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A Special Supplement: Berkeley and the Fate of the Multiversity

Two additional resolutions were passed. One created an Emergency Executive Committee to act for the faculty in further matters arising out of the crisis, and the other called for a committee to study the question of how the faculty might make itself more effective in the general governance of the University. The importance of these changes was quickly demonstrated, for the next encounter took place elsewhere, at the December 18 meeting of the Board of Regents.

The Regents have final power in almost every area of University affairs. Usually their meetings deal with ordinary matters of University business, but this was to be no ordinary meeting. More like a summit conference, it was surrounded by an atmosphere of urgency and intense public concern. What occurred is not easy to reconstruct, because part of the meeting was secret; what was decided is not entirely clear because of the muddled language of the public statement issued later. It seems that the Regents have finally recognized the 1st and 14th Amendments, and that henceforth students will be allowed maximum political freedom on the campus. It is clear that students may now use campus facilities for organizing off-campus actions. However, the Regents continued to balk at the use of campus facilities for mounting illegal off-campus actions, and hence reserved authority to discipline students in such matters. The Regents also refused to devolve upon the faculty final authority over student disciplinary cases in political questions.

Despite the face-saving vagueness of their formulations, the Regents had come far since September. Their allusion to the 1st and 14th Amendments was a tacit confession that most University rules affecting speech and action were unconstitutional, and their decision not to punish the arrested students raised the hope that eventually they would relinquish jurisdiction over cases where off-campus actions turn out to be illegal. Moreover, in announcing their willingness to consult with students and faculty to improve campus rules, the Regents recognized what the faculty had sensed earlier: students must be viewed as participating members of the academic community.

This summary of the Regents’ action does not convey the fact that bloody fighting took place behind the scenes. There is little doubt that Kerr had persuaded the Regents to accept the broad direction of the faculty proposals and to leave undisturbed the amnesty agreement of December 7th. It is equally clear that the Chancellor had fought for his life by taking a “hard line” on both the question of rules and amnesty. He lost and shortly thereafter was replaced by a new acting chancellor. Once again Kerr had demonstrated his extraordinary political abilities. He had averted a calamitous showdown by persuading the Regents to alter the rules, but he had also neutralized to some degree the bid for autonomy implicit in the Berkeley resolutions. This he accomplished by his time-honored tactic of employing the machinery of the state-wide system, and the envies of Berkeley represented in it, to condemn local solutions and quell assertions of local autonomy. He acquiesced to the fact that Berkeley’s Chancellor had lost all credit, but later, when it became apparent that the new Chancellor was attracting growing enthusiasm, Kerr gratuitiously reminded the campus that the old Chancellor was “just tired and wanted to get away,” but that he would “most likely” return.

As matters now stand, the faculty and students have gained most of the objectives contained in the December 8th resolutions. Assuming that good sense prevails among the parties, that the few zealots in the legislature do not persist in their announced aim of firing masses of students and faculty, and that the impending trial of the sit-ins does not reopen old wounds, the prospects for honorable peace are good. But peace is not necessarily the same as normality, for the events of the first semester cut too deep to permit a restoration of the old ways. A university is in the process of being redefined. Its President has recently proclaimed that “The primary responsibility of the university is the education of its students. A second major responsibility is research…” (a draft of the University’s ten-year program made last fall had no mention of “primary” emphasis upon education). But the basic element in all redefinitions is the new breed of students who have appeared on the Berkeley campus.

Published accounts of the student movement have radically distorted its character. Some of these accounts have been almost delusional in quality. There is, for example, Professor Lewis Feuer’s denial that there were any genuine issues at stake and his claim that very few genuine students were involved in the controversy. He attributes the uprising to the powers of a handful of crackpots, political extremists, drug addicts, and sexual libertines—most of them, thank God, not students at all, but spoiled personalities, tormented members of that underground Berkeley community of lumpen-intellectuals—who managed to dupe thousands of innocent and true students into believing that there were real issues, thereby capturing the everpresent hostility of the young against their elders and mobilizing it into a “generational uprising.” Less imaginative men than Feuer have characterized the movement as the subversive work of leftist plotters. In this view, the campus will not find peace until it surgically removes these diseased members from the student body politic.

Another way to avoid the challenge of understanding is to concentrate all attention upon one aspect of the reality, and then to interpret that reality in very narrow categories. Specifically, this approach characterizes the behavior and tactics of the students as riotous and irresponsible, and condemns them as illegal, thereby foreclosing the issues. Some of the students’ actions were illegal, but that still leaves open the questions of whether they were necessary and morally justified. Furthermore, and contrary to the impression spread by the mass media, the students were not tempestuous and violent. With few exceptions, they behaved with dignity and restraint.

All of these accounts dissolve the real problem into a vapor of fantasies congenial to the commentator. None of them recognizes that there were real students asserting real grievances within an institutional setting that had in fact become pathological. As President Kerr himself noted, the students have been “restless” for some time. An adequate account must take a serious look at the sources of that restlessness.

For some time now, the students, especially the undergraduates, have felt themselves to be an alien presence within the multiversity, an “Other Academia” analogous to the “Other America,” illfed, ill-housed and ill-clothed not in the material sense, but in the intellectual and spiritual senses. As the multiversity has climbed to higher and higher peaks of research productivity, material riches, and bureaucratic complexity, the students have fallen into deeper and deeper abysses of hostility and estrangement. The students’ own favorite word for their condition is “alienation,” by which they mean a number of things, and especially a sense of not being valued members of a genuine intellectual and moral community. Their feeling is grounded in reality.

