Bill Allen, who was he and why was he fired?
Assistant Professor William Allen was different. Often referred to as a radical, William Allen, or Bill as he liked to be called by his students, taught Anthropology at the University of Santa Barbara California since 1963. Rated in the top 25% of professors in the Anthropology Department, Allen was beloved by his students. 35% of his pupils considered him an above average teacher, 54% regarded him an excellent lecturer while 47% felt that they had learned more than an average amount in his class. This is why the November 6th, 1969 edition of El Gaucho caught so many students off guard as its headline story stated “Professor May be Fired by Tenured” announced that Bill Allen’s teaching contract would not be renewed at the end of the 1969-70 school year.
Reasons for termination included “insufficient research, failure to meet department teaching standards and shortage of publications,'' as Allen was told that his attitude toward the development of the department was inconsistent with the ‘master plan held by faculty’. Because he was so popular as a professor and his radical status, many were skeptical that these were the actual reasons Allen was fired. Students cited Governor Ronald Reagan’s quest to purge all ‘left wing faculty’ as the primary reason for Allen’s departure, as leaders of the Radical Union, a student organization formed less than a year before in the Fall of 1969, felt that he “was fired for reasons of political philosophy and lifestyle because he was very close to his students and he was unorthodox, to say the least, in his teaching methods and the way he was.” And unorthodox Bill was. Sporting long red hair and never seen in a suit and tie, which was the standard attire of all professors at the time, Allen was the definition of unorthodox in the realm of faculty at UCSB. Never afraid to express his criticisms of the University publicly nor to curse in class, Allen was angered by the impersonality of the educational structure and was very critical of the lack of student involvement in administrative decisions. These radical attitudes were targeted outside of UCSB as well, as Allen would often turn his class about South American Indians into a dialogue about Vietnam, facilitating an open critique on the war and its benefits, while opening the eyes of many students, which was considered ‘radicalizing’ them by the administration. To quote Michael Glassow, a former professor at the University who taught during the same period Allen did;
I think the students enjoyed it – I’m sure. It’s not to say though, to be fair to Bill Allen, even though perhaps let’s say that in his South American Indians class that he wasn’t talking about South America, it may be that he was talking about topics, current events shall we say, that were important for students to be aware of. I don’t want to say just because he was a maverick at that point that he wasn’t intending to inform students on something that was important.
El Gaucho, the UCSB Newspaper at the time, quickly took the side of Allen as it published an article advocating for student assistance for him with a November 10th editorial titled “Bill Allen Needs A Little Help From His Friends” referencing the 1967 Beatles song ‘With A Little Help from my Friends.” This was followed two days later by a November 12th editorial calling for an official open hearing regarding the terms for Allen’s dismissal, which sparked a movement spearheaded by the Radical Union to gather student signatures, as many students petitioned to hear the true reason behind Allen’s dismissal. By calling for an open hearing, El Gaucho took a distinct position on the ideological spectrum. As Robert Kelley wrote in his 1981 history of UCSB, “All currents in the campus’s recent history converged to produce a head-on collision between the faculty and the administration on the one side, and the students on the other.'' Despite the petition garnering 7,776 signatures, on January 19, 1970, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Russell Buchanan (filling in for Chancellor Vernon Cheadle while he was away at a conference) refused the demands on the petition, continuing to stress that Allen wasn’t fired capriciously and that his political beliefs weren’t a factor.
The Associated Students Intelligence Agency (ASIA) paired with the Radical Union to become the driving force in gaining signatures. Through this petition the sponsoring students hoped to have an open hearing in which the anthropology department would have to state the exact reasons for Allen’s termination. Ken Kenegos, a leading member of the Radical Union, reflected the popular idea that “They [the administration] are involved in maintaining the kind of system he opposes; they feel threatened and must fire him.” Kenegos went on to assert that the open hearing would “allow the anthropology department to either admit the value conflict or state the actual reason Allen is being fired.”
The current system of tenureship as it stood during the 1960s was based upon the power of the University Board of Regents, which was delegated to the Academic Senate of each campus. This senate was composed of all faculty members of professional rank including assistant, associate and full ranked professors. All assistant professors had to be promoted to the tenured rank of associate professor within seven years, or else be released. Assistant Professor Bill Allen was not promoted to tenured rank by the board, and thus faced release. This line had been drawn regarding William Allen’s dismissal, as it raised much controversy regarding the decision not to extend Allen.
Not all students were on Allen’s side as many resented the fact that his classes were too easy and liberal. When asked about Bill Allen, UCSB student Ginny Philips stated:
[I] was in favor of his being fired. I’d never taken a class from him and I resented the fact that so many kids took that class and would get an ‘A’ for doing nothing. One person I know who took his class for her final project she and about four other kids sang a song, and that was all they had to do for the class. And they got an ‘A’ in it. Allen’s class was one of those free thinking classes - I guess I’m not a free thinker. I just thought it was kind of bullshit. I really did. So, it didn’t bother me that he was fired.
