Date of Award

5-2017

Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Department

History

Advisor

Ryan Irwin

Abstract

In 1970, a mainline Protestant in the Capital Area Council of Churches officially reached his breaking point. “Students in vast numbers have risen in rebellion against conventional American society,” Reverend Frank Snow stated to fellow Council members, “…. The crisis, as we all know from observation, if not from personal experience, is real.”1 Serving as head campus minister for the State University of New York at Albany, Snow could not handle counseling one more student concerned with the Vietnam War and conscription laws. He made it very clear in the Annual Report of the Capital Area Council of Churches that he was far from pleased with the current situation on campus. Several miles down the road, Bishop William Scully of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany had avoided the University altogether. He chose to delegate Catholic ministry to the Newman Club, a Catholic student organization. Clearly the two clergymen had disagreeing approaches to campus unrest, but times were rapidly changing and both wanted to maintain whatever religious authority they had left.

Despite the differences between Reverend Snow and Bishop Scully, their reactions were equally motivated by a perception of declining authority – a harsh reality confronting many American institutions in the 1960’s. Moral issues with birth control, race issues with the Civil Rights Movement, and campus unrest over the Vietnam War all represented social change that threatened conventional institutional authority. The federal government and higher education faced immense scrutiny from Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) that resulted in their significantly weaker state by 1970. Yet, a similar experience was seen locally. As was the case with Reverend Snow and Bishop Scully, anyone associated with institutional authority was going to be challenged by the “question authority” ethos of young Americans. Moreover, while Snow was involved with rioting college students and Scully ignored it altogether, neither clergyman could mitigate the loss of their local authority, reflecting the difficulty of maintaining authority at all levels in the 1960’s.

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