Special Collections and Archives

Michael Schwartz, Oral History

Michael Schwartz, Oral History

Recorded: November 20, 2008
Interviewed by Craig Simpson
Transcribed by Shannon Simpson


[Interviewer]: Good morning, the date is November 20th 2008. My name is Craig Simpson. We are conducting an interview today for the May 4 Oral History Project. Could you please state your name?

[Michael Schwartz]: My name is Michael Schwartz.

[Interviewer]: Where were you born?

[Michael Schwartz]: Chicago, Illinois.

[Interviewer]: Where did you first go to college?

[Michael Schwartz]: I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. That was the only place I went to look at a school.

[Interviewer]: What was your major?

[Michael Schwartz]: My undergraduate major was psychology and with a minor in sociology, and my graduate work was in labor and industrial relations and in sociology.

[Interviewer]: How familiar were you with the protest movement of the late 1960's?

[Michael Schwartz]: I would say quite familiar. I was Associate Dean for Undergraduate Development at Indiana University in Bloomington in '67, academic [year] '67-'68. The protest movement was really boiling on that campus and we didn't have National Guardsmen, but we had troopers all over the place, all the time. So, tough times.

[Interviewer]: Do you remember where you were on May 4 1970?

[Michael Schwartz]: I do, as a matter of fact. I was packing up and getting ready to move from Indiana University to Florida Atlantic University. I was, in fact, kind of walking around the campus and sitting on the edge of Showalter Fountain at IU when the news came. And everybody was just stunned. It was a tough time.

[Interviewer]: Was that your reaction, as well?

[Michael Schwartz]: Yeah, I just couldn't believe it had finally happened. I had a funny feeling that sooner or later something would happen like that. But I thought that that would start to bring the whole movement to a--draw that stuff to a close. But I just didn't expect where it happened. I thought that there were many more likely candidates for that. And so we were all in a state of shock. Course, I guess the next day or two days later--I can't remember which--people from Kent State came over for a memorial service that we were doing at Indiana. And the advice was, when the National Guard shows up, if they want your books, give them your books and go home. I remember all of that.

[Interviewer]: Was there a lot of protest at IU at the time, or was it very tranquil?

[Michael Schwartz]: No, it wasn't tranquil at all, and there was a great deal of protest in two forms. There was the national movement, the SDS stuff that was on our campus. In fact, we had the national--there was a national meeting of the SDS on our campus over the Christmas holiday in '67 [laughs]. I'm not gonna forget that for a long time. And then we had the Black Student protest, which was pretty interesting. Mostly protesting housing arrangements, especially fraternity and sorority arrangements in Bloomington. And that was a very, very tough protesting time. And that was in the Spring, I think, of '67. Maybe '68, I'm not sure. But both of those things had been going on.

[Interviewer]: That's interesting because it corresponds with the Black United Students protest here on campus--

[Michael Schwartz]: Yeah.

[Interviewer]: --roughly around the same time period.

[Michael Schwartz]: Yeah, I think that was starting to heat up. That one [at Indiana University] was very much focused, and it was on the segregation of the fraternities and sororities.

[Interviewer]: Interesting. When did you first come to Kent State?

[Michael Schwartz]: I came in the Spring of 1976, as Vice-President for Graduate Studies and Research. I think I arrived here in May--end of April or early May. And of course I was here for 25 years.

[Interviewer]: What were your impressions of the University culture in terms of the general attitude toward the shootings, even six years later?

[Michael Schwartz]: It was interesting. My feeling about it, I was just astounded by the attention it was getting, and six years later it was not just high on the minds of people here, but when I told the kids--their mother and I told the kids we were moving here from Florida in '76--the kids would announce that at school and all of the kids in their classes would say, "Why would anybody want to go there?" Now these are little kids in Florida. And when I got here, the place was a raw nerve. It was still reeling six years later from the effects of that. High in the minds of townspeople, faculty, some of the students. It was still a tough time. And, of course, very shortly thereafter the construction of the Gym led to protest of the Gym Annex. Led to massive protest. And all that did, of course, as you would expect, would be to inflame those memories and those passions even more on both sides. And those became very, very difficult, very trying times.