These feelings weren’t isolated either. Michael Glassow, at the time a first year anthropology professor, recalled Allen’s class as being very lighthearted, recalling a specific instance in which students turned in a toilet with a picture of Richard Nixon inside the bowl as their final project. He also cited the fact that easy A’s were typical of what students receive in Allen’s class, as Glassow went on to state that at the time, he “tacitly agreed with the department’s wish to fire Allen.” Michael Glassow would later become the chair of the Anthropology Department.
‘The Spirit of 7,776’
The rally for an open hearing for BIll Allen was held on Friday, January 30, 1970. Advertised as the ‘Spirit of 7,776, this rally reflected the wills of the 7,776 students who signed the petition in support of an open hearing, as many wanted an opportunity to hear the reasons of the anthropology department for the non extension of Bill Allen. Slated to speak at this rally were Blase Bonpane, a former Maryknoll missionary who was thrown out of Guatemala for organizing rural peasants’ leagues, Richard Trussel, a leader of the Radical Union and one of the main advocates for the petition drive, and Bill Allen himself. The rally was slated to begin at 12 noon, and was to be held outside the Administration Building. In the weeks leading up to the rally, Allen had garnered the support of the Black Student Union, the New University Conference as well as the before mentioned Radical Union.
Blase Bonpane gained significant fame while playing an important role in the dialogue between Christianity and Marxisim in Latin America. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1929, Bonpane joined the Maryknoll Fathers, later going to Guatemala where he was named the national adviser to Centro Capacitacion Social at the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala City. Shortly thereafter, Bonpane along with other Maryknoll priests were expelled from the country for their activity in student political protests against the U.S. backed government. At the rally, Bonpane stated his disappointment in the administration's response to students wishes, citing that “non-academicians” who control the University such as Ronald Reagan and the Regents should be public servants.
Student Richard Trussel spoke on behalf of the Radical Union, a growing force on the UCSB campus. With a key message of involvement Trussel pointed out that the 7,776 signatures calling for an open hearing was twice as many as the number of students who ever participated in an Associated Students election. The Radical Union contributed to the Bill Allen Controversy because it was the main force to inform people and mobilize support. Starting out as a liberal organization, the RU eventually replaced the Students for a Democratic Society as well as the United Front to become the main student organization on campus. Students and groups identified with William Allen as he represented a faction of the faculty that seemed to understand them. Led by these groups, the rally ignited and received widespread support among students.
The rally began as planned. From its beginning at 12pm until 2pm, speakers mainly focused on the grassroots aspect of the movement, and the discrepancies felt between the attitudes of the student body and administration, with William Allen pleading for an open hearing. This changed a little bit after 3 o’clock as the crowd started to press against the doors of the administration building. The crowd began to pound on the glass of the building and paint it with orange paint so the 14 police officers and Dean of Men Robert Evans couldn’t see out. Shortly after, Dean Evans was handed a megaphone and confronted the crowd, physically pushing students aside as he came to the front of the rally. As Evans told the students that they were in violation of University regulations, student Joe Melchione reportedly called the Dean a pig, causing Evans to retaliate by striking Melchione with the bullhorn, breaking his glasses and cutting him above the eye in the process. Immediately after this scuffle the police broke through the glass doors and windows of the administration building and began to push their way through the crowd attempting to disrupt the protest using clubs.
In the aftermath of the police scuffle, One student, Richard Underwood, was arrested and booked for disturbing the peace, two students were treated for injuries suffered during the scuffle. At least ten witnesses, including three El Gaucho staff members, verified Dean Evans striking Melchionie. Evans justified his strike as he would later say “I hit him because he was hitting me. I was getting hit from several people, not just him.” Neither Evans nor other administrators present know who had ordered the police charge, but Evans reasoned that “they thought I was being assaulted” and “thought it was necessary to clear people.” The rally ended shortly after as students ran from club weilding police, as at the end of the day three individuals reported being clubbed. Not all students ran though, as many retaliated throwing shoes, rocks and other “makeshift projectiles.” Below is the transcript of an interview done by KCSB, UCSB’s primary radio broadcaster, with Richard Underwood, the student arrested. It was conducted the night after the rally, and provides a detailed perspective of the chaos;
Well, I was standing off to the side and there was a scuffle apparently some students had called Dean Evans a pig, and he made a move toward him. And as he was being jerked around the crowd, the police started to try to open the doors, we had put a bicycle lock on [one] of the glass doors, and couldn’t get it open right away. Took them about 10 seconds to break through, and they came pouring out. And I just kind of stood there on the side of the door and everybody just spread toward Campbell Hall, to the sides, and went right by me. I just saw the police out in the quad, so I started to walk across the quad, cop came up to me, and says ‘get out of here, this is an illegal assembly area, and I say ‘no, this is my campus, you get out of here’ so then he proceeded to push me with a nightstick and I just refused to move. So it was obvious from looking in his eyes that he was scared and just kind of walked away. Well, the police went back in the ad. building, and I just kind of walked up to the door and said ‘stay in there too’, and at that point they opened the doors up and about five or six dragged me through the lobby. At that point everything is really confusing. They dragged me across the lobby, I remember glass flying all over the place, and they threw me into the telephone alcove next to the elevators. One of them came up and kicked me, a photographer came up and took my picture and said ‘I just wanted to get a picture of a piece of shit. Then the officer that I had a little tete-a-tete with out in the quad came over, and I heard them talking among themselves. They didn’t know what to do.
