The federal appeals court decision from 1972 manages, as it should, to get to the facts, the law and precedent and, in this case, how they are used when you want to justify getting rid of an idealistic and outspoken young professor.

But the decision's antiseptic tone fails, as it could not help, to get to the heart and soul and passion of those days in May of 1970: President Richard Nixon ordered the open invasion of Cambodia, where we had been secretly at war, campuses erupted in protest all over the nation, four students died under the guns of National Guardsmen at Kent State and a group of students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln moved into the ROTC building for an overnight sit-in, rock concert, sleepover and confrontation with university authorities.  

Although there was no destruction and no violence, there was hell to pay.  

The wrath of outraged Nebraskans fell ultimately on an untenured but promising professor of political science, Steve Rozman, who was run out of the university by the Board of Regents. When Rozman challenged his dismissal on constitutional grounds, the university's lawyers rationalized it clearly: Rozman helped disrupt a class, hence, his protest was unprotected.

"As the district court noted, statements and threats by some of the demonstrators reasonably led the administration to fear that the peaceful demonstration might erupt violently if classes were held in the building on the morning of May 5th," says the Eighth Circuit of Appeals decision, issued in 1972.

"Thus, the demonstration served, at least in part, to force cancellation of a scheduled ROTC class. When the demonstrators, including Rozman, locked arms in defiant protest of the president's demand for evacuation of the building, they substantially interfered with the rights of the other students and faculty to use the building for educational purposes. Clearly, under the circumstances found by the district court, the response of the demonstrators, including Rozman, to this demand represented disruptive and constitutionally unprotected activity."

So even though the intercession of faculty, including Rozman, helped the university administration and the students come to an agreement to vacate the building, the Board of Regents needed satisfaction for what had become a political embarrassment.

Nobody else was busted, nobody else lost a job and there were other university faculty in the foreground and background. The students had a few days of discussions about the war -- they called it a student "strike" -- and enjoyed the early spring weather. Some classes met, some didn't, the war went on for another few years and a lot more Vietnamese and American troops died. 

A faculty commission absolved Rozman of blame and recommended his retention, but the regents fired him anyway.

Rozman ended up, since 1972, at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, where he still teaches, prosperously, apparently content and convincingly not bitter about what happened in Nebraska 42 years ago.

"It's all clear," he said. "It seems light years in the past. I have clear memories of it but the emotions are totally gone. As a matter of fact, the change may have been exactly what I needed."

Between Lincoln and Tougaloo, however, came Puebla, Mexico. Rozman, whose specialty was Latin America, interviewed for a position at the University of the Americas. He said he was offered a job there, right after leaving UNL. "From my understanding, someone in Lincoln contacted the University of the Americas to alert them about my anti-war activism, and the president of that university ... vetoed my appointment," Rozman said in an email.

Robert Sittig, professor emeritus of political science at UNL, agrees. "Someone snitched on him," Sittig said.

Rozman's first marriage broke up after moving from Lincoln, but his second has lasted more than 30 years. He meditates, as he has for 40 years.

In an essay published in 1999, Rozman referred to thoughts of the Tibetan Master Djwhal Khul from Alice A. Bailey’s Education in the New Age: "Modern education has been primarily competitive, nationalistic and, therefore, separative. It has trained the child to regard the material values as of major importance ... He is taught consequently to be a one-sided person ...

"The realized goals which the institutional teacher has set before himself have been narrow, and the consequent effect of his teaching and of his work has been the production of a selfish, materialistically-minded person whose major objective has been self-betterment in a material sense ... The natural idealism of the child (and what child is not an innate idealist) has been slowly and steadily suffocated by the weight of the materialism of the world’s educational machine and by the selfish bias of the world’s business in its many departments, plus the emphasis always laid upon the necessity of making money."

And yet, Rozman seems, through several conversations over the past year, the soul of sunny optimism.

His job, besides teaching, is to get students to be active participants in their community. He runs the Center for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility at Tougaloo, a historically black college that was a crucible of civil rights activism and a reactionary target during the Jackson Movement of the 1960s. 

Lately, he created a volunteer income tax assistance program, helping mostly poor and African American taxpayers. Rozman's dad worked for the IRS in Minneapolis. His mother taught nursery school. Her little ones included the filmmaking Coen brothers.  

Rozman also has joined the board of a new organization, Historians Against Slavery, connecting the history of slavery with modern international trafficking and working on curricula.  

Still idealistic, and rational about it, he explains his view of America's political haze, post-Great Recession. 

"I think when people are increasingly frightened, they tend to be more concerned about security than freedom, and they're more easily manipulated," he said. "There's no progressive movement of any strength in the country. Where do you go when the government's the villain? There are lots of problems with government, but if you weaken it, you hand it over to big corporations. If people want that they get that.

"You do what you can, fight the battles you can, and don't burn out. I pace myself. I do what I can, go about my business and I don't get overwhelmed."

Rozman has returned to Lincoln since his departure, once to grade advanced placement exams. He read a student newspaper and found out his old Poli Sci colleague Ivan Volgyes had died. Professor Adam Breckenridge, another colleague, died at about the same time. 

His recollections of the events of May 1970 on the UNL campus were clear. "I don't think I was responsible for anything, it was a student led movement," he said. "Students were in charge of the whole thing. I was there. 

