The Free Speech Movement

The Free Speech Movement

When protester Jack Weinberg told a reporter, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” the ’60s youth movement was born.


San Francisco

The Free Speech Movement (FSM) at the University of California burst into headlines across the country with the sit-in by 1,000 students in Sproul Hall on Wednesday afternoon, December 2, and with the arrest, on Thursday, of 800 of them. The issue underlying the sit-in we can reserve until this story of The Day of the Cops is told.

At first it looked like a weak protest. FSM leader Mario Savio came out of Sproul Hall — the administration building on the Berkeley campus — to call for more support. But by mid-afternoon, about 1,000 students occupied all four floors. At 7 PM. the building was officially closed, and the law, students were told, was officially violated. Campus police guarded every door, but no attempt was made to remove the students. Inside with the demonstrators were several reporters (some with tape recorders) and one attorney.

Before the building closed, students left aisles for movement and were careful not to block doorways. After 7 o’clock, they set up their own “press room,” a food distribution center and a communications system. Jewish students conducted a Chanukah service. Two locked rest-rooms were opened, but carefully, by removing the hinges.

Off the campus, about 150 deputies from the Alameda County Sheriff’s office gathered, along with a contingent of Berkeley police and a sizable group from the California Highway Patrol. Also among the poised group of lawmen were about 200 policemen from neighboring Oakland — a police force notorious throughout northern California, particularly among Negroes.

University President Clark Kerr and Gov. Edmund C. Brown were both, a it happened, in Los Angeles. As the sit-in continued in what all witnesses agree was an orderly manner, Edwin Meese, deputy district attorney of Alameda County, phoned Governor Brown that the situation was out of hand and that enforcement action was imperative. Brown consulted with Kerr and with the president of the university’s Board of Regents, department-store magnate Edward V. Carter. The three agreed that intervention by the police was necessary, and Brown gave the order.

Meese and the army of policemen moved onto the campus. FSM leaders, who had set up a public-address system inside the building, advised all demonstrators under 18, all foreign students, and one who might be on probation to leave. Meese then pointed out the first arrestee: the attorney, Robert Truehaft.

With him out of the way, the police began at the top floor, arresting one demonstrator at a time, varying the order only to single out leaders. Carrying tape recorders, they addressed demonstrators individually, taking the name, then offering the option of dispersal, then making the arrest. Refusal to get up and walk (most refused) was also recorded. Students weren’t advised at this point, however, of their right to counsel — an omission on which some law professors believe their cases may eventually turn. Each arrestee was photographed with a number and taken to the basement.

Months of civil rights demonstrations have taught metropolitan police officers everywhere to handle “limp” demonstrators; it requires two officers per demonstrator, and it can be efficient and painless. In Sproul Hall, however, police chose to drag the students, male and female, by twisting their arms into hammer looks, bending their wrists cruelly backward, and hauling them so that the pressure was on their twisted wrists and their shoulder sockets. One girl was pushed into the elevator on her face from several feet away. It should be stressed that there were reporters on the scene — but the police didn’t always know it. Downstairs, they were letting not reporters go up.

After about forty arrests had been made, the police saw that the process was taking too long. They withdrew temporarily (the students now call this “the coffee break”), and when they returned had apparently decided to get rough. The new plan was to bring women down in the elevator, and men by the narrow marble stairs, although a few unfortunate women also made it down the stairs. Some were brought down by arms or shoulders, but reporters present say that most were hauled by their feet. One conscientious reporter counted the marble steps as he followed a girl whose head jarred sickeningly as she was dragged down. There were ninety.

As buses were filled, the men were taken to the Alameda County Prison Farm at Santa Rita, the women to Oakland County Jail (until it was full — then they too went to Santa Rita). The first busload of male demonstrators, whose arrests had begun three hours before, arrived at Santa Rita at 6:20 AM., Truehaft among them. They were placed in a large cage, or bull pen, and Truehaft again, asked, as he had in the Sproul basement, to make the two telephone calls which California law grants all arrestees as soon as is reasonably possible after arrest. He was refused, and when he insisted he was placed in an isolation cell. A judge’s phone call got him out at 10 A.M.

