Eric Williamson

When student protests of the Vietnam War swept across the nation’s colleges and universities in May of 1970, many doubted the fervor would reach the University of Virginia. The national wave of dissent was set off by the May 4 massacre at Kent State University, in which four students were killed, and nine wounded, by National Guardsmen during a student protest of U.S. military involvement in Cambodia.

At Virginia, attentions and sympathies were split as the semester wound down. Anti-war agitators stood out on Grounds because students were formally expected to conduct themselves as “gentlemen” and “ladies” — a vague standard enforced by the University’s student-run Judiciary Committee.

The night of the Kent State massacre, a group of about 1,200 young men and women demonstrated at the Rotunda in a spontaneous gathering, with a faction also marching to UVA President Edgar Shannon Jr.’s home on Carr’s Hill. But it was the occupation that night of Maury Hall, the Naval ROTC building, which proved more problematic. A splinter group of about 250 dissidents took the building, and made it clear they wouldn’t leave of their own volition.

“The atmosphere was as tense in the administration camp as it was in Maury Hall’s wardroom, where free cigarettes and coffee were distributed to the assembled forces of occupation,” The Cavalier Daily reported.

At the president’s request, Albemarle County Circuit Judge Lyttelton Waddell issued an injunction ordering the students to vacate, which meant police would remove them if they failed to comply. The students — also looking for an out — obeyed the injunction the next morning. The legal move was enough of a government cudgel that, observers noted, the students felt they had made their point. 

But the break in the disruptions would not last long.

The VMI Grad Who Ascended the Judiciary Committee

Thomas Boyd
Thomas Boyd was a law student 1970

Thomas M. Boyd ’71 would eventually rise to senior positions in public and private practice, including being appointed by President Ronald Reagan as an assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Justice and, later under President George H. W. Bush, head of the department’s Office of Policy Development. But in 1970, Boyd was still an aspiring lawyer, fresh out of the Virginia Military Institute. At UVA Law, Boyd was a member of the John Bassett Moore Society of International Law, a participant in moot court competitions and an associate editor of the Virginia Law Weekly. He often wore a jacket and tie to class like many of his classmates, although the dress code was growing more permissive.

“I graduated VMI as a commissioned officer, so I was not disposed to be an anti-war person,” Boyd recalled.

He also supported the strikes in Laos and Cambodia because North Vietnamese fighters were taking safe haven there to regroup and plan attacks against U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, including men he knew.

“A very high percentage of my graduating class — I’ve heard as much as 80 percent — fought in Vietnam, including both of my roommates, but fortunately we didn’t lose anybody,” he said. “For us, the war was a lot closer because we had friends there.”

Having been involved in student governance at VMI, Boyd decided to run for an open spot as the Law School’s representative on the University Judiciary Committee in the fall of 1969. As it does today, the committee handled violations not covered under the Honor Code — basically anything other than lying, cheating and stealing, which are grounds for automatic expulsion. Boyd defeated his friend and law classmate, Frederick Carlyle “Rick” Boucher ’71 for the position.

Boucher, ironically, would go on to serve 14 terms as U.S. representative from Virginia’s 9th Congressional District, beginning in 1983.

“Rick used to joke that the only election he ever lost was when we ran against one another in law school,” Boyd said.

Boyd himself would fare well during his relatively short time in elected office. In the spring of 1970, during the first semester of his two-semester term, his peers elevated him to chairman-elect of the committee. But with the promotion came a level of scrutiny and responsibility he never anticipated.

The Second Wave of Disruptions

After the Maury Hall sit-in, unrest continued at the University. Picketers with leaflets urged students to abandon their academic responsibilities, and faculty members who opposed the war proactively canceled classes. The Student Council voted unanimously to encourage students to back the strike “regardless of political views.”

On May 6, a crowd of about 3,000 gathered at the Rotunda to hear speakers such as law professor Charles Whitebread discuss, among other topics, the impracticality of enforcing the court’s recent injunction. But it was the rally at University Hall shortly afterward that provided the real accelerant to the day’s chaos. The high-profile event, which featured attorney William Kunstler, nationally known for his defense of the “Chicago Seven” (a group of countercultural heroes prosecuted for their actions at the 1968 Democratic National Convention), and Youth International Party activist Jerry Rubin, seemed to give national imprimatur to the movement on Grounds. Kunstler’s speech appealed more to the undecided, while Rubin’s tirades played to the radical base. So inspired, a crowd of more than 2,000 students marched again on Maury Hall.

