This Week in Williams History: Vietnam, dance marathons, and microcomputers

Dover Sikes

“This Week in Williams History” is a column dedicated to looking back at memorable moments in the College’s past through articles in the Record. This week in history, the College dealt with draft deferment, hosted dance marathons, and invested in computer technology.

April 16th, 1971: ‘Sawyer telegram protests retroactive loss of II-s’

In April 1971, as the Vietnam War raged on, the College protested the removal of draft deferrals for first-year students. The draft bill (H.R. 6531), which passed in September of 1971, but was then pending in the Senate, retroactively removed the special II-s status of first-year students for the Classes of 1974 and 1975, which granted them an exception to the draft for engagement in study.

“This College is deeply concerned over the retroactive withdrawal of present Freshman deferments through use of April 1970 as the effect date in the Selective Service legislation now before the Armed Services Committee,” wrote then-President Jack Sawyer in a telegram addressed to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We urge serious Senate consideration of the case of freshmen who decided on college careers last spring, with the expectation of continued deferment until graduation, and who might otherwise have made different service or career decisions.”

“It seems monumentally unfair to create retroactively different regulations for one group of students who have already acted or are about to act on the assumption that they would be deferred,” agreed then-Dean of Freshmen Lauren Stevens in a separate letter to the Senate committee. 

Sawyer’s and Stevens’ indignation was matched by the rest of the College community. Earlier that week, students had distributed flyers urging their peers to write to their senators to protest the legislation. Stevens sympathized with students, telling the Record, “Students should know that we are concerned about the draft problem.”

April 10, 1979: ‘Marathon dancers last all night; raise $4,000’

For over 16 hours on April 10, 1979, students showed off their best moves to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The event began in Dodd House at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, with 47 participants. By 12 p.m. on Sunday, 34 remained on their feet, still “enthusiastic and energetic.”

The competition was deemed a major success by participants and organizers alike. “It was a riot!,” one dancer told the Record. “I’ve never danced so many different ways in my life. You’ll definitely see me here next year.” However, this enthusiasm was not shared by all participants, with one tired contestant asserting at 1 a.m. that his mother would not like him to dance too long. Undeterred, his partner kept him on his feet until 3 a.m.

Prizes were also awarded at the end of the competition. Aside from crowning the winners who raised the most money, there were also the more humorous titles of Girl Who Paced Herself the Best, Best Bystander, Worst Tempo, Most Exhausted-Looking, and Ugliest Dancer. 

April 17th, 1984: ‘Trustees allot $2 million for huge computer buys’

In April 1984, the College moved to embrace modern technology by allotting $2 million, or over $5 million in today’s dollars, from its yearly budget towards the purchase of computers. Members of the College’s Board of Trustees reunited to approve the plan, which included allotting $300,000 to buy a single large central computer. Another $600,000 to $1 million was intended for the  purchase of 100 “microcomputers,” designated for student use in Jesup Hall.

The College’s total operating budget for the 1984–1985 fiscal year was $38.8 million, an increase of 8.4 percent from the following year — largely because of the new computer purchases. 

Then-Associate Provost and Director of Data Systems David Booth noted the milestone. “With these micros we can eventually change the whole philosophy of the Computer Science curriculum,” he said. In addition to the computer purchases, another $600,000 was set aside to be used to create a campus-wide computer network through wiring. This plan did not include wiring for dorms or for most faculty, although the possibility for these additions in the future was mentioned.