Booking involved a long questionnaire, which included questions about religion and nationality, and the arrestee’s signature to a statement authorizing Oakland police to open his mail. Students who balked were told that unless they cooperated and answered all questions “correctly” and signed the form, their booking would not be considered complete and they would not be allowed telephone calls or bail.

Back in Sproul Hall, the students’ public-address system was still functioning, with the microphone located near the head of the stairs on the second floor, and protected by a mass of demonstrators. As a reporter stood by describing the scene into a tape recorder, the police undertook what the students now call “the charge of the Highway Patrol.” (The reporters on the scene seem to have assumed that they were highway patrolmen without making positive identification )

In any case, a mass of police suddenly burst up the stairwell from the first floor, in a flying wedge aimed at the microphone. Whether by accident or design, they crowded students against the stairwell walls and formed a double line, with a space between, down to the first floor. At the top, moving toward the microphone, they simply took each demonstrator who was in the way and shoved him or her down the stairs. Policemen on the double line operated as a gauntlet. A student whose stopped halfway down the stairwell was picked up and thrown again. At the bottom, witnesses saw a deputy sheriff raise one limp girl as she landed, say something to her and when she shook her head, smash his fist into her face.

At the top, the policemen had their clubs out and were pounding furiously on the demonstrators around the microphone. Witnesses outside the building, in the plaza, could see through the huge second-floor windows, and insist that the clubs were used not sporadically and at random but slowly, methodically, repeatedly. As quickly as the charge began, it ended. They got the microphone, but the students had another.

On Thursday afternoon, I watched the, end of The Day of the Cops. There was no civilian authority anywhere on the campus. President Kerr was still in Los Angeles. Chancellor Edward Strong, chief Berkeley administrator (Kerr runs all nine university campuses), had disappeared. The University of California was completely in the hands of police. In every window of Sproul Hall a police guard was visible. There were guards on every door Police patrolled the campus.

The Free Speech Movement

Student groups at the University of California have for years used an area at one of the principal campus entrances, Sather Gate, to set up tables in support of candidates or, more often, ideas: to distribute materials, to collect money, to recruit members for campus organizations, etc. Technically, there has long been a rule against such “political” activity, but the administration has pretended not to notice.

In June, during the Republican National Convention, “Students for Scranton” set up a table at Sather Gate. The head of the California Goldwater delegation, William Knowland — publisher of the Oakland Tribune, former United States Senator, and dominant figure in East Bay politics protested to Chancellor Strong. When the fall semester began, Dean of Students Katherine Towle announced that the old rule would be strictly enforced: no recruiting, fund raising or “mounting political and social action.” The outraged, cry of “No fair!” was the beginning of the Free Speech Movement — originally, and still in part, an organization of campus organizations.

The groups hardest hit were those supporting civil rights activity, especially SNCC and CORE. Knowland’s newspaper is the target of a months-old anti-discrimination picket line, and most FSM members believe that the publisher complained, not to protect Gpldwater but to protect the Tribune.

Also, U.C. students had participated in sit-in demonstrations in San Francisco earlier in the year, and subsequently stood trial. Serious political pressure was brought to have the university discipline them — even expel them — but Kerr, backed by many of the faculty, took no action. Some observers saw the new decision as a protection against any future accusation that such activities had an on-campus origin.

At any rate, the students resisted, and on September 30 the university “indefinitely suspended” six of them for “illegal” activity at tables near Sather Gate, and two others for participation in “illegal” meetings. The next day, Jack Weinberg, a graduate student in mathematics who had dropped out of U C. to give his full time to civil rights, manned a CORE table in the plaza (an open area near Sather Gate) and was arrested for trespassing and taken to a campus police car.

A crowd of angry students, eventually reaching 3,000 (one of every nine enrolled) surrounded the car and refused to let it move. It stayed there for thirty-two hours, while hundreds of police massed on nearby streets and student speakers used the car itself as a platform to address the gathering. Simultaneously with the “police-car protest,” a Sproul Hall sit-in took place.

