1971: John Richards case - Students occupy Arts Building in support of professor
1971 saw a growing movement in favour of student participation come to a boil. In early February, the Department of Political Science and Economics announced that it was not rehiring John Richards, a visiting assistant professor on a one-year contract. Citing the confidentiality of personnel matters, the Department did not explain why Richards was being replaced, leaving plenty of room for speculation that Richards, an active member of the waffle movement and an NDP candidate, was being punished for his political activity. Richards himself later released the five reasons he had been given, including the claim that his involvement in politics meant that he was “not interested in Economics.” A Sheaf editorial noted: “Many students support the rehiring of John Richards because they feel that his classes relate Economic theory to problems in Saskatchewan today. ... John Richards, unlike an ivory tower academic, does not view Economics as unrelated to the problems of the community nor is it rigidly divided from politics.”
In response, students occupied the eighth floor of the Arts Building – the location of the Department’s offices – for ten days. At least one meeting calling for “open decision-making and the rehiring of Richards” had over 1500 students in attendance, and some students wore yellow armbands (a reference to Nazi Germany) in solidarity.
The same year, just before the Richards case heated up, students in the College of Law boycotted classes for five days, in reaction to “massive failure rates” and a perception of unfair marking policies.
These two incidents were seen by the protesters as part of the continuing effort – since at least 1968 – to increase student participation in university governance. Changes were first made in 1969, when students were invited to attend meetings of the Saskatoon Campus Council, although this also led to debates about confidentiality. The 1974 University of Saskatchewan Act, added voting student representatives to Council – at the time the main decision making body in terms of academic and student affairs – but because of delays in working out the details, these changes were not ratified until 1978. The Senate had added student representation earlier, and by 1978 the Board of Governors also had a student representative.
1971a: The Sheaf, March 12, 1971: “Students occupy 8th floor”
University Secretary’s Office fonds, RG 2009, file 37-9.