Boyd and other law students, distinguished by armbands, served as student marshals who attempted to control the strike chaos, protect people and property, and advise students as needed regarding their individual rights.

“The theory of having marshals there was to try to get a handle on disruption,” Boyd said. “I never personally had to do that. UVA wasn’t Columbia. It wasn’t Berkeley. Virginia was calm and pale by comparison.”

Nevertheless, rocks flew during the second advance on Maury Hall, and though the volunteer marshals were unsuccessful in their attempts to dissuade the 200 new occupiers, a mattress fire set in the building’s basement served to clear them back out again. Other small fires were reported around Grounds as well.

The Mayflower Roundup

By Thursday, May 7, the police were becoming increasingly watchful. For the second day, hundreds of students had staged a “honk-in,” encouraging motorists to honk for peace near the intersection of Rugby Road and University Avenue in front of the Rotunda. State police were instructed to be tolerant of the protestors unless they obstructed traffic, which the students began to do on Thursday as they sprawled toward Routes 29 and 250. The police formed lines to push them back, but also gave ground Thursday and Friday as peacemakers attempted to negotiate stand-downs.

By early Saturday morning, though, the police were no longer negotiating. In a coordinated effort, city, county and state police advanced on more than 100 demonstrators who refused to disband, in a chase that spilled from the wall in front of the Rotunda onto the Lawn. In the end, dozens would be herded into a waiting Mayflower moving van to be transported to the police station for booking. Police wielded nightsticks against resistance, and dragged out some students who had managed to escape to rooms on the Lawn or inside a nearby fraternity.

On Sunday, May 10, President Shannon addressed an estimated crowd of 4,000 at the Rotunda. In the speech, he called for prompt action to end the Vietnam War, a concession to students, yet he reaffirmed his decision to keep the University open. He also referred to the groups of students who had aggressively approached Carr’s Hill, re-taken Maury Hall and confronted police during the honk-in as “mobs.” The first 30 minutes of his 45-minute speech were met with boos and hisses from the crowd, even when he tried to strike a sympathetic tone.

“The police acted to a degree I did not expect, and hope to avoid in the future,” Shannon said.

By the end of his speech, his comments returned to a hope for peace, which resonated more with the activist audience.

The Push to Prosecute — And Boyd's Push Back

Despite the conciliatory aspects of his speech, Shannon wanted student agitators held responsible for their actions. T. Marshal Hahn Jr., Shannon’s counterpart at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (better known today as Virginia Tech), would end up drumming out suspected rabble-rousers with summary dismissal. Virginia would have more of a process, at least, and a peer-based one at that.

Thomas Boyd
"I did not condone the conduct, but I thought it was entirely inappropriate to prosecute a whole room of students with the same broad standard." — Thomas Boyd

As newly elected chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Boyd was notified by the University that Shannon wanted to prosecute a number of students under the existing standard of conducting themselves as ladies or as gentlemen. But being a law student, Boyd felt that such a standard would not be enforceable if it were ever challenged in court.

“I believed, as the chair and a fledgling lawyer, that the standard of conducting yourself as a lady or gentleman was too imprecise and probably violated the Fifth and 14th Amendments’ due process requirement of meaningful notice,” he said. “If we were to prosecute, I thought we should bring specific charges for specific conduct, such as breaking and entering, or damage to property or whatever they had done. As it turned out, the University was unable to produce any evidence whatsoever against any of the individuals who were charged.”

That was because, in mass-arresting the protestors, the police had failed to positively connect individuals with specific crimes.

“Everyone who was brought up on police charges had their charges dismissed, and this was largely the same population carted away in the Mayflower van,” Boyd said. “The University thought we would just rubber-stamp the old standard, but that could have resulted in students’ expulsion from school.”

Boyd’s recommendation not to prosecute did not go over well.

“President Shannon wasn’t happy with that result,” he said. “I don’t think he thought very highly of me at the time.”

Because of the pushback, Shannon and the Board of Visitors summoned Boyd to explain his actions at their subsequent meeting.

Nixon's Man on the BOV

Donald Santarelli
In 1970, Donald Santarelli was associate deputy attorney general, a top Justice Department appointment under President Richard Nixon.

Donald E. Santarelli ’62, then in his early 30s, was the young new associate deputy attorney general, a top Justice Department appointment under President Richard Nixon. By default of his prominent position and the changing political climate under Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton Jr.—the first Republican governor since Reconstruction—Santarelli found his relative youth accentuated once again when Holton appointed him to UVA’s Board of Visitors. He was the youngest person ever appointed to the board.

