We are super excited – this is our first listener request! The late 1960s were a tumultuous time in the United States – major political assassinations, riots, protests, and a deeply controversial war all added up to a fractured and bruised society. Much of the action during the time period took place on college campuses – our own University at Buffalo included. Today, Sarah and Averill are talking about the court case at the heart of some of the most intense protests the University has ever seen: The Buffalo Nine.
Show Notes & Further Reading
Note: This post contains affiliate links.
Bruce Beyer Oral History, Council Member David A. Franczyk and the Fillmore District Presents Community Spotlight, 2013.
Committee on Armed Services, Hearings Before the Committee on Armed Service, United States Senate, Ninety-First Congress, Second Session, on S. 3367 and H. R. 17123, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1970)
Goldman, Mark. City on the Lake: The Challenge of Change in Buffalo, New York (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1990)
Goldman, Mark. High Hopes: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983).
Hayes Hall Named to National Register of Historic Places (see slideshow of images of UB’s history!)
Patterson, James T. Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 1996).
Small, Melvin. Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and The Battle for America’s Hearts and Minds (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002)
“Twenty Years Later,” The Buffalo News, December 17, 1988.
The Selective Service System, “The Vietnam Lotteries”
Whitcher, Ann. “A Stormy Spring,” UBtoday, Winter 2005.
Produced by Sarah Handley-Cousins and Averill Earls
Written by Sarah Handley-Cousins
Edited by Averill Earls
Transcribed by Elizabeth Garner Masarik
Averill: This is a listener request!
Sarah: And it’s a story that, I think, is not particularly well known, here in Buffalo or outside of the WNY region. It’s a story that offers an interesting perspective on some of the conversations we’re having today in this country: how do we effectively protest something that we morally object to? What are the best and most effective ways to protest? Today, we’re talking about the Buffalo 9 – a group of anti-war protesters from the University at Buffalo who were arrested and taken to trial for resisting the draft.
And I’m Averill
And we’re happy to be your historians for this episode of Dig.
Averill: The Vietnam War was perhaps the most controversial war ever entered into by the United States. The conflict in Vietnam lasted nearly twenty years, though the height of the United States’ military involvement was between 1965 and 1975. Our path to involvement in Vietnam is a little complex, and I’m going to oversimplify here for the sake of time. After WWII, most of the world was turning toward decolonization – India, for example, gained its independence from the UK in the late 1940s. France, however, wanted to hang on to its colonies in what was then called French Indochina – a colony that comprised of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. They had held these lands- the French- since the late 19th century, but had lost them temporarily during World War II, y’know, since they were occupied by the Germans. During the war, the colony was occupied by the Japanese. When the Japanese and Germans lost the war in 1945, the question arose: what do we do with this colony?
Sarah: Right – since other countries were starting to release their colonial holdings, it was sort of assumed that France would acquiesce and let go of their colony as well. But they didn’t, they clung to it. But they faced serious pressure from both sides – on the one side, pressure from an independence movement led by the Vietnamese Communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, gearing up for a war of independence, as well as pressure from Chiang Kai-Shek, the Chinese leader on the other side, who was pressuring the French not to go to war. Chiang Kai-Shek was more or less handed Indochina by the United States, who did not want the French to get the colony back, but the Chinese leader was not super interested. Instead, he acted as a counter-pressure against the potential conflict between the French and Vietnamese, and his influence led the French to give up, and led to the splitting of Vietnam in half, into Communist North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam in the Geneva Accords. This agreement was a way of negotiating an exit for the French, and setting up a political future for self-governance for Vietnam. The problem was the two rival governing principles – communism, and not-communism. Who would rule Vietnam? Which one of the principles would be the guiding principle for the entire nation? The Geneva Accords led to an agreement that in 1956, there would be a free election for the country to determine its own fate.
Averill: In 1956, however, the scheduled vote did not go quite as planned. Ngo Dinh Diem was elected President of S. Vietnam in what was clearly a fraudulent election, and then decided not to go ahead with the scheduled national vote – Ho Chi Minh (and therefore the Communist Northerners) were heavily favored to win, and neither the Diem nor the US wanted this embarrassment. And so tensions in Vietnam continued to simmer – Diem was later deposed, and by the early 1960s, the United States entered the fray in the ill-fated attempt to stop the spread of communism. Obviously, this is a deeply complicated story that we’re again oversimplifying, but we want to give some background so you can understand where this Buffalo Nine story happens. I’m sure there are podcasts out there featuring foreign policy wonks and military historians that will give a better run down than we can!
