Kent State and Plymouth State: A Memoir

October, 2004

by Steve Eastman ’71

Steve Eastman ’71 (left) and Steve Gesing ’73 today, in the new auditorium, pose with a remnant of old Boyd Hall. Photo by Alan MacRae.

Steve Eastman ’71 (left) and Steve Gesing ’73 today, in the new auditorium, pose with a remnant of old Boyd Hall. Photo by Alan MacRae.

I had been elected president of the Plymouth State Student Senate the last week of April 1970 and was preparing to run my first student government meeting on Tuesday, May 4, when a group of my schoolmates told me that students at Kent State University had been shot by the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam War protest and that we had to do something.

By the time I arrived at the Boyd Hall auditorium, our usual weekly meeting place, it was standing room only and more people were out in the hallway. That’s when I made my first executive decision as president: “We need a bigger room.”

I called the campus police and told them to open the gym for a Student Senate meeting. Campus cop Mike “I’ll-throw-the-book-at-cha” Landroche asked under whose authority this was to be done, and I told him, “Mine. And we’re on our way.”

With a couple of hundred students marching down across the Pemi bridge, he agreed to open the gym for the meeting.

Some felt that the Student Senate should put forward a resolution that would address the interests of the students in a constructive manner and satisfy the outcry of many that something had to be done in response to the Kent State killings. But the end result of that night’s senate meeting was to call for a meeting of the entire student body the following night and to let democracy rule.

The Tuesday meeting was my first night on the job and Wednesday’s meeting was going to be intense. I was scared stiff of what might follow if I lost control of the floor debate. These were emotional and very volatile times. Campus buildings were burning across the country, but not at Plymouth, and that’s the way I thought it should stay.

At the time, the president of the Student Senate served in a dual capacity as chairman of the senate and also as student body president. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, which the Student Senate followed, the chairman of a meeting was not allowed to express opinions without giving up the position of moderator. If I was going to try to keep a lid on things, I needed a plan ready for Wednesday night’s meeting that would let me keep my hand on the gavel and avoid giving up the chair to speak out as the student body president.

On Wednesday afternoon, Student Senate member and fraternity brother Steve Gesing and I put together a resolution for him to put into a motion for debate. I called the meeting to order in the gym that night, explained the rules of order by which the meeting would run, and immediately recognized Senator Gesing, who put the resolution on the floor. The motion was seconded by another senate member and fraternity brother, Tim Quinney. I admit, it sounds like another one of those infamous TKE conspiracy stories, but we felt we had to start with something that would be acceptable to a majority of those present.

What transpired during the remainder of that night was a student body meeting that in essence was a pretty good-sized New Hampshire town meeting, with the bleachers filled to capacity in the gym and the overflow crowd seated on the gym floor. The motion Steve Gesing put before the meeting called for a plan that would allow for activities to be organized on campus addressing a broad range of contemporary issues facing our country. After hours of debating and voting on amendments to the original resolution, students filed out of two doors to register their vote, one exit for yes and one exit for no. A majority of those present voted in the affirmative, but not by a tremendous margin. Politically, Plymouth was not Berkeley, Calif.

Next on the landscape was asking the faculty to approve the students’ resolution and endorse the concept of the academic merits of the campus-wide plan. Unfortunately, there was one significant meltdown at the faculty meeting, when I failed in my presentation of the students’ position to suspend class attendance policies when students were taking part in the planned events.

I didn’t have an answer for those faculty members who wanted to know who would decide which students qualified for such consideration. Some of them really had me up against the wall, and I was ready to crack. I couldn’t give them an answer because I was too proud to admit, “You do.”

It had dawned on me like a lightning bolt during their cross-examination that the resolution passed by the students hadn’t addressed this point. In our haste to get this whole program going, we had run full speed over the faculty’s rights. The classroom was their domain.

The faculty members at that meeting did eventually pass the student resolution by a large majority, but voted in an amendment to maintain control of their authority in the classroom. That’s as far as student rights at Plymouth went that day, and I was humiliated for not having seen our gaff ahead of time.

Overall, the faculty supported and participated in many of the activities. For the next month the Plymouth State community witnessed a terrific array of lectures, workshops and meetings that were truly educational but definitely outside of the traditional classroom experience. In the end, people had to ask themselves what they really thought about the day’s issues in American life.

President Harold Hyde and the administration were terrific in their support of our efforts. Many years later, Dr. Hyde wrote in the 125th PSC Anniversary edition of Plymouth Update magazine (Summer 1996) that he had been attending a meeting of college presidents on May 4 when the news broke of the shootings in Ohio, and sitting next to him was the president of Kent State. The meeting quickly adjourned, and when Dr. Hyde got back to campus, he found that we had called the meeting and were planning these activities. He recalled, “The administrators, of course, were there; but at least I was cautioned ‘keep your big mouth shut and let the students handle this.’ And they did very well.”

There were some tense moments, such as when outside agitators tried to take over Silver Hall during a candlelight vigil one night, and another time when some of our own students got a little too fired up after some off-campus Black Panther and SDS leaders spoke. Governor Walter Peterson called President Hyde, asking him if the New Hampshire National Guard should be called out to maintain order but President Hyde declined, saying “Walter, I think we are handling things all right. Let’s not heat things up.”

While most institutions of higher learning across the country had sent their students home and shut down their campuses, fearing the worst, college life at Plymouth had carried on. And many of us at Plymouth State felt we had a pretty good month of school during May 1970.

R. Stephen Eastman ’71 is the publisher and editor of the Mt. Washington Valley Mountain Ear newspaper in Conway, N.H., which he co-founded in 1976. The Mountain Ear, now in its 29th year of publication, has received regional and national recognition including an award for general excellence by the New England Press Association. Eastman lives in Intervale with his wife, Sarah, and is the proud father of Emily, a freshman at UNH, and Grant, a junior at Kennett High School.

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