Politics Essays – Free Speech Movement

Free Speech Movement

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Berkeley, 1964: An analysis of the Free Speech Movement and its role in creating a new genre of conflict on American Campuses.


P71-2: “The Regents of the university, meeting the day before the Christmas recess began, declared that they “do not contemplate that advocacy or content of speech [on the Berkeley campus] shall be restricted beyond the purview of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution,” and set up a committee to review university policies in consultations with faculty and students “with the intent of providing maximum freedom consistent with individual and group responsibility”

(After an earlier meeting, on November 20, during which thousands of students were sitting outside being led by Jon Baez in singing, the Regents had said that their policy was to make campus facilities available for “planning, implementing or raising funds or recruiting participants for lawful off-campus action, not for unlawful…”)

The emergency executive committee of the Berkeley division of the academic senate (the faculty) issued an optimistic statement after the Regent’s meeting, asserting the substantial progress had been made.

72: To begin with, we must dispose of the ingeniously slogan of “free speech” which has made it possible for so many who are far from the events at Berkeley to send in forthright statements in support of the Free Speech Movement or the position adopted by the faculty on December 8 (that political advocacy or organisation should be limited only by minimum regulations designed to permit the university to function normally)

In 1964

The conflict at the Berkeley campus of the University of California warrants analysis not only as a striking, historic event, but because of what followed on other university campuses. Berkeley was the first instance of a new genre of conflict between students and authority. Many of the ensuing confrontations at other North American universities were direct products of the Berkeley conflict and in those that cannot be said to be direct products of the 1964 conflict; one can still see the influences Berkeley has had in the way the conflict has unfolded and evolved. This dissertation proposes

Chapter 2: Foundations for Conflict

The Free Speech Movement made Berkeley a pacesetter for student confrontations with authority. However, in the years preceding the 1964 student rebellion, the Berkeley campus of the University of California had also set the pace in developing a new form of university system, developing especially successful example patterns of organisation that had begun to change the higher education system in mid-twentieth century America.

President of the Berkeley campus of the University of California, Clark Kerr, regarded the university as a means of producing ‘knowledge’, obviously not a radical idea. However, Kerr’s definition of “knowledge” is not a definition of an abstract concept as one would expect. Instead he saw knowledge as a “product”. He stated that,

“The production, distribution, and consumption of `knowledge’ in all its forms is said to account for 29 percent of gross national product . . . and `knowledge production’ is growing at about twice the rate of the rest of the economy. . . . What the railroads did for the second half of the last century and the automobile for the first half of this century may be done for the second half of this century by the knowledge industry: that is, to serve as the focal point for national growth.”

These patterns of organisation may have created a more economical and efficient university, but there effect on the students were not so positive. Because of the nature of the changes, the students, led by leaders of student political organisations, began to feel like this new university system had begun to encroach upon their basic rights of free speech. Obviously then, the changes in Berkeley’s organisational structure and the political conflict which was to follow are not unrelated.

Indeed, it can be said that the changes in the university, both in terms of its policy and its physical layout, contributed significantly in engendering a conflict at Berkeley. Therefore, if we are to fully understand the reasons for the sudden intensification of student activism at Berkeley, we must first investigate these organisational and policy changes which occurred at the university before the pinnacle of activism in 1964.

These changes facilitated the organisation of students by political groups and for political action, making political activism relevant to students (as the nature of the changes meant that they were protesting against something which directly affected them) and encouraging innovation within student political organisations.

As the remonstrations with the university began to take hold in the general university community, both with students and faculty, the instigated changes also served as a catalyst for student political groups to escalate confrontations with power interests in the larger community. Prior to the changes, political groups on campus were fighting simply for their own causes. However, by providing a shared grievance which affected nearly all students to some extent (and at a fundamental level), the changes effectively unified the student body under a common interest.

Doing so created a faction comprised of student political groups, sympathetic faculty, and individual students who all opposed the changes made by the university. As an opponent, this group posed significantly more threat to the Berkeley administration than a dissonant collection of multifarious political organisations and, therefore, we must regard these organisational changes as a mistake. Ultimately, these mistakes would generate a movement which both undermined the university administration at Berkeley, and pioneered a new form of student protest whose effects can be seen in most subsequent student rebellions.

We must first look at the administration-initiated changes which made the campus at Berkeley structurally conductive to the recruitment of students for collective political action. The formation of a support base of students who are sympathetic with a political cause is the fundamental process in the developing of a significant student political movement.