[Interviewer]: Lets talk about the Gym Annex a little bit. Did that occur--did it begin during your three months as acting president, or was it after Brage Golding became president?

[Michael Schwartz]: No, that started while Glenn Olds was the president.

[Interviewer]: Oh, Glenn Olds was president.

[Michael Schwartz]: Yeah, while he was president, he and the board [of trustees] had settled on--and I guess architects; Richard Fleischman, that's the architect--had settled on a site right behind the Gym with for an Annex to it. A huge, huge facility, as you know. They announced that, and that's when it began. This was ground that had been dubbed sacred in some respects, and intrusions onto it in any way weren't going to be tolerated. And so that just built on itself very rapidly, and led to the Tent City and an awful lot of court time. Then when Glenn left, I was appointed the acting president. Lucky me. And I spent the summer working on that protest trying to control it. Not to put it out, but to try and get it under some control so nobody got hurt.

The fear of somebody getting hurt was high on everybody's mind at the time. So it was high on everybody's mind to the point that the Carter White House called me and the then chariman of the board--I guess he was chairman--to come to the White House for conversations because they were very fearful of something more happening. They already had a number of the protest leaders there when we arrived. We left at the end of the day, and there was no resolution of anything except we understood no one was supposed to get hurt. Well, we didn't need a trip to the White House to tell us that. But we had a trip to the White House and that's how far up in the food chain--the political food chain--that this concern had finally reached.

[Interviewer]: Did you speak directly with President Carter?

[Michael Schwartz]: No. He had a woman who was a presidential assistant for community relations or something like that. [She] had come from a city in upstate New York, and I can't remember her name. She was the one that got us in there and was doing a little arm-twisting and that sort of thing. I can remember it was a fascinating day. Then I came back and did what I was doing, and trying very, very hard to keep this thing from exploding in our face.

[Interviewer]: What examples of steps did you or did your administration take in order to control the situation?

[Michael Schwartz]: The best course that we could have taken we did take, and that was to get this thing under the umbrella of the courts. And we did that. We had very, very good legal council. And we spent, as far as I can tell, the whole summer in federal court. Some of it over here in common pleas court--Portage County Common Pleas Court--because every time we arrested somebody on the site, after the construction fence went up it was posted, "No Trespassing" kind of stuff. Anytime we had to arrest somebody, of course it led to more confrontation over at Portage County Common Pleas. But most of the time it was spent in Federal District Court. I can't remember all the goings on there, but I thought as long as we were under the umbrella of the courts, and court orders had come about how conduct was going to go forward, then I thought we were okay. And I think it worked out pretty much that way. If something had to happen, I wanted a judge to tell me what that was going to be. So we kept it under the umbrella of the courts as much as we could that summer and into the fall.

I think finally once the construction went forward, that pretty much ended it, except for the fact that when President Golding arrived he was still in the tear gas business. That was, I think, in September when he started. End of August, September, I can't remember exactly. But he still found himself standing on top of a building, maybe this one [the library], and there was a lot of tear gas flying. People had come in for a final shot at the protest stuff. Buses from all over the place, busloads of people, and they didn't stay very long. It was more or less under control, but the university paid an enormous price for it--which was, I suppose, that was supposedly the aim in from the beginning--and the price was that the enrollment just, the bottom dropped out. At one time I think we were down to 16,000 students, and it got kind of pricey fast. And Golding's job was to kind of figure out how to keep the place open and running on that basis of that loss. And he was masterful, he was absolutely masterful at that. He had to be kind of ruthless--and he was--but he was also capable of making it clear what had happened and what we were going to do about it.

[Interviewer]: Right.

[Michael Schwartz]: And then we recovered slowly over the next few years. So he really did a good job.

