There are many things that happened at Berkeley which will not be of interest to people elsewhere, and need not be; it is to be hoped that others will have their own problems to contend with, and will have interesting things of their own to do. Others should not have to get their experience second hand. But there are certain things that happened at Berkeley which it would be useful for people in other places to know about, as an aid in understanding themselves, as help to them in preparing revolts of their own.
There were some things which made the Berkeley revolt peculiarly Berkeley’s, but other things made it a revolt among white middle-class youth that could happen at any state university. And it is the second set of factors which will probably be of most importance to people outside Berkeley.
Why did it happen in Berkeley? The important question to ask, rather, is: why did it happen in Berkeley first? – because there are several universities in the East and Midwest where, since last semester, little home-grown revolts have flared up.
Asking why it happened in Berkeley first is like asking why Negroes, and not Americans generally, are involved in securing access for all, to the good which America could provide for her people. This may seem strange to those who imagine America to be a virtual paradise except for certain groups, notably Negroes, who have been excluded. But this is a distortion. What oppresses the American Negro community is merely an exaggerated, grotesque version of what oppresses the rest of the country – and this is eminently true of the middle class, despite its affluence. In important ways the situation of students at Berkeley is an exaggerated representation of what is wrong with American higher education.
The forces influencing students at Berkeley – not merely those resulting from participation in the university itself, but also those deriving from student involvement in politics – these forces are likewise exaggerations of the forces to which society subjects other university students in other parts of the country. So probably the reason it could happen here first is this: while the same influences are present elsewhere, there is no university (none that I know of, at all events) where these influences are present in as extreme a form as here in Berkeley.
The influences upon students are of three main kinds: those deriving from personal history; “internal” problems resulting directly from being a student; and “external” problems deriving from after-class political activities. The external influences on students result primarily from involvement in the civil-rights movement, both in the Bay Area and in the South. The internal derive primarily from the style of the factory-like mass miseducation of which Clark Kerr is the leading ideologist. There are many impersonal Universities in America; there is probably none more impersonal in its treatment of students than the University of California There are students at many Northern universities deeply involved in the civil- rights movement; but there probably is no university outside the South where the effect of such involvement has been as great as it has been at Berkeley.
One factor which helps explain the importance of civil rights here is the political character of the Bay Area. This is one of the few places left in the United States where a personal history of involvement in radical politics is not a form of social leprosy. And, of course, there are geographical considerations. The Berkeley campus is very close to the urban problems of Oakland and San Francisco, but not right in either city. On campus it is virtually impossible for the thoughtful to banish social problems from active consideration. Many students here find it impossible not to be in some sense engage. The shame of urban America (just south of campus or across the bay) forces itself upon the conscience of the community. At the same time it is possible to think about political questions by retreating from their immediate, physical, constant presence. Thus, at Columbia or CCNY it is difficult to tell where the city ends and the university begins, whereas at Berkeley there is a clearly demarcated university community, with places where students and faculty members can enjoy a certain sense of retreat and apartness. At Berkeley we are both close enough to gross injustice not to forget; but far enough away, and set well enough apart, so as neither to despair nor simply to merge into the common blight Furthermore, ours is not a commuter school; the students live here at least part of the year. This makes possible a continuing community such as would be impossible at UCLA for example. This community, with a great deal of internal communication, has been essential to the development of political consciousness. And there is a good deal for the students to communicate to one another. Over ten per cent of the student body has taken part directly in civil-rights activity, in the South or in the Bay Area. These three thousand, all of whom have at least walked picket lines, are a leaven for the campus. And many more can be said to have participated vicariously: there is great and widespread interest in what those who “go South” have done and experienced. Of course, there is a natural receptivity for politics at Berkeley simply because this is a state-supported university: a good percentage of the student body comes from lower-middle-class or working-class homes; many who can afford to pay more for an education go, for example, to Stanford.
Now for those problems which have their origin within the university: the tale which follows is strictly true only for undergraduates in their first two years; there are some improvements during the second two years; but only graduate students can expect to be treated tolerably well.
It is surprising at first, after taking a semester of undergraduate courses here – except in the natural sciences or mathematics – to realize how little you have learned. It is alarming at the same time to recognize how much busy work you have done: so many papers hastily thrown together, superficially read by some graduate-student teaching assistant. Even if you want to work carefully, it is difficult to do so in each of five courses, which often have unrealistically long reading lists – courses with little or no logical relationship to one another. Perhaps in the same semester, the student will “take” a superficial survey of all the major (and many minor) principles of biology, and a language course, a good part of which is spent in a language “laboratory” very poorly integrated into the grammar and reading part of the course, a laboratory which requires its full hour of outside preparation but which benefits the student very little in terms of speaking ability in the foreign language. Perhaps, ironically, the semester’s fare will include a sociology course in which you are sure to learn, in inscrutably “scientific” language, just what is so good and only marginally improvable in today’s pluralistic, democratic America.
