Hal Draper


Berkeley: The New Student Revolt


3. Behind the Myth of Liberalization

The previous president, Robert G. Sproul, had been a reactionary bureaucrat, not a liberal bureaucrat. It was in his reign, of course, that Berkeley had gone through the shattering “Year of the Oath” – the subjection of the faculty to a McCarthyite loyalty oath; the long fight of the faculty against this indignity, to which most ended up by capitulating; the loss of some of the most eminent men on the faculty, who left rather than disgrace themselves and their profession. (Kerr in those days played a role much appreciated by the faculty, not as a militant non-signer but as a mediator, and this strongly influenced his accession as chancellor in 1952.)

One of the by-product virtues of a reactionary is that you are more likely to know just where you stand with him. Sproul’s stand on political discussion and social action as far as students were concerned was straightforward: it was all banned, except at the pleasure of the administration. In accordance with his notorious “Rule 17,” even Adlai Stevenson could not speak on campus, and Norman Thomas was likewise not permitted to subvert the state constitution by speaking inside Sather Gate.

As the nation and even California emerged more and more from the miasma of the McCarthyite era, as the “Silent Generation” of students became vocal, this blunt know-nothingism became more and more intolerable, i.e., was obviously leading to a blowup. In fact, the rule was eased in the fall of 1957 under Sproul himself and after Kerr became president the next year, an entirely different tack was taken to keep political discussion and action under control on the campus. The key was not a brusque ban but administrative manipulation accompanied by libertarian rhetoric. The “Kerr Directives” of 1959 liberalized some aspects of Sproul’s regime (no difficult achievement) but, even with later modfications, actually worsened others. [1*]

During the next five years of Kerr’s regime, student activists complained of a long series of harassments. Here are some highlights:

So it went. This is the campus which some, later, claimed to be “the freest campus in the country.” [2*]

In a somewhat different field, it is relevant to note that in 1962 the California Labor Federation (state AFL-CIO) – under one of the most conservative state readerships in the country – adopted a convention resolution condemning the university administration and Regents for their “antiquated labor relations philosophy” which, it said, “lags far behind the standards established through collective bargaining in private industry.” The resolution cited experiences with the “countless roadblocks” thrown up by the administration against union activities. The unions’ complaints about treatment by the university are remarkably similar to the students’.



1*. A fully documented study, Administrative Pressures and Student Political Activity at the University of California: A Preliminary Report, edited by Michael Rossman and Lynne Hollander, was issued by the FSM in December 1964. The introductory summary was distributed separately; the complete report is a thick document made up of forty studies, mostly on issues during Kerr’s administration, but also taking up the loyalty-oath fight of 1949-58. Also see the article Yesterday’s Discords by Max Heinrich and Sam Kaplan, in the California Monthly (alumni magazine), February 1965.

2*. On this claim, cf. the California Monthly article Yesterday’s Discord, reporting on the 1962-63 academic year:

“The ASUC, while continuing to abide by the Kerr Directives, sought ... to learn whether schools similar to U.C. had comparable regulations. It found in a survey of 20 schools with student bodies of more than 8,000 that only one, the University of Arizona, had similarly restrictive rules.”

For a similar report, see the summary in Time, December 18, 1964, beginning:

“By and large, restrictions are the mark of small, church-affiliated colleges intent on serving in loco parentis, while freedom for students, defined roughly as the rights and curbs of ordinary civil law, is the goal at big, old, and scholastically high-ranking state and private universities.”

After a survey it concludes:

“Berkeley students have blown off the lid. It now remains for them to follow the tradition of schools that have long allowed a wide range of undergraduate freedom.”

In the Bay Area itself, even San Francisco State College, operating under the same state legislature as the more prestigious university, imposed none of the restrictions against which the Berkeley students revolted.


Last updated on 27.8.2006