. Nixon's administration, and I'm sitting down at the end of the table this time, because I'd been in there before, and I figured that the best way to watch how the President conducts something, is get where you can look at him straight on. So, I went down to the end of the table this time. And there was a vacant chair beside me. It was about two-thirds of the way through his conversation this individual came in and sat down beside me, and he leaned over and said, "What do you think we should do?" And I said, "Well, I think you've got to invite somebody to come up here, who can become the listening post for you." I said, "You don't have anybody in this administration who has contact with the academic community. Nobody to whom anybody can call or just register a complaint, orߞyou've got to find a place to let off steam. And you've got to create an office, and keep it up here, at the Office of the President. So that they'll know who they're talking to." And I said, "You know, there's an enormous value to be gained when that kind of relationship can be worked out." And he said, "Who should that be?" And I said, "He's sitting right over there." And he said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "That's Alexander Heard over there. And he used to be Dean of our Graduate School. He's now Chancellor at Vanderbilt. You tell the President to ask him to come and do that." That person was Henry Kissinger. He had just started to work. Well, we recessed. And the conversation between Pusey and some of those people. Pusey called me aside and said, "They want you to come up here." I said, "No. I can't do that." Well, Alex came. He opened his office and served an enormously useful purpose. And I think he got then President Jim Cheek, who later became head of Howard University, to come and represent the predominantly black students. And I once asked Alex after it was all over, I said, "Tell me about your experience." And he said, "Well, it was fascinating and interesting." But, he said, "You know I left after a year. I closed the office, and to this day I have not had anybody to tell me 'Thank you' for what happened." Which I thought was a very strange way, you know, for something to happen. Well, the Kennedys, to the Johnson, Nixonߞthose were years of rather intense involvement on my part. And, oh, that spread out into some other things which I'll come to in a minute.