The protest persuaded the administration to negotiate with the students, which it had previously refused to do. The demonstration was called off and Weinberg released when when an agreement was reached on October 2. Principally it provided that the fate of the eight students would be turned over to the Academic Senate Committee On Student Conduct, which would recommend action to the administration (many students missed that point), and that a student-faculty-administration committee would examine the whole question of “political behavior on the campus.”

But the Academic Senate (i.e., the tenured faculty) didn’t have a Student Conduct Committee. The Chancellor therefore appointed a Faculty Committee on Student Affairs to hear the cases of the suspended students, he also appointed the Campus Committee on Political Activity, with four members each from administration, faculty and student body — two of the student seats being given to the FSM.

Students complained that the administration was not showing good faith. The FSM refused to recognize the administration-dominated CCPA as meeting the terms of the October 2 agreement. But in mid-October, Kerr restored hope by asking the Academic Senate to appoint its own Student Conduct Committee to handle the suspensions (which the senate could have done on its own, but hadn’t), and enlarging the CCPA to eighteen members, with four seats for the FSM.

The worst of the storm seemed to be over, but the public, at least, was seriously confused. So far, it had read of an argument over whether student groups could put up tables and collect money. Nobody said “civil rights” out loud. When the CCPA meetings started, however, the FSM quickly discovered that its administration and faculty members insisted on regulating the content of the “free speech” involved. This issue was “not negotiable”; in fact, the FSM insists that the administration refused to negotiate at all — that they merely proposed various formulas on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The students continued to insist that they could advocate as they saw fit, without arbitrary curbs from the administration.

It must be stressed that setting up tables was never the real issue. The real issue was, and is, the civil rights movements. Therefore, it was over “advocacy” that the talks broke down.

If a student, on campus, recruits others for an off-campus activity which the student knows to be illegal, the university claims the right to punish him. Students argue, however, that the university has no right to punish the student for what amounts to criminal advocacy until the civil authorities charge him and find him guilty. If civil authorities don’t find the advocacy illegal, or don’t act against it, then the student should be immune from university discipline.

To make it more involved: suppose nobody knows whether or not the advocated off-campus action is illegal? Some of those at the San Francisco sit-ins were found guilty, others innocent, by different juries. Was advocating the sit-in “illegal”? And the question becomes all but hopeless if the student is recruiting for a probably legal activity — like a picket line — which later turns into a possibly illegal one — like a sit-in. How can the university, on its own, arbitrarily decide when a student is “advocating unlawful off-campus activity”? Guilt, the FSM argues, must be judicially determined. (“Judicially determined” is taken to refer to final determination after all appeal possibilities are exhausted.)

Hidden in the question of setting up tables is the idea that even the United States Supreme Court has had a great deal of difficulty over the link between advocacy and action. If the Supreme Court hesitates to make this connection, the FSM argues, the university administration is certainly not qualified to make it arbitrarily.

Finally, in early November, the FSM withdrew from the CCPA, calling it “already deadlocked over the issue of political advocacy.” Tables went up again; deans took the names of students manning them, tension rose. The CCPA’s six faculty members then proposed that the tables, fund raising, etc., be allowed, but that if off-campus action were judicially determined to be illegal, its on-campus organizers should be subject to university discipline. The FSM rejected this, because it still allowed the administration to judge “advocacy”; but both sides seemed to regard it as a possible basis for more discussions. At about the same time, the faculty’s Student Conduct Committee recommended that the suspensions of the eight students be lifted, with only mild notes in the record, and criticized the administration for “gratuitously” singling them out.

With at least the principle of judicial determination apparently recognized, and with the conciliatory Student Conduct Committee report (many students thought that the administration had agreed in advance to accept it), the FSM looked forward to a regents meeting in Berkeley on November 20. Three FSM leaders, including the dynamic Mario Savio, planned to speak there. Hopes were high.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 students — 15 per cent of the student body — gathered on a lawn opposite the building in which the regents meeting was held. Inside, the regents first refused to hear the FSM leaders. Then Kerr recommended more severe penalties for those suspended than had been recommended by the faculty group. And, ignoring the ten-point proposal of the faculty members and the whole concept of judicial determination, he offered a single new rule, providing that certain campus facilities “. . . may be used . . . for planning, implementing, raising funds, recruiting participants for lawful off-campus action, not for unlawful off-campus action”

“Students,” said the San Francisco Chronicle, “stood and sat in stunned silence, and many of the coeds burst into tears.” Thousands of students were (and are) convinced that the regents and Kerr had revealed themselves as “finks” — that they betrayed completely any trust the students or faculty may have placed in them. The assembled students voted for a sit-in the following Monday, and they conducted it in Sproul Hall for a few hours to show their indignation.

