John Guidubaldi, Oral History
Recorded: April 11, 2008
Interviewed by Craig Simpson
Transcribed by Robin M. Katz
Note: This transcript includes geo-references to locations that are discussed in the oral history. Geographical names linked in the transcript will open in a new window or tab that takes you to that location information and map in the Mapping May 4 project. To request a transcript without geo-reference links included, please contact Kent State University Special Collections & Archives.
[Interviewer]: Good morning, the date is April 11, 2008. My name is Craig Simpson. I am conducting an interview today for the May 4 Oral History Project and could you please state your name?
[John Guidubaldi]: Dr. John Guidubaldi.
[Interviewer]: And where were you born?
[John Guidubaldi]: I was born in Girard, Ohio.
[Interviewer]: Where did you go to college?
[John Guidubaldi]: I went to the naval academy at Annapolis and after two years there decided not to complete it and become a military officer. I went to Youngstown State University, which was Youngstown University at the time. Took my bachelor's in teaching science and math, then came to Kent State and took a Master's degree in school psychology in 1964. Then I went on to Harvard and took my doctorate degree in 1969, and then I came to Kent State again, this time as a faculty member in 1969 in the summer.
[Interviewer]: What department did you teach in?
[John Guidubaldi]: At that time it was called the Counseling and Personnel Services Education Department.
[Interviewer]: How would you describe the university prior to the events of 1970?
[John Guidubaldi]: A peaceful midwestern university. By the events of 1970, I would have to exclude the year 1969-1970 when I was first here as a young faculty member, but when I was here in the mid-sixties, for example, it was a very peaceful place. Beautiful campus. A lot of good relationships with the town members; town-gown relations were great. The reputation of the university was building and I think it was well-supported by the state and by student tuition monies. Faculty seemed pleased and happy. I had a great relationship with Walter Barbe, who was the chairman of my department, and Don Ferguson, who was the director of my school psych program; and other faculty, in fact, socialized with them. It was a very lovely place in the mid-sixties.
I went away to college for my doctorate degree, and went to the East Coast and it was in stark contrast to the peacefulness of Kent State. At Harvard, I was witness to the Harvard demonstration, was in fact what I consider to be a victim of it, because they shut down the university when I was doing my dissertation and I had previously been exposed through the news media to the activities going on at Columbia, Brandeis, Boston College, Boston University. So we saw a lot of demonstrations on the East Coast. At that time, it was clear to me that a lot of the demonstrations were ill--were kind of exercises in student power, if you will. For example, there was a set of demonstration demands made at Boston College in the, before--when the TV cameras were ready to roll and before any trouble started, the administration conceded to all the demands. As I recall, the group that was trying to stir up the trouble went and subdivided their demands into some that could not be met. And so there was a demonstration, there were TV personalities that were there, and interviews made and student leaders were established in the media in that demonstration. So I was kind of skeptical about those things.
But in the spring of '69, my dissertation was in the computers and I needed the library to finish and I had a wife and two kids. And I had a couple of job offers: one from Notre Dame, one from Kent State, another one from Tufts University where I was teaching part-time. And Harvard had offered me an opportunity to stay on as a research faculty. I chose to come to Kent State at that time because of my memories of the peacefulness of this place. So the bucolic midwest beckoned. I ended up having to do my dissertation--writing my dissertation in record time because the computers were shut down and because of the disruption there. And I might take a moment to tell you a bit about that.
The SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] Weathermen faction had proposed taking over the administration building at Harvard, and it was voted down by the majority of the SDS group. But Weathermen weren't a very democratic group and they took over the administration building anyway. When they did that, the Cambridge police came in and told them to get out of the building or they would evict them, they'd come into the building and evict them. And they refused to do so. They published some sensitive ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] contracts and government defense contracts in the underground newspaper; they threw black paint on the files, on a number of the files; threw two deans down the steps, two deans that were fairly fragile physically; and a variety of other things that were clearly confrontation politics. The Cambridge police made the threats and didn't follow through with them. They made other threats; an hour later they would come in, and again they didn't come in and evict them. So finally they did. When they did the worse thing that they did was to hit some students on the back of the legs with billy clubs. That set up police brutality charges and the entire university shut down in sympathy with the quote-victim-unquote students who were hit on the back of the legs. And that's all that had taken place, but the university shut down. I, and a number of fellow students, were very upset with this behavior, but--and we were in the majority by far, but the majority did not rule in that situation again. So I did get the dissertation done and I packed up my family and came back to the peaceful midwest.
