In a few weeks, Case Western Reserve University will celebrate its creation through Legacy Week: Better Together, honoring the 50th anniversary of the federation of Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University. The initiative is led by the Student Presidents’ Roundtable (SPR) and scheduled for April 23 through 28.
In the same spirit of CWRU’s federation, the SPR is made up of the heads of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC), the University Media Board (UMB), the University Program Board (UPB), the Interfraternity Congress (IFC), the Panhellenic Council (PHC), the Class Officer Collective (COC) and the Residence Hall Association (RHA). They meet regularly throughout the school year to discuss issues relating to the school and its organizations.
The University as we know it today evolved from a complex, rich history, and many of its features are manifested in aspects its students and faculty members encounter daily.
The late 1960s and 1970s were among the most critical years in the history of CWRU. These decades saw the university come into existence under the federation between Western Reserve University and Case Institute of Technology, while culture-defining protest movements and other various seeds of development eventually transformed University Circle into the hub it is today.
Many of the issues which defined that time period—the disconnect between the campus and its surrounding communities, campus activism and free speech—still exist today. These features of the past could be used to interpret our present.
CWRU and Development of Uptown
For most of its history, University Circle has not been the shopping and restaurant epicenter it is today.
In fact, a 1967 article in the Reserve Tribune complains about the lack of dining options in the area, claiming that the only options close to campus are the on-campus dining halls themselves. The lack of restaurants was not due to a lack of potential business, but was instead an intentional move by the University Circle Development Foundation (UCDF), the forerunner to University Circle Inc.
UCDF functioned as a land bank in the area, buying and leasing land from area institutions. According to the article, UCDF owned all available land in the University Circle area and refused to lease an inch of it.
The development of Uptown occurred via collaboration between CWRU and the UCDF. University Circle was intended to be a meticulously planned community, with the UCDF deciding what businesses go where and the location of student housing. Soon after the federation of CWRU, Robert Morse, the new president of the unified university, and UCDF Official Joseph D. Piggott exchanged letters on plans for new development in the area. A 1969 letter by Piggott to Morse outlines Piggott’s plans for the community. In the letter, Piggott lists 20 businesses his advisory committee believed were necessary for the community, among what he considered to be necessary amenities that needed to be added to the area. This included basic amenities such as a bank, a supermarket, a sit-down restaurant and rental apartments for students and faculty members.
Interestingly, Piggott and his committee were wary of the intrusion of private enterprise.
“The major concern regarding private development of such a key centrally located site was the potential loss of control by the institutions and the introduction of possibly excessive profit motives,” Piggott wrote.
Case Western Federation
The history of CWRU is divided into two distinct periods: pre-federation and post-federation. Before the merge, University Circle was home to two higher academic institutions, the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University. The two schools formed the 1966 Herald Commission, which studied the further cooperation between the two universities. According to a 1966 article in the Reserve Tribune, Western Reserve University’s student newspaper, the commission found that the two schools would share an administration and facilities, but their student bodies would remain separate. The idea of a merger was rejected since it implied that the Case Institute would be absorbed into the larger Western Reserve. Instead, the two universities decided to be equal partners.
The federation marked the logical conclusion of a long history of cooperation between the two universities; in 1958, the organizations adopted the same academic calendar. Later on, the universities combined their geology and astrology departments, and the Case Institute gave Western Reserve the responsibility of controlling all foreign language instruction.
Case Institute President Robert W. Morse became the president of the newly federated Case Western Reserve University, while the president of Western Reserve became the new University Chancellor. The motivation behind the merge was multifaceted; the two schools were neighbors, and their strengths compensated for the other’s weaknesses. The Case Institute lacked the professional and liberal arts programs that Western Reserve had, while Western Reserve lacked the science and math programs offered by Case.
The student governments of the two schools combined into one unified organization, and in September 1969, The Observer was founded to serve as the first CWRU-wide student newspaper. Western Reserve dissolved their student newspaper in May of that year, but the Case Institute’s student newspaper, Case Tech, remained in print until 1979.
CWRU and the Neighborhoods/Student Activism
In the initial merger recommendations offered by the Herald Commission, titled “A Vision of a University,” it was recommended that the university proclaim community service to be one of its primary obligations.
“[The] University cannot expect to be able to insulate itself from its surroundings,” the commission stated. “The University Circle is, but cannot be expected to remain, a relatively tranquil island in a turbulent, rapidly changing flood of social problems.”
Former Cleveland Mayor Carl B. Stokes, the first black mayor of a major U.S. city, spoke at an Alpha Epsilon Pi dinner in 1966, just one year before he won the mayoral election. Stokes said that exposure to Cleveland’s internal problems and finding solutions to those problems should be part of a student’s education. He believed that merely reading about the city’s problems does not give someone the same understanding as seeing its issues firsthand.
Stokes lamented that little of the knowledge found in University Circle was used to achieve practical change in Cleveland, according to an article in The Western Tribune.
CWRU has a history of being a home to notable outreach efforts by both students and faculty members. The Hough Basketball league, created by Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity in 1967, is a notable example of an early outreach program connecting CWRU with surrounding communities. The league, created the year after the Hough Riots killed four
people, shuttled 40 boys between the ages of nine and 13 years old from Hough to Adelbert Gymnasium to participate in basketball clinics, which featured members of the Cleveland Browns football team.
In the hotbed of student activism in the 1960s and ‘70s, the newly formed CWRU campus saw massive student movements and protests which mobilized hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people in an effort to create change. During this time, there were several specific moments which captured the fury of CWRU students and caused them to march for change.
The Glenville riots mark one of those occasions.