Sarah: Absolutely. I think it’s just important to understand what the Vietnam conflict was about in order to understand why people were dodging this draft. Um, so we’re doing our best
Sarah: Anyway, what does this have to do with the US and specifically, Buffalo? As Averill mentioned, by the early 1960s, the United States has become mired in this conflict between North and South Vietnam. In 1964, an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, off of the coast of Vietnam, where N. Vietnamese allegedly fired on American ships, gave LBJ the excuse to officially escalate the war. In the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a resolution passed by Congress, gave the president unprecedented power to wage war without oversight from Congress. This was all in the attempt to stop the spread of communism – and in March of 1965, the US began its initial movements against N. Vietnam in the form of Operation Rolling Thunder. And we were at war in Vietnam. And I just want to pause here for one second to say that Gulf of Tonkin incident that happens in 1964 is later discovered in the leaked Pentagon Papers out of State Department in 1971, it’s revealed that that incident had been largely fabricated by the State Department in order to give a reason for the war.
Averill: The US had implemented the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 which authorized the beginning of a draft in the year before the US entered WWII – which, of course, proved prescient; the draft was extended with the Selective Service Act of 1948, which required that all men between the ages of 18 and 26 register for a potential draft. This was partly designed to beef manpower back up – the military really dwindled down to around 1.5 million men in 1946, which Truman in all of his wisdom considered dangerously low during the early years of the Cold War.
Sarah: I just want to interrupt you there to say as you can probably guess, the reason the military demobilized so quickly and went down to 1.5 million men is kind of obvious right? It was men who had enlisted during the war who then wanted to come home, get married, use their GI Bill. They did not want to continue to serve. These were not men who had signed up to be career officers.
Averill: So, with that in mind, there was an aborted attempt to required mandatory military service from all men of this age – something like what they have in Israel, but it was considered un-American and rejected.
Sarah: Which I think is strange. I mean, what’s more American than putting on the uniform and serving your country. I mean, that’s held up as the most American, most patriotic thing that you can do. I just find it really interesting- I guess it’s the element of choice…
Averill: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. Because the impressing into service was one of the reasons that the Americans broke free of the British right?
Sarah: And one of the reasons for the War of 1812. But it also makes me think of a rhetorical debate that takes place after the Civil War and the fight over the draft during that war. And there’s a fight over which veterans are more upstanding citizens, which ones deserve more praise from the country- those that volunteered or those who were drafted. And they universally agree that volunteers were better, even though they did the same work, go the same wounds, but there’s something mythological about volunteers.
Averill: I think, maybe this is a terrible example, but the HBO series Band of Brothers, that’s a theme of the, of the whole series. The guys who come in as Easy Company are the guys that volunteered, as opposed to the guys who come in later who were drafted. And they are treated differently and looked down upon even in the same ranks.
Sarah: Right. Because they waited, they didn’t volunteer. Even though their there, and doing the same things…
Averill: And dying at the same rate…They did draft some men, though very, very few, between 1948 and 1950, to help meet manpower needs in occupied territories during the early Cold War. During the Korean War in the early-mid 1950s, many more men were conscripted – numbering over 1.5 million. Generally, Americans approved of the draft for Korea – Americans felt as though it was an important part of fighting the more nebulous, abstract Cold War.
Sarah: The Korean War ended – at least effectively, if not officially – in 1953, but it didn’t end the draft. The US government continued to draft men, again to help keep up manpower, throughout the 1950s. These men did peacetime service, often in Germany. Military service became a staple of 1950s culture: women were expected to become wives and mothers at a young age, men were expected to put in their 1-2 years of service for the country – this system was generally accepted and supported in a culture of conformity and deference to authority. Because it was administered on a local level, it managed to fill the ranks fairly equitably. It is estimated that something like 1/2 of young men coming to age between 1953 and 1960 served in the military after being drafted. That’s huge!