“Holton thought it was a good idea to rattle the old guard in Richmond,” Santarelli said. “Edgar Shannon was a progressive man who carefully trod the boards, and he was a man on a mission to build the University into a modern faculty. Everything was new except for the Board of Visitors.”

Santarelli went on to have a long and distinguished career in law and government, having served five times as a presidential appointee, four times confirmed by the U.S. Senate, for three different presidents. But in 1970, he was still a Nixon man, and eager to prove himself.

“There was unrest, and the board wanted to get into that,” he said. “We wanted to hear from responsible students who had roles.”

Boyd remembered his appearance before the board as “sort of a Star Chamber environment.”

“Here I was at the end of this long table,” Boyd said. “I was called in to explain myself and did so in an oral presentation. I talked about the Founders’ devotion to the Bill of Rights and the dedication of the University to due process. As a result of that tradition, when the case was presented to us, I thought that it had to be handled in a fair and lawful manner.”

He pointed out that the entire student Judiciary Committee had agreed with him that the standard in existence at the time was an unenforceable one.

Then he stopped talking. There were a few questions, which Boyd did his best to answer. Silence again.

“Well, folks, you’ve heard what Mr. Boyd has to say,” Boyd recalled Shannon telling the board. “Anyone here agree with him?”

Hands remained flat or folded.

“I was feeling pretty alone, and fortunately Don Santarelli raised his hand,” Boyd said. “What he said was, ‘I think actually he’s right on the law and what he did.’”

The Fruits of the Special Committee on Disruptive Persons

For his concurrence with Boyd, Santarelli’s “punishment” was to head a new committee, The Special Committee on Disruptive Persons, charged with adding substantive detail to the Standards of Conduct. He and Boyd, who also worked that summer in D.C., made repeated return trips to Charlottesville to hammer out the code with then-UVA legal adviser Leigh Middleditch Jr. ’57. Santarelli wanted to make sure the proposed language would fly, so he bounced much of it off his colleagues at the Justice Department, who were game to help out. Their involvement gave the effort additional credibility.

Donald Santarelli
"Everyone on the board, including [President] Shannon, felt relieved to have someone take the lead and give the work a gloss of authority." — Donald Santarelli

“Everyone on the board, including Shannon, felt relieved to have someone take the lead and give the work a gloss of authority,” Santarelli said.

Others who were involved initially or at the end of the process were the student body president and the head of the Honor Committee. But for the majority of the process, “it was mostly just Don and me,” Boyd said.

Their work resulted in the delineation of 11 potential violations, including damage to property, intentional disruption of teaching, and unauthorized entry or occupation of University property, along with potential sanctions, up to expulsion. The language was approved in an Aug. 25, 1970, resolution, with the committee ironing out some additional language changes by October.

“It is clear that in a community of learning, willful disruption of the educational process, destruction of property, and interference with the orderly process of the University or with the rights of other members of the University cannot be tolerated,” the Standards of Conduct, as reflected in Oct. 2, 1970, Board of Visitors minutes, read. “A student enrolling in the University assumes an obligation to conduct himself in a manner compatible with the University’s function as an educational institution. To fulfill its functions of imparting and gaining knowledge, the University retains the power to maintain order within the University and to exclude those who are disruptive of the educational process.”

The language the two men helped craft remained unchanged for more than 30 years.

In the process of doing their work, Boyd and Santarelli became good friends. They continued to keep in touch as Santarelli resigned from the Nixon administration in protest of the Watergate scandal, and Boyd went on active duty as a captain in the U.S. Air Force and then clerked for a federal judge in Los Angeles. They remain close friends today.

“I consider Don the older brother I never had,” said Boyd, now a partner at DLA Piper in Washington, D.C.

“I consider Tom my younger brother,” said Santarelli, now a partner at Dinsmore, also in Washington.

Had another student been head of the judiciary, the outcome might have been different. Personal or political motivations of the time might have come into play. But as a result of Boyd’s stand — and Santarelli’s support — UVA did not have to fend off lawsuits (as Virginia Tech did), no young men were expelled and subsequently drafted, and, Santarelli believes, the University evolved much faster than it might have otherwise.

For Boyd, the only thing that was relevant was a fair path to a just outcome.

“I did not condone the conduct, but I thought it was entirely inappropriate to prosecute a whole room of students with the same broad standard,” he said. “I don’t recall that I had any feelings about anyone getting off. I would have been happy to convict if there had been proof. It wasn’t anything that I did for any reason other than I thought it was the right thing to do.”