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1965-1975: Troubled Times

Trouble came in twos in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Falling enrollments triggered financial difficulties, while students rose in protest over minority rights and the Vietnam War. In the depth of crisis, the affable Father Louis Gaffney, SJ, took the reins, bringing budget cuts and “contagious optimism” to revive the campus.

Like most colleges in the United States, Seattle University experienced its share of protests during the '60s, but they were slow coming. By and large, its conservative student body supported the war until the Tet Offensive in 1968. Then the tide turned and protests rose sharply.

Discontent came from a variety of causes: lax progress on hiring minority faculty members, the presence of the ROTC on campus, and the sagging financial state of the university. This last concern proved almost fatal. The boom years of the ‘50s had created overly optimistic expectations, and left the school saddled with heavy debts and empty buildings.

In 1970, the trustees brought in a stern conservative, Father Kenneth Baker, SJ, who seemed the perfect man to restore order. Shortly after he arrived, a bomb shattered windows across campus. It was a precursor of things to come.

Baker’s budget cuts were necessary, but his outspoken style antagonized students and faculty alike. When an African American teaching candidate was passed over, the campus erupted in protest. There were small riots and an invasion of Baker’s office. He responded by expelling the students, who were later reinstated.

At its darkest moment, the trustees brought in a different kind of leader, Father Louis Gaffney, SJ. He preached “contagious optimism” and practiced financial responsibility. A major reorganization of campus departments followed, along with budget cuts, fundraising, and outreach efforts. With the help of its many friends the university would soon be back on track.

Campion Hall: The Jesuit Folly

If you were looking for a symbol of what was wrong with Seattle University’s finances, you needed to look no farther than Campion Hall. In 1963, the university secured a 3.6 million dollar loan, its largest ever, to build the residence hall. Derided as "the Jesuit folly," its cost would be a major contributor to the university’s increasingly grim financial prospects.

Campion Hall had been built because of wildly optimistic projections that enrollment would soon top 6,000 students. Instead, the number dropped dramatically, and in 1969, SU had only 1,076 students—a number the Hall alone could easily accommodate.

Bombs on campus: the student body in protest

Though slow to protest at first, by 1970 the Seattle University student body had warmed to the task. Hundreds took part in rallies and teach-ins. Their particular targets were the presence of the ROTC on campus and the slow progress in hiring black faculty members.

The unrest was not without its spectacular side. On January 19, 1970, a bomb went off between the Garrand and Liberal Arts buildings. In March of that year, arsonists set fire to Xavier Hall, timed to the appearance of Barry Goldwater on campus. In one final act of violence, on May 6, 1972, a large bomb exploded beneath the steps of the ROTC building, blowing out every window on the facing side of Loyola Hall. Miraculously, in all of these incidents, no one was injured.

Emile Wilson: activist and Rhodes Scholar

Perhaps one of the most intriguing students to attend Seattle University, Emile Wilson gained notice as both activist and scholar. A protégé of the ever-present Father McGoldrick, he first enters SU history during a violent anti-ROTC protest in 1970. Arrested for vandalism on May 15, he was released in time to take part in an invasion of Father Baker’s office three days later.

Though suspended and then reinstated, Wilson’s story has a surprising epilogue. Taken under wing by McGoldrick, he completed a master’s degree in education, and in 1975 was named the university’s first Rhodes Scholar.

Father Gaffney steadies the ship

November 2, 1970 ranks as a pivotal day in SU history. Torn apart by crushing financial difficulties and growing student unrest, university trustees put the tough job of restoring confidence into the hands of Father Louis Gaffney, SJ. A veteran Jesuit, Gaffney immediately called an emergency convocation. “Courageous optimism will give us the energy to close ranks,” he said, “We shall make it.”

Courageous or not, Gaffney needed all the optimism he could get to tackle the school’s messy finances. Thanks to the generous help from the university’s benefactors, and some shrewd negotiations with lenders, he managed to stave off disaster. When he came to the end of his self-imposed five year term limit, he was able to tender his resignation, knowing the university was on the mend.

Father Wood and the study of software

In all the turmoil of the late ’60s and early ’70s, it’s easy to forget that education was moving forward at SU. Most prominent from today’s standpoint was the development of a software engineering degree.

Its roots reached back to 1957, when Father Frank Wood, SJ, and others took a course in computing from engineers at Boeing. The course bore fruit with the establishment of a Computing Center in 1963, complete with a hulking IBM 1620 system obtained through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The program in 1975 would have seemed primitive by today’s standards, but it did help keep the university in the vanguard of the computer science field.

Robert O’Brien, first lay chairman of the Board of Trustees

Luckily the university had capable friends during its years of financial difficulty, and none better than Robert O’Brien. The chairman of PACCAR, Inc., he was named the first lay chairman of the SU board of trustees in 1971, a post at which he would serve until 1988. His leadership and experience proved invaluable, particularly during the early years of Father Sullivan’s presidency, when he turned back challenges to the bold new directions the university was taking.

Life on campus

Among all the bombs and protests, it’s easy to forget that for most students, normal college life trudged on at Seattle University in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Games were played, social events held, and even a few frivolous pie-eating contests diverted attention from the serious questions of the day.