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Bowling Green Perspective

The 1960s proved to be an exciting and occasionally dangerous time to be on a university campus. The decade is frequently remembered for student protests at the nation’s leading universities on the east and west coasts. Perhaps surprisingly, the decade of the 1960s was bookended by student protests on Bowling Green State University’s campus nestled in the country's heartland. In 1961, students upset over the strict rules and in loco parentis (in place of a parent) style of administration, demanded the right of free speech and successfully forced university president Ralph McDonald to resign. This was the first large student protest of the decade. This protest significantly altered the trajectory of the university by setting it on a more democratic course, beginning with the selection of William T. Jerome as the next presidentof the university. Throughout the decade, students increasingly gained a voice as the university more than doubled in size and added undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Overall, it could be argued that the 1960s began and ended with the protests on the BGSU campus.

In the spring of 1970, just months after Woodstock’s festival of peace and love ended, tensions were high at BGSU over the Black Student Union’s demands for greater student and faculty representation on campus. It was during this period of uncertainty that the shootings at Kent State University electrified the atmosphere of the BGSU campus, nearly igniting a violent altercation. Despite having the ingredients for a violent confrontation, BGSU President William T. Jerome successfully averted violent conflict through his democratic leadership style and willingness to listen to student concerns. Jerome’s democratic administrative style is demonstrated by the excerpts from the BG News [Figure 1, Figure 2] and the letters sent to his office. Students, parents, and community members all offered their support even if they disagreed with his policies. Throughout the conflict, Jerome sought the input of the BGSU community and acted with their concerns in mind. 

This exhibit contains numerous primary source materials from the Jerome Library regarding the May 1970 protests. These flyers, newspapers, and letters demonstrate the interconnected nature of the different student protests of the decade as demonstrated by the front cover of the BG News [Figure 3]. At times, the goals of these different movements overlapped and created the appearance of a united front. At other times, it was obvious that the different groups were talking past one another.