Whilst the Berkeley campus of the University of California had been a relatively large school for many years, the influx of veterans after World War II saw the campus population swell to 25,325 students in the autumn of 1947.

After a drop in the student population (the low birth rate of the depression saw the enrolment statistics drop to 17,563 students in 1953) the university enrolment reached 26,757 in 1963 and this figure was expected to remain fairly constant for the foreseeable future. In addition to the increase in numbers at the University, there was also a change in the proportions of students at varying stages of their education.

As the enrolment reached its peak in 1963, the ration of undergraduates to graduate students was almost 1:1. This change in university population called for a change in the organisational systems of the university as it now had to deal not only with a greater volume of students, but also with students who had differing relationships with the university.

The policies created by the university to deal with the change in the composition of the university population worked in conjunction with each other to make mass political activity more likely. At the heart of the reforms at Berkeley was the California Master Plan for Higher Education which created a new admissions policy for the university.

In order to be admitted to Berkeley, a student had to be in the top 12.5% of High School graduates, allowing the university to attract a high number of intellectual young students. These new students were also enrolling in the departments of humanities and social sciences, with the percentage of new undergraduates enrolled in these subjects reaching a peak of 50% in 1962.

The result of this shift was that the departments of subject areas which had traditionally provided the liberal, radical student leaders of political groups gained a disproportionate increase in students. The increase in enrolment numbers, combined with the materials taught in classes offered by the humanities and social sciences departments, meant that students were exposed to subject matter dealing with moral and social issues which could therefore evoke more liberal political attitudes. Also, as such degree schemes offer no specific vocation after completion of their studies, the students take a less career-orientated approach to university life and could be more experimental in the organisations they choose to join and the topics they choose to study.

As Berkeley continued to expand in terms of the student populace, there were also expansions in the university campus itself. The increased volume of literature and students necessitated the need for expansions of the school’s library facilities. The main library was not able to deal with the requirements of the entire student population and therefore, subject-specific libraries were created, relieving the pressure on the main library building.

This meant that natural sciences students tended to stay within the confines of their own subject libraries and as a result, the main library building increasingly became a meeting point and discussion area for the humanities and social sciences students and faculty. In addition to relocating some of the library facilities, in 1960, the university cafeteria, book store, Student Union and general common leisure area were moved to a block of land adjoining the university south of Sather Gate.

This shifted the focal point for much of the university’s social scene to land which was considered the natural territory of humanities and social studies students. More importantly, the land was also adjacent to an area traditionally used for political recruiting. Obviously, this brought many more students into contact with radical political groups, canvassing for a variety of causes, exposing them to moral and social issues outside their field of study. Therefore, not only did politics gain a new audience of impressionable youth at Sather Gate, but also had the ability (with this new audience) to attract students who were already sensitive to such political nuances.

Berkeley is a tax-supported institution and, as such, there is a duality in the way that it operates. On one side, there is free inquiry and the ability to of expression based on one’s own perceptions. However, it is also expected to show no political bias which may offer political advantage to any one political group at the expense of the general public. These regulations go back to a time where no political activity of any kind was allowed on campus. Under this earlier situation, not even candidates for the presidency were allowed to speak at Berkeley.

In theory, this situation should have been resolved by the California State constitution, which prohibited religious or political canvassing and which gave the responsibility of university policy-making to a Board of Regents, stating:

The University of California shall constitute a public trust, to be administered by the existing corporation known as “The Regents of the University of California,” with full powers of organization and government, subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure the security of its funds and compliance with the terms of the endowments of the university… Regents shall be able persons broadly reflective of the economic, cultural, and social diversity of the State, including ethnic minorities and women.

However, it is not intended that formulas or specific ratios be applied in the selection of regents… The university shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its regents and in the administration of its affairs, and no person shall be debarred admission to any department of the university on account of race, religion, ethnic heritage, or sex.

However, although the Board of Regents act as a buffer between the university and the political pressures of interest groups within the state, 1964-1965 school year, the twenty four members of the University of California’s Board of Regents were not politically impartial. The board chairman was president of the largest chain of department stores in the West.

Other members included the chairman of Bank of America, the chairman of the largest gold-mining corporation, a vice-president of Lockheed Aviation, the board chairman of two oil companies, a past chairman of the Republican States Central Committee, a Democratic Party Career woman, a national labour leader, and a past president of the state bar association. Therefore, the existence of the Board of Regents did not protect the university from the political currents of the time.

