Re: Student deferments (multiple responses)

Tom Condit (tomcondit@IGC.APC.ORG)
Sun, 2 Mar 1997 17:14:22 -0800 (PST)

Patrick Julian comments on the abolition of automatic student deferments in
January of 1966. At that time, the government instituted a policy of
granting student deferments based on class ranking and scores on tests to be
directed by the Selective Service administration. There were several
interesting byproducts of this:

First, SDS conducted the first successful coordianted national antiwar
action in response to the SS tests. Someone can fill us in the date here (I
think it was April or May of 1966). The tests were administered at campuses
all over the country on the same day. In response, SDS organized the
distribution on those campuses of a "test" on the war in Vietnam, in the
form of a short well-written question-and-answer leaflets on U.S. policy and
its consequences. A WATS line was rented for a month at the SDS office in
Chicago to coordinate setting this up, and over 100,000 leaflets were
distributed on the test day. The whole thing was a dramatic success, and a
striking example of "political pedagogy".

Second, there mass protests at many campuses against release of class
rankings to the Selective Service. At the University of Chicago, for
instance, students occupied the campus administration building for several
days. (I was one of the non-student volunteers who set up a commissary in
the building, since it was apparent that many of America's intellectual
elite would starve to death left to their own devices.) The campus police
occupied the top floor of the building throughout, protecting the university
centrex phone system. I know this happened other place.

Third, many instructors got very lax, to put it mildly, in their grading
policies. Eric Mann was fired from Brooklyn College for telling his freshman
English class that everyone would get an "A" who did all the work, and
everyone would be flunked who didn't do it. (He saw this not merely as an
antiwar protest, but as a necessary instructional method to break students
from "writing for the grade" instead of actually engaging the act of writing
itself. He wrote at the time that the central problem of college writing
instructors was to break students out of merely repeating the practices
which had gotten them good grades in high school.)

There was also a considerable degree of discriminatory treatment of woman
students as a byproduct of this. Many instructors felt that since good
grades were literally a matter of life-and-death for male students, women
should accept being moved into the lower ranks as a matter of political

Tom Condit