In the summer of '69, I had heard that there were some demonstrations or some grievances expressed by the Black United Students. And through the course of that year, I heard more and more feelings of empowerment in the student body, feelings of disillusionment about authority and the way the war was going in Vietnam and so on. But I sensed as a faculty member, too, a feeling and a spirit among the students that was a surprise to me. Our students in the child development specialist, for example, decided that they should determine their own curriculum. Our school psych people who thought they should--a number of them thought they should determine their own curriculum. Now, of course, from a faculty member's point of view, we are responsible to set the standards--or, to meet the standards that the state sets for certification for school psychologists to ensure that the students who will be tested and interviewed and counseled by the school psychologists will be receiving services from qualified people. And that assurance of quality in the graduates was something that was our professorial responsibility. But I was quite taken aback by the fact that at mid-year a number of our students were pressing us to allow them to determine their curriculum. I had never heard of such a thing. But it was part of the Zeitgeist of the time that there was kind of an inflated set of expectations and a grandiosity that I was unprepared to see in a student body in my first full-time professor job.
[Interviewer]: Did you and your family live in Kent?
[John Guidubaldi]: Yes, we lived on Willow Street, a little bungalow on Willow Street two doors up from Crain Avenue. And I walked to work everyday and saw a lot of the tension mounting. Prior to the actual events of May 4th, I and Don Wonderly and Mark Kaplan were in Washington, DC for a conference and, in fact, it's kind of interesting. As we were driving back, we heard that the National Guard was coming into town. And we were concerned because, quite frankly, we had--one of the persons had purchased a lot of liquor in Washington and was bringing it into Ohio without having paid the tax on the Marley's. So I was instructed to lay blankets over the liquor in the back of the station wagon and lie down and pretend I was sleeping so we'd get through the roadblocks.
[Interviewer]: And this was that weekend?
[John Guidubaldi]: This was that weekend, that was Friday--I think Friday night or Saturday.
[Interviewer]: Friday would have been May 1st and Saturday would have been May 2nd.
[John Guidubaldi]: So it probably was May 2nd, I think, or something like that. So we had just left Washington and drove in the station wagon home about five and a half, six hours. So we pulled into town and indeed there were Guardsmen at the entrances. Another event: I tried to go to the store at one point and get milk for the kids, and I was out of cigarettes. I don't know which was the more pressing issue, milk for the kids or cigarettes for me, but I went to the corner and a Guardsman was at the corner of Crain and Willow Street. Sent me back home. Nice--very courteously, [he] said, "Sorry, sir, I can't let allow anybody out, there's a curfew." That was either Saturday night or Sunday night, I've forgotten which.
But I had seen the masses of students in the street one of those days on Main Street. And the same Guard[sman], I was quite taken aback. My children were playing out in the yard and were quite frightened by some of the events. They were hearing the helicopters--there was a helicopter that went over ahead and they would dive into the garage and hide and play games like that. Middle of the night, I had a bunch of azaleas in my backyard that were kind of prized azaleas. The middle of the night one night--I have forgotten whether it was Saturday or Sunday--a group of probably thirty or forty students came running through my backyard and trampling my azaleas. And one of 'em--I had a clothesline--one of 'em, in fact, got kind of clotheslined that evening.
But the townspeople were very frightened and upset. This was chaos and we weren't used to that. And we had heard about the spray-painting and the people coming out of the bars and breaking windows, and I guess the shoe store or something had some shoes stolen or something, I don't--there were some rumors of that sort. But we had heard all the stories about what was going on downtown, and of course I was just a few blocks from downtown. So my neighbors were worried, they were frightened. My wife was frightened. We didn't know what to make of what was happening, but it was certainly scary.
