A Decade of Dissent: Student Protests at the University of Michigan in the 1960s

Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC)

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) has had a presence on University of Michigan's campus since 1916, when the university accepted a War Department proposal that an ROTC be established at all universities. During the 1960's, the ROTC became a target of student protests for reasons similar to the objections to war research done by universities. As one SDS publication succinctly states, "By its maintenance of war research and war recruiting as well as ROTC, the university actively supports large-scale murder in defense of economic exploitation."1

Beginning in 1967, students at universities and colleges across the United States mounted campaigns against ROTC. This lead to several universities making ROTC participation voluntary; other schools chose to deny academic credit for ROTC classwork. Both of these changes hurt ROTC enrollment.


Students protesting outside of North Hall, home of
the ROTC. From News and Information Services,
Box E-5.

The University of Michigan had already begun a faculty review committee of the university's relationship with ROTC in the spring of 1969. In September 1969, anti-ROTC protestors at University of Michigan occupied North Hall, hoping to draw the attention of the authorities. President Robben Fleming's request that the police leave the back door unlocked and unguarded (so as not to provoke a confrontation) was honored, and the protestors left in the night. Their actions proved ineffectual, as the Regents did not change the university's long-standing arrangement with the military.

In December 1969, the review committee presented its findings to the Board of Regents. Despite earlier inclinations to recommend restrictions that would effectively hobble the ROTC and force the Defense Department to withdraw altogether, the ultimate recommendations were quite close to those made in the Benson Report, an October 1969 document produced by a Defense Department committee. (This committee was convened to investigate ways of making ROTC more attractive to students.) The University of Michigan's committee proposed that 1) ROTC no longer hold departmental status, 2) ROTC personnel no longer hold academic titles, 3) the university stop its annual subsidy for the program, and that 4) a committee be formed to oversee ROTC to improve the quality of instructors and course offerings.

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1.Bachmann, Bill. "ROTC: Why it must end." Up Against the Wall Street Journal, Ann Arbor: 1970.