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.…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.