[Interviewer]: Was it your impression that these were primarily Kent students, or were they the quote-unquote outsiders, or a mix?
[John Guidubaldi]: That's a good question because having been on the East Coast, I saw people moving from campus to campus. The news reports were that there were a number of people who were sort of itinerant rabble-rousers, and I thought probably some of those were here at Kent as well. And I heard a couple of speeches. I heard one guy talking downtown on a corner and trying to get folks around him and I didn't know where he came from or what he was. But I think the aftermath of all of this said that there was a lot of outside influence. Even the famous picture of the girl throwing her hands up over a dead body, apparently she was from Florida and was not a student here.
[Interviewer]: Mary Ann Vecchio, right.
[John Guidubaldi]: Yeah, so I did suspect that there was a lot of the same kind of thing that was going on on the East Coast. It looked too familiar. The same tactics, the same confrontation politics, and the same sort of duped student body--a student body that was just sort of following along in the mob hysteria type of situation. I think it was very easy for the students to be energized by rhetoric of--inflammatory rhetoric of people who were making causes out of Cambodia or the Vietnam War or what have you. Especially when this is the segment of the population that was subjected to draft and so on, and we had all of the draft card burning and things of that sort that had gone on previously. I was quite taken aback by the firing--the burning of buildings, the ROTC building and the toolshed and there were some other things done. Apparently some trouble went on at the airport, Kent State Airport.
[Interviewer]: I hadn't heard about that.
[John Guidubaldi]: Planes--there was something--I don't know what was going on, but there was a lot of disruption and people who start setting fire to things start really raising anxieties through the populace and then when the fire department came, the business of cutting hoses, and so--I didn't see that personally, but of course I was hearing about those kinds of things. As a faculty member and as a townsperson, people were telling me things. My uncle was a member of CAP [Community Action Program] Council and he was the Vice President of CAP Council for the United Auto Workers in Portage County. And of course his point of view was that these were communists; and that's what the United Auto Workers were believing, that these were communistic influences, and so he had stories to tell me from his vantage point. And others--the faculty members would, who were more in the know than I was, were giving me stories as well.
I recall my--I had a conversation with my son last night about this, and I remember the armored personnel carriers that were on the street, I saw those. And the helicopters. But I had forgotten that there was a tank, my son reminded me that there was truly a tank and it was by Arthur Treacher's and across from the Robin Hood and it was a--he even knew the name or the number of the tank.
[Interviewer]: I'm glad you said that because Steve [Paschen, University Archivist] and I were just talking last week. He had actually gotten a question from a researcher asking if there were tanks here, but the--
[John Guidubaldi]: [overlapping] Yes, he mentioned that to me. That's when I said I didn't think there were and I mentioned that to my son, he said, "Oh yeah, Dad, there was a tank right there by Arthur Treacher's and across from the Robin Hood." So, I don't know for certain, but that's what my son told me. And I seem to recall that at the time. But those were some of my recollections as to what was leading up to it.
And then, on the day that it happened, I was at Akron U working on an article with a friend of mine, a colleague of mine from Akron. And I came on campus shortly after 12:30 and I pulled in the White Hall parking lot and there were--there was tear gas in the air. There were--I didn't know what had happened, but I heard something on my radio that there had been a disaster at Kent State. And so I pulled in and I saw all these people scurrying about, and one of the first things I saw at White Hall, there was a treewell with stones in the treewell, lining the treewell. And I saw students picking up these stones and hurling them at a platoon of state highway patrolmen that were marching up toward what later was to be called [Oscar] Ritchie Hall, it was the old cafeteria. I was struck by the violence of it, that they were throwing these rather good-sized boulders at them, and struck secondly by the fact that the state highway patrol never broke ranks. They never stopped marching in the direction they were going. They were going, I think, to The Common[s].