Averill: That’s a lot of dudes.
Sarah: And it’s important to remember that after 1953, they’re serving in a peacetime army – that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any threats or anything, but that they aren’t being shipped off to active warzones. Criticizing or avoiding this system just wasn’t a consideration. Under this, it was during this time period during the draft, my grandfather served in the military. If you did a survey, I bet a large majority of our grandfathers served in the military during this period. Another thing I wanted to add, because I was always really confused by this was, I always wondered why Elvis join the military in the midst of his career. He was drafted. Isn’t that interesting. And now I probably sound stupid to listeners who know that duh, Elvis was drafted. But I didn’t know. But later in the 1960s, when Truman was handed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the situation changed. As the war in Vietnam intensified after 1964 and body counts rose – from 216 dead in 1964 to 6,350 in 66 to 16,899 in 68. That is a meteoric rise. The American people’s opinion on the draft began to change. And if full disclosure, my uncle was among the casualties in January 1968.
Averill: So the American people’s opinion really started to change about the draft. For one thing, the old way of administering the draft wasn’t working so well anymore. The drafts were administered by local draft boards, which had quotas. This worked well when there was a relatively low demand for soldiers and a huge pool of potential draftees. Lewis Hershey, director of the Secret Service, created a system in which this surplus of men was siphoned off by creating categories of men who could receive deferments based on their service in certain careers or their placement in college or graduate school. But since there was such acceptance, even eagerness, to serve in the military, it kind of evened out. However, as the war in Vietnam heated up, casualty rates mounted, and the war became more controversial, more men started to use the deferment system to escape the draft. Of course, that in and of itself caused a problem: who was able to access colleges or graduate schools, or able to use friends in high places to ensure they could get those “critical” jobs, to stay home to avoid the draft? The white, and the wealthy. The draft in Vietnam disproportionately targeted the poor, uneducated, and men of color.
Sarah: 1968 was a critical year for Americans. In January, the North Vietnamese launched a campaign known as the Tet Offensive, a series of attacks against the Americans and S. Vietnamese. The Offensive shocked the Americans, who had assumed, in no small part because of racism, that the N. Vietnamese would be weak and ineffective fighters, and quickly inflicted huge casualties. I think I mentioned before that the casualty rate in 1968 is higher than in any other year of the war, by thousands of men. It’s a turbulent year at home as well: within the course of that year there is the assassination of MLK, RFK, there race riots in the wake of the King assassination, the riots at the DNC, and a presidential election. But most important to our story is the growing anti-war movement in the US in 1968, horrified by the casualty rates and terrified of being drafted and forced to fight.
Averill: You’re all probably familiar with the anti-war movement in the 1960s. Here in Buffalo, specifically at the University at Buffalo, the anti-war activism was largely directed by the same organization that was leading the movement at colleges: Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. SDS had been founded in 1960 at the University of Michigan, and was dedicated to creating a more open and free American society. A major part of SDS’s founding statement, called the Port Huron Statement, was a critique of militarism and what was being called the military-industrial complex. But in 1960, there was no war – by 1968…
Sarah: Right in 1960 this was all sort of theoretical. This is the utopia we would like to see…
Averill: So by 1968, SDS had become far more focused on the specific problem of the war in Vietnam. As a result, membership in the SDS boomed, and chapters were present on campuses around the country. At UB, the chapter of SDS rallied around the military research funding that the University used, and pressured the faculty to take a more radical and active position against the conservative administration and the war. In April, the faculty senate voted for a resolution that said, among other things, “That all necessary action programs be instituted immediately to relieve the stress and indignation existent among the deprived people of this nation and thereby, hopefully, avoid further violent domestic confrontation.” SDS wanted, however, to get their anti-war protesting out into the community and not limited to campus – they also wanted to escalate the protest and take an action that would bring attention to the anti-war movement.
