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Berkeley and the University Revolution


During the recent crisis on the Berkeley campus, the favorite quotation among the cognoscenti was Marx’s aphorism that great historical events occur twice, “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Two years ago, the Berkeley campus was shaken by a series of events culminating on December 2, 1964 with a mass sit-in by the students, followed by mass arrests. What might have been a tragedy was averted by the faculty resolutions of December 8, 1964 which recognized the fundamental political principles for which the students had contended. The faculty declared that there should be no University regulation of the content of speech or advocacy, and only such regulation of the time, place, and manner of political activity as was needed to prevent interference with normal University functions. The crisis had been over political rights and the faculty had responded with a constitutional solution.

When the old Administration was replaced, first by the interim regime of Martin Meyerson and then by the new administration of Roger Heyns, all of the auguries were favorable. In outlook the new Chancellor was liberal, and in action he was committed to the principle of consultation. He appointed to his staff several professors who were prominent in the struggle for the resolutions of December 8th. Unlike previous chancellors, he was not harassed by outside meddling, either from the state-wide university administration or from the Regents. During the past year, for example, President Kerr kept a prudent distance from Berkeley controversies.

November 30, 1966 Berkeley students again sat in; police were again called to the campus, and on December 2nd the students voted to strike against the University. Had 1964 really been farce and was 1966 to end as tragedy? Although there are coincidences in chronology between the events of 1964 and those of 1966, the settings differed in important ways. The crisis of 1964 extended over several months, thus allowing the contestants time to formulate fairly coherent positions. The crisis of 1966 erupted suddenly, catching all parties off-guard. This was most evident in the case of the faculty which, unprepared and without a position, was reduced to a promiscuous search for consensus. In 1964 the politics of the Free Speech Movement had a kind of radical purity: the students focused on political objectives and pursued them with an idealism similar to that of the heroic phase of the civil rights movement. In 1966 student political orientations had been shaped by the growth of “New Left” doctrines, by participation in the congressional campaign of Robert Scheer, by continuous protests against the Vietnam War, and by endless disputes with the Administration concerning political rights and due process on campus. Thus, in 1964 the students claimed “constitutional rights”; in 1966, they demanded “student power.” Also, between 1964 and 1966 the graduate teaching assistants organized into a trade union and many of them took a certain pride in their worker status. “The issue here,” explained the student president of the union during the crisis, “is working conditions. As long as the police are used in this way, we can’t work.” Along with the unionists another and more exotic element entered the movement: the cool and hippy culture of Telegraph Avenue with its distinctive blend of student and non-student styles. In 1964 the politicos had been impatient with and distrustful of the hippies; at the very end of the 1966 crisis Mario Savio, who had been the student leader of FSM in 1964 but was now a non-student leader of the new alliance, gave a benediction calling for a “coalition between student politicos and hippies.” Thus by 1966 a new culture had come into being, one which escapes the categories of the settlement of 1964.

OF ALL THE DIFFERENCES, the most striking was the difference in mood. In 1964 the campus had a wealth of idealism and hope; the FSM had been good-natured, ironical, and humorous. In the months before the present crisis, the campus was tired, humorless, and disillusioned, During and after the crisis it was, above all, fearful. Not only had internal battles taken their toll, but the outside world had become more menacing. Governor Reagan had made the Berkeley campus a major campaign issue and had promised to establish an investigating commission headed by John McCone, former director of the CIA.

If there is tragedy in the making, it will not be merely the result of what state politicians may do in the future, but of what the University has failed to do in the recent past. During the past two years, the campus has grown more and more distracted by political controversy. But the underlying causes are not being searched out. Until they are, political questions will continue to bedevil the campus, for all the worry and despair which arise from a fundamentally deranged community are being poured into the political arena. The behavior of faculty, students, and administrators reminds one of Santayana’s fanatic, who redoubles his energy as he loses sight of his goal.

This is not to say that there are no genuine questions concerning political activity on campus. It is only to say that those questions have assumed disproportionate significance. Nor is it to say that the principles of 1964 were incorrect or unimportant. They spoke to real needs, and subsequent events have shown that too many people, on and off the campus, never understood or accepted them. It is only to say that 1964 brought not a hopeful peace but an uneasy truce; not a solution of the basic moral and intellectual questions, but only an opportunity, thus far unused, and now rapidly disappearing, for facing those questions.