But I then followed where they were going, and I went up on to the hill and Sy Baron and Glenn Frank were on the hill and they were calming students down. And Sy Baron was a fellow that I knew pretty well; I also knew Glenn. And he said, "Get the students to sit down. Get them to sit down. And then we're going to get them back to their dorms." And I saw the Guard down on the Common[s] and they had their gas masks on. I didn't see any of the shooting; I came after the shooting. But I did see them regrouping at the bottom of the Common[s]. And the students were just in panic mode. And Sy and Glenn did a great job in getting them separated off from the Guard; and I did my two cents worth to try to help them get them settled down. And then they started going--filing back to the dorms.
And then they shut down the university, of course. Prosecutor closed down the university. Students were still in the dorms and they were getting out--people were getting out by carloads. I wanted to get home as soon as I could in case there was any spillover at home, so I ran home to Willow Street. I got in my car and got home. My wife had put the kids in--some of the kids she locked in the garage. There were some neighborhood kids playing in my yard, so she put them all in the garage and locked the door in the garage and was worried that something was going to happen there. So anyway, we were all in a state of shock, I guess. The gravity of what had just happened.
Following that experience, with the university shut down, our students had a real dilemma because they had jobs waiting in September and their jobs were dependent on them completing their master's degrees and completing their certification requirements. And so we held classes--several of us held classes in our backyards. I did in my backyard. It was nice and convenient because it was close to campus. And we put card tables up and chairs and students met there to finish up the spring semester. I had classes about three nights a week. So those were some of my early remembrances.
I was, I think, in terms of attitude, I was very discouraged with what had happened. And in the aftermath, reading the news reports and seeing television docudramas and so on--there was a famous reporter, as a matter of fact, that I met at the police station. I had gone there with a friend and he was interviewing the police. And we certainly became a center of attention nationally. But I was concerned that the slant on the news, I felt, was not giving full weight to the things that had promoted the problems, if you will. There were noble banners raised about rebellion against Cambodia or rebellion against the Vietnam War but, in truth, a lot of it was not focused on that issue. A lot of it was the common mob mentality of joining the group, being a part of the group. The heady experience of challenging authority. Whether it was President of the United States, president of the university, the police, the mayor of the town--your father, perhaps, you know. Whatever represented authority, this was sort of a youth movement against authoritative restrictions. An example in point was the curriculum that they wanted to rewrite in the college of education for school psychology. You know, there were just so many ways in which that was being expressed; that they weren't going to be hidebound by the conventions of the adults or the authority structure.
So when the media covered it, it focused on the shooting, and why did the Guard have live ammunition, and so on. I don't think the Guardsmen were prepared to deal with something like this. I don't think they were anywhere in the country, for that matter. And there certainly had been other incidents in many other universities. No one really knew how to deal with this kind of confrontation. Rubber bullets? I'm sure that would have been nice, you know, it's kind of a hindsight kind of thing. We can all play that game on Monday morning quarterback, but no one knew exactly what they were facing, what would happen.
As to violence, when people are burning down buildings and throwing big stones at you, that's violence. When they're breaking windows in the storefronts or damaging property and running through your backyard and trampling your azaleas, that's infringing on the rights of the townspeople. I know for a fact that most of the people in town very much wanted to reestablish law and order. And if that meant calling in the Guard, that's what the Guard was supposedly there for. State Highway Patrol couldn't handle it; local police force certainly couldn't handle thousands of students. So we can criticize President White or the mayor for calling in the National Guard, or Rhodes for sending them. But when order is threatened the way it was, those are the logical responses of the populace to seek law and order and to quell those kinds of rebellions.
[Interviewer]: What do you think the consequences were of the shootings?
[John Guidubaldi]: Well, one of the consequences that was rather apparent was that there weren't any further demonstrations. That is to say, there weren't demonstrations of the sort that we had or that were going on that I saw so much of on the East Coast. It was like all of sudden people realized this was a deadly game. This was not a panty-raid kind of mentality. This was not something that could be done on a whim without regard to consequences; that the consequences were indeed dramatic and severe. I think it was a sobering moment nationally to see that we could have an occasion where the youth of our country were actually killed by the military units that were there to preserve the peace.
