Using Nixon papers to track response to Vietnam protesters

The files of any recent president, including those of Richard M. Nixon, contain a voluminous amount of memoranda, letters, and other papers. Taken together, they enable scholars to patiently reconstruct the trail that led to actions by the administration. For example, in 1968 Congress passed a law that forbade federal student loans to any student convicted of criminal trespass or ``the seizure of property under control of an institution of higher education to prevent officials or students at such an institution from engaging in their duties or pursuing their studies.''

The law was rarely enforced, and in the first months of the Nixon administration, the President sought some way to cut off these loans from college students arrested in campus disorders, which often but not exclusively revolved around protests against American participation in the Vietnam war. On March 14, 1969, top White House aide John Ehrlichman, in a memo to Health Education and Welfare Secretary Robert Finch, said ``the President has asked, `what action HEW is taking' with regard to those arrested in campus disorders.''

A day later presidential aide K.R. Cole Jr., sent a memo to Mr. Ehrlichman on behalf of Nixon: ``Would you please advise the President of the specific action HEW is taking, and can take, against student rioters?''

Two days later Mr. Finch responded, circulating among five top White House aides the draft of two documents, a proposed Nixon speech and a prospective letter from Finch to the heads of all US colleges and universities. In the letter Finch proposed asking the educators for copies of their publications telling faculty and students of the law, a description of how the colleges would let current and future loan recipients know about the law, and ``the names of any students who should be denied funds'' under the law.

By combining these and other documents for the entire Nixon presidency, scholars will be able to trace the precise chronology of that administration's actions toward campus protesters.

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