In order to maintain a politically neutral environment on campus, a series of regulations were drafted. These regulations, known as Rule 17, stated that political positions were to be analysed in class, but faculty were not to take a position of favour for or against them. These regulations would therefore allow free discussion of political positions, without jeopardising Berkeley’s position of impartiality.

However, it is here that the university made a clear distinction between free speech and free advocacy of action based on political ideas. Advocacy of political positions was not permitted on campus, unless administrative approval was given and representation of the converse position was present at the same time in order to give a counter argument. In the same vein, funds for off campus causes could not be gathered on campus without permission from the university administrators. However, the off-campus actions of the student body were not controlled by these regulations.

An off campus political organisation could run a meeting on campus, but it would have to explain to the students present that certain kinds of discussion (for example, implementing a demonstration) must be held off campus. In this way the rights of the student to participate in off campus political advocacy was protected and the political neutrality of the Berkeley campus was maintained.

However, the line between off-campus action and on campus-action was difficult to accentuate and any off-campus action which was deemed to be contentious and was participated in by Berkeley students or faculty was publicly perceived to also be occurring on campus as well.

Rule 17, however, was not practically applicable, as was emphasised in 1956, when presidential candidate Adlai Stephenson spoke to a group of students via a loudspeaker mounted on a truck which was parked outside university walls (and therefore in compliance with the regulations) yet his speech could still be well observed by the students. This bizarre occurrence prompted students to seek amendments to Rule 17, and, after a protracted period of negotiation, political speakers were permitted to speak on campus without the necessity of an opponent (however, the administration added the caveat that the opposing position be represented on campus within a reasonable time limit).

This amendment directly influenced the students who attended such organised events. Students were presented with a politically marginalised account and in order to hear the opposing viewpoint, attendance of a separate event was necessary, giving the speaker with the temporal upper-hand a clear advantage.

The efforts of the university to distance itself from controversial political actions undertaken by students came under marked criticism, both from the students and the faculty. Conflicts with student political groups such as Slate prompted the university to pass legislation detrimental to the efforts of politically active students. For example, in 1959, the university administration ruled that graduate students were ineligible for voting, costing

Slate the possibility of gaining control of the student government. In the summer of 1961, Slate was stripped of its on-campus status for violating the university regulation prohibiting a group which took an off campus stand from affiliating itself with the university. This loss of recognition was the beginning of the end for Slate and the leaders turned their attentions to the larger struggles of the community.

The university policies which worked against politically active students at Berkeley began to create more widespread tension between the administration and the student body. The situation was close to boiling point. With the increase in off-campus student political activity and the seeds of discontent already sown amongst the general populace of the university, a escalation of student activism was expected.

Furthermore, when viewed , and therefore necessitate discussion in order to extrapolate cogent.

Chapter 3: Escalation

The beginning of the escalation in student activism was prompted by the university choosing to enforce the distinction between free speech and advocacy. As the Student Union moved, so did the areas of political activity. The area around the new Student Union at the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph had become the new rallying point for student political activists. However, upon receiving complaints of noise and littering, the vice-chancellor for student affairs, Alex C. Sherriffs, launched an inquiry into the legitimacy of the complaints.

He found that the root of the noise was bongo drummers and the source of the litter was a mass of discarded leaflets handed out by the various student political groups in an effort to spread the word about their organisation. Sherriffs also found that people were setting up tables on university property, and, according to the regulations, such an activity in such a location was illegal.

A conflict now arose between two unfairly matched opponents: the student political groups and the administration of the Berkeley campus of the University of California. Conflict is not uncommon on the Berkeley campus. There is a long established tradition of protest and picketing. However, in this instance, the protestors adopted a radically different style.

The main reason for this departure from traditional methods of dissidence, in particular the development of new techniques of civil disobedience, is the Civil Rights Movement. The protests for racial equality have given rise to new tactics of protest. In 1963, hundreds of Berkeley students, “sat-in” at a chain of lunch counters, “shopped-in” at a chain of supermarkets (with students filling their shopping carts with food, letting the check-out operator tally the total, and then declaring that they did not have the money to pay for the goods) and lay down in the automobile showrooms of Van Ness Avenue.

These types of protest led in each case to the establishment concerned hiring a certain amount of Negro workers. These radical new tactics clearly worked. They also led to mass arrests and mass trials, which although led to disciplinary action, further handicapped the bureaucratic procedures by placing the courtrooms of San Francisco under considerable stress.