There seemed no place to turn. In the eyes of the public the students appeared to have won. They had protested about the tables and the fund raising — well, they got the tables and the fund raising, didn’t they? Few understood that the real issue was advocacy.

At that point, the FSM may have been beaten, but on November 27, the university sent letters (now called “The Thanksgiving Letters”) to four FSM leaders, summoning them to disciplinary action for their roles in the “police-car demonstration” two months before. The initiation of disciplinary action against six campus organizations, including SNCC and CORE, was also announced. All except die-hard anti-student forces now agree that the FSM had every reason to believe it had been outrageously tricked. In bitter, frustrated anger, with hundreds of students cheering, PSM leaders presented five demands as the price of avoiding a sit-in:

(1) The dropping of all charges against FSM leaders and organizations,

(2) a guarantee against further disciplinary action until a final settlement;

(3) no unnecessary regulations against political activity on campus,

(4) an attempt by Kerr to persuade the regents that only the courts should regulate the content of on-campus political expression,

(5) agreement that the form of such expression (location on campus, use of sound equipment, etc ) should be determined by a student-faculty-administration committee.

The demands were ignored, and The Day of the Cops began.

Graduate students, assembled into an astonishingly democratic body, called a strike as soon as the police moved in — a strike certainly effective enough to be seriously disruptive. A large segment — almost certainly a majority — of the faculty was sharply critical of the administration. A much-heralded “peace plan” a few days later turned out to ignore the advocacy question, and further offended students because it was worked out in detail and handed down from on high without any consultation with them.

The fight is not yet over. As of this writing there is a lull, for the Academic Senate on December 8 offered a new compromise settlement that was enthusiastically endorsed by the students. Kerr, however, has said that the proposal involves basic changes of policy which will have to be studied by the board of regents. The regents meet on December 18, so Berkeley could have fireworks for Christmas.

But whatever the outcome, one already evident result is that the faculty is awake and involved — The Day of the Cop did that. When the university has to be turned over to the Oakland police, something must be seriously wrong — and many faculty members think they know what it is.

The Multiversity

The word is Clark Kerr’s. He also speaks of “the military-industrial complex” — not with the faintly derogatory tone which even Dwight Eisenhower gave it, but as a simple description of what’s there. And the multiversity, Kerr says, must not only come to terms with the complex, it should “invite” collaboration.

The role of the multiversity, he said in the 1963 Godkin Lectures, is that of a “factory,” which produces ideas in the form of research, and idea men in the form of graduates for the use of he military, industry and the government. In return, the multiversity is paid in grants and contracts. The university president’s role, he said, is that of mediator in this process — and mediator to the community, because the multiversity “is particularly sensitive to the pressure of its many particular publics.”

The administration of the University of California is Clark Kerr. Chancellor Strong, a distinguished philosopher, is as an administrator little more than a rubber stamp; to know Kerr is to know “the administration.” Assistant Professor John Leggett, of the department of sociology at Berkeley, believes that in Kerr’s writings lie the keys to the FSM and The Day of the Cops.

All of us who witnessed that day were puzzled to understand how such a situation could have come to pass. That it involved “administrative ineptitude,” in one professor’s phrase was undeniable; whatever their motives, Brown, Kerr and Strong were all convicted of ineptitude by the fact that the police were not only present on the campus but in command of it. That it involved student intransigence was equally undeniable; at the very least, there was little honest effort in the FSM to see the other side objectively. But why the ineptitude and why the intransigence?

The key to the first question, Leggett suggests, is in the relationship between Kerr’s multiversity and the civil rights movement. As a number of observers have pointed out, the civil rights movement is genuinely revolutionary; it threatens a number of established standards. As one example, a completely new look at the economy is necessary if we are genuinely to open the job market to Negroes at a time when automation dominates the future.

