I was at SUNY Stonybrook for college 1976-1980.
I remember one student protest about a change to the calendar that (I think) would have us go home for winter break and then come back for finals. I don't recall how that turned out.
However I had heard about the protests in the 1960's over the Vietnam war. Recall that there was a draft back then so college students were directly affected.
I was reading a book `Everything you know is wrong' which noted that some people thought the first time there were student protests was in the 1960's but this is not true. (Not quite as startling as finding out that a ships captain cannot perform weddings.)
It pointed to The 1830 Conic Section Rebellion. I quote Wikipedia (full entry is here)
Prior to the introduction of blackboards, Yale students had been allowed to consult diagrams in their textbooks when solving geometry problems pertaining to conic sections – even on exams. When the students were no longer allowed to consult the text, but were instead required to draw their own diagrams on the blackboard, they refused to take the final exam. As a result forty-three of the ninety-six students – among them, Alfred Stille, and Andrew Calhoun, the son of John C. Calhoun (Vice Pres a the time) – were summarily expelled, and Yale authorities warned neighboring universities against admitting them.
1) From my 21st century prospective I am on the students side. It seems analogous to allowing students to use calculators-- which I do allow.
2) From my 21st century prospective the punishment seems unfair.
3) The notion of a school telling other schools to not admit student- I do not think this would happen now, and might even be illegal (anti-trust).
4) I am assuming the students wanted to be able to consult their text out of some principle: we want to learn concepts not busy work. And again, from my prospective I agree that it was busy work.
5) Since all of my thoughts are from a 21st century prospective, they may be incorrect, or at least not as transferable to the 1830 as I think. (Paradox: My ideas may not be as true as I think. But if I think that...)
6) I try to avoid giving busy work. When I teach Decidability and Undecidability I NEVER have the students actually write a Turing Machine that does something. In other cases I also try to make sure they never have to do drudge work. And I might not even be right in the 21st century- some of my colleagues tell me its good for the students to get their hands dirty (perhaps just a little) with real TM to get a feel for the fact that they can do anything.
7) The only student protests I hear about nowadays are on political issues. Do you know of any student protests on issues of how they are tested or what the course requirements are, or something of that ilk? I can imagine my discrete math students marching with signs that say:
DOWN WITH INDUCTION!