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Memories of SSU

Hector Lee

Professor, 1961 – 1974

(Excerpted from an interview with Daniel Markwyn, August 2, 1988)

            We went through the student rebellions of the 1960s when student violence was taking place at San Francisco State. When things were at their worst in San Francisco the Dean of Students sent an observer over to report to us every day as to what was happening. He reported on one occasion that there was a TV truck, a TV reporter and cameras on campus and nothing was happening. There were several students hanging around. The TV reporter got the cameras ready, and then picked up a rock and said, “If you throw this rock through a window, I’ll take your picture.” This emphasizes how important the media is in promoting violence.

            We were fortunate for two reasons. One, we did not have the TV coverage that would make it news. On one occasion, reporters came up from San Francisco to film a demonstration at Sonoma State, and there were only about 20 students marching around, and whenever they came in view of the camera the students looked the other way. It wasn’t news, so there was not that stimulation for violence. Number two, and I give Amby (Ambrose Nichols) credit for this policy, we did not give them anything to resist.  If they wanted to scribble dirty words on the fence, nobody paid any attention. There was really nothing here for the students to rebel against. They wanted some of the well known speakers. Our students said they wanted Mario Savio.  He was a controversial figure, and I think some of the administrators would have said “No, he’s taboo.” But, through Amby’s policy, and working with the students, we said, “Okay, bring Mario Savio.” He made his speech. We listened. It was a damn good speech. All of us in the administration said, “He’s not so bad,” and the students were satisfied.

            Then there was George Lincoln Rockwell’s visit during the spring semester, 1967. While Amby was away, I was in charge and a decision had to be made. Things were happening from minute to minute, deciding whether A) to let him speak at all, or B) to let him speak from one of the balconies. At the last minute, we got word that some Jewish holocaust survivors from Petaluma had threatened to shoot him. We had an alternative plan to hold it in the field. It was raining so we knew that not many people were going to be there. We had it roped off so there was a distance between the audience and his wagon. He had a truck with a canopy. I was worried from minute to minute as to what would happen. He had his armed guard, and we had given them a room downstairs in administration where they stayed so they wouldn’t be visible to the students until the time came. We had a kind of war headquarters with people running back and forth from him to us arbitrating and carrying messages. We said, “Your men can be with you in uniform as bodyguards, but don’t let them carry weapons.” He agreed to that. The bodyguards were there, loudspeakers were set up, and he was making his speech. About 40 or 50 people showed up. He made a very vituperative speech as was his custom, and we listened to it. Then, to heighten the suspense, a small, one motored airplane came down from Santa Rosa and right over this exhibit. People were saying, “My God, they’re gonna bomb him!” The airplane passed, but then it swerved around and came back, and went over us again. Then, it went back up north and disappeared. We learned later that it was just some amateur flier. He saw the crowd and just wanted to see what was going on. But, we couldn’t take any chances, and we were scared because it could have been very easily a bomb. During the following summer, Rockwell was assassinated.

            The point I’m making is that the administration at Sonoma State did not set up positions of resistance. We found it wiser. Everybody was better off as a result. Pretty soon the students stopped using dirty words in class because nobody made a fuss about it.