November 20, 2003
Student strike divided Antioch College campus
“ The strike was on. It started April 20, 1973, and got very messy because as it turned out everybody struck against everybody.” So begins Antioch President James Dixon’s account of the 1973 student strike in the collection of his writings, Antioch: The Dixon Era.
The six-week strike divided the campus and had a lasting impact on the college.
During the winter quarter of 1973, cutbacks in education spending by the Nixon administration seemed likely. Antioch allocated $300,000 for student loans, but students in the New Directions program, which was created in 1970 to increase the enrollment of minority and low-income students at the college, felt Antioch wasn’t providing sufficient guarantee that they would be supported until graduation.
On April 18, 1973, the New Directions and financial aid students said that they would strike within 48 hours if the Antioch Board of Trustees didn’t guarantee financial support to keep the students at the college.
The board did not respond to the students’ demand, and two days later, the strike began. New Directions and other students on financial aid chained and locked all the campus buildings and picketed all the entrances. The college workers’ union, UE 767, respected the strikers’ picket lines.
The student strike committee condemned destruction of property, but vandalism occurred nonetheless. The office of the dean of students, Carl Clark, was firebombed, and fires in the music building and the University Without Walls building were suspected of being arson. Main Building and the co-op office were trashed during the strike.
At one point a group of 100 faculty and students reopened McGregor Hall, the gym, the library and the science building. Members of the group issued an undated memo saying that they were “concerned with the educational and financial survival of the institution” and that they were acting neither in favor of the administration nor against the strikers.
Dixon claimed that the strike did not shut down Antioch, but other accounts contradict this. Some teachers did hold classes outdoors or off campus.
Yellow Springs was also affected by the strike. According to The Antioch Observer, Yellow Springs Mayor James E. Lawson expressed concern that the Yellow Springs police couldn’t handle the strike if it escalated. Many villagers were upset by the strikers’ methods and were not interested in the issues the students were protesting, the Observer reported. Kieth Howard, the editor of the Yellow Springs News, was sympathetic to the desire for education for everyone but disagreed with the strikers’ tactics.
On April 28, the executive committee of the college’s Board of Trustees met with the strike negotiating committee. Board members decided that it wasn’t their place to negotiate in matters concerned primarily with campus administration. The interim dean of the college, Ewell Reagin, appointed the director of financial aid Paul Barberini, John Sullivan, an administrator, and Fred Klein to negotiate with the strikers.
On May 5 the administration made its final offer to the strikers: no reprisals would be made against them and financial aid would be guaranteed for two years, with an increase in interest rates and loan liability in the second year. The strikers rejected the offer. Negotiations stalemated after only 10 hours.
Two hundred students then went to President Dixon’s home, asking him to negotiate with them personally. After briefly addressing the students, Dixon remained inside for the rest of the evening. The strikers left in the morning.
Antioch presented the strikers with an ultimatum on May 16, threatening to lay off college maintenance workers and part-time employees and to put faculty and staff workers unwilling to work on unpaid furlough if the strike continued. On May 18 Antioch kept its word and gave layoff notices to college workers.
Dean Reagin issued a memo on May 21 stating that any students, faculty, staff or workers who blocked campus buildings after noon on May 22 would be fired or expelled, and arrested for trespassing if they continued to block the buildings.
On May 22, 350 students and faculty blocked administrative officials from entering Main Building. The students signed a petition stating that if any one of them was expelled, they all should be. Twenty students were subsequently expelled. Reagin explained the small number of expulsions by saying that it was hard to match the strikers with their full names because “everyone at Antioch is on a first-name basis.” Seven faculty members also received letters of dismissal. All the expelled students and dismissed faculty were later reinstated, but one, Martin Murie, chose to retire.
Co-op faculty member George Ferguson, who resigned from Antioch that summer, said of the administration’s decision to break the strike, “Even ‘old timers’ here expressed chagrin at the action not only for the short-term effects in terms of crippling the strike but also for the long-term effects of enforcing conformity on a faculty and student body long noted for their independence.”
While the college administration struggled to end the strike, a group of 15 students filed for an injunction against the strikers in Greene County Common Pleas Court. The injunction was granted on May 30. The strikers decided to keep picketing.
On June 1, Greene County Sheriff Russell Bradley and 180 police officers arrived on campus to enforce the injunction. They tore down and removed the huge barricade in front of Main Building. Some minor confrontations with strikers took place, but no arrests were made.
Three days later, 50 protesters again picketed Main Building. Eighty police came, cleared the building’s entrance and took away what remained of the barricade.
These actions led to the end the dispute, as the strikers agreed to stop striking. The News reported that campus buildings reopened by June 4. About 300 students graduated that year, though they had to wait until July to receive their diplomas because of an administrative backlog.
The strike had a devastating effect on Antioch. The college spent $60,055 repairing property damage. One hundred forty-five students withdrew during the school year. A student paper written in 1974 also reported, “As of the beginning of March 1974 the number of final applicants was less than half of the number it was one year before.” According to the paper, the strike cost Antioch $371,521 in 1972–73 and $719,894 the next year.
Today many see the strike as the end of Antioch’s golden age of high enrollment and academic renown. Antioch has survived, but the 1973 strike has not been forgotten.
— Evelyn La Croix