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Campus activism: Then and now

Madeline Buckley | Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Notre Dame 10 and exploring the history of student activism on campus.

The number 10 had a special ring to it in November of 1969.

On Nov. 18, 1969, 10 students were suspended for a protest related to the Vietnam War, and the group was quickly dubbed the “Notre Dame 10” as they fought their suspension — an issue that generated national media attention at the time.

For Mark Mahoney, one of the suspended students, that number 10 has influenced him for a lifetime.

On the 40th anniversary of the protest and suspension, Mahoney, class of 1971, is returning to Notre Dame Wednesday with other members of the Notre Dame 10 to explore campus activism now and then with a panel discussion, a dinner and a Mass presided by University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh and Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy.

“We are not returning to campus because of nostalgia. There’s nothing to be nostalgic about during this period,” he said. “There were horrific things being done and we were anguishing over that.”

About 1 p.m. on that Tuesday afternoon, Mahoney said about 100 students gathered in the Main Building to protest on-campus recruitment efforts by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and The Dow Chemical Co. The students involved in the demonstration, known as the Dow-CIA protest, objected to Dow’s production of napalm, a chemical used by the military in the Vietnam War, often on civilians.

The students rallied under the Dome, blocking Dow and CIA recruiters from entering or leaving the building.

“We were staging a sit in, and at the time, that form of protest well known in the anti-war movement and the Civil Rights movement,” Mahoney said.

But months earlier, Hesburgh, then-University president, had enacted the 15-minute rule to address the rising number of campus protests. The rule stated that demonstrators were allowed 15 minutes to protest. If they did not stop in that period, the students would face consequences.

“Anyone or any group that substitutes force for rational persuasion, be it violent or non-violent, will be given 15 minutes of meditation to cease and desist,” Hesburgh wrote in a letter to Notre Dame faculty and students dated Feb. 17, 1969.

“If they do not within that time period cease and desist, they will be asked for their identity card,” the letter said.

The Notre Dame 10 was the first and only group of students punished through the 15-minute rule.

Fr. James Riehle, dean of students at the time, took the identification cards of 10 students after the 15 minutes had passed.

Mahoney said the students banded together that night and eventually appealed their suspensions. Originally, five students were expelled and five were suspended.

Riehle downgraded the expulsion of the five students to a suspension, but did not remove the suspension of the 10 students, Mahoney said.

“The proceedings were very court-like and the procedures and rules of evidence and thing were quite technical,” Mahoney said. “But the technicality of that wasn’t our concern. It was that the issues we were raising were moral issues, not legal issues.”

John Eckenrode was one of the 10 suspended that day along with Mahoney, and he graduated a semester late because of the suspension. But he said he does not regret his involvement in the demonstration.

“I was aware that the 15 minute rule could be evoked. I made a decision that it was a time to take a stand on this issue aware there might be some consequences involved,” Eckenrode said.

Eckenrode will return to campus Wednesday for the 40th anniversary of the protest, along with Mahoney.

“I think it’s important for us as a university to commemorate what has really been a long and interesting history of social activism at Notre Dame,” Eckenrode said. “For me, this is keeping alive a part of Notre Dame history.”

Mahoney said it is important to him to keep the dialogue alive.

“So many students at Notre Dame are socially conscious and concerned with issues of morality, institutions and life and death issues,” he said. “We need to continually question what the role is of a Catholic university is in times of war.”

When visiting campus on Wednesday, Eckenrode said he hopes to learn about activism on campus now.

“As an alum, I what to know what the issues of concern are for students,” he said. “I want to see what is the same and what has changed from 40 years ago.”

The second installment of this series will look back on the events of 40 years ago and examine possibilities for the future of student activism. It will run in Wednesday’s edition.