Political battles raged at the University of Minnesota, and on campuses throughout the United States, from the 1930s to the early 1940s.

The battles were among students, but particularly between students and administrators. The University of Minnesota was divided over issues, which included racism, antisemitism, opposition to war, and student rights. They mirrored national issues.

University of Minnesota presidents, deans, and other administrators routinely surveilled students and faculty for their political beliefs and activities. They attacked progressive student activism in order to create a campus in the narrow and distorted image of an “America First” nation. Some provided information to Republican politicians about student activists to aid their quest to demonstrate that Communists had “infiltrated” the University, in order to affect the outcome of state elections. They sought to influence many things, from what the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily, published, to the distribution of political materials by students, to the appointment of members of the Board of Regents who oversaw the University.

Racism and antisemitism were part and parcel of campus life. University administrators, with a few important exceptions, were architects of the racially segregated, publicly-financed housing on campus, and approved off-campus housing where Jews were also not welcome.

University life offered the opportunity to engage global, national, and state politics, both in the classroom and on the campus, where the most important issues of the day mattered deeply.

 

The campus struggles were embedded in the politics of the State of Minnesota, which elected three governors, members of congress, senators and local politicians from the Farmer-Labor Party, one of the nation’s most effective third parties. All campus conflicts were embedded in larger state-wide politics, and many administrators supported efforts to defeat Farmer-Laborites.

University life offered the opportunity to engage global, national, and state politics, both in the classroom and on the campus, where the most important issues of the day mattered deeply. Students were willing to fight for the ideas and principles that would shape the rest of their lives.

Despite the ongoing efforts by administrators to suppress student activism and maintain racially segregated student housing, student activists were remarkably successful at creating change. They succeeded because of the alliances they forged across political, religious, and racial lines. Coalitions extended beyond the campus and included local African American and Jewish communities as well as the Farmer-Labor party, the progressive political party that controlled most of the major statewide positions from 1930-1938. Together, they began the ongoing struggle for an inclusive University committed to political freedom.