The situation produced and the emotions evoked by the civil rights movement amongst student political groups at Berkeley was markedly different from the mood that prevailed when such groups were fighting for the loosening of the strict regulations that which once governed their political activity.

As well as introducing new tactics, the civil rights movement developed a large body of students committed to these tactics and a summoned up a substantial body of public opinion in the faculty and among the liberal population of the Berkeley area who were sympathetic to them.

: The Chancellor’s office delegated on to the lesser members of the administrative hierarchy the decision that the area of political activity on Bancroft and Telegraph was now to become subject de facto (as it had been de jure) to the university ban on advocacy and organisation.

This was obviously unsatisfactory to the students, and thus they resorted to a direct test of the administration’s resolve to enforce the new regulations: they set up their tables and collected money, in flagrant violation of university regulations. A number were directed to appear before a dean on September 29 to discuss these violations. The official account to the chancellor of the faculty describes the situation that ensued,

At 3 o clock that afternoon, some 300-400 students moved into the second floor of Sproul Hall and Mario Savio announced that all of them acknowledged violating university regulations in the same manner as those who had been instructed to make appointments with the dean of students, and they all wanted similar appointments. The Dean of Men then declared he was then concerned only with observed violations, and if students wanted appointments then they could leave their names and he would determine if and when such could be made.

He also asked [the students who had been involved in observed in violations] to go in and see a dean because each had been involved in a matter of personal discipline, and requested that the crowd disperse, since he had scheduled a meeting of the leaders of the student organisations and their advisors to discuss the problem at 4 oc. Savio responded that the group would not leave unless they were guaranteed that the same disciplinary action would be meted out to all there.

Unable to make such guarantees, the Dean of Men again asked the group to leave, and later announced that since, in the opinion of the administration and some of the advisors of the student political groups who had come to attend the 4:00 meeting, the environment was not conductive to reasonable discussion, the meeting was cancelled…The group remained in Sproul Hall until 2:40am.

This transformed the nature of the conflict and also marginalised the protestors. What began as a protest involving nearly all political groups, from revolutionary socialist to extreme conservative, was changed into a movement run almost entirely by the civil rights leaders. For as soon as the tactics of the process “escalated” into questionably legal activities (like sitting in Sproul Hall, which was done for the first time on September 29th) the right-wingers could not go along.

It was clear that the leadership of the movement was coming exclusively from the civil rights and left-wing political groups, but there were too few students directly committed to the left-wing groups to provide the necessary numbers for significant protest. Only the civil rights groups could evoke the emotions of the masses and raise hundreds ready to sit-in.

On October 2 the movement gained their first victory: the withdrawal of the large concentration of police surrounding the campus, and a meeting with President Clark Kerr in which a pact was signed calling for an administration-faculty-student committee to deal with the issue of political activity.

The movement’s next step was to organise itself internally. Confirming the fact that the right had withdrawn almost completely no right-orientated groups emerged with any positions of leadership within the movement. The civil rights leaders, who had become synonymous with direct action gained all the authority and as a result, the movement moved further to the left.

Chapter 4: Negotiation and Resolution

83: As the leadership of the student movement became concentrated into a coherent force, sharing the same aims, philosophy and outlook, the university administration was becoming proportionally less organised. 88: In a situation first created by reasonable demands of the students and secondly by the new, radical tactics, the administration showed itself to be incapable of consistent, decisive or effective action. Again and again it was forced to withdraw from positions either because they were poorly argued or because the higher levels (President Kerr) moved in and changed the positions taken lower down.

I feel it necessary to mention the role the faculty played in the resolution of the conflict at Berkeley, as their position was not insignificant. At the start of the rebellion, the faculty looked upon the conflict between the administration and the students as detached and neutral outsiders. However, some groups of faculty members placed themselves into the situation as mediators. They were distinguished from the great majority of their colleagues by the fact that they had been involved in student politics in the past and remained interested in their outcomes in the present.

The first group of student mediators helped to draw up the pact of October the 2nd. However, the faculty, like the right-wing student political groups before them, eventually joined the list as casualties of the developing crisis. They became casualties owing to the critical change in the issues of the conflict that occurred around the beginning of November. This change became apparent in the discussions of the faculty-student-administration committee that had been set up by the October 2 pact.

