To the editor:
Former Kansas University Chancellor E. Laurence Chalmers Jr., who died two weeks ago, faced challenges that he and other university presidents of that time (1969-1972) would have happily traded for today’s budget crisis or athletic department controversy.
Chalmers had to deal with the aftermath of a campus bombing, vandalism, an arson fire at the Kansas Union and off-campus shootings. He walked a tightrope between Kansans demanding stronger action against the protests on one side and rebellious students on the other. He, along with others such as then Highway Patrol Superintendent William Albott, was instrumental in keeping KU from becoming another Kent State University, where four students were shot and killed by National Guardsmen in 1970.
I interviewed him many times as a University Daily Kansan editorial writer and later as a Journal-World reporter, and he often stated his belief that overreaction only strengthened radicals. I was in his office in May 1972 when 200 protesters flooded in, beginning a tense nightlong occupation. I watched him defuse what could have turned into a violent confrontation while resisting demands that the university take stronger antiwar actions.
My KU diploma bears his signature with a curious two periods after his middle initial: He personally signed every graduating senior’s diploma, using that as a signal that he recognized your name, giving a personal touch to an impersonal document.
There may never be a Chalmers Hall on the KU campus, but he leaves a living legacy.