March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of
Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout
2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the
celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The
University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University
Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.
his chapter on student activism, Friedland discusses the rising tide
of student protests at U of T, culminating in the 1972 Robarts sit-in,
30 years ago this week:)
Toronto police were called in to end a Simcoe Hall sit-in in 1972
over the issue of access to the library stacks in the as-yet-unopened
Toronto police broke
through the senate door and evicted 25 protesters. The next day,
500 showed up.
library was planned, it was assumed that faculty members, graduate students,
and fourth year undergraduates would have access to the stacks, but
not other students. The undergraduates, however, wanted equal access.
Bob Spencer, the Students' Administrative Council (SAC) president, wrote
to Jack Sword, the acting president - following Claude Bissell's resignation
as of July 1, 1971 - pointing out "the almost unanimous opposition
of the student body" to the proposed stacks policy, an opposition
that included SAC and the Graduate Students Union. A petition containing
4,500 names was placed before the library council. Linda McQuaig, the
co-editor of the Varsity and now a well-known author, presented 2,500
coupons that had been printed in the paper and that students had signed
and returned. The students' position was in line with other demands
for equality respecting such issues as the equal treatment of general
and honours students.
like all other raw materials of education," one pamphlet read,
"should be available to anyone who wants to use them." A library
council committee, chaired by English professor Peter Heyworth, continued
to recommend limiting access, and this was approved at a meeting of
the senate in the Medical Sciences Building on a Friday evening in March
1972 by a vote of 67 to 28.
Bob Spencer being arrested at the first sit-in
vote, about 75 people left the meeting and forced their way into Simcoe
Hall. They refused to leave the senate chamber until the senate had
met again and granted open stack access to all undergraduates. On Sunday
morning, about 25 protesters who remained in the building were evicted
with the assistance of the Toronto police, who had to break through
the door of the senate chamber to get in. Fourteen people were charged
with criminal code trespass offences, including SAC's president Spencer
and Thomas Walkom, a co-editor of the Varsity and now a writer for the
Toronto Star. Four others were charged with trespass along with more
serious charges, such as assault.
|U of T's
acting president Jack Sword at the second sit-in.
afternoon, a mass student rally in Convocation Hall was followed by
another occupation of the senate chamber, this time by more that 500
people. Removing this number posed the significant risk that the violence
would escalate. The occupation was abandoned the following day after
extensive negotiations and after Acting President Sword said he would
call another meeting of the senate and would personally support equal
access to the stacks, subject to a daily quota to be set by the library
administrators. The University also agreed to tell the crown attorney
that it was not in the University's interest to proceed with the charges.
It was the "potentially
most dangerous student demonstration" in 25 years, an administrator
a detailed letter to the university community explaining the problems
the administration had faced. "The calling of police to clear the
building of six to eight hundred students," he wrote, "would
have involved a very large number of police and the probability of serious
violence and damage, and we would have borne the responsibility of using
overwhelming force against our own students." Nevertheless, the
council of the faculty association condemned the administration's actions
by a vote of 14 to 3. "The reaction of conservative faculty against
the administration," Acting Provost Donald Forster acknowledged,
"was quite bitter and left some wounds which will take time to
turned out, the crown attorney agreed to drop the trespassing charges
but proceeded with the more serious charges, which resulted in convictions
in three cases, Friedland goes on to write. The incidents, recalled
Vice-president Ross in his memoirs, "were the potentially most
dangerous to the university among all the student demonstrations which
took place" in his twenty-five years as a university administrator.
When the library opened in 1973, it was decided by the library itself
that upon application all students would be given stack passes.