[Interviewer]: Obviously, hindsight's 20/20--

[Michael Schwartz]: [laughs] Yes.

[Interviewer]: --because of the situation that you and President Golding had inherited. If it had been up to you originally, would you have, do you think that you would have built the Annex on that site?

[Michael Schwartz]: That's too, that's too difficult. That's a second guess. I think I might just have been a little more sensitive to the event and what it meant to people. I think what wasn't understood then, was that this thing had the makings of--and I wouldn't have understood this either, I'm sure--of becoming a heroic event and becoming the great saga of Kent State University. Most universities that have been around for a long time develop certain myths and certain sagas about their own histories, and I don't know about myth-making here, but there was a great clear saga-creating event that had happened that would live inside this institution probably as long as it stands. It was a wonderful opportunity to think that way, but I can see why nobody did. It's also the case, I think, that if somebody had said, "Gee, isn't this where--" And the answer was, "No, it's not. But, it's just adjacent to it." And I think that was the case. If somebody might have consulted with some of the people who were still here and on the faculty at least, like Jerry Lewis, and said, "What do you think?" But nobody apparently did anything like that.

[Interviewer]: And then, your term as president, when did that begin?

[Michael Schwartz]: '82.

[Interviewer]: '82. And it went to 1991, is that right?

[Michael Schwartz]: Yeah. I left on March 15th and Carol took over on March 16th.

[Interviewer]: [laughs] Wow.

[Michael Schwartz]: [laughs] I remember that.

[Interviewer]: During that nine year term, what May 4-related events do you remember?

[Michael Schwartz]: Well, the big stuff was, on my watch, is of course the annual May 4th celebration. Course, that was also a period in time when, early in my administration--I think that probably the first six to ten months--that I felt we gotta come to terms with this thing. And we'll never end this, because it's not gonna end, but we can get at least the beginning of an ending. An ending in the sense of the anger and bitterness. We got the beginning of that going. So we struck on the idea of having a memorial built. That is something that people had wanted. But it's also something that an awful lot of people did not want. So the trick was, somehow, to bring both sides together, and let them hammer this thing out. And see what sort of conclusion they could reach. And it was miraculous that we got them to sit down at the same table.

And the chair of that commission--or, committee--was a dean here, a dean of fine professional arts. His name was Harry Alspritch [sp?], [and he] did a masterful job over a long term of getting folks to talk to one another and to come to some conclusion about this. It took most of the year. And the conclusion was, not that there should be a memorial to those killed and wounded, but there should be a memorial to the events of May 4th 1970. That's the way they put it, I think, in their report, which was fine with me. And at least that much they could agree on, without anything much of any dissent. I put together students and faculty and alumni and townspeople, and we got them all to sit down around the same table. And that's what they came up with.

And then, of course, it's just a huge long story about how we conducted a search for a proper design. I don't know if you followed--have all that.

[Interviewer]: Some.

[Michael Schwartz]: But it was interesting, to say the least. And, as you would expect, ended in great controversy. Which I think controversy is just part of this whole thing. It's there, and there's not much you can do about that.

[Interviewer]: It's built into the fabric.

[Michael Schwartz]: It is. Nice way to put that. It's built right into the fabric of the events.

So, we decided the time had--I could tell you a couple stories you might like--decided that we would have a memorial, and the best way to do this would be to have a national competition for a memorial design. And we hired a guy named Paul Spreiregen, an architect and somebody who conducts these kinds of competitions. He's from Washington, D.C. We applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant to run the competition, and ultimately we got it, and used that money to pay Spreiregen and take care of the costs of the competition, which were not inconsiderable. But before the grant came, and I'm trying to remember who was the proposal writer--it was, I think it was then the chairman of the architecture department, who is still here as a matter of fact, and back doing that job. While the grant application was being considered, one of the minions of the federal government from the President's office, I understand, or somebody appointed by--this is now Reagan--dropped by to see me [for the] President, and to explain that he wasn't too sure that the government wanted to make an award like this, that politically it was too hot to handle, too controversial.

