Hal Draper


Berkeley: The New Student Revolt


4. The Myth: Two Showpieces

There are two showpieces of Kerr’s administrative liberalism, a consideration of which will complete the picture. Kerr supporters constantly cite these two items, in addition to equating the decline of McCarthyite pressures with advances in liberalization.

In 1960 occurred the famous student “riot” or “demonstration” (depending on your view) at the San Francisco City Hall, against the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearing. Discriminatory exclusion of students from the hearing room helped to turn the demonstration into a shambles; then the police opened up powerful water hoses to batter the students down the City Hall stairs. Mass arrests followed.

When right-wingers called for the expulsion of the arrested students, Kerr replied that they had acted in their capacity as citizens and were not liable to the university for their conduct. For this he was cheered by liberals.

It was not much noticed at the time that Kerr inserted a basic qualification into his stand. If the action had been planned on campus, he indicated, then university disciplinary action would be in order. In 1964 he was going to put sharp teeth into what had seemed in 1960 to be a principled defense of liberalism.

There was a sequel to the HUAC episode, particularly involving the notorious film Operation Abolition. The administration evidently had expended so much courage in refusing to expel the anti-HUAC students that there was little left in the next pinch. The law students’ club at Berkeley proposed to show Operation Abolition together with a talk on it by Professor John Searle. Searle was forbidden to speak unrebutted, on the ground that his speech would be controversial yet the administration was willing to allow the pro-HUAC film to be shown by itself, presumably because it was not controversial. After the student “party,” Slate, produced a record (Sounds of Protest) as a reply to the film, the administration began a harassment campaign which resulted in Slate’s losing its “on-campus” status – as the California McCarthyite, State Senator Burns, had predicted in advance. The harassment of the Daily Cal, which resulted in the mass resignation of its staff, was also in part due to the attention which the newspaper had paid to the HUAC issue.

The second showpiece was the Regents’ removal, in 1963, of the ban against Communist speakers on campus. Kerr was later (January 1965) going to use this move as proof that “Demonstrations do not speed administrative changes,” for, he argued, the Communist-speaker ban was removed without FSM rallies, sit-ins or strikes.

In this capsule-history Kerr omitted the long series of student protests, rallies, polls, ASUC and club petitions, and other pressures organized against the ban after 1960 in Berkeley, especially in 1962. He also ignored the increasing realization, even by conservatives, that the ban only served to ensure big off-campus audiences for the Communist speakers banned, as well as misplaced sympathy. Moreover, in February 1963 the faculty itself was gravely embarrassed when the administration forbade even the History Department from listening to the Communist Party writer Herbert Aptheker, who had been invited to give an academic talk in the field of Negro history. It was becoming ridiculous.

Even so, the Regents were not induced to “Ban the Ban” until a court test, started by a Riverside campus student group, threatened to bring a ruling from the State Supreme Court which would force their hand. They then finally agreed to end the ban voluntarily, rather than risk reversal by the courts, and the suit was dropped.

But this is not the end of this story of administrative liberalism. In the same action which abolished the special ban on Communist speakers, Kerr proclaimed new harassing rules aimed against all “controversial” speakers. Henceforth, the administration could require, at its pleasure, that any meeting with an outside speaker be chaired by a tenured professor, allegedly in order to ensure its “educational” character. The purely harassing intent of this regulation was adequately expressed by the proviso (tenure) which excluded even assistant professors from fulfilling the requirement. There has never been an explanation of why a meeting is less “educational” if chaired by an assistant professor than by an associate or full professor. [1*] As a result, many a meeting had to be canceled or transferred off-campus when no tenured professor could be induced to spend an evening of his time satisfying Kerr’s “liberalized” rules.

By combining this nuisance rule and some minor ones with the much-praised abolition of the Communist-speaker ban, so that the former went through with little notice among the chorus of amens that rose over the latter, Kerr showed a mastery of administrative manipulation which merits admiration. He received more than admiration: he was given the Alexander Meiklejohn award by the American Association of University Professors for contributions to academic freedom.

Nor was the tenured-professor stratagem the only rule thrown at “controversial” speakers. Around the spring of 1964 the administration invented the practice of assigning policemen to “protect” meetings deemed to be “controversial” – even though not requested and not needed – and then charging the sponsoring club from about $20 or $40 up to $100 for the privilege. (At the same time, the club was forbidden to take any collection to pay for this hard blow to its usually meager finances.