In 1968, a very different kind of student uprising at GCC

Fifty years ago, while students at other colleges and universities were demonstrating and sometimes shutting their schools down in protest, Grove City College experienced a very different kind of student uprising.

In May 1968, the Carpenters’ Union attempted to organize the school’s maintenance, custodians and kitchen workers and declared a strike. They set up picket lines at campus entry points to disrupt operations. Less than half of the College’s employees observed the strike, but others weren’t willing to cross the picket lines, leaving Grove City College short-staffed as the annual Parents’ Day approached.

In response, then-President Stanley J. Harker ’25 reported, “students rose up in mass support of their alma mater. The Union organizers had circularized our entire student body, urging them to riot and demonstrate against the administration. They demonstrated, but it was solidly against the union.”

Students volunteered to do the jobs of those who wouldn’t cross the picket line, cutting grass, cooking and washing dishes, doing laundry and cleaning dorms. Fraternities, according to Harker’s account, offered to serve as muscle to counter the pickets and “professional labor goons” who threatened those who crossed the line.

“The chief union organizer was the old goon type … threatening to beat up everyone, but he found 2,000 young Americans hard to bluff,” Harker said.

The story made national headlines in a year when campus protests and rioting students were the norm. One wire service report highlighted the success of the student counterstrike: “When thousands of parents arrived on campus for Annual Parents’ Day, they found reasonably well maintained buildings and surroundings thanks to the ingenuity and well-intentioned support of their children.”

After a week of facing off against students they described as “fanatics,” the labor organizers gave up the effort.

Then-Dean of Students Frederick S. Kring referred to the incident as “Seven Days that Shook the Campus” in a tongue-in-cheek memo to campus that included some humorous details, including: “students take over dormitory custodial jobs, invite pickets to see a clean dorm”; “Sennholz free-enterprise lectures become ‘free enterprise in operation’”; and “President packs his pistol at main gate – no casualties.”

Harker said later: “As I look back on the struggle, it was a lot of fun, but it was no fun while it raged. However, of this I am certain: if a college treats its students as partners in a great educational adventure, no Reds or Parlor Pinks are going to take it over.”

Kring echoed that thought in his memo. His summation speaks to the spirit of community that has always been a hallmark of Grove City College: “When your problems and my problems become ‘our problems,’ together we can achieve great things. Over the years I shall cherish this week as perhaps ‘our finest hour.’”

In 1968, a very different kind of student uprising at GCC

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