"I think they felt I was too conspicuous," he said. "I was not the only one involved, but some woman believed I was the reason they didn't vacate, a mother of a student, she was present. She concluded I was the reason students didn't respond to an order to vacate for an ROTC drill."

Among others who were "there" or nearby were UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, then a young law professor who was on a Faculty Senate liaison committee during the events, and Paul Olson, now a professor emeritus of English and less active in peace events at the time than he would become.

"We were directly involved in the administration's trying to manage the ROTC occupation and the fallout from that effort," said Perlman. "We met with the Board of Regents privately shortly after the building was cleared. 

"They demanded the names of faculty. (Dean of Faculties C. Peter) McGrath and (Chancellor) Joe Soshnik refused to give the regents names. It was a courageous thing for them to do in quite an intense meeting. ...  I was very uneasy. Most of the faculty was. The things that happened here compared to Kent State were pretty mild, a little damage, no destruction.

"The Liaison Committee was able, with faculty members, to negotiate a compromise for people to leave the next morning," Perlman said. "No injuries. No deaths. (The occupation) was clearly an effort to express frustration with the war. Most of us didn't think the effort to find a scapegoat was particularly worthwhile.

"Sure, there were lot of other faculty who were just as involved. ... Rozman didn't try to provoke or advocate violence. But he was untenured.

"I think the board was feeling extraordinary political pressure," Perlman said. "The public was outraged. I can understand that, the symbolism of taking over the ROTC building. The comparison with other things on other campuses troubled the Nebraska population and the environment led to overreactions." 

Perlman was supposed to give a speech at the Rotary Club in York, his hometown, in the midst of this. "When I got there, the news was exaggerated," he said. "It was an interesting hour. I don't think I gave the speech I was prepared to give.

"Nebraska's a pretty conservative state. I think there was more surprise that anything like this would happen here, so what happened here was exaggerated to be like what happened elsewhere."

Oddly, in retrospect, what came out of the ROTC building confrontation, what got the students to leave, was a resolution addressing educational reform. 

"To me, it demonstrated the kind of absence of a real threat because of this occupation," Perlman said. "It seemed a different kind of expression than we saw at other campuses."

Perlman's recollections include praise for the late Soshnik, who was chancellor at the time. "I thought he wanted to do the right thing," Perlman said. "He wanted to avoid violence and he wanted to be responsible to legitimate concerns.

"My recollection was he did everything right: He didn't overreact, he prevented others from overreacting, he engaged the students.  He showed no concern for his own career," Perlman said.

Olson said he had been on the margins of the antiwar movement, but that May evening, he went to the United Ministries in Higher Education on campus, and students had left to get into the ROTC building. He recalls hearing secondhand that Rozman's behavior in a meeting among students and Soshnik was "vociferous and interruptive in style." Later came accounts that Rozman had acted irresponsibly and should be fired. "I didn't see any evidence and certainly he wasn't in the leadership of the people who chose to occupy," Olson said. "I thought if he was guilty of anything if was of being a little annoying." 

Olson also recalls the tone of the subsequent state election for Board of Regents: "We need regents who can keep those goddam kids under control," he said. "They proved they could fire an untenured faculty member."

Olson, too, recalls Soshnik and McGrath's behavior as honorable. "Joe was not of the kind to call in the National Guard," he said. "And Rozman was chosen as the favorite faculty member by ASUN... I think he brought to campus a kind of advocacy, unconventional, that was needed. He was an ethical man.  

"They made him the scapegoat. He didn't have control over what those kids did. He was not a major player in the politics of that student strike. He was a scapegoat and he was badly treated. He seemed irascible and strident, but who wouldn't be?"

For his part, Sittig described himself as "supportive and sympathetic" to Rozman at the time, but wouldn't absolve him completely.

He suggested a letter of warning in Rozman's file might have been appropriate.

"Everyone has a right of protest and the government has a right to exercise restraint if there's interference with public business," Sittig said. "That's pretty easy to say. It makes your heart jump a beat or two. It really gets dicey. I wish the faculty would have recommended a reprimand."

In 1995, Henry Holtzclaw, a professor of chemistry and former dean of the graduate college, now deceased, won UNL's academic freedom award for leading the faculty group that investigated the case against Rozman, found him blameless and recommended his retention to the Board of Regents.  

The student's mother who Rozman said ratted him out to the regents refused to talk to Holtzclaw's committee. 

Rozman's case led to reform, not what the ROTC compromise expected, but what the UNL award testimonial described as a faculty movement that led to bylaws that contributed to due process procedures that have served the faculty well. 

Eleven days after the Kent State shootings, two students were killed and 12 wounded by local and state police during an antiwar protest at Jackson State College, a predominantly black college now known as  Jackson State University.

There were no arrests in connection with the deaths at Jackson State, although the President's Commission on Campus Unrest concluded "that the 28-second fusillade from police officers was an unreasonable, unjustified overreaction... A broad barrage of gunfire in response to reported and unconfirmed sniper fire is never warranted."

Everybody seems to have heard of Kent State, some Nebraskans remember the overnight occupation of the ROTC building at UNL, but almost nobody remembers Jackson.

It's just down the road from Tougaloo. 

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

More video from this section

Reach Richard Piersol at 402-473-7241 or rpiersol@journalstar.com.

0
0
0
0
0

Load comments