ROTC and Anti-War Sentiment at NYU

Project Director: Lindsay Dumas

Source of Materials: New York University Archives


On college campuses throughout the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins of all kinds proliferated as many students and faculty grew increasingly disillusioned with the war in Vietnam. Many students perceived their colleges and universities as microcosms for the nation, with the school administrations embodying the US government, thus becoming a common target for attack and criticism by students. At the same time, ROTC programs were seen as synonymous with the military and were constantly barraged with attacks and acts of vandalism to their offices, and disruption of their activities by student activist groups. Throughout the country public and private universities, often academically elite schools, began abolishing ROTC programs, citing that they were fundamentally at odds with the university environment.

Traditionally, ROTC programs were well-respected means of getting a free education while also receiving the best leadership training available and the abolishment of programs in response to the Vietnam War would dramatically alter the officer corps of the military for decades. While much scholarship has been focused on examining the anti-war activism that characterized the late 1960s, little attention has been given to ROTC programs and the impact of abolishing the programs on faculty, students and the universities. The New York University Archives has an expansive holding of material on the numerous protests that occurred at the University, which is frequently requested by researchers and students. It also has detailed coverage of the actions taken against the ROTC program throughout the late 1960s as students attacked it and the Faculty of Arts and Science on both the school’s University Heights campus and Washington Square Park campus attempted to abolish the program which can be drawn from numerous different collections within the Archives.

This project seeks funding to digitize a collection of 200 items, which utilize both these groups of documents to show the downfall of the ROTC program from a variety of perspectives of different student groups, faculty, and administrators from 1967 to 1971. The especially radical environment fostered in Greenwich Village contrasted with the discipline and order of the once thriving ROTC program present a clear contrast of ideas, yet through examining this corpus of documents the complexity of the issues faced at NYU over the status of the ROTC program can be recognized.

In addition to digitizing these documents, the digitized copies of the originals will be presented online through an interactive timeline that also contains important national and local events in order to contextualize the events happening at NYU. Although many students envisioned the NYU campuses as microcosms of the nation, they were clearly influenced by and part of much larger national movements. This website will also provide identifications of all the people, groups, departments, and administrative offices referenced throughout the documents as well. By digitizing all these documents from different collections within the Archives, many unique perspectives can be seen and greater access to the documents will be available for scholars and students. Likewise, it digitization will help to prolong the life of many of the most often used documents. This digitization project hopes to expand upon existing scholarship and to provide incite into an often neglected byproduct of the fervent anti-war activism that overwhelmingly characterizes college campuses the late 1960s.

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