Mary Ann Wynkoop. Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. xi + 214 pp. $14.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-253-21557-4; $49.95 (library), ISBN 978-0-253-34118-1.
Reviewed by Anthony O. Edmonds (Department of History, Ball State University)
Published on H-Indiana (March, 2003)
In this admirable if somewhat flawed monograph, Mary Ann Wynkoop (History, University of Missouri-Kansas City) helps fill a major gap in the ever-burgeoning field of Sixties studies. While there are hundreds of memoirs, general works on the decade, and more focused analyses of specific areas like civil rights, the antiwar movement, and the women's movement, among others, there has been little scholarly exploration of dissent (or lack thereof) at individual institutions of higher education. In her bibliography, Wynkoop rightly cites works by Beth Bailey on the University of Kansas and Tom Bates on the University of Wisconsin (although Bailey focuses on the 1950s and Bates's journalistic account centers around one small radical group in the early 1970s.) She wisely includes Kenneth Heineman's seminal examination of the anti-Vietnam War movement at Michigan State, Penn State, Kent State, and SUNY Buffalo. (Unaccountably, however, she ignores W. J. Rorabaugh's Berkeley at War; William J. Billingsley's Communists on Campus; and The Vietnam War on Campus, edited by Marc Jason Gilbert.)
Omissions aside, Dissent in the Heartland, which began as Wynkoop's doctoral dissertation at Indiana University, is important because it is the first in-depth scholarly analysis of the decade of the 1960s focusing on one midwestern university. The author combines chronological and topical approaches. The first two chapters--"The Dawn of Dissent, 1960-65" and "The Awakening of Dissent, 1965-1967"--provide necessary background to the major topical chapters covering the anti-Vietnam War movement (properly two chapters); the civil rights movement; the woman's movement; and the counterculture in Bloomington. Wynkoop ends with an epilogue, carrying the story into the 1970s, and then a brief conclusion.
The author's overarching thesis is that "the social, political, and cultural movements of the 1960s were not just products of East and West Coast elites" (p. 188). There was indeed dissent in the heart of the country. However, Wynkoop argues, that dissent was never dominant or even very widespread at IU. Indeed, the majority of the Hoosier institution's students never became actively involved in any of the great movements of the decades. She also argues convincingly that the vast majority of those few who did become activists were peaceful, generally respectful, and mainly argued for change within the system. No one died in demonstrations at IU; very few were injured in the scattered episodes of police-student confrontation; the small minority who were arrested were quickly released or found innocent. Perhaps the most newsworthy "action" at the university in the 1960s came in the fall of 1969 when former IU student Jim Retherford threw a cream pie in Clark Kerr's face while the noted California educator was giving a lecture.
Of course, there were hundreds of IU students who did become passionately involved in the great issues of the day, especially stopping the war and expanding rights and roles of African-Americans and women. But even among these activists, local concerns often trumped national ones. As Wynkoop points out, one of the major successes of dissenters in the 1960s was the movement to end women's dorm hours on campus. Moreover, one of the largest demonstrations on campus occurred in the spring of 1969, not over the war or civil rights but to protest a tuition increase, the result of education cuts by the state legislature.
Certainly, university administrators were aware that excessive publicity about activism at IU could affect the generally conservative state legislature. As Wynkoop points out, President Herman B. Wells had astutely defended academic freedom and placated the legislature during his tenure in office. Later administrators, especially Elvis Stahr and Joseph Sutton, were less tolerant of dissent, in part because they deeply feared legislators' wrath. (In fact, in March 1968 Dean of Faculty Sutton, axe in hand, actually stormed the campus office of The Spectator, IU's underground newspaper, and "offered to 'help' staffers to move" off campus (p. 158)!)
Wynkoop convincingly highlights a central irony when she discusses the attitudes of local citizens toward the campus. Save for a few lawyers and ministers, most Bloomingtonians saw the university as a haven for hippies and un-American radicals. Like many conservatives, they tended to generalize from the aberrations, egged on by a local press that always seemed to highlight the weird. Compared to Berkeley and Madison, the citizens of Bloomington were confronted by pussy cats.
There is much that is good in Dissent in the Heartland. Thirty personal interviews form the heart of her extensive sources, along with several archival collections and local and state newspapers. Most impressive is her use of FBI files, which show widespread government concern about and infiltration of the small radical movement in Bloomington. (She might have done some digging into the Governor Edgar Whitcomb Papers as well. In them is a fascinating file on "Student Unrest," containing a number of secret reports by an undercover state policeman.) Moreover, her main thesis is well argued and documented. And the anecdotes are illuminating and enjoyable.
Nonetheless, there are some problems, most of them minor. In portraying Senator Vance Hartke as an opponent of the war in 1966, she should have noted that at Ball State only a year before he was defending American policy. She also errs in her claim that fighting in Vietnam usually ceased during the Tet celebrations. In fact, the communists often used the time to attack, although never to the extent they did in 1968. The building blown up at the University of Wisconsin in 1970 was a math building, not a physics one, and the young man killed in the blast was a post-doc, not a graduate student. She is also off base when she implies that it was not until 1969-70 that antiwar activists began to experience a public backlash. Polls show conclusively that from the beginning opponents of the war were roundly despised by the majority of Americans.
Indeed, one of Wyncoop's central interpretative errors is to grant far too much power to the antiwar movement nationally. When she says that "from 1967 to 1969 ... the antiwar movement ... began to turn the nation against American policy in Southeast Asia" (p. 49), she ignores the compelling argument that an array of factors was at work here, the antiwar movement--certainly the campus protest component of that movement--probably least among them. Here Wynkoop's tendency to be on the side of the dissenters might get the best of her, as she borders on reductionism.
Problems aside, this is an important contribution to our understanding of the 1960s. One hopes that Wynkoop's pioneering work encourages more historians to study other non-elite institutions of higher education during this turbulent period.
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Anthony O. Edmonds. Review of Wynkoop, Mary Ann, Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University.
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