Underwood was later charged with disturbing the peace and charged $125 for bail, all of which the crowd at the rally pitched in to pay.
Calm Before the Storm
Although being the only person arrested that day, Underwood’s account of the chaos was felt by many at the rally. Many students interviewed believed that the police made an overreaction as they began to “club anything that walked or breathed.” The crowd reaction after Underwood was taken away was very angry as students threw trash cans and rocks at the administration building as all 5 windows were to be broken. Thing would ultimately calm though as the rally resumed and converged into a musical affair with ‘flutes, guitars, and some singing.” When Bill Allen returned from his meeting with the Faculty Tenure and Privileges Committee he advocated that the 300 students there should spend the night, planning to confront the administration building when the doors opened at 8am..
Many stayed because like Allen, they wanted to know the reasons behind his dismissal. Some stayed because they saw Dean Evans strike Underwood and wanted to project their support, and others because they were angered by the injustices that the UC system had taken towards the hiring and firing of professors in general. Later that evening, around 9pm, protesters put on a sort of performance with dancing, music and a play. Described as a ‘Carnival type gathering’ by KCSB staffers, approximately 300 people were seen standing around, singing, dancing and chanting to the beat of drums at about 11pm.
An excerpt from the KCSB radio broadcast sheds light on the juveal mood of the occupiers as an unknown broadcasters expresses her curiosity regarding the general mood,
We now what appears to be a female exotic dancer in a red and white striped t-shirt and some sort of grey jeans and moccasins. That’s very interesting she’s performing an exotic dance and speech… which is being greeted with great acclamation. The entire group is on their feet again, leaving, forming a circle, linking their arms.
As the night went on, many would start campfires for warmth, and many bottles of wine were passed around the crowd as protesters saw the sky lit up with fireworks and sparklers.
This protest and occupation heightened the definite polarization on the UCSB campus as the university was split, those in support of William Allen, and those against. With 300 students camping on the pavilion between Campbell Hall and the Administration building, the stage was set for the chaos that unfolded the next day. KCSB demonstrated the tensions felt towards the unknown as broadcaster Greg Spankley states,
There are chances that we could have another confrontation with the police. We could have some of our windows broken or we could have another Dean Evans incident. Or we could have a peaceful filing of students into the administration building. We could have a sit in, we could have a mass attack. We could have students throwing themselves through the glass, we could have students burning themselves up. Who knows” It looks like it’s going to be a very interesting morning tomorrow.
November 6 1969 - Published in El Gaucho that anthropology professor William Allen’s teaching contract would not be renewed at the end of the 1969-70 school year. Many argued that this was a result of Governor Ronald Reagan's quest to purge all liberal professors from California Universities, sparking a controversy on campus.
November 10th, 1969 - El Gaucho publishes an editorial titled “Bill Allen Needs A Little Help From His Friends” choosing a side on the Bill Allen issue. This article helped to establish two sides on the Wiliam Allen case, igniting a dispute between students and the administration.
January 19th, 1970 - Led by the Radical Union, students led a petition for an open hearing by the anthropology department regarding the non extension of William Allen to hear the true reason behind this dismissal. Students gathered 7,776 signatures, which would later become a rally cry during their protests. Despite the petition’s support, Dean of Academic Affairs Russel Buchanan would refuse the request for an open hearing.
January 29th, 1970 - A rally for an open hearing was scheduled for the following day. Speaking would be Blase Bonpane, Richard Trussel and Bill Allen himself. It was to be held in front of the administration building
January 30th, 1970:
12pm - The rally began as students gathered around the administration building, occupying the pavilion in front of Campbell Hall. About 2,000 students show up.
Approx 3pm - Students began to pound on the doors of the administration building, blocking it with newspapers and paint so the 14 police officers as well as Dean of Men Robert Evans couldn’t see outside.
Approx 3:15pm - Dean Robert Evans was handed a megaphone and confronted the crowd, informing them they were in violation of university regulations. Student Joe Melchione approached the Dean and then was struck by the bullhorn, breaking his glasses and cutting him above the eye. Police break through the glass doors and windows of the administration building, and begin to push their way through the crowd in attempts to disrupt the protest.
Approx 3:20pm - Protester Richard Underwood was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. Most students dispersed
4pm - Speakers at the rally began to degenerate into a musical performance of flutes, guitar and singing.
5pm - William Allen returns and advises the 300 students left to stay the night in order to confront the administration building upon its opening at 8am the next morning. Students gather sleeping bags and food in preparation to stay the night
9pm - Protesters put on performances with dancing, music and play
11pm - Described as a ‘Carnival type gathering’ KCSB staffers observed about 300 people standing around campfires, singing, dancing and chanting to the beat of drums as well as fireworks and sparklers.
About The Author:
Nick Dias is a 3rd year History and Political Science Major. He researched the William Allen Cotroversy for his History 9 research methods class at UCSB under Professor Marcuse. Nick's email is email@example.com. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact him.
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