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Elvis and the Student Power Movement at Indiana University

Tales of the H-T: blog posts taken from or inspired by The Herald-Times archive at the Monroe
County History Center.
 By Rod Spaw.

For much of the 1960s, Indiana University could boast of having its very own Elvis, but about
the only thing IU’s Elvis had in common with the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll was a thick shock of black
hair and a stint in the U.S. Army.

Elvis J. Stahr Jr. rides a bicycle across campus shortly after arriving in Bloomington as Indiana University’s 12 th president.

Elvis J. Stahr Jr. became IU’s 12th president on July 1, 1962. He arrived in Bloomington fresh from two years as Secretary of the Army for President John F. Kennedy. It was just the most recent entry in an impressive resume.

After earning a law degree at the University of Kentucky in 1936, Stahr had been a Rhodes scholar and practicing attorney until the start of World War II, when he enlisted and served with the U.S. Army in China. Following the war, Stahr returned to academia at UK, holding
administrative positions there and at the University of Pittsburgh before becoming president of West Virginia University in 1959.

Stahr arrived in Bloomington at a time of booming enrollment, not just at IU but nationwide. By the end of the 1960s, more than seven million students attended American colleges and universities, six times the number prior to World War II. By the spring of 1970, half of all
Americans between the ages of 18 and 21 were enrolled in college.*

According to official IU figures, total enrollment on the Bloomington campus increased by nearly 63 percent during the six years Stahr served as president, going from 17,829 students in 1962 to 29,006 by 1968. That growth triggered an aggressive construction program. Buildings
started and/or completed on the Bloomington campus during Stahr’s tenure included the School of Business, the Optometry Building, the Geology Building, the Psychology Building, the Student Health Center, McNutt, Wilkie, Briscoe and Forest quadrangles and the Eigenmann
Graduate Residence Center.

The explosion of enrollment nationwide was accompanied by the rise of an activist student culture, according to the President’s Commission on Student Unrest, which charted the evolution of student dissent during the 1960s in its 1970 report.*

The commission concluded that student unrest on America’s college campuses had three
principal causes: concerns about social inequity left from the civil rights movement; an
increasingly unpopular war in South Vietnam; and questions about the nature of the university

College presidents were confronted by challenges unknown to earlier generations of
administrators. Stahr was no exception, as two incidents within a day of each other in 1967

A recruiter for the Dow Chemical Co. was holding interviews at the IU School of Business on
Oct. 30 when a group of about 100 students tried to disrupt the proceedings. Dow recruiters
were a target of anti-war demonstrations on many U.S. campuses because the company had a
Defense Department contract to manufacture Napalm, an incendiary weapon used in Vietnam.
According to an account in The Herald-Telephone (later renamed The Herald-Times), students
forced open the inner door of the business placement office and began to heckle the Dow
recruiter. About 35 of the protesters sat down and refused to leave.

Campus, city and state police, all in riot gear, arrived and told the students that they were
under arrest. When about a dozen of the demonstrators locked arms and declined to walk out
peacefully, police dragged them from the room by force. Two protesters received minor injuries
in the scuffle, and two police officers allegedly were assaulted by demonstrators. A group of IU
faculty members later posted bail for those arrested, according to an H-T account of the

The next day, Oct. 31, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk was on campus for a public address at
the IU Auditorium. A crowd of about 2,000 people packed the venue, and when Rusk appeared
on the stage, he was met with cries of “murderer.” Shouting continued throughout the hour-
long event, with people who wanted to hear Rusk’s remarks yelling “Shut up” and “Let him
speak” at unruly protesters, according to The Herald-Telephone.

U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk solemnly surveys the crowd inside the IU Auditorium during an appearance on Oct. 31, 1967.

Outside, another 500 people waited peacefully in drizzling rain while Rusk spoke. The H-T
described one group of about “100 students in hippie garb and well-dressed students and
faculty members” who moved in a circle in front of the building. This group was approached at
one point by approximately 100 pro-war protesters carrying signs that read “Bong the Cong,”
but no trouble ensued.


The events of the week still were on the mind of President Stahr when he addressed a meeting
of the Faculty Council on Nov. 7. He decried the “taunting, disorderly and abusive behavior of a
few” at the Rusk speech, as well as the need to use police force at the Business School.

Both instances, Stahr said, were inconsistent with the university’s commitment to “freedom of
inquiry, freedom of expression and freedom to differ.” He said tolerance of opposing views was
critical to a nurturing environment for academic discourse.

“I’m frankly dismayed at the wave of arrogant anti-intellectualism which appears to be lashing
at campuses across the nation and which has now characterized some happenings here,” Stahr
said in his speech to the faculty council. “I am deeply disappointed by the contempt for rights,
which some have recently demonstrated in attempting to assert some presumed right to deny
the rights of others.”

Stahr told the faculty that he was not making a case either for or against the so-called student
power movement on college campuses, but rather, to voice his concern “for our common
responsibility to the university” and its values.

“In short, it is not open dissent or disagreement I fear, but disruption, whether calculated or
provoked. I fear the possibility that in the minds of a good many the lines are being drawn to
challenge principles and processes which we must preserve and protect if we are to sustain our
common enterprise.”

Stahr submitted his resignation to the IU board of trustees in July 1968, citing “presidential
fatigue.” He said he decided to step away before the pressures of the job “rendered me
ineffective.” His resignation came one month after the trustees approved his plan for a major
restructuring of the IU system, which decentralized its administration and gave regional
campuses more autonomy.

Stahr said an upsurge of student unrest was not a major factor in his decision. “That gets the
most attention in the press, but it is just one of many factors,” he told The Herald-Telephone.
After leaving IU, Stahr assumed the presidency of the National Audubon Society, which became
under his leadership a powerful voice for environmental protection. He died in 1998 at the age
of 82. Stahr remains the only sitting IU president ever to watch the Hoosiers football team play
in a Rose Bowl game, which he did in 1968.

President Elvis J. Stahr Jr.was an enthusiastic supporter of IU athletics. He is the only sitting IU president to have watched the Hoosiers football team play in a Rose Bowl game.

*See The Report of the Commission on Student Unrest, available online from the Institute for
Educational Sciences at; see also Wini Breines, “Of This
Generation: The New Left and the Student Movement” in Long Time Gone, Sixties America Then
and Now, ed Alexander Bloom (New York: Oxford University Press)