Douglas Allen was leading protests at SIU 40 years ago and was later fired for his actions. Now, he shares his views on the importance of non-violent action.
Allen spoke Thursday at the Gaia House Interfaith Center about using non-violent action such as protesting to improve society. He cited Mohandas Gandhi and his experiences with social movements such as the civil rights movement as inspiration to his philosophies.
One such social movement Allen was a part of was the university’s late 1960s Vietnam War protests he helped assemble.
“(SIU) was an incredible place to be because this place had the biggest Vietnam Center in the United States,” he said. “It wasn’t just opposing the war, it was how our university … was central to the war effort.”
Allen said he helped conduct research, publish articles and organize anti-war protests, which led him to be illegally fired by the university. He said the case was in the national news, and he eventually won a U.S. Circuit Court case against the university for being removed, though it took several years.
Allen said the university suffered after his case because the American Association of University Professors launched an investigation and recommended most teachers avoid working there.
He said the Board of Trustees almost considered not firing him. He said the last vote they held on the matter came down to one trustee’s vote.
Allen presented the non-violent philosophies he learned from his protesting experience to Gaia House attendees.
“To me, a non-violent approach (to any situation) is more ethical and expresses our higher human potential,” he said. “But we have to explore how to apply it in different context (because) there are no simple non-violent solutions.”
Allen also said he thought political and war violence takes people in the wrong direction.
“Our present violent ways of doing things are not sustainable,” he said. “They are not economically sustainable. They are not environmentally sustainable. So we have to look for alternatives, even just practical (alternatives).”
Allen said he uses non-violent methods becasue he enjoys what they accomplish.
“When I act in a non-violent way … I feel better about myself,” he said. “I feel like my life has more meaning.”
Allen said his time working with the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests helped shape his non-violent views. He said he also helped work in South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Movement for 10 years where race segregation was a large issue.
Allen also explained why he uses Gandhi’s philosophies as inspiration for a non-violent mindset.
“There are two reasons,” he said. “One is I’ve lived a lot in India, so I was exposed to Gandhi there. Also, I consider him the most important proponent for non-violence in the 20th century.”
Though he eventually continued his career elsewhere, Allen said he was worried after first being fired by the university.
“Everything worked out well, but for a couple of years it was difficult,” he said. “It wasn’t clear that I would have a career.”
He said there was an SIU blacklist, where the administration would contact the universities he was applying to and tell them not to hire him. Allen said he found that out when he was being hired by the University of Maine.
“The president of the university … showed me letters from (SIU, saying) don’t touch this guy,” he said.
Allen said the university president thought the letters were funny.
He said he was hired at Maine for a basic teaching position, even though he was qualified to receive tenure.
He said the Board of Trustees’ decision to fire him was reversed after his case was settled in court, and he had the opportunity to come back to the university. He said he considered coming back, but he was happy teaching at the University of Maine.
Though he was fired, Allen said he does not hold a grudge against SIU.
“I have very fond memories of this place. I really do,” he said. “It was a very exciting place to be in that period … It was a campus with so much diversity and creativity. I was very fond of the students here.”
Allen’s views on non-violence brought in a diverse group of individuals, including former teacher’s assistants, students and co-workers.
Lee Hartman, a former SIU Spanish teacher, said he attended Allen’s presentation because he knew of Allen during his teaching career at the university. Hartman said Allen was considered a troublemaker by the school’s administration because he questioned policies.
Hartman said audience members were very involved with Allen’s discussion, but he did not think he came away with any new non-violent views.
Susan Cox, a Carbondale resident and retired United Methodist minister, said she attended the speech for the intellectual challenge. She said she enjoyed the presentation because it allowed for an open and independent conversation, and it differed from her church experience where the interest was bringing in more people.