Of course, there was a lot of sympathy for slain students. You know, talking about young people, but they weren't children, first of all. They were beyond the age of reason, they were grown people. Now, we had innocent victims, but I'm talking about the people who were leading the rebellion, who were fomenting unrest among the student body. These were people fully in control of their faculties and they were people who had a mission. And I just showed you right before this interview some quotes from Mark Rudd from Columbia and others who talked very pointedly about the importance of confrontation politics: just keep pushing, pushing until you get a response; and then if you get a response that involves somebody getting hurt, then you have a cause, you have a sympathy that you can exploit. And I'm sorry to say I think that was one of the outcomes. There was that for these past demonstrations and for the Harvard riot, the Harvard demonstration, and also for the Kent State one.
I saw other consequences. I saw financial consequences. I became the chairman of the Early Childhood Department here at Kent State. I saw our enrollment plummet. Of course, the Early Childhood Department relied heavily on female enrollment, and a lot of people decided they weren't going to send their females to Kent State University and subject them to this kind of potential trouble.
And I did see every May 4th, as every May 4th came around from that year, 1970, on for the next several years--I became chairman in '72--and I can tell you that in '72 and '73 we were still very frightened when May 4th came around about the potential for reverberations and regenerating rebellions. I was there at Tent City, for example. Tent City, I thought, was a fabrication. They didn't really plan on putting the gymnasium on the spot where the slain students fell. It was, in fact, not far from there, but you can't take up the whole area and say that's sacred ground. But they weren't putting it right on the spot; even if that were the case, even if you made that argument, they weren't putting it right on the spot. But it was another excuse to gather people 'round. And they came from all over.
I went with my neighbor--uh, I'm trying to remember his name, at that time. It will come to me. But I went with him to Tent City because we were both curious about what was going on. And we sat there one evening talking to people, and they were having little cookouts and it was kind of a communal atmosphere. And we sat on the bank of the hill when they had an evening meeting and they were announcing the contributions that they got. And although I had argued with my uncle that it was not communist inspired, that evening when they were announcing the donations to Tent City, they were announcing a donation from the Buffalo Workers Party and a few other socialist and communistic groups that were organized groups. Now, that wasn't the only place they were getting money, they were getting from other places as well, but the students were, again, I think, trying to fabricate a situation. And every May 4th anniversary we were facing the same kind of thought that maybe this was going to be another time when we have a problem.
As I say, I saw the enrollment plummet and the financial consequences of that were clear to the university. We were scraping to try to make ends meet financially in our department. Eventually built the enrollment back up, but it was touch and go. Saw too what happened with the state universities ringing the Kent State area where our catchment area for students--we lost a lot of our out-of-state students because of the hike in out-of-state tuition rates that was, I think, intentionally done to keep the out-of-state influences limited. And secondly, a lot of the people who thought this was a peaceful place, who lived in New Jersey or New York, who might otherwise have sent their kids here probably made other choices. And then we saw the urban ring--Youngstown, Akron, Cleveland State--all growing as state universities and taking away our urban enrollment. So financially there were some consequences.
[Interviewer]: It's really interesting that you mention that about the tuition hikes, because President Lefton just meet with the library faculty last week and he talked about how--long before his time, obviously--that Kent State at some point turned from a national university in terms of recruiting students and the likes to becoming more localized--
[John Guidubaldi]: Regional?
[Interviewer]: Regional. Would you attribute that directly to the May 4 event?
[John Guidubaldi]: That may be, that may be. Because I know we had a very nice draw to the East Coast. We were pulling east coast students away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, Boston and New York and Philadalphia and so on. And I think Kent State represented a beautiful midwestern school to parents who wanted to get their kids away from that and into a nice environment with a good faculty, good academics. I don't know that it changes--I don't know that we ever were really national in terms of--we didn't pull people from the other side of the Rockies, but I do think that it limited our out-of-state enrollment. And the out-of-state tuition rates were hiked probably--I think the suspicion was that there was an attempt to try to reduce the out-of-state influence on what was going on.
