Thoughts on Berkeley

The function of administration is to expedite the essential academic business of teaching and learning, e.g., as secretary and janitor; and protectively to represent the academic community in its external relations, e.g., in court or as fund-raiser. When administration becomes the dominant force in the community, however, it is a sign that extra-mural powers are in control—State, Church, or Economy—and the administration is their agent. Notoriously, Image-burnishing and fund-raising disregard or even prevent teaching and learning.

At Berkeley, the students griped that the University of California has become a “factory, disregarding faculty and students,” a factory to process professional licences and apprentices for technological corporations, and to do extra-mural contracted research. The particular bone of contention, the Free Speech ban, seems also to have been extra-murally instigated, by backlash elements, persons like Senator Knowland, etc. The administration certainly acted with panic, under outside pressure and out of touch with its own community.

At present in the United States, students—middle-class youth—are the major exploited class. (Negroes, small farmers, the aged are rather out-caste groups; their labor is not needed and they are not wanted.) The labor of intelligent youth is needed and they are accordingly subjected to tight scheduling, speedup, and other factory methods. Then it is not surprising if they organize their CIO. It is frivolous to tell them to go elsewhere if they don’t like the rules, for they have no choice but to go to college, and one factory is like another.

Thus far in the Berkeley revolt, two new factors have emerged: 1) The students want to extend the concept of Academic Freedom from Lehrfreiheit (freedom of professors to teach according to their lights) to include Lernfreiheit (freedom of students to ask for what they need to be taught, and if necessary to invite teachers, including advocates of causes.) I shall return to this later. 2) The Faculty energized by by the students, wants to resume prerogatives that it had given up to the administration, e.g., discipline. This is probably the more important issue; but in my opinion the administration can not agree (and the Regents have so voted) to the Faculty resumption of prerogatives, because this could go very far and entirely unmake the academic-factory; e.g., the Faculty might hire or teach in disregard of Image, Endowments, or Research grants; they might resist huge classes or abolish grading. The question, then, will be whether there are enough professors who are concerned for the academic community to fight it out, rather than pursuing their grants and independent research.

It is useful to recall the important student strike, a few years ago, at New York State University at Oyster Bay (now Stony Brook). Here the State tried to impose a new President, to turn the Liberal Arts school into an engineering institute. The students were angered by disregard of their physical and social needs; the Faculty was indignant at the attempt to fragment the divisional system into departments that …

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Letters

Berkeley: An Exchange February 11, 1965