Thirty years ago this week, students were punished for protesting recruiting visits
Associate News Editor
On an autumn afternoon 30 years ago, students gathered in the Main Building to protest on-campus recruitment by the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] and Dow Chemical.
Before the sun set behind the Golden Dome, police in riot gear descended on the building. In following hours, five students were suspended, five were expelled and the role of a Catholic university during wartime was fiercely debated from the LaFortune Student Center to the St. Joseph Superior Court.
The Nov. 18, 1969, protest of the CIA and Dow interviews were not the first at Notre Dame. Concerned with Dow's production of Napalm used in Vietnam and with the CIA's interventions in Chile, University students prepared a large-scale demonstration during several days of interviews in 1968.
In February 1969, then-University president Father Theodore Hesburgh responded to the campus activism with the "15 minute rule," explaining that disruptive students would be given 15 minutes to disperse. Failure to cooperate would result in suspension. In an eight-page letter to the community, Hesburgh said students who protested more than 15 minutes could face expulsion or arrest.
Undeterred, student leaders planned the 1969 protests.
According to Mark Mahoney, '71, the Student Senate passed a resolution asking recruiters to participate in a question-and-answer session prior to on-campus interviews for students to gather information on the companies' practices. This would only occur when a sufficient number of students petitioned for it.
But the University refused to arrange that forum, Mahoney said. As a result, the students gathered outside the interview rooms in the Main Building, demanding a forum with Dow and the CIA.
"These protests were about us as individuals confronting the University and administration about its moral pretensions," Mahoney said this week. "It was a big deal for those folks who were involved because we made a very deliberate choice."
Father James Riehle, then dean of students, collected ID cards from protesters, Mahoney said. Several students turned in their cards in a show of solidarity with the protestors. Others dispersed when they heard state police had been called in, Mahoney said.
Mahoney, who said he was not blocking any entrance to the interviews, was among those suspended by the University. Along with the five students who were expelled, this group became known as the "Notre Dame Ten."
Mahoney said the punishments seemed random, as some who were suspended had been more involved in the protest than some who were expelled. Others did not appear to be involved on any large scale. None of those singled out were elected student government officers, he explained.
"We really were, at the time, I think, scapegoats for the need for [Hesburgh] to demonstrate that he was a tough university president," Mahoney said. "In fact, I think they deliberately picked people they thought would be weaker types."
Rallies and forums supporting the Ten ensued through the coming weeks, with several faculty members helping the group prepare its defense for appeal.
Among those was professor Charles McCarthy, '62, who directed the new Program for the Study of Non-Violence. McCarthy later resigned in protest of the punishment inflicted on the 10.
"Were the students wrong? I did not believe so then and I do not believe so now," said McCarthy in a speech at Notre Dame in 1994. "I preferred to stand with the excommunicated rather than the excommunicator — and so I voluntarily left teaching Christian nonviolence at Notre Dame."
Meanwhile, the students carried the burden of taking the news home to their parents. Mahoney, whose father was in the Air Force, was also a counselor for conscientious objectors. Mahoney's view of the war combined with his suspension was hard to explain at home.
"My father was furious. Absolutely furious," Mahoney said. "He just thought it was very embarrassing."
During the suspension, the University contacted the students' respective draft boards to inform them that the suspended students were re-eligible for the draft.
"This exposed each of the `Ten' to the risk of being drafted into the Army during the resulting lapse in their student deferments," Mahoney said in a written statement. "For many of the `Ten,' given our beliefs, this would have meant criminal resistance to the draft and jail, or flight to Canada."
The students were not drafted during that period and were allowed to reapply to Notre Dame for the spring semester. Mahoney and Jim Metzger, another member of the Ten, even worked as RA's during their last year on campus. Mahoney keeps in touch with his friends from that period, including some administrators, but continues to struggle with the University's paradoxes.
"I come back once in a while, to visit friends mainly — not on football weekends," he said. "I wasn't really alienated from the University. I was more alienated from the administration and what the University represented."
Mahoney, McCarthy and two other "Ten" members — Ed Roickle and John Eckenrode — returned to campus in 1994 for the 25th anniversary of the protest. They met with students, visited classes and spoke on the idea of a Christian university.
The "Notre Dame Ten" are still concerned with what Mahoney calls "the challenge of creating and maintaining as `Christian' a University which is involved by necessity with governments and institutions and corporations whose goals, actions and beliefs may be inconsistent with those `Christian' values."
Mahoney said that during his meetings with students, he detected the same problems that existed during his undergraduate years, including non-unionized employees, poor gender relations and racial tensions.
"I don't know if the University is helping [students] sort all this out," he said. "There still seemed to prevail on campus some of these unresolved … tensions that to a great extent the administration seemed oblivious to."
Mahoney is now a criminal defense lawyer in Buffalo, N.Y. He said the idea of moral confrontation that spurred him to protest 30 years ago is still at work in his law practice. He explained that the right of confrontation and cross-examination are important to his work. For those reasons, and for his friends, he is grateful for his years at Notre Dame.
"That Notre Dame experience was an important part of my life," he said. "But I think it was more, like everybody else, what I made of it than what Notre Dame made of me."
All News Stories for Friday, November 19, 1999