Financially, I remember the--my mother was [laughing]--my mother reared four kids with an eighth grade education. Single parent. My dad was hospitalized and died in the hospital, but my mom reared the four kids with an eighth grade education. She was a taxpayer in the state of Ohio. She was irate about the students taking over the school. And the students would say, This is our school. This is our campus, this is our school. My mother would say, "No, it's not. It belongs to the taxpayers of the state of Ohio. I pay taxes, it's my school. It's not your--you're only here for four years, you're a transient. And you can't take over what belongs to the state of Ohio and the taxpayers of the state of Ohio." And so that was the feeling of a lot of people. And my mother with her eighth grade education, I think, saw right through the facade, the phoniness of the whole thing. You know, I think the majority of the people here on campus--the majority of students were against what was happening as well.
But unfortunately, it didn't get played out that way in the media. It did not--the underdog mentality is what sort of ran the press. And it got publicized very much as the ugly authoritative American abusing its youth. And I think that it was almost inevitable that it was going to happen someplace when the confrontation politics pattern just kept expanding and kept becoming contagious across this country. I think it was almost inevitable there was going to be a disaster someplace. It was just ironic that it happened here in my backyard.
[Interviewer]: Are there any other thoughts you'd like to share?
[John Guidubaldi]: Yeah, I guess I think that when we look at what the precipitating events are for a disaster, we have to do what you're doing and that is get a broader picture. We can't just say that the events were that some Guardsmen decided to shoot. We don't know whether there was a shot fired before, or whether it was a rock that hit somebody in the head, or what caused it, but that precipitating event was just a piece of the puzzle. Nothing would have happened, there would have been no violence if there had not been a riotous group of large numbers of students who created the problem and created a need for the Guard to come here. Now if we give license to that, I think we create a society that is very unstable. And I think peaceful dissent is one thing, but when dissent takes the form that it did--and it's awfully hard to control dissent when it gets to be large groups. And so, you know, you can ask yourself in retrospect, What are the remedies for this kind of a problem? And I think one of the remedies is to get there quickly and stifle the thing before it gets to be--channel it before it gets to be an out of control situation. Channel it so that dissent gets--you don't take away people's voices, but you make those voices conform to some laws that are respecting the rights of other citizens.
[Interviewer]: Dr. Guidubaldi, thank you very much for speaking with me.
[John Guidubaldi]: You're welcome.
[Interviewer]: Okay, we're back with Dr. Guidubaldi and we were just talking about the Krause v. Rhodes civil suit.
[John Guidubaldi]: Yeah, well it's kind of interesting that--another piece of irony is that the--I think it was Krause and one of the other deceased students' plaintiff action was with the Sindell, Lowe, Stern & Guidubaldi group in Cleveland. Steven Sindell, the younger member of that group, was a good friend of my bother David's. And Steve Sindell had the cases, actually; the cases were his cases. And he and my brother split off from the larger group for economical reasons--financial disagreements about long term obligations in a lease arrangement. So they split off and set up their own law practice taking those cases with them.
They interviewed Governor Rhodes and did the depositions and so forth. And there was an anticipation that there would be traditional remuneration from these lawsuits. And there was--I think there was a legal precedent of some sort taken here where there was a cap put on what could be claimed by the plaintiffs and what could be taken by the attorneys for those legal services. And I think that was--the whole issue becomes difficult to frame in terms of right and wrong, but--as to legally what was right and wrong--but it certainly was a precedent-setting case in that there were limits set on the financial remuneration of the plaintiffs and on what the attorneys could charge. And that had an effect on my brother's practice, certainly, when these two young lawyers split off and set up their own practice with cases that were presumed to be big cases that turned out not to be very big cases. So, that was another side effect of the--[trails off]
[end of recording]