Shut It Down: The 1970 Student Strike at Syracuse University

Aftermath and Legacy

The height of Student Strike activities at Syracuse University lasted just over two weeks. However, the Strike created ripples of change that can be felt and seen on campus to this day. Changes to the way decisions are made and the educational opportunities available were, in many ways, fundamentally informed by the activism and engagement of the Student Strike and other student movements of this period. Some of these impacts were felt and seen almost immediately while others required more sustained and formalized effort.


Although many students chose to select a grade alternative and leave campus early amidst ongoing Strike activities, the University made the decision to move forward with its centennial commencement. In addition to commencement exercises, the weekend also included planned discussions of non-violent civil disobedience, the Black Panthers, and the Vietnam War. A multi-media presentation sponsored by the Strike Committee was also offered to those visiting campus for commencement weekend.

Statement from Chancellor John E. Corbally, Jr. regarding 1970 commencement, 15 May 1970. Syracuse University News and Public Affairs Records, University Archives.

Those with a sharp eye might notice that the centennial commencement was initially scheduled to be held at Manley Field House. When the day came, the ceremony was held in its traditional location at Archbold Stadium.

Photograph of senior class marshals at the 1970 commencement ceremony, 6 June 1970. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

In a continuing show of protest, many students chose not to wear the traditional cap and gown to the 1970 commencement ceremony.

“Shutdown Spokesman” Rob Tembeckjian speaking at the 1970 commencement ceremony, 6 June 1970. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Chancellor Corbally invited the Strike Committee to select a representative to speak at the University’s centennial commencement alongside honorary degree recipients Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant and civil rights activist and Georgia legislator Julian Bond. The Strike Committee chose “Shutdown Spokesman” Rob Tembeckjian. His speech was titled “Crisis in American Values.”

Immediate Impact

Although there was no formal attempt to sustain the Student Strike over the summer, various student organizations made efforts to keep students engaged with the aims of the Strike past the end of the academic year. Informational and recruitment flyers printed by the Student Government and other campus groups challenged Syracuse University students to take their Strike energies home to continue resistance to the Vietnam War and the draft. The physical impact of the Strike on campus also continued to be felt as damages were repaired, and barricades were removed.

Letter from Adam Dawson to Dean John H. McCombe regarding repayment for expenses incurred by Hendricks Chapel during the Strike, 25 June 1970. Chancellor John E. Corbally Records, University Archives.

“Syracuse Student Strike” by Al Fredericks, Orange Pennysaver, 14 May 1970. Syracuse University Student Publications Collection, University Archives.

Reflections on the significance of the Student Strike to the history and future of Syracuse University began to appear even before the Strike or the semester had ended.

Institutional Change

Two of the most lasting institutional impacts of the Student Strike at Syracuse University were the creation of an Assembly on University Governance in the summer and fall of 1970 and the development of the Task Force for Academic Innovation that same year.

The Assembly was influenced not only by the Student Strike, but also by the fraught conversations about University decision-making during the preceding months. Officially convened in November 1970, the Assembly on University Governance was a constitutional convention of 330 students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, parents, and alumni charged with proposing a permanent shared-governance body, which would then be voted on by the entire University community. The Assembly deliberated for nearly two years before delivering its proposal of a University Governing Council made up of students, faculty, and staff in May 1972. This body would have assumed a significant amount of the power held by the Board of Trustees. Ultimately, however, the proposal did not receive the required number of votes for approval.

The Task Force for Academic Innovation placed Syracuse University at the forefront of new trends in curricular development that would characterize the following decades. Inspired to a great degree by the alternative educational options of the Strike period, the Task Force created a wide range of mini-courses, internships, and opportunities for community and political engagement that provided students with the chance to take their education out of the traditional classroom and into the wider world.

Preparatory Commission on University Governance nomination flyer, 1970. Chancellor John E. Corbally Records, University Archives.

Front page of first issue of Assembly ’70 News, 11 September 1970. Chancellor John E. Corbally Records, University Archives.

This publication provided information and updates about the work of the Assembly for University Governance.

Cover of “The Task Force Encore: Mini-Courses and More” catalog, Fall 1970. Syracuse University News and Public Affairs Records, University Archives.