For the first month there had been two fairly straightforward issues: the attempt of the administration to change the status quo, which all the student political groups, left and right, and all interested faculty opposed; and secondly, the student tactics, which some of the student groups and most of the interested faculty opposed, but which everyone agreed should not lead to disciplinary action (on the ground that the original issue which had occasioned the tactics had been a just one).

The problems were settled when the administration’s representatives on the committee provisionally accepted a much wider range of political advocacy and organisation on campus than had been permitted before, when a second committee (faculty) set up under the October 2nd pact called for the lifting of the suspensions that had been pronounced against the students who had violated the old regulations.

Up until this point, the interested faculty members and the student FSM leaders had stood together. But now the student leaders and the administration raised a new issue, created by the possible liberalisation of the rules. If Berkeley was opened up to advocacy and organisation, what of advocacy and organisation that led to illegal action or was designed to produce illegal action? The administration’s insistence on a line between legal and illegal was immediately seen by students as a threat to actions they were already planning. The student leaders fully expected further mass arrests as a result of these actions, and they hoped to protect themselves from university discipline.

It was this issue of illegal action which caused the faculty-student-administration committee to split in November. The student representatives insisted on a specific guarantee that nothing they advocated or organised on campus would lead to any disciplinary measures by the university against them or their organisations. The administration members insisted on the right to discipline individuals or organisations who advocated or organised illegal action.

The faculty group proposed a formula which neither gave the students a specific guarantee of immunity nor the administration a specific ban against illegal action on campus. Under this formula the students would have conducted their demonstrations and sit-ins in all likelihood safe from university interference, as the university’s policy of the year before had been not to discipline those arrested for civil rights activities, and it seemed improbable that this policy would be changed. If, however, the university decided on a change, the students could have tested in the courts its right to punish them for illegal action advocated or organised on campus, a contingency which, they asserted, would be “against the 1st and 14th amendments” and would constitute “double jeopardy.”

On this issue the students decided to revoke the pact of October 2 (in which they had agreed to only execute to legal actions), pronounced new rules to govern political activity on campus, and began to operate under them. The students now hoped that the Regents would give them what the committee set up under the pact of October 2 had not, but on November 20, the Regents insisted on maintaining the distinction between lawful and unlawful actions.

At this point the student leaders split, some arguing for further drastic measures, other urging de facto acceptance of the new rules under which they had full freedom of action. A new sit-in was staged at Sproul Hall, which involved only 300 hundred students; the administration did not act against it, and it was called off after a few hours.

However, on November 30, it was learned that the administration had summoned 4 student leaders to appear before the Faculty Committee on Student Conduct to hear charges against them stemming from their tussles with the police on October 1st and 2nd. As a result of this blunder, an issue that was capable of arousing the students i.e., the disciplining of their leaders, was fortuitously tied to one that could not i.e., immunity for advocacy or organisation of illegal action.

Once again, on Dec 2, students occupied Sproul Hall. In the early morning of December 3, a small army of police began carrying out around 800 students. That afternoon, yet another impromptu group of mediating faculty, the department chairmen, met to formulate a compromise which offered full amnesty to the students for the actions of the past 2 months; they hoped to sell this to the President and the Regents. On Dec 4, a long threatened strike of teaching assistants was launched, and on Sunday, Dec 6, the President and the Regents accepted the department chairmen’s compromise.

However, by this time the student leaders had glimpsed the possibility of gaining complete success. A number of liberal faculty members had been preparing a resolution which asserted that political activity on campus should be regulated only in terms of “time, place, and manner” in order not to interfere with the functioning of the university, and they were rounding up support for its adoption. The larger part of the faculty had now become involved, because they had been forced to confront and take a stand on the strike of their teaching assistants. The students hoped that the faculty resolution supporting their position would pass and they joined its faculty drafters in campaigning for it.

On December 7 the compromise negotiated by the department chairmen was presented by Professor Robert Scalopino and President Kerr to the student body and faculty. The radicalisation of the students, thousands of whom had participated in sit-ins, strikes, and picketing, had proceeded at frightening pace over the weekend; full victory was now seen as possible, and the compromising was denounced by the student leaders as a “sell-out.”

Because of their desperate desire to settle things, because of their experience of one administration failure after another, many of the faculty were by now ready to accept any agreement that might lead to peace. The administration was absent and silent when 1000 members of the Academic Senate met on Dec 8 and by a huge vote endorsed the resolution of the liberal faculty members mentioned above. This resolution, in addition to backing the view that political ac