And perhaps no two stories could be more dissimilar. First, there was the end of the Penn Students Against Sweatshop protest against the University's use of sweatshop labor that ended Monday. And next there was the story that held top billing on both the front and back pages, the tale of the Penn men's basketball team's 55-46 defeat of Princeton on Tuesday. On one hand, there is the so-called sweatshop story, a situation that attracted national exposure. It was an example of Penn undergrads reaching out to the world beyond our Ivy walls. On the other hand, there was the basketball game. For many, Tuesday's painted faces and vulgar chants were examples of the ebullience of Ivy League life, examples of how sheltered Penn students are. There was, however, one point in time in Penn history where these two worlds colorfully collided -- the College Hall Sit-In of 1978. In the late '70s, the University's finances were not as rosy as they are today. So on Thursday, February 23, 1978, Penn admitted to a slew of forthcoming budget cuts, the most visible of which came from the office of then-Athletic Director Andy Geiger. Even though the Penn men's hockey team still had four games left on its schedule, Geiger shockingly admitted that the University was terminating its 12-year-old varsity hockey program effective the next year. The reaction was immediate and furious. Then-DP Sports Editor Dan Rosenbaum gave hockey coach Bob Finke the unhappy news in his office that day, and the Penn head man was livid. "The idea that you [the DP] would know before I would is what upsets me. It's gotta be someone in College Hall. That's what I want to find out. You people at the DP stand up for truth and honesty, right? All right, I want to know who did this," Finke said. "I've got 10 freshmen kids who would have gone to a lot of different places. Now they're asking, 'What the hell is going on here.'" Those connected with the hockey program were understandably enraged, but even more objective voices howled at the University's surprise decision. DP Managing Editor Steven Marquez lambasted Penn for its desire to keep important decisions "as clandestine as possible for as long a period as possible." The indignation over the demise of a team that had managed just four winning seasons in its 12 seasons continued to build throughout the following week. Although the budget cuts had also nixed the women's hockey club, the men's and women's gymnastics teams, the badminton team, the golf team and a host of other University programs, the ire of students on campus seemed to focus on the departure of men's hockey. The anger reached its fevered pitch on the following Thursday when a one-hour Undergraduate Assembly-sponsored rally turned into an all-night sit-in, as 800 angry students stormed College Hall. It would be 87 hours -- nearly a full four days -- before the students would leave. The sit-in of '78, even if it did come at the end of the "Me Decade," made the recently concluded PSAS protest look like a den meeting, and, more importantly, provides today's Penn students with a glimpse of a bygone era where protesters didn't need to look overseas to find an issue to rally around. Ironically enough, when the students spent their first night in College Hall, then-Penn President Martin Meyerson was vacationing in Barbados. But his absence didn't prevent the protesters from getting creative. The sit-in participants carried signs that read innocuous messages such as "Stick with Hockey," but they did go so far as to adorn a golden retriever with a sign that told the world that "I could run U. of P. Better." The University eventually got the joke. The sit-in ended at 3:35 the next Monday morning when 15 students and three administrators signed their names to a document detailing 31 agreements reached in grueling negotiations between students, administrators and Trustees. The compromise, which President Meyerson announced with tears in his eyes, granted the reinstatement of gymnastics, badminton and golf, but left the hockey team out in the cold. Many of Finke's puckmen wound up transferring to other schools, and still others toughed it out without Canada's national pastime for the sake of an Ivy League education. Hockey has never returned, and puck-crazed Penn students still need to settle for a club team. The protesters didn't get everything they wanted, but the '78 sit-in still makes me wonder. The Penn of 1978 is far different from the Penn of today. With soaring admissions numbers and an equally flourishing endowment, it's difficult for us to envision what it would have been like to see a 12-year-old varsity sport with a sparkling new arena sent right down the tubes. In addition, it's hard for us to understand the pure scale of the hockey-induced sit-in. Granted, the administration's initial moves toward an alcohol policy last spring prompted a mob to gather on College Green, but that was about it. There was no sit-in. There was no tearful capitulation by President Rodin. And, yes, the PSAS protest attracted national attention, but its initial 13 participants pale in comparison to the 800 starters in '78. In the final analysis, there's one lesson that I take away from examining the bygone Carter-era protest -- be thankful for Penn sports teams. I would love it if we had a hockey team, but that was taken away from our student body. I implore each Penn fan to take advantage of the opportunities that we have: the chance to watch a basketball game in the glorious confines of the Palestra, the chance to attend Penn Relays and the chance to watch the Penn football team in Franklin Field. With dwindling attendance at football games, it seems as if most of this campus disagrees with this opinion. That's too bad. As the 1978 sit-in demonstrates, being a spectator is not a right -- it's a privilege.Comments powered by Disqus
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