At this same time, you might remember that Ronald Reagan was embroiled in a controversy. He was about to go off to Bitburg, Germany to lay a wreath at a cemetery where a considerable number of SS soldiers and officers were buried. He became--and he did that in spite of the fact that people literally were begging him not to. One of the great survivors and Nazi fighters begged him publicly not to do that. People were asking him not to do that, and he went off and did it anyway. And so I've got this guy in my office saying, "This thing is too hot to handle." And I said, "You mean to tell me that the great peacemaking hero of Bitburg thinks this is too hot to handle by comparison?" I said, "Gee, I don't get this grant, I guess I'm going to have to tell that to the papers. Wouldn't you?"

[Interviewer]: Of course this is also the President who, when he was Governor of California, said something to the effect of, to the protesters, "If you want a bloodbath, let's get it on."

[Michael Schwartz]: That's it, that's exactly right. So here is the peacemaker of Bitburg telling me this is too hot to handle, which I thought was just amazing. Anyway, we did, after that, get the grant. And went forward.

Paul Spreiregen was just wonderful in managing this, helping us to avoid most, but not all, of the pitfalls. And we went forward and invited applications and submissions and so on, with a string of rules we had made up--one of which was, we wanted these from American citizens. This was a uniquely American event, we wanted to indicate. And we had submissions from all over the country--I mean, it was astounding--including a couple from children and one very good one, as a matter of fact, from I think an eleven-year-old from one of the New England states. And we were trying to figure out where in the world are we going to put these up and display them. We picked a great jury for this, really very expert people from all around the country, credentials were impeccable. And we ran that thing, and they picked a design that, frankly, I didn't like at all. In fact, I thought it was awful. But that's why you hire independents, surely.

So we were ready to go forward with that, when the primary designer--there were two guys that teamed up--primary designer announced to us that, in fact, he had violated the rules, he was a Canadian. His partner was an American, but he was primary designer. He was a Canadian, and we didn't have much choice but to disqualify him. Needless to say there was legal wrangling over that, and some money exchanged hands to get him out of here. And then we went to the second-place winner and declared him a winner--Bruno Ast, who presented a design so big that it would overwhelm the campus and the trustees didn't want anything to do that, and we couldn't spend that kind of money either. We asked him to redesign the thing, cut it back and redesign it, which he did. He was a wonderful man--is a wonderful man--and did a great job and gave us a fascinating memorial which we built on the hill out here.

Even that final decision to go forward was not without controversy. There was a state senator, who was Vietnam Veteran, I think a Marine, who was a faculty member at Ohio State also--I think in political science--who, as part of the budget bill that was presented, said, "No funds from this budget will be used to create a memorial at Kent State University." Which I thought was--not that we were going to do that, because we weren't, we were going to raise it one way or another through private money. But it was as mean-spirited an act as I had really run across in all of this. Protest, no protest, that was just flat-out mean-spirited. But we overcame that and we put some money together, one way or another, and we were able to build it. And we dedicated the memorial on May 4th of 1990, as you may have heard. But that great long piece of the saga probably has not been chronicled or told maybe anywhere else.

[Interviewer]: We have all those submissions in our archives.

[Michael Schwartz]: Do you really?

[Interviewer]: They get looked at quite frequently.

[Michael Schwartz]: I'll bet they do.

[Interviewer]: They're very interesting.

[Michael Schwartz]: Oh, there is some fascinating stuff there. It was great. It was really fun. The creativity of those folks was--man, it was just great.

[Interviewer]: What was your reaction to the [State of Ohio] governor's public apology that occurred?

[Michael Schwartz]: I had no warning that it was coming. Here were maybe four thousand people standing under umbrellas in a cold and driving rain on May the 4th, 1990, and they had come for the memorial dedication and they had come to hear Eugene McCarthy, I thought. And of course the governor showed up. We did not really expect him. He came and did the public apology that nobody had done from the state ever before, or I think had never considered. I was really quite stunned by it, and I thought it was just an amazing performance. I thought Dick Celeste honored himself and this university that day in ways that nobody else probably would have, or could have. So he really stole the event. And then, of course, people lit candles in that rain under their umbrellas, somehow managed to put them on the memorial and--it was an amazing day, just an amazing day.

