Ever wish you had a doctor’s excuse that let you go barefoot? Well, Robert Nighswonger did.
Did it work?
Are you kidding? It was back in 1968, he was a junior college student, and the administrators were more interested in having their “authoritah” respected.
Yeah. They were more interested in being dicks.
We first hear about Robert Nighswonger after a meeting of the Board of Trustees of Fullerton Junior College on January 11, 1968. He’d been going barefoot on campus. At that time he’d failed to produce a doctor’s note, so they barred him from campus.
Then, on January 23, they voted to expel him. You see, he’d kept going to classes, barefoot, after the January 11 order. After all, he had paid to do so. Not only that, but he had his letter, and showed it to all his professors.
So, what was his sin?
He hadn’t shown the letter to the college president, who supposedly had to give his blessing for Nighswonger’s return. Nighswonger hadn’t followed the letter of the law, hadn’t jumped through just the right hoops, so they expelled him (or at least that was their excuse).
Also, if you read the story, he’d been going barefoot on campus for eight months before “authoritah” stepped in.
SHOOED OFF CAMPUS
Barefoot Boy Gets the Boot
By Barbara Knesis
Fullerton Junior College’s “barefoot boy” got the boot Tuesday night from trustees in the North Orange County Junior College District for not complying with their orders.
Trustees voted unanimously to expel 25-year-old Robert Nighswonger, for “persistent defiance” of their Jan. 9 suspension order which resulted from his failure to wear shoes on campus.
The gum-chewing Nighswonger, who appeared barefoot before the board to plead his case, produced a letter from Dr. Thomas Gambrell, of Fullerton, saying the student was suffering from “a neurological disorder characterized by a bilateral foot drop.”
“This is a weakness which makes it impossible to keep the toes from dragging on the ground. It is felt that this disorder is due to the effects of radiation therapy for a malignant tumor. As to wearing shoes, Mr. Nighswonger would need braces in the shoes or crutches or a cane or the like to assist him in walking,” the letter said.
Trustees had been seeking such a letter Jan. 9, before they decided to suspend Nighswonger.
His brown hair hanging to his shoulders, and his hands tucked in his rear pockets, Nighswonger charged the suspension was “a political move.”
“After eight months to take action at this time, I asked why?” he said.
He told the trustee he did not care about units or degrees, “just an education, and I want to finish the semester.
“If I have to be a drop-in, I will, as long as I can find teachers who will teach me.”
Nighswonger told the trustees he had Dr. Gambrell’s letter with him when he came back to school after being suspended. He said he did show the letter to all of his instructors.
Asked why he didn’t show it to Dr. Lynn Sheller, college president, whose permission he needed to get back on campus after the suspension, Nighswonger said, “I just didn’t want to argue with that man again.”
Primary reason for expulsion was that he failed to live up to the terms of his suspension — that he remain out of school for the rest of the semester unless he received written permission from Dr. Sheller.
Nighswonger said he will appeal the decision to the county Board of Education, but in the meantime he will continue to attend the college.
Boy, aren’t we all familiar with dorks like the college president, Dr. Sheller?
Let me give you a feeling for how things were back then. The Fullerton College Library has some historical photos of the way things were. Here they tell you How To Dress.
[Caption (shortened by ahcuah) from the Fullerton College Library.]
Talk about control. And they were NOT about to relinquish any of it.
Things got worse for Nighswonger, because he was persistent. As he said he would, he continued to attend the college, even though he had been officially expelled.
Shoeless Student Persists
By Barbara Knesis
Fullerton Junior College’s barefoot student, who continues to attend classes despite expulsion, could face court action if he persists.
Trustees of the North Orange County Junior College District this week passed a resolution which, in essence, turned the case of 25-year-old Robert Nighswonger, of Brea, over to the county counsel’s office “to commence any and all legal proceedings necessary” to exclude him from the campus.
Nighswonger maintained he could not wear shoes because he suffered from muscle spasm, the result of radiation treatments for a tumor.
The vote to turn the Nighswonger case over to county counsel was 5 to 1, with trustee Felix LeMarinel dissenting. It came after a 15-minute executive session with William J. McCourt, an assistant county counsel.
McCourt said Thursday he would file a petition in Santa Ana Superior Court for an injunction to keep the long-haired, barefoot student off campus.
“He is in effect trespassing on school property,” McCourt said, adding that expulsion implies exclusion.
Furthermore, McCourt said, Nighswonger is violating a district requirement which says expelled students should not come on campus without written permission of the college president.
You know, they could have just let him keep going to classes. He pretty obviously wasn’t hurting anything. He even had his doctor’s excuse. This was all about what they considered his defiance.
Instead, he had a bunch of court hearings.
Did he appear in court barefoot? Of course he did.
Did he get charged with contempt of court? Of course he did.
STUDENT IGNORES ORDER
By Bob Geivet
Robert H. Nighswonger — barefoot college student — Friday was held to be in contempt of a Santa Ana Superior Court order barring him from Fullerton.
His troubles started when he began attending classes without shoes, claiming he had a foot ailment and shoes caused him to have muscle spasms in his feet. He thus won the sobriquet of “Barefoot Boy.”
He was barefoot Friday during his appearance before Judge James F. Judge, and was refused admittance to the court. A bailiff was sent to the YMCA for a pair of gym socks which Nighswonger donned.
He admitted he entered a ceramic splash room at the college after he was expelled, and after the court issued a restraining order.
“Anyone in the state has the right to go to that classroom, with or without shoes,” Nighswonger insisted.
“We’ll decide that next Wednesday,” the court replied, recalling Nighswonger must appear April 3 for arguments on an injunction against him. The court delayed sentencing on the contempt charge until the injunction matter is decided. Nighswonger could draw a 5-day jail sentence for the contempt charge.
As he prepared to leave the court, Nighswonger looked down at the neat white socks on his feet and was told, “You may keep them, courtesy of the court.”
Note that Judge Judge (yes, that was his name), also was interested more in style than substance.
In the end, they beat him down. In May he was sentenced to the 5-day jail sentence, suspended provided he wore shoes on campus. In September, there was one more story about Nighswonger, now shod.
“Wouldn’t Shoe” Lad Now Shod
Robert H. Nighswonger, 25-year-old, the barefoot boy who defied a Fullerton Junior College order that he wear shoes to class, was back in school Wednesday — suitably shod — and with a newfound reluctance to talk about his troubles.
“I just want to go in peace,” Nighswonger, of Brea, said.
“There’s been too much made of this. I just want to be left alone.”
Nighswonger wore an orange Nehru jacket, slacks, black moccasins and his hair shoulder length to classes in contrast to his former mode of dress which included trousers, shirt — but no shoes.
Nighswonger was suspended from classes last November after he ignored orders from the school administration to wear shoes.
On Jan. 23 he was expelled because he ignored the suspension, and later, on May 17, he was sentenced to five days in jail for ignoring both the expulsion and a court order, but the judge suspended sentence.
Nighswonger contended he had a foot condition which made it impossible for him to wear shoes. His attorney said Wednesday he had taken “foot therapy” during the summer which enabled him to wear moccasins.
That is a mighty sad ending.
And that’s the last I can find of Nighswonger and his story. I wonder whatever became of him. (If anybody knows, leave a comment.)
Regardless, Robert Nighswonger took a pretty brave and strong stand against mindless authority. Unfortunately, he fought the law and the law won.
Because they could.