The Glenville Shootouts occurred in 1968 in the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. That July, a gun battle erupted between Cleveland police and black snipers, according to Cleveland State University. The chaos caused by the shooting led to looting and arson throughout the area, but after five days, the unrest concluded with the death of seven people and 15 wounded. Fred Ahmed Evans, a black nationalist involved in the shooting, was put on trial for the seven counts of first-degree murder; the trial was filled with controversy. The jury, for instance, was all-white, which led to concerns about bias; concerns also arose that Evans was being used as a scapegoat to suppress black nationalist movements in general.
Activist flyers handed out to students discussed the prior concerns, but the main focal point of student organizing was the Masotti Report. The report was on the Glenville shooting initiated by Louis Masotti, Jerome Corsi and the CWRU Civil Violence Research Center. It was sent to the U.S. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, and was not released until after Evans received a guilty verdict at the trial.
The report blames neither black nationalists nor the police alone for the events which occurred, instead pointing the finger at both parties, according to Professor of History John Grabowski. The report found that the prosecution’s evidence against Evans was predominately circumstantial, casting doubt on the trial’s ethics. Evans was convicted of all seven counts of murder and sentenced to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Furman v. Georgia reduced his sentence, along with the sentence of all pending death penalty cases to life in prison.
“When he was on trial, some people in the neighborhood, and some people on campus, thought the materials Masotti had might shed some light on his innocence,” Grabowski said, “so there was a push to get those materials open. There was a sit-in at Haydn Hall, and his office was ransacked at one point.”
At one point, a crowd of protesters took over the second floor of Adelbert which led to a melee, according to University Vice President Murray M. Davidson. The crowd attempted to force their way into President Morse’s office, but quickly turned around once the door to Provost Herman D. Stein’s office opened. They rushed the provost’s office instead.
Another notable incident occurred when protesters broke into the Civil Violence Research Center, the main research facility for the Masotti Report. According to an article in Case Tech, the protesters discovered the university distributed funds to Masotti’s research when, according to protesters, the president had previously denied those claims.
The Vietnam War also proved to be a spark which set the campus powder keg alight. In 1966, before the federation, the Western Reserve University Committee to end the war in Vietnam took out a full-page ad in The Western Tribune to promote anti-Vietnam protests. Over 100 students pledged their support behind the ad.
President Richard Nixon’s interventions in Vietnam’s neighbor Cambodia in 1970 also led protesters to call for a student strike. Students occupied Yost Hall, according to The Observer, demanding that the university remove its branch of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
Several days later, the situation became more heated as students staged a sit-in on Euclid Avenue. According to Grabowski, the blockade was not a planned event. It occurred spontaneously after a student meeting on the quad, but was sparked by the deaths of four college protesters at Kent State University. The police, on horseback, charged into the crowd in an attempt to force it to disperse, according to The Observer. Police claimed that the charges were caused by students throwing rocks at police officers; around 500 students were involved in creating the human blockade.
“Looking back at [the protest movement], I think it was an important factor in the maturation of this university,” Grabowski said. “More so then the war, what felt good about it was the number of students embracing the causes of the people who lived in the neighborhoods approximate to the university. They were looking beyond the ivory tower.”
Grabowski felt that Morse presided well over the university during these troubled times.
“He was probably the best friend the radicals ever had,” Grabowski said.
Grabowski cited Morse’s “Of Tempest and Trust” speech as an example as to how Morse supported students. The president presented the speech at the American Alumni Council National Conference in 1970.
“If universities are ever free of controversy or project a feeling of comfort and security to all, then that is when we should worry most about them,” Morse said. “We should thoroughly reject the notion that campus unrest proves that higher education is failing.”
An alternative weekly publication, the Free Press of CWRU, became active on campus during the late 1960s and early ‘70s and functioned as a voice for the anti-establishment sentiment of the time.
Grabowski, a member of the CWRU class of 1971, read the Free Press and wrote poetry for the publication, which he equated to a present-day blog. The Free Press, published out of Hessler Road, featured probing arguments that Grabowski compared to an expanded version of the writing someone would find on a protest plaque. The paper published faculty-written articles about the history of the Vietnam War in terms of colonialism, anti-war poetry, ads for left-wing student groups—including Students for a Democratic Society—and stories on others issues of the time.
“Some would say [the Free Press] was the voice of the counterculture, but it actually epitomized the voice of many students on campus during that time,” Grabowski said. “That’s not to say The Observer wasn’t dealing with those issues in the same way, but one would find the language and the tone to be a bit more direct and virulent.”
Ruth Standiford, a former CWRU student who has devoted much of her life to bettering the community, is currently a social worker with Peace in the Hood, an activist organization focusing on the betterment of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. Standiford attended CWRU from 1991 until 1993 as a nursing student, leaving school just before completing her degree.
Peace in the Hood offers classes to children, teaching them to deal with their emotions and to practice positive self-image. Standiford wears many hats in the organization, but one of her primary duties is as a crisis counselor, assisting children who are dealing with the trauma of seeing friends and relatives fall victim to gun violence.
“One of our girls told me, ‘Y’all don’t know what it’s like when the person sitting to the right of you is here one day, and the next they’re dead, and the person in the back of the room is wanted for murder.’ I said, ‘You know what baby, I don’t,’” Standiford said. “The kids are amazing, but they need help and support.”
Standiford said she did not get involved in campus activism as a student due to her heavy workload in graduate school. Although CWRU students have a reputation of elitism and community disconnect, Standiford disagrees with this stereotype. According to Standiford, even though the campus tends to be insular, Peace in the Hood’s CWRU volunteers have been “great,” and she feels that the school’s engagement with the community has improved since her time there.
“I can’t say enough nice things about CWRU and the people there,” Standiford said. “I was looking at CWRU’s website, and they have a lot of programs within the community coming to CWRU. We did not have that in the [1990s].”