[Interviewer]: What else do you remember?

[Michael Schwartz]: About that day?

[Interviewer]: Or from your time as president?

[Michael Schwartz]: Oh!

[Interviewer]: [Both laugh] Or from that day, too.

[Michael Schwartz]: Oh, yeah, I remember one day, let's see. I was coaching a boys baseball team in Stow. I lived in Stow. My kids had won their league championship. This was the time of the Gym protests. So I took them all out to dinner. They all got cleaned up, I'd never seen them looking like that before. They all got cleaned up and dressed up and I took them to a small Italian restaurant in Stow where they could eat all the pasta in all the world--pizza--and to give them their trophies. Our table was surrounded by protesters wearing those tee-shirts that they were wearing at the time. They spent a lot of time staring at us. I thought, well, that was an adorable move on their part. It could just have been coincidence, I guess. But we were still trying to run a university all while this was going on and there's a lot of things that needed doing, a lot of academic things that needed to be done. I remember a certain amount of open hostility that was still there during really brutal stuff, still with parents and siblings of those who were killed and wounded. And some wonderful encounters with some of the wounded who had more than their share of troubles. And some not-so-nice encounters with at least one of the wounded who had more than his share of troubles.

You know, if you back out of it, it was all part of a piece. It was the creation of this enormous great saga, almost like an Icelandic saga. A great heroic story that was developing, and it has developed to the point now where it is such a massive part of that's now the legend of Kent State. Never mind the reality of it, it's part of the legendary Kent State. I never really thought about it too much while it was happening, but it sure did occur to me, while it was happening, that something like that could happen. And it did, and I'm sure that it still arouses all kinds of feelings on both sides of the event. Very much in the tradition of, you know, there are southerners who call [the Civil War] the "War of Northern Aggression" and there are northerners who, well--there's that kind of thing continues to develop now, as far as I can tell.

Initially I would have said, and I did say it, that it did huge amount of damage to this university. My complaint to the press was that the university was being treated like the rape victim who was being blamed for the rape. I said that to the press from time to time, that they were treating us that way. It generally got their attention, and for the most part they stopped it--after, of course, the Pulitzer Prizes had been won. But the University didn't pull the trigger, The University did not invite the shooting. If the University is to be blamed, it is to be blamed for deciding on this Gym site. Funny, I had encounters with a United States Senator over it, and the White House. It was really quite an amazing time in my life. I was a kid, and I got thrown into that. I said to the paper, "When the lion lies down with the lamb, the lamb doesn't sleep very well." And that's exactly what was going on.

But, nevertheless, my understanding of it in hindsight is that this university has an identity. You can like it, not like it, doesn't matter. But I think it's now so part of the university that it ought to be understood as that. As the great saga. And we go forward. That's exactly what Carol [Cartwright] did, and that's exactly what Lester [Lefton] is doing. I think they're right on, right on the line. They're doing exactly what they ought to be doing.

[Interviewer]: Do you think the University has come to terms with the event better now than--?

[Michael Schwartz]: Yeah, sure. You know, the people who really remember that thing don't probably remember it accurately. Probably I don't either [laughs]. They're all old folks like me and they're gonna have those memories and then those memories are going to go, which is why your project matters. But when those memories go, there will live on this legend. Some people will want to come in and study it for its own sake--that's historians and psychologists and sociologists and whatever. But the legend itself, I think, the great saga, is in place.

[Interviewer]: Are there any other thoughts you'd like to share?

[Michael Schwartz]: No, that's more than enough.

[Interviewer]: Okay, well, Dr. Schwartz, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.

[Michael Schwartz]: Yeah, you're welcome. Nice of you to come.