SAN FRANCISCO — Students at UC Santa Cruz--by only 60 votes--have defeated a proposal that would have asked the university to stockpile suicide pills to give to students in the event of nuclear war.
The measure, which supporters called a symbolic gesture to demonstrate opposition to nuclear war, had prompted bitter debate on campus for several months and generated the largest student voter turnout at Santa Cruz in almost 10 years.
With almost half of the university's 7,000 students casting ballots during spring registration last week, the so-called "suicide option" was defeated by a vote of 1,599 to 1,539, it was announced Friday.
Triumph in Defeat
But supporters of the measure, a non-binding resolution with no authority to force university compliance, hailed the outcome as a triumph of sorts.
"We insist that this election is a victory for us because we forced so many students to think about the human consequences of nuclear decisions," said one of the proposal's authors, 20-year-old sophomore Peter Blackshaw.
In addition to seeking suicide pills, the measure also asked the university to select campus burial sites to be used in the event of extreme radiation fallout and requested the installation of radiation monitoring devices in student lounges.
Santa Cruz Chancellor Robert Sinsheimer, the only UC chancellor to support a nuclear freeze and oppose the university's management of the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories, had denounced the measure as a "nihilistic, Jonestown solution" and said he would never permit the university to store suicide pills.
Supported Cause, Not Method
"The chancellor always supported their cause, but not their methods," said Tom O'Leary, a campus information officer. Sinsheimer declined to be interviewed about the election results.
Backers of the suicide proposal said the chancellor might still support at least one of the defeated measure's requests--that the university provide information packets to all incoming students describing key nuclear weapons issues as well as UC's involvement in the weapons labs.
A measure similar to the one defeated at UC Santa Cruz was approved by a 60%-40% margin last fall at Brown University in Providence, R.I. Since then it has been proposed at a number of college campuses and become a new rallying cry of anti-nuclear groups.
UC Santa Barbara students will vote on a suicide pill measure April 23-24.