If you are an undergraduate still taking non-major courses, at least one of your subjects will lecture in which, with field glasses and some good luck, you should be able, a few times a week, to glimpse that famous profile giving those four- or five-year-old lectures, which have been very conveniently written up for sale by the Fybate Company anyway. The lectures in the flesh will not contain much more than is already in the Fybate notes, and generally no more than will be necessary to do well on the examinations. Naturally, it will be these examinations which determine whether or not you pass the course. Such an education is conceived as something readily quantifiable: 120 units constitute a bachelor’s degree. It is rather like the outside world – the “real” world – where values are quantified in terms of the dollar: at the university we use play money, course units. The teacher whom you will have to strain to see while he lectures will be very seldom available for discussion with his students; there is usually an hour set aside, in the course of each week, during which all of the students who want to speak with him will have to arrange to do so. In the face of physical impossibility, there are generally few such brave souls. If more came, it would make little difference; this system is rarely responsive to individual needs. There are too few teachers, and too little time. Indeed, if the professor is one of those really famous scholars of whom the university is understandably proud, then the primary reason there is not enough time for the problems of individual undergraduates is that the bulk of the professor’s time (other than the six or eight hours spent in the classroom each week) is devoted to “research” or spent with graduate students. The moral of the piece is: if you want to get an education, you will have to get it yourself. This is true in any case, but it is not usually intended to be true in the sense that getting it yourself means in spite of the work at school. There are just too many nonsense hours spent by American students, hours to “do” much as one “does” time in prison.
In the course of one semester, doubtless, there will be several opportunities for each unlucky student to come into contact with the administration of the university. This may be to request an exception from some university requirement. However formal the requirement may be, invariably at least once a semester, the student finds he cannot be excepted, not because the requirement is important but simply because it happens to be a requirement. Well, that is a problem common to bureaucracies of various kinds, but one wonders if this is the sort of thing that should be regularly encountered at a university. Yet this ordeal is what a large part of American college-age youth have to endure. We should ask not whether such intellectual cacophony and bureaucratic harassment are appropriate at universities – for certainly they are not – but rather, whether these local “plants” in what Clark Kerr calls the “knowledge industry” deserve the name university at all. This is a somewhat overdrawn picture of life at Berkeley. The students are aware of meaningful activity going on outside the university. For there is some meaningful activity going on in America today – in the civil-rights movement, certainly. At the same time, but much more dimly, each student is aware of how barren of essential meaning and direction is the activity in which he is primarily involved, as a card-carrying student. I write “each student is aware” but I realize that this is to express more hope than fact. In less than a tenth of the students is this “awareness” a “consciousness.” This consciousness of the poverty of one’s immediate environment is a difficult thing to come by. In most it must remain a dim awareness. It is far easier to become aware of (and angry at) the victimization of others than to perceive one’s own victimization. It is far easier to become angry when others are hurt. This is so for a number of reasons. Fighting for others’ rights cannot engender nearly so great a guilt as striking rebelliously at one’s own immediate environment. Also, it is simply easier to see the injustice done others – it’s “out there.” Many of us came to college with what we later acknowledge were rather romantic expectations, perhaps mostly unexpressed at first, about what a delight and adventure learning would be. We really did have unanswered questions searching for words, though to say so sounds almost corny. But once at college we quickly lose much of the romantic vision; although, fortunately, some never give in to the disappointment. Discovering that college is really high school grown up and not significantly more challenging, many console themselves with the realization that it is not much more either.
The revolt began in the fall semester of 1964 as an extension of either vicarious or actual involvement in the struggle for civil rights. It was easy to draw upon this reservoir of outrage at the wrongs done to other people; but such action usually masks the venting, by a more acceptable channel, of outrage at the wrongs done to oneself. I am far from propounding a psychoanalytic theory of politics, yet most people whom I have met who are committed to radical political innovation are people who have experienced a good deal of personal pain, who have felt strong frustration in their own lives. This mechanism made possible the beginning of one pint-sized revolution on the Berkeley campus. The university set about denying students access to those facilities and rights on campus which had made possible student involvement in the civil-rights movement in the previous few years. Yet very rapidly the concern of the movement shifted from Mississippi to much closer to home; we soon began doing an awful lot of talking and thinking about the limitations of the university, the “Multiversity,” the “knowledge industry” – these metaphors became ever more a part of the rhetoric of the movement. Civil rights was central in our fight because of business-community pressure on the university to crack down on campus-launched campaigns into the surrounding community – which had proven all too effective. University spokesmen have acknowledged that the need to respond to such pressures was the only “justification” for the ban on political activity. Nevertheless, the focus of our attention shifted from our deep concern with the victimization of others to outrage at the injustices done to ourselves. These injustices we came to perceive more and more clearly with each new attack upon us by the university bureaucracy as we sought to secure our own rights to political advocacy. The political consciousness of the Berkeley community has been quickened by this fight. The Berkeley students now demand what hopefully the rest of an oppressed white middle class will some day demand: freedom for all Americans, not just for Negroes!
A word about the author of this book:
“Don’t trust anyone over thirty” became a motto of the Free Speech Movement when Jack Weinberg was quoted to that effect. Hal Draper is one of the few “over thirty” who were familiar with the events of the struggle from the very beginning, and who understood well enough to take the students seriously. He has always been ready with encouragement, but has consistently refrained from giving inappropriate and unsolicited “vintage 1930” advice. This is far from common with our “fathers.” A pamphlet Hal wrote, The Mind of Clark Kerr, contributed mightily to the movement’s understanding of the extent and depth of the injustice by which the “multiversity” runs.
He has been a friend.
Last updated on 29.8.2006