Sarah: They were getting frustrated with what they saw as all talk and not action. In August of 1968, SDS and another organization called YAWF (Youth Against War & Fascism) decided to make a bigger statement. On August 7, Bruce Beyer publicly refused to be drafted and instead, declared that he was taking sanctuary in the Unitarian Universalist church on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Together with a group of other students, the band named themselves the Buffalo Draft Resistance Union (BDRU) and took refuge inside the church. Outside the church, it was sort of a party – young people laid on the grass in the sun, listening to Judy Collins singing protest songs. Maybe using some illicit substances- they were smoking some weed. The protesters, though, immediately brought down the ire of local residents who supported the war – one resident told the Rev. j. D. Wright, who was the assistant minister of the church, that if he didn’t stop helping draft dodgers, his church would be burned down. In return, the protesters themselves used pretty aggressive language – saying, for instance, that if police tried to get into the building they would have to do it over their dead bodies. They also, at one point at least, tried to bring weapons into the church with them, but they were convinced not to. And the police did come – along with the FBI. On August 19, dozens of FBI, Buffalo PD, and federal marshals raided the church, using their nightsticks to clear protesters. In all, nine members of the BDRU were arrested for resisting arrest and draft evasion, and were labeled “The Buffalo Nine.”
Averill: This enraged the campus, who felt like they were at war with the rest of the Buffalo community. The campus newspaper, The Spectrum, ran political cartoons depicting Buffalo police officers wearing swastikas, and ferocious editorials criticizing UB president Martin Meyerson for not coming out more strongly on the side of students in denouncing things like racism in the city and military recruiting on campus. Students clashed with police in demonstrations throughout the fall, picketed City Hall shouting “2, 4, 6, 8, we don’t want a fascist state” (oh that’s clever) and taunting Buffalo Police with pig calls. The situation on campus became increasingly volatile. At the center of all of these protests was the call to drop the charges against the Nine. As a side note, Meyerson was so frustrated by the protests that he took a leave of absence from the college, never to return.
Sarah: Yup, he got a new job at the University of Pennsylvania and he never came back.
Averill: They must have been more quiet.
Sarah: Yup. They wore nice collared shirts and salmon pants.
Sarah: they were very buttoned up. I don’t know that to be true, I’m casting aspersions. The book I consulted in writing this, it was focused specifically on public institutions and whether there was something about public institutions that set them apart in this radical political awakening. So I don’t know, maybe there was a big difference between a place like Penn and Buffalo. But I don’t know… The first trial of the Buffalo Nine began in February of 1969. Of course, student picketers marched outside of the US Courthouse. The prosecution tried to argue that the FBI had entered the church unarmed, only to be confronted by Beyer wielding some kind weapon that he tried to use against an FBI agent. But the defense then showed pictures of the FBI well armed. The defense was very in-your-face about their case – the defendants described themselves as “working class” and their actions as “in opposition to the capitalist class,” a kind of attempted destruction of the bourgeoisie. However, Bruce Beyer, the ringleader of the nine, was convicted, and in March 1969, was sentenced to three years in jail. In September, the next trial began, inciting even more protest: 700 students stood outside the courthouse shouting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is Gonna Win” (NLF = National Liberation Front, Communist movement within Vietnam attempting to reunite Vietnam & create Communist regime). That’s really taunting. Again, the trial ended up being almost as much about the legitimacy – or illegitimacy – of the war as it was about the particulars of the case. .
Averill: And as it had in the spring, the second trial led to unrest on campus, fueled by anger from SDS and other groups regarding the University’s involvement with something called Project Themis, a scientific study that was being conducted by several colleges (not just UB) that was funded by the Department of Defense. According to a report from the Committee on Armed Services, in 1970, Themis touched on several research areas: selection, surveillance, navigation, and control; energy and power; information processing systems; technology of military vehicles; materials; environment; medical; behavioral and social sciences. Uh, so very broad, very veiled, but also with potential military importance. When the trial concluded, two of the Nine were acquitted, one had his charges dropped, and two, were convicted. Two, four… that’s only five of them…
Sarah: Yeah, there were two trials, so combined with the trial where Beyer was convicted. This was the rest of them.
Averill: Oh, combined with the anger over Themis, UB was once again something of a powder keg. SDS and YAWF unleashed some of their anger on ROTC offices on campus, burning their files and books in a massive fire. Then they stormed the president’s office. The acting president, whose name was Peter F. Regan, called the FBI, resulting in numerous activists being arrested for various charges.
