• Email
  • Print


In response to:

Berkeley and the University Revolution from the February 9, 1967 issue

To the Editors:

Wolin and Schaar used to be my close political allies. I hope they will be again, but I must question their article [NYR, Feb. 9]. They maintain Berkeley is a “fundamentally deranged community,” for it places excessive emphasis on research, even on research of a sordidly applied nature. The Baconians hog the federal money, to the detriment of those struggling “to preserve the knowledge and experience of the past.” A remedy is proposed: “creative tension” between sanitary engineering and political science. This barely attains the status of a cliché.

Berkeley does more than teach undergraduates. It is a center for research and graduate education, which it does very well. It even provides good specialist training for undergraduates. It does not provide a good education for the non-specialist undergraduate. Part of this problem is inherent in a mass education system running on a budget. Part of it has to do with professional preferences and teaching habits, part with student learning habits. These factors are not easily changed, particularly by student strikes.

The Berkeley malaise has other sources. Much of it stems from years of misgovernment prior to 1965, which ended not by Regential decision, but by revolution. This leaves a legacy of suspicion, and certain habits of action. And many segments of the campus are in great moral tension with the larger community, on issues like poverty, racial discrimination, and Vietnam.

The authors offer a political history of Chancellor Heyns’s administration. The administration and the movement (the student and non-student radical activists on the campus) are both presented as naive power-seekers, trapped by their shared theories into a crude parody of the cold war. This view has, at least, Olympian balance. As the article progresses, the balance tilts. The administration fails its courses in Intellectual History, Moral Philosophy, Psychology, and Political Theory. The “students embarrass the university for the same reason that Kierkegaard embarrassed Christendom: by the purity of their demands.”

Look at a specimen of their history. From a recital of old administration atrocities: “A year-long effort to revise the constitution of the student government…came to nothing when the new constitution was brusquely termed ‘illegal’ by Administration spokesmen.” The constitution did violate university rules. Administration “spokesmen” pointed this out repeatedly; no doubt they were at times brusque. The project “came to nothing” when it was decisively rejected by a student referendum.

Try this one. Heyns “refused to meet with representatives of the strikers.” True, Heyns refused to meet with nonstudent representatives of the “student” strike, but he did meet with the student representatives.

A last example. “In a newspaper article of a month ago,” Kerr said, “the University of California had the most restrictive policies [regarding political activity] of any university I’ve ever known about, outside a dictatorship.’ ” It is implied that Kerr comments on the immediate past. But the “had” is important, for he refers to the situation prior to his becoming president in 1958, and was explaining how he had dragged us, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century. Why is Kerr quoted anyway? As the authors know, he tenaciously defended many of those “restrictive policies,” abandoning them only under enormous pressure from people like Wolin, Schaar, and me. Wolin and Schaar should at least concede that there is a glorious variety of political activity on the campus, under present policies, and that Heyns has defended political and academic freedom against outside attack with enthusiasm and success.

So where is the action? For me, the administration and the movement are right. The issue is power: its transfer from the administration to the movement. The movement wants radical change in America, because it is sick of the current order. Even at Berkeley, only a minority wants radical change, so the movement has little power in conventional politics. The movement does not have limited aims, and compromise with the system is anathema to it, so it has few goals in conventional politics. It must therefore create an unusual context, and its chosen method is the psychodrama of confrontation with authority. As the authors observe, it takes two to play Confrontation. As Tom Schelling observed, it also takes two not to play.

Here are the local rules. The movement finds an issue which concerns many people, for example, Vietnam. Then it finds some campus regulation hindering its operations, however slightly. Then it organizes a demonstration on the issue, during which it breaks the regulation as massively, publicly, and provocatively as possible. If the administration backs off, the movement goes on to the next rule. If the administration enforces the rule, this proves the administration is oppressive, determined to eliminate dissent on Vietnam, and careless of due process. The movement gathers in as temporary adherents some of those suspicious of harsh administrations, or opposed to the war, or concerned about civil liberties. With these adherents, it moves on to the next level of confrontation.

This pattern must go on, independent of the merits of the rules being challenged, or even of the campus situation for otherwise the movement has little prospect of power.

The January crisis with the Regents saved us from the December crisis with the movement. What happens later?

David A. Freedman

Professor of Statistics

University of California, Berkeley

Sheldon S. Wolin and John H Schaar replies:

Freedman has three broad criticisms of our article: it is bad history, faulty diagnosis of Berkeley’s educational ills, and naive political analysis. On history: Freedman correctly says that the constitution proposed for student government violated university rules. This way of putting it, however, misses the point: the constitution-makers were aware of the violation, but were pleading for a change in the Regential rules to allow for greater student self-government. The administration, which had succeeded in extracting concessions from the Regents in matters of local campus control, refused to make a case for greater student autonomy. It clung to the position that the constitution was illegal, hence the results of the referendum were a foregone conclusion. Next, Freedman charges us with an important omission. He says that although we were correct in saying that the Chancellor had refused to meet with representatives of the strike committee because non-students were included in the delegation, we neglected to say that when the nonstudent (who happened to be Savio) was removed, the Chancellor eventually did meet with them. What Freedman fails to mention is that (a) the strike committee agreed to the Chancellor’s demand and dropped the nonstudent from the delegation and (b) in fact, only one brief and fruitless meeting was held. Finally, Freedman wonders why we introduce some statements from Kerr. Answer: because his remarks offer further testimony that perhaps the problems of the campus have not been the simple inventions either of a hard core of outside agitators or of “the movement.”

On political analysis: while appearing to disagree with us, Freedman, in fact, corroborates our analysis of escalation politics at Berkeley. In saying that “the issue is power,” that the controversies over the rules were more symbolic than substantive, that the confrontation mentality was rampant, etc., Freedman is implicitly acknowledging that we were correct. The basic disagreement is that he wants to improve on the official theory about a hard core of outside troublemakers by substituting some monolith called “the movement.” We were at pains to show that the student culture is complex and that this is reflected in its political activities as well. In its composition, goals, and leadership, “the movement” is diverse and changing. Freedman’s inability to acknowledge this is reflected in the way that he misrepresents our Kierkegaardian allusion to a particular kind of student who, as we noted, is genuinely concerned with “education and knowledge.” Freedman assumes that “students” and “the movement” are synonymous, hence for us to suggest that some of the former are genuinely interested in learning is taken as an exoneration of the latter.

On education: Freedman contends that, save for “the non-specialist undergraduate,” Berkeley is doing all right. This ignores the whole thrust of our argument concerning the redefinition of knowledge and of the academic man. The issue is not the plight of “the non-specialist,” but the consequences of treating novelty and utility as the main criteria for judging the value of knowledge and the people who profess it. The issue is not whether Berkeley “is a center for research and graduate education” or whether “it even [sic] provides good specialist training for undergraduates,” but whether a system which, in many instances, seems to require passivity from the student is not contradicting its declared mission of education. Freedman gives the whole show away by parodying our remark about “creative tension” and juxtaposing sanitary engineering and political science. Although the parody might be improved by substituting physiology for political science, we assume that it is meant to contrast the most practical with the least practical form of knowledge. This is precisely the formulation we were trying to criticize, the formulation which would confront us with the choice between knowledge which is useful, progressive, and innovative, and knowledge which lacks all three of these attributes.

  • Email
  • Print