1960  SLATE pickets in protest of mandatory ROTC on campus  
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The Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of California 

 

ROTC is an Army program that serves to recruit young men and women into its officer corps.  When I entered UC Berkeley in the Fall of 1958, ROTC classes for men, in their freshman and sophomore years. 

 

Student opposition to mandatory ROTC

 

Polls and referendums of the student body during the decades of the forties and fifties  showed that a clear majority of students were opposed to mandatory ROTC, but the university Regents ignored student opinion and consistently reaffirmed their commitment to the requirement.  

In 1956 a "Voluntary ROTC Committee" took the issue to the Associate Students of the University of California (ASUC) Executive Committee (Ex Com), asking for a resolution of support.  Ex Com turned down the request.  The lack of support for voluntary ROTC by the"official" student organization became a major factor leading to the 1958 formation of SLATE, the independent, left-wing student "political party" at UC Berkeley.

 

In reaction to an administration ban of on-campus distribution of their leaflets, the Voluntary ROTC Committee passed out leaflets off-campus on December 10, 1956.  The leaflets asked students to participate in a referendum on ROTC.  The anti-compulsory referendum passed by a 70% vote. 

 

The Regents pass the buck to the faculty, "for study"

 

The administration, carrying out the wishes of the Regents, responded to the referendum by referring it to the faculty Committee on Educational Policy, which spent more than a year considering the issue, The Committee report condemned compulsory ROTC as "wasteful and inequitable." 

 

At the same time, the U.S. Defense Department published a report that concluded that compulsory ROTC was costing more than it was worth and that a voluntary program more than met the needs of national defense. 

The Fred Moore protest

 

While the Regents referred, and the academics studied, student resistance mounted.   On Monday, October 19, 1959, entering Freshman Fred Moore began a two-day, two-night fast on the steps of Sproul Hall after the administration rejected his petition for a conscientious objector exemption from ROTC.  Moore's fast, and his Air Force Colonel father's support, garnered national news coverage .  Four days after Moore sat down on the steps of the Administration Building,  U.C. President Clark Kerr appointed another faculty committee to study a possible change in the ROTC program, and Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown came out against compulsory ROTC.

The anti-ROTC demonstration and the Jim Creighton grading case

 

As a response to the university administration's delaying tactics on the ROTC issue, SLATE decided to conduct a picket line across from the ROTC training field.  As a consequence of picketing in uniform, Jim Creighton, chairman of the SLATE committee on ROTC, received a final "F" grade in ROTC.  The faculty's  Academic Senate took up Creighton's petition to have his original "B" grade reinstated, but the motion was defeated.  

The end to mandatory ROTC at UC  

 

By the summer of 1961, all the nation's armed forces had come to an agreement that the nation"s universities could independently choose between voluntary and compulsory ROTC.  The ASUC Ex Com had by this time come around to supporting voluntary ROTC, and in 1961 and 1962 voted to request that the Regents adopt such a program.  In 1961, UC President Clark Kerr recommended abolishing lower division ROTC in favor of a voluntary upper division program. 

 

In 1962 the Regents finally surrendered and voted to end compulsory ROTC, beginning with the 1962 fall semester.  In the fall of 1962, the head of the Military Science Program at UC Berkeley stated that ROTC enrollment had declined by 90%. 

July, 1960.  Students in their ROTC uniforms picket in favor of voluntary ROTC.  I took two years of ROTC training as a freshman and sophomore.  I learned to tear down, assemble and oil an M-1 rifle.

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ROTC (referred to as "Military Science" by the administration) was boring and it was irritating to have to care for and occasionally wear a proper military uniform.  However, ROTC was treated as an elective and was an easy "A" grade for each of the four semesters I took it.

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We learned a little military history and had to write a paper on a famous battle. 

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The 1962 abolition of mandatory ROTC training came too late for me and my class of 1963.  This victory was the first credible accomplishment of SLATE and help establish it's effectiveness in organizing student activism.

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Being in ROTC for two years failed to remind me that I had forgotten to register for the draft at 18.  The Berkeley Draft Board sent me a letter in 1963 and I registered, at the age of 22.  I was called up later that year and flunked the physical exam.