Sarah: Things only continued to escalate. In February of 1970, students protested the presence of the Buffalo police at a UB basketball game – I’m not sure exactly what the reaction was, but I’m guessing that it was an insinuation that UB students were untrustworthy and dangerous. The students left the game, marched to the president’s office and demanded to talk to the president – he refused, prompting them to throw rocks through his office windows. Suddenly, the police appeared. Students ran toward the student union, trying to find a place of refuge. When they got into the SU, they barricaded themselves in with furniture along with students who had just been wandering through the building – but the officers managed to get in the building and proceed to beat the hiding students with nightsticks, until they either gave up or lost consciousness. But by the time they started to haul their arrests out of the union, they were confronted by a crowd of hundreds of angry students, throwing rocks and debris at them. The police officers fled to the library – Lockwood Library, which is now called Abbott Hall – and hid. More cops showed up, and went to war again with students inside and outside of the student union, using clubs and tear gas to try to clear the students. The clash between students and police was revealing of the cultural disconnect between the students and blue collar Buffalo: bitter police officers muttered racial slurs and used extremely misogynistic language about female protesters.
Averill: Things did not calm down. The next day, a thousand UB students stormed the campus security office, as well as buildings associated with Themis and the ROTC offices. This time, the Buffalo police came with greater force: riot guns, grenade launchers, police dogs. Thankfully, things did not escalate past angry chanting. The intense clash between students and police prompted some to look into who had called the Buffalo police to campus. The Spectrum found a document that proved that acting president Regan, and Ed Doty, the VP for operations, had specifically asked the city to send the police. This did not help the students perception of the administration as their enemy. On March 2, four thousand students marched across campus burning Regan in effigy; um, sympathetic faculty boycotted classes in solidarity. Regan, citing the violence of the students, officially requested that the police come “restore order to the university.” Numerous students that Regan saw as instigators were suspended. Four hundred Buffalo police officers occupied the campus, and it was made clear that they would stay as long as necessary. To make the point even more fine, the Erie County grand jury indicted the leadership of SDS and YAWF for inciting riots. Students reacted by undertaking a kind of siege with police on the night of March 12, complete with a bonfire where they burned the American flag. When they marched to across campus, they smashed windows and tore down fences. As rioting mobs are want to do…Again, the police reacted violently, attacking protesting and non-protesting students and faculty alike, even clubbing news reporters and a national news photographer.
Sarah: And honestly, this just gets crazier. By mid March, $200,000 in property damage had been inflicted to the campus, and 125 students, faculty and police had been hospitalized. The faculty was torn between the young and radical and the older and more conservative. And this book I read on this described one faculty member in particular this way: “the radical historian Michael Frisch” – which just delighted me as both Averill and I have both taken classes with Dr. Frisch, and he’s a really fascinating guy!
Averill: I wonder if this was pre-banjo days?
Sarah: Oh I don’t know, maybe he was doing it with a banjo over his shoulder. Well, Dr. Frisch and another prof suggested that the faculty occupy the president’s office to protest the president’s use of force against students. 45 professors went with Frisch on March 15. And the numbers here are just what is most interesting to me. Four thousands students marched in that parade where they burned Regan in protest. That is a huge proportion of the student population. And UB has an enormous amount of professors but to have 45 professors in one place.
Averill: Presumably mostly tenured…
Sarah: Well that becomes a problem later one, tenured vs nontenured…They sat around a table in the office, where a professor who had been a former member of the French Resistance (!!!) cause this just gets crazier, read aloud selections of literature that captured the moment, and one by one in this really dramatic slow way, are pulled up out of their chairs and pulled out by the police, who arrested them and hauled them off to jail.
Averill: This slowed the student protests down quite a bit – but the real influence was the threat of legal action. The grand jury investigating the incidents ordered the college to turn over class rosters, lecture notes, and course descriptions; and made it clear that anyone who publicly took a stand against the war could be investigated and/or prosecuted.
Sarah: Again, in their syllabuses and in their lecture notes. What they don’t want is professors teaching with a political bent, which is super scary.
Averill: Which sounds so familiar.
Sarah: It rings true today because there are plenty of people afraid that this could happen.
