A protest at Northwestern in May, 1970 Credit: Chicago Sun-Times

Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.

In the winter of 1972, less than two years after the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State when law enforcement officers fired at and killed student protesters, the Reader‘s Richard Valelly, then a college student himself, decided to check in on the state of the student movement at Chicago-area college campuses.

By the standards of many professional journalists, it was a pretty desultory report. Valelly only checked up on Northwestern, the U of C, and UIC (then known as Chicago Circle) by chatting on the phone with one or two student leaders at each school. He had no hard numbers to back up any of his claims, only anecdotes from a few admittedly biased sources, all of whom appeared to be straight white men. But his conclusion was definite: “The climax came with the murders at Kent State and Jackson State, paralyzing all of us and, since then … well, maybe it’s fatigue, maybe it’s apathy. But the student movement isn’t the same, and never can be again.”

The most entertaining account by far is that of Ed Sunden, a member of the student government at Chicago Circle, who dismissed the members of the Student Mobilization Committee as “a bunch of asshole Marxists who do nothing but rip off the students.”

There was some activity on campus, most notably a voter registration drive that got 4,500 students on the voting rolls and Gay Liberation, which Sunden said was the best-organized activist movement, but he was much more enthusiastic about the price of Coke at the Food Co-op and the activities of the Occult Phenomena Student Research, of which he was the director. Valelly asked him about it:

He replied that it did research. I asked about the research, and apparently it studies such things as “biological time-clocks.” I asked what a “biological time-clock” was, and it turns out that it is “what makes a potato know when to grow and what makes a woman have her period.” OPSR also studies mystical modes of travel. (Sunden mentioned the name of a certain kind of mystical travel, and I asked him to spell it. He wasn’t too sure of the spelling, but thought that it might be “eckanker.”) It also studies grey magic, and Abraxian magic, which deals with the “influx and outflux of electromagnetic waves from human bodies.”

(This may have been connected to Sunden’s concerns about the brutalist campus architecture: “This isn’t really Circle Campus, this is Citadel Campus. The buildings here are designed to drive you slowly insane, with the plastic shit they use, the sound absorbent tile on the ceilings.”)

The student leaders at Northwestern and U of C were more measured in their statements, which made them far less entertaining. Gay Liberation groups were active on both campuses.

Toward the end of the last academic quarter [at U of C], there was an incident in which four members of Gay Lib broke into a dinner at the Quad Club which was being held in honor of Thomas Foran, prosecuting attorney of the Chicago Seven Trial, and who, after the trial said, “Our kids are being lost to a freaking fag revolution.” Apparently, the people from Gay Lib shouted “Foran is a fag beater!” whereupon they were dragged out of the Club by members of the police force.

U of C students were also into fighting pollution and encouraging recycling.

Strangely enough, the largest public outcry at Northwestern was over the firing of the director of campus security. The director of public safety had asked the staff to stop carrying guns. “The security director had been in favor of carrying guns, and in effect rebelled along with his staff when he was told to stop carrying guns. He had apparently been well-liked and had been on campus for some years.”

But mostly, Valelly concluded, everybody was more interested in studying now than in changing the world.