The architects of the multiversity simply have not solved the problem of how to build an institution which not only produces knowledge and knowledgeable people with useful skills, but which also enriches and enlightens the lives of its students—informing them with the values of the intellect, preparing them to serve as the guardians of society’s intellectual honesty and political health, arming them with the vision by which society seeks its own better future. It is the performance of these latter tasks that distinguishes a genuine educational community from a mere research factory and training institution. Hence, as Harold Taylor has said, “the mark of a true university is whether or not it takes its students seriously.”

By any reasonable standard, the multiversity has not taken its students seriously. At Berkeley, the educational environment of the undergraduate is bleak. He is confronted throughout his entire first two years with indifferent advising, endless bureaucratic routines, gigantic lecture courses, and a deadening succession of textbook assignments, and bluebook examinations testing his grasp of bits and pieces of knowledge. All too often the difference between the last two years of a student’s education and the first two is chronological rather than qualitative. It is possible to take a B.A. at Berkeley and never talk with a professor. To many of the students, the whole system seems a perversion of an educational community into a factory designed for the mass processing of men into machines. The image is a bit excessive, to be sure, but like any good caricature this one distorts reality in order to clarify it. A great many faculty members have acknowledged the essential justice of the students’ case against the multiversity, and have confessed their own not-so-small contribution to the malaise. Faculty conversation at Berkeley is now haunted by remorseful allusions to the bleak realities of student life.

The reality seems all the bleaker by contrast with the glowing expectations which students are now bringing to the university. Young people today are conditioned from the earliest age to see “education” as the magic key to all the delectable things. They come to college in search, not merely of knowledge, but of salvation. College is the real thing, they are told, and when the real thing turns out to look a lot like the sham they left behind, they are understandably distressed.

It costs relatively little money to attend the University of California, but unlike most other state universities, California has high admission standards. The freshmen class is selected from the top 10 per cent of high school seniors. This means that not only are the students of high average intelligence, but that they also have worked hard and kept “clean” throughout their high school years. Furthermore, Cal students, like all others, bring with them to college youth’s natural exuberance, but relatively little of this energy is drained off through the customary and “safe” channels of sports, organized social life, and seasonal bacchanals. Most of the energy finds other outlets.

Most of the students live in private accommodations, and their private lives do seem quite experimental and free—though not as orgiastic as the fevered imaginations of some professors and deans would suggest. More importantly, over the past decade the students have become increasingly serious—about themselves, their studies, and their society. But there is still a lot of energy left, and at Berkeley, unlike most other American colleges, a good bit of this is poured into political and social causes. For example, Berkeley in particular, and the San Francisco Bay Area in general, have sent more young people to the South in the struggle for racial justice than any other place except New York. The word has gone out: things are happening at Berkeley. This reputation acts as a magnet, drawing young people with activist yearnings from all over the nation to Berkeley. The events of last semester, with all the publicity they gained, will increase this magnetic attraction—a thought horrifying enough to bring a dean to consider resigning his post.

Beyond the immediate attractions of a lively campus, many students today, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, are aware of the shortcomings of their society and are passionately looking for authentic values to replace what they perceive as the phony slogans and spiritual tawdriness of so much of the public rhetoric and action of our time. Few of them come to college with an ideology, nor do they seek one while there. Rather, theirs is an ethic of sincerity and personal encounter. They take ideals seriously, and are quick to detect evasion, posturing, and doublethink. If their conception of the educational process is somewhat romantic and wooly—tending to equate the exchange of impressions and sentiments with learning, impatient with discipline, and inclined to rush off after a dozen exciting novelties at once—it is still more attractive than the emphasis on utility and training favored in the multiversity establishment. The latter is a bleakness of spirit, closed and immobile; while the former is a plenitude of spirit, open and vital. Such students constitute a university’s most valuable resource, and it is a delight and a privilege to teach them. There were a great many such students, graduate as well as undergraduate, involved in the happenings at Berkeley. Given all the loose talk about student “riots” and “radicals,” it is necessary to emphasize this point.

There were radicals among the leadership of the FSM, but there is no evidence to indicate that the movement’s leaders were the slaves of ideologies that blinded them to reality, or led them into attempts to subvert the true purposes of their mass following—which, to say it again, were freedom of political expression and educational reform. Furthermore, the vast majority of the students shared the goals of the FSM, and a near majority also supported their directaction tactics. The “radicalism” of this mass following consisted in little more than devotion to some traditional principles which their elders had taught them, plus that impatience with the conservatism of the old which the young ought to have. Radical ideology, then, mattered little in the events at Berkeley. What mattered far more was a clear-eyed and courageous response to concrete, felt injustices.

There were no riots. Save for the incident of the “captured” police car, the mass rallies, sit-ins, and the student strike were all conducted with admirable dignity and calm. There were a few scattered episodes of excessive behavior by individuals under extreme stress. There were many intemperate words. Many University rules and a few state laws were broken.

All of this is regrettable, but understandable, and not unjustifiable. These students were acting in a situation where, time and again, officials refused to listen to them, behaved whimsically and punitively, and altogether gave the impression that the student cause was without justice. The students responded with the only methods that could make the Administration listen, and many of them showed a clearer appreciation than their elders of the moral burdens involved in the use of pressure tactics within an academic setting. What happened at Berkeley cannot be understood as the delinquent outbursts of fanatics and ungrateful rebels. These students broke the rules and the law in an agonizing effort to compel an Administration which, by its unwillingness to listen to their just claims and to treat them as participating members of a community of the intellect, inevitably brought about its own moral downfall and forfeited its claim to willing obedience. To many of the students, such conduct left no alternative but direct action.

The events of the past semester have not cast a foreboding shadow over the future of education at Berkeley. It is clear to many of us here that the students reminded us of some basic values that were disappearing in the thoughtless rush for the future. Very much of what they did had to be done before anyone would listen. The result is, at this moment, a climate of respect and concern that offers more promise than has been present in a long time that the future of this University can be a noble one.

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