Averill: On May 4 of 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio, 13 students protesting (in a protest that was not unlike those at UB) were gunned down by the Ohio State Guard. Four of those who were shot died, nine were wounded. At UB, students were horrified and also scared. Thousands participated in an imagined funeral march to show their solidarity with the mourning in Ohio.
Sarah: I want to pause you there and say that one of the students who was shot at Kent State, a man named Thomas Grace, was from western New York, survived his wound and moved back, and then went on to go back to UB and get his PhD in our history department. He now teaches at ECC.
Averill: But after that, things began to really fall apart for reasons both internal and external. First, and most important to our story, Bruce Beyer, the ringleader of the BDRU who was sentenced to 3 years in prison, jumped bail and fled to Montreal, spent six months in Canada working on getting access to a fake passport, then finally moved to Sweden, where he was given humanitarian asylum. In 1972, he moved back to Canada, where he spent the next five years trying to avoid the draft and his prison sentence for dodging it. This left the campus organizations, like SDS and YAFW, without strong leadership. Those who remained pushed the envelope and tried the patience of the campus community, such as the Spectrum printing full-page images of couples having sex, alienating the large conservative Jewish population, purposely. Two of the more radical faculty members were denied tenure, and some of the faculty who might have been sympathetic but were also committed to maintaining peace created a kind of coalition with President Regan to maintain calm on campus. Some of the administration officials, such as deans or provosts, also left. While Regan agreed to drop the charges against the 45 arrested faculty members, the radical left community continued to be attacked by the blue collar community. Conservative politicians in the city denounced the student leftists as outside agitators, not “our” own kids. A student organization with a headquarters in Allentown was firebombed, and the police bullied peaceful demonstrators. While Buffalo continues to have a very active and vociferous community of left-leaning political activists, they never quite regained the momentum of 1969 and 1970. And despite the intense protesting in Buffalo, cause Buffalo was going to stop it!!!
Sarah: Well, that may seem silly BUT people who are protesting that they are affecting change. Do they really think that burning the college president in effigy is going to stop the war? No. But they did think they were doing something. And they did, their activism coupled with all of the activism across the country did create change.
Sarah: But Bruce Beyer was determined not to let the United States forget the sin that was this war, even as the rest of the country was ready to move on. In 1977, Beyer walked across the Peace Bridge as an act of radical peace – get this symbolism?
Averill: And the Peace Bridge is in Buffalo.
Sarah: Oh, yeah I’m sorry. The Peace Bridge is the bridge that connects Buffalo to Fort Erie, Canada, Ontario. Beyer, in an interview, highlighted the history of this small stretch of water between the USA and Canada, connected by the Peace Bridge – where loyalists escaping the Revolutionary War and escaping slaves, and refugee draft dodgers and deserters had all fled to the safety of Canada. He saw his walk as a part of that story. He was joined by a former US attorney, who had agreed to represent Beyer, and a former Marine Vietnam veteran and POW, and they were followed by forty more Vietnam veterans in a powerful demonstration of condemnation of the war. The moment he entered the United States, Beyer was arrested by US marshals, taken downtown and put in jail. He expected to be sent to prison to fulfill his sentence. However, it turned out that the judge that had previously convicted him, Judge Kurtan, had undergone a change of heart regarding the war – instead of sending Beyer to prison, he released him on his own recognizance initially, and then ordered to 30 days in prison. He was taken to the prison in Alden, where he refused to eat, he went on a hunger strike. He had some altercations with prison guards, refused to eat, was put in solitary confinement- I don’t know how to say this.. but it seems like it seems that he wanted to make this as visible as possible. He was released only 11 days later. Beyer remained committed to the cause, however, and when the Selective Service Act was renewed under Jimmy Carter, he was arrested again – though he was later released – for demonstrating against the draft.
And the Buffalo Nine still see each other from time to time – most are still in the area, and many are still very active in progressive activism in the city. Beyer left for a time and lived in Massachusetts for a while but then moved back and lives in the Fillmore district in Buffalo.
Averill: This all took place on South campus?
