Students stirred up, divided on draft
"We won't go!" That old student cry from the Vietnam war is rumbling again from Harvard to Berkeley after President Carter's call for draft registration. But even though campuses are seeing the largest protests since the early 1970s, students this time are far less united.
Interviews with campus leaders from every region of the country show that despite the greatest outpouring of student protest since the Vietnam war, opposition to registration is far from united:
* A poll of more than 200 students at Ohio State University taken less than a week ago shows 56 percent of those interviewed favor registration for the draft -- a dramatic decline from the 70 percent who said they supported Mr. Carter's action in a poll taken the night of his Jan. 23 State of the Union address in which he called for registration.
* At the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh, a November 1979 straw poll found a high percentage of students solidly against registration and the draft. Yet a survey conducted early this month found that opposition to registration had dropped to about 60 percent.
* Of 4,293 students surveyed recently at the University of Arizona, 2,703 said they opposed any moves to reinstate the draft.
* Still other student leaders from schools such as Kent State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte report their campuses are split nearly 50-50 over the issue.
One thing, however, is clear.Mr. Carter's request, which calls for the registration of 19-and 20-year-old men and women, has sparked new action on college campuses.
"He has managed to knock most of the apathetic students off the fence," says Douglas Tuthill, student body president of the University of Florida at Gainsville, where, he says, an estimated 900 students registered to vote in the week following the President's State of the Union speech.
"It seems to us that President Carter is going to be a one-man organizing movement for student activists of the 1980s," he says.
Recent rallies across the country have drawn hundreds, and often thousands, of protesters. Just last week an estimated 15,000 students on nine California campuses rallied against registration in a statewide protest.
Interviews with nearly two dozen student body presidents -- part of a group of 300 campus leaders invited to the White House to meet with President Carter on Feb. 15 -- reveal a flurry of campus activity, including stepped-up voter registration drives, "teachins" on registration and the draft, and lively debates in student assemblies.
And while opposition to the draft appears most impassioned among liberal students, it is an issue that cuts across party lines. In early February, for example, the national board of College Republicans -- the youth branch of the Republican Party -- voted down a resolution in support of Mr. Carter's proposal, letting stand a 1979 vote in opposition to the draft.
Many observers agree that what student division there is over the President's proposal stems directly from the surge of nationalism which has swept the country in the wake of the past year's events in Iran and Afghanistan.
Students themselves say shifts in campus opinion in the coming months may be extreme, depending on what continues to unfold on the global scene. And, they say, as Congress takes up the debate on registration, the issue will continue to be a lively one on campus -- particularly during an election year.
"Our biggest voice will be the upcoming election," says Steve Reddy, co-president of the student body at University of Colorado in Boulder. "We have a choice between a candidate who is for registration and a candidate who is against it," he says in apparent reference to presidential contenders Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and U.S. Rep. John B. Anderson, who have come out against registration.
What is more, even those students who support Mr. Carter's move warn that campus opinion would swing sharply if the President were to suggest reinstating the draft -- a step he assured students Feb. 15 that he did not intend to take.
"The draft is a whole different question," warns Mark Cassidy from the University of Texas at Austin, where he says the current student consensus is in support of the President. "It would spark a whole new thing. You'd get a lot of people coming out of the woodwork."