Over the past two years the truce was often strained, and on several occasions nearly broke down. Increasing numbers of students began to doubt the Administration’s loyalty to the principles of political freedom. Students felt that they were not given a fair voice in the formulation of the rules governing political activity. A year-long effort to revise the constitution of student government, so as to give it more autonomy, came to nothing when the new constitution was brusquely termed “illegal” by Administration spokesmen. At the request of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the University handed over the names of student political leaders without their knowledge and consent, and when an Oakland taxpayer sued the University to make those names available to any citizen, the University’s lawyer sided with the taxpayer in court. The Chancellor frequently expressed his disgust with the quality of the political meetings held in Sproul Plaza (symbolic home of 1964’s Free Speech Movement) and talked about removing the rallies to some less conspicuous corner of the campus. The Vietnam Day Committee and the Administration were constantly at loggerheads, and many students came to feel that the Administration hated the VDC’s doctrine and style more than it loved the principles of political freedom. A student who excoriated one of the deans in a letter to the student newspaper was threatened with punishment. These and similar events brought the students to the point where they had little trust in the bureaucracy.

THE RESOLUTIONS OF 1964 spawned a generation of pettifoggers who argued furiously over such matters as the precise size and location of tables, the distribution of literature, the regulation of parades, and the size of posters. As the issues grew more legalistic, the passions aroused grew more intense, and the disputants less capable of self-examination. For one antic moment in 1965, Berkeley was without a chancellor and the state-wide University without a president. Both resigned when a puckish demonstrator hoisted a banner bearing the terrible four-letter word. The demonstrator maintained that the Word stood for Freedom Under Clark Kerr, but everyone else insisted that the struggle was over rules and that there was nothing funny about it.

Gradually a certain mood and a certain political style began to dominate campus life. The mood was one of hostility and despair; the style one of confrontation. The two sides met as adversaries in a hopeless game, and, to a remarkable degree, both accepted the same definition of the rules of the game. Both sides agreed that the overall character of the contest was political, that the action took the form of a battle, with a winner and a loser, and that confrontation was the appropriate style of behavior.

Thus, the students theorized that they were confronting a “power structure” bound by strong and subtle links to the larger power structures of state and nation The objectives of the national power elite were empire abroad and the suppression of dissent at home. The University Administration’s target was “the student movement,” which stood for peace, civil rights, and radical social change. Hence, if the Administration won, the children of light lost. During the struggle every Administration move had to be probed for its “real” meanings. This view, obviously, made no allowance for mistakes, accidents, or common stupidity, let alone for good will.

The Administration had its own version of the power elite theory: in its view the University’s troubles were the work of a hard core of non-student agitators, plus a small number of student activists, who persistently abused the generous freedoms allowed on campus. Their goal was either to wreck the University or take it over. The “silent majority” of unpolitical students and a few hundred unrealistic faculty members had been duped by the agitators, thereby aggravating the Administration’s task.

Starting from these shared premises, relations between the combatants followed ritual patterns and ritual forensics. Each side was helplessly dependent on the other. Each could predict the other’s tactics. Trapped by theory, neither had the freedom to deal radically with the fundamental malaise of which the endless controversies over rules were only symptoms.

Thus, when the Administration proposed moving the Free Forum, with its mass rallies and raucous microphone, from Sproul Plaza to a less visible part of the campus, the students “knew” that this was another move to escalate the campaign against student dissent. The Chancellor predictably replied that the Forum in Sproul Plaza fostered “a style of speech that is often vicious in intent, dishonest, laced with slander and character assassination, indifferent to evidence and truth, contemptuous of disagreement, and often charged with hatred.” The microphone was “primarily an organizational weapon…. Its frequent use is coercive and its main target is the University itself.” The students responded that the Administration’s standard of style was all too clear: just as the administrators admired a desk free of clutter, so too they desired a campus free of dissident students.

THE ADMINISTRATION asserted that the mass rallies and agitation were making the campus “unstable,” even “ungovernable.” While retreating from its intention of moving the microphone, the Administration warned that “the days of doing business on this campus by coercion…are over.” The students agreed that the question was one of power, and that the microphone and the Forum were their essential weapons. They countered the Administration’s conception of power as the ability to enforce rules by demanding greater student participation in rule-making and adjudication. Inevitably, they raised the banner of “Student Power”—inevitable because authority had disappeared and only power mattered. Each side saw any action of the other as an “escalation” of the conflict, to which a “response” must be made.

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