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The roots of student protests that shut down Southern Illinois University in the spring of 1970 were numerous.

Some were national and international events - assassinations of the Kennedys, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the expanding war - while others were local situations that triggered demonstrations on the Carbondale campus.

Ray Lenzi, elected student body president in 1967, said in a State of the Campus address on May 29, 1968, "The university is controlled by a power structure that is oppressive," and that the campus operated "on the absence of ideals." He predicted campus unrest would grow unless issues were addressed.

"It was pretty obvious that things had to change," Lenzi commented in a recent brief phone interview about those days, when he and other student activists attended national rallies and led local protests. He's now retired after serving as an administrator at SIU; campus issues no longer are his focus. "I identify with the national movement now," he said. "The issue of income disparities is enormous and must be addressed."

Lenzi said the widening gap between the haves and have-nots is at the root of this country's economic problems. "There is a need for progressive taxation," he said.

Lenzi's 1968 prediction proved accurate. Campus unrest did grow.

Woody Hall on the Carbondale campus was the home of the Center for Vietnamese Studies, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Some students said the center was really an arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, and was doing research for South Vietnam and the U.S. military. They demanded it be shut down.

One of the center's most vocal critics was philosophy teacher Douglas M. Allen. Though his department chair, Willis Moore, said he was a "good teacher, one of the best we have," the SIU board of trustees voted 3-2 to deny Allen tenure. He also received a "terminal contract" saying he would not be employed beyond the current academic year.

C. Harvey Gardiner, research professor of history, another critic of the war and the Vietnamese Studies Center, was denied a pay raise because of a speech he had prepared for Honors Day 1970. (That speech was never given because SIU Carbondale shut down early in 1970 in response to the protests.)

The Allen and Gardiner cases brought on investigations by the American Association of University Professors and the American Civil Liberties Union and heightened tensions - and more negative publicity for SIU in national publications.

The expansion of the war (graduating males faced being drafted) and then the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State universities, left the campus increasingly tense, said Michael Batinski, retired history professor.

Even the rules mandating a curfew for female students in dorms, but not males, were a cause for unrest and rhetoric, even a sit-in.

An arson fire on June 8, 1969, that destroyed Old Main, a campus landmark, has yet to be solved. State fire marshal investigators said the fire started in at least four locations, with the largest fire on stairs leading to the attic of the building. Firefighters battling the blaze on the third floor found an obscene message on a blackboard that included the words, "Old Main is burning."

The expansion of the war into Cambodia (with male students facing the draft) and then the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State universities, left the campus increasingly tense, said Michael Batinski, retired history professor.

Students obtained a city permit and demonstrated on May 7, 1970, at the corner of Main Street and Illinois Avenue. Police detoured traffic on those streets, but when a few students tried to obstruct the nearby railroad tracks, police tried to disperse the crowd and violence erupted. State police used tear gas on the crowd, which began to flee toward campus. Police pursued them, again firing tear gas, and the violence escalated.

A curfew was declared; anyone out between 7:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. was subject to arrest. Liquor sales were forbidden.

By Thursday, May 12, a crowd of 1,000 students gathered at Morris Library, eventually swelling to 2,500 students. They began to march through the streets of Carbondale. Some threw rocks at the home of University President Delyte Morris and administrative offices.

As of May 13, the administration closed the campus indefinitely. By that evening, 1,200 National Guard troops were in Carbondale, along with state police from three districts.

The semester was over; instructors were to give their students "pass" or "fail" grades.

As often happens in chaotic times, some mysteries remain and legends have evolved.

The big mystery remains: Who torched Old Main?

William "Anteater" George said now and then someone will come up and ask him if he set the fire that destroyed Old Main. An art student and activist, George was expelled after students took over Illinois Avenue. He was riding his Harley at the front of the crowd. A photo of the scene was picked up by the Associated Press and circulated widely; George was instantly recognizable.

He didn't get his degree, but still works as an artist and divides time between Pennsylvania and Makanda.

"People still come up to me and ask if I set fire to Old Main," he said recently. "I lost a lot in that fire. I had a class and a studio on the third floor and lost all of the work I had done." Those paintings included a self portrait and a painting of Old Main itself, he said.

He's still intrigued by the era and is doing videotaped interviews of some of the activists of the Sixties, documenting the changes in Carbondale and on campus.

A story also that persists on campus that in response to the demonstrations, Faner Hall was designed to be a fortress that couldn't be taken over by rioters. Architects and historians say that is an urban legend.

For starters, Faner was designed long before the riots of 1970, though it wasn't completed until 1971.

Bob Swenson, of the SIU School of Architecture, said the rumor probably was started to explain the strange appearance of the massive concrete building, and its "compartmentalized" design. "The chance of the ‘invaders' and the ‘defenders' finding each other (inside Faner) would be extremely remote," he said with a laugh. Because only certain stairways would reach some parts of the building, even longtime professors sometimes had trouble finding their classes or offices.

Swenson and architectural historian Jon Davey said the design was typical of the times and the "brutalist" style of architecture featuring severe concrete structures with little ornamentation.

It's like a monastery, Davey said. "Some don't like it but shadows play on it on a sunny day. On a cloudy day it looks like a prison."

The building, 914 feet long and four stories high, was "a gigantic wall separating the old and new parts of campus," he said. It was designed by Geddes, Bretcher, Qualls and Cunningham architects and cost $12.75 million to build and another $1 million to equip. It was named for longtime English professor Robert D. Faner, who died in 1967 while preparing for a class in a barracks building. The barracks stood where the south end of Faner now stands.

Davey said the ship-like compartmentalization inside Faner was intended to separate the many liberal arts departments that were housed there. Because corridors didn't run the length of the building, English classes and lounges were separated from history and other departments.

Part of the Faner design is a small balcony with a nautical-type railing, above the entrance to the SIU Museum. There's a door leading to the balcony, but it's locked, Davey said.

"It's a nice little place. If it were up to me I would put a grill out there," he said.

Harvey Chaloupka , who retired 18 months ago as an architectural draftsman at SIU Carbondale, was a student from 1966 to 1970, then returned to work on campus for 26 years. He, too, said the stories about Faner are just that.

The angled window frames, the legend goes, were designed so police could be stationed to observe passersby without being seen.

The angled windows actually were sunscreens, designed to shade classrooms from the sun, Chaloupka said.

"They didn't work because they weren't reversed to fit this site," he said.

Chaloupka said Faner "was one of the least liked buildings on campus." He wasn't surprised to hear the stories that it was designed as a fortress.

"When I first started working at SIU I walked into a room and there was an axe handle in the corner. They told me it was there in case people needed to defend themselves," Chaloupka said. Many faculty and administrators volunteered and spent nights standing watch over campus buildings during the violence.

Having witnessed the turmoil on campus, Chaloupka wasn't disappointed that school closed early that May and that he received pass-fail grades. Like many other male students, he was more worried about his draft status than his grade point average.

Chaloupka said he has visited a number of other college and university campuses over the years; he's not found any he likes better than SIU.

"I've always said Carbondale is the most beautiful campus I've ever seen," he said.

 

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