Sarah: Forgive us for some of you who aren’t’ local so you might not have the maps in your head that we do. We’ll link some maps so you can see this. But one footnote to all of this, at the same time that these huge demonstrations with thousands of students are going on, at the same time, the SUNY system and the University of Buffalo are gearing up to build another campus. It’s going to expand the capacity of the campus and it’s also going to be located outside of the city, in a suburb called Amherst. The design, the architectural design of the new campus is altered. When all this is happening, they are still in the design phases of developing the north campus. So it colors how they design the campus. The design is very much unlike most other campuses and universities. There is no central gathering space. There is no quad. Where the buildings are organized around an open park-like area. Instead it has an academic spine that breaks up all the public spaces. There are no large grassy spaces where people could comfortably sit and protest.
Averill: And the grassy spaces that exist are hilly.
Sarah: Right, and they are on the outside of campus. So you’re not, you have no central visible space. The one area of campus which is technically called the promenade, there is an open space in the center of the major academic buildings going from the undergraduate library on one end to the student union on the other but even then the space if very broken up. The buildings are very close together and in the open space there are large planters, so you can’t bring a large mob of people into that space without being squeezed and pushed and broken up. It’s designed so you can’t have protests. And that’s not by accident. That’s how it was designed.
Averill: At least in a circle, you can have someone stand in the middle and reach the crowd while there talking. There is a promenade so you can march up and down.
Sarah: But you can’t have that many people, not thousands of people, because you are impeded by all of these things in the way.
Sarah: It squeezes you, it gets narrow, so you can’t have the kind of demonstrations that you had on the older campus.
Averill: And it would be kind of scary because there’s that one main drive that leads right up into this promenade where police could take their military vehicles right up onto it.
Sarah: Right, and again, all of this was on purpose. The other really important part of this, what is the old campus, people protested or did sit ins and occupied the president’s office, or threw rocks through the window. So what did they do on the new campus? They build the president’s office like it’s built into a bunker. It’s built into the Capen library on the fifth floor and it’s only accessible by one elevator. And then, you can’t just decide you want to go to the presidents… it’s not labeled, there’s no signage… it’s not a welcoming space. I don’t know about you but where I went to college, the president’s office was right inside the building, the door was always open, you saw her, the president of the college was all over the place… well of course my college was tiny so it may not be a good example, but the office was very visible.
Averill: At UBM you could see the president’s house…
Sarah: So UB, when they go to the new campus they take the president’s office out of the mix. It’s so amazing to me.
Averill: It’s very reactionary…
Sarah: It’s reactionary but in a very permanent sense. Because once they do that, there has never been an effort to move him out of there. He could move somewhere else, but it’s never moved. And so the effect of this is it has become much more difficult to have the mass protests that they had in the 1960s. And even, I’ve never seen any kind of demonstrations or protests that were more than 100 or 200 people. It’s not a political campus anymore.
Averill: And I’ve been talking to people who went to UB in the 70s 1980s and 1990s, and apparently the history department, which Dr. Frisch used to be a part of, the department used to be in the Ellicott complex, which very removed from the rest of the [new] campus. And the buildings, they say it’s not build as, but it is built as an anti-riot building because the hallways are always turning. You could not organize in those hallways. I wonder if they purposefully put the history department in the Ellicott complex because of that…
Sarah: Tried to section off unruly departments…
Averill: Wouldn’t that be funny to discover.
Sarah: And that is interesting because the new campus is almost all the humanities. The old campus is like the dental school and the medical school…
Averill: I’m surprised that the law students aren’t there too.
Sarah: The style of architecture on the new campus is called Brutalism.
Averill: Yeah, that feels right.
Sarah: And especially learning this, there’s, there’s something there. They are really trying, I don’t think our current president is…
Averill: Crush their spirits!!!
Sarah: Yeah, I don’t think he’s evilly petting a cat but I think that there was a subconscious level of thought that “they will understand our authority.”
Averill: It looks like a sad office complex. Like an office park. There’s no green spaces to speak of. I mean they do their best with the landscaping but…
Sarah: But it’s hard because of the way that it’s built. It can be hard as a graduate student, where as an undergrad you spent your time at the beautiful campuses where you’re drawn to as an undergrad, and you get to UB and you’re like, “uh, Jesus.” It’s brutal. Get it?
Sarah: And thank you to the listener who requested this episode.
Averill: So if you’re a listener and have an idea send it to us on social media.