What was UNL like in the sixties and seventies?

In the spring of 1976, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln officially began offering an undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies. The program’s adoption was part of a much larger shift on campus. The sixties and seventies were a time of turbulence, change, and activism at UNL. During this period the desire for Women’s Studies courses was created, and the courage to confront institutional powers was fostered.

The student body drove the majority of these changes. Student enrollment doubled from 1961 to 1968, hitting nearly 20,000 by 1969. Student activists challenged university policy and the Board of Regents, criticizing the school’s curfew for female students and its ban on coed visitations in the dorms.

Oldfather Hall, photographed here in 1972, was built in the late 1960's to accommodate the growing university.

Oldfather Hall, photographed here in 1972, was built in the late 1960’s to accommodate the growing university.

UNL students also created the Free University—a “counterinstitution” that provided untraditional courses to students and the larger Lincoln community— in 1966. Women in Contemporary Society was one of the courses the Free University offered; in 1971 UNL implemented it as an official course.

Alongside the Free University and emerging Women’s Studies program, other groups also sought to challenge inequality and broaden the scope of academic inquiry at UNL. In 1970, psychology professor James Cole, English professor Louis Crompton, and University Health Service psychiatrist Louis Martin co-taught a ‘homophile’ studies course. Partly in reaction to student protests, UNL created the Black Studies program in 1971. The following year, the Institute for Ethnic Studies was founded. Ethnic Studies housed Black Studies, Chicano Studies and American Indian Studies (now named African American and African Studies, Latino and Latin American Studies, and Native American Studies, respectively).

The atmosphere at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln during the sixties and seventies was unprecedented; student activism was high and often radical, and both students and professors argued for fundamental changes within the university. Strikingly, UNL also had five different Chancellors in a decade (from 1970 to 1980), the largest turnover rate in the history of the university.

Photographs of UNL’s Chancellors (1970- 1980):