This, in turn, is an open threat to the military-industrial complex. In the process of Kerr’s “invited” collaboration, the civil rights movement on campus is disruptive, and being disruptive, it must be stopped.

Clark Kerr is far from being an evil man, few university presidents, in California or elsewhere, have shown as much concern for freedom. But he is caught, it would seem, in the dilemma of his concepts. He would doubtless be horrified at the idea of deliberately collaborating with racism, but from the point of view of the civil rights movement, that is what his concept of the multiversity requires. “There are some things,” he said in the Godkin Lectures, “that should not be compromised — then the mediator needs to become a gladiator.” The point is as valid as it is apt. But Kerr also says that students may not use the university as “a fortress from which they can sally forth with impunity to make their attacks on society.”

Perhaps the best comment on those two quotations is in a statement adopted unanimously by the anthropology faculty on The Day of the Cops, in which they said that the issue on the campus is the civil rights movement, and that the administration must recognize its dynamism and decide clearly whether it is for or against — without hiding behind euphemisms like “off-campus political activity” Or, one might add, “attacks on society.”

There are, of course, matters of law and order, and democratic procedure. But to the FSM, it seems that their appeals to law and order and democratic procedure go unheeded. The administration, they argue, has all the power — arbitrary power, from the students’ point of view — and, like Negroes, the students are not treated as equals, not allowed a sufficient governing role in their own affairs, forced into a second-class status. Thus, like Negroes and their supporters, the students turn to new weapons — the mass demonstration, the march, the sit-in. Yet, rightly or wrongly, most of us (or perhaps most of us over 30) would have bent a little, would have sought the common interest, would have worked at the behind-the-scenes political side a little harder. Why insist on a total victory which is so hopeless from the start?

Leggett refers — not without amusement, but yet seriously — to a paper co-authored by Kerr and dealing with the relative propensity of some labor unions to become involved in protracted, class-struggle-type strikes. The paper examines the characteristics of those workers — longshoremen, miners, loggers — who tend to be most militant as union members, whose labor disputes become polarized, who are disposed, in a word, to be intransigent.

First of all, their working conditions are usually terrible — they have the hardest, dirtiest jobs. Second, they tend to be isolated from the “respectable,” middle-class elements in the community. Third, they are apt to be homogeneous — frequently there is an ethnic identity. Fourth, as a result of these factors, they form closed communities — they have their own folk-dancing groups or hang out in their own bars or whatever, so that there is a lot of internal communication to counter the isolation from the community.

It needs little imagination for anyone who has ever been on a university or college campus to apply these criteria to that group of students who tend to be well informed and what we used to call socially conscious. The conditions under which they can pursue their own intellectual and political interests are abominable. They’re isolated, often voluntarily, from the fraternity-sorority, rah-rah life of the “respectable element.” In their isolation, they form their own groups; their talk is cross talk; they dig music and poetry, political theory and political action that is foreign to the middle-class orientation of most students and most faculty members.

And out of this isolation comes distrust — distrust of a university administration that can bend to a Knowland, distrust of anybody over 30, distrust of anyone who seems to be paternal or patronizing. A promise is a promise, and fair is fair, and why all this pussyfooting around?

Balance and perspective, and a willingness to look at the other guy’s side, do not come from such an environment The tragedy of the University of California would seem to be that there was no third force — one is tempted to say, in Clark Kerr’s words, no “mediator” — to bring balance and perspective to the polarized positions. The role would seem to have belonged to the faculty — not a few individuals, but the body as a whole; certainly many faculty members now think so. But beyond that, there are a few who have a more radical position (a position, incidentally, with which Mario Savio appears to agree): that the university ought in fact, not merely in principle, to be run by the students and the faculty. In Savio’s phrase, the job of the administration should be merely “to see that the sidewalks get swept.”

“We on the faculty,” Leggett says, “have allowed the administration, over the years, to take the university away from us, to turn it into the multiversity. It isn’t easy, but we’re going to have to try to take it back. The students and the faculty, together, should control the university. The administration should administrate.”

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