A Decade of Dissent: Student Protests at the University of Michigan in the 1960s
During the Vietnam War, the Selective Service Office of the United States requested that colleges and universities rank their male students to determine their eligibility for the draft. This was a system used during the Korean War, and participation was not mandatory. In fact, a formal request was not made until March 1966. Women’s grades were not considered in the ranking process.
All freshmen were automatically classified as “1-A” until the completion of their first year of study. After that time, those students in the lower half of their class retained the 1-A ranking, while those in the upper half were reclassified as 2-S, and therefore received student deferments from the draft. Additionally the lower third of the sophomore men and the lower quarter of the junior men retained the 1-A status.
In October 15, 1965, a group including many University of Michigan students staged a sit-in at the Selective Service office in Ann Arbor. The protestors were arrested, charged with trespassing, and subsequently convicted. Although they were given 15-20 day jail sentences and fines, the university re-classified 14 of the students as 1-A in apparent retaliation for the sit-in. While many appealed their sentences, one student, Bill Ayers, served his time and wrote an account of his tenure in jail, which was published in two installments on January 7 and 9, 1968 in the Michigan Daily.
A group of teaching fellows from the Department of Economics issued a statement opposing the student rankings, citing the inflation of the importance of grades and the discrepancies in grading practices between professors and departments as two of the many reasons why grades were an inappropriate measure of a student's eligibility for the draft. These fellows proposed that no grades be submitted for male students until the university ceased the rankings so that their grades would not be used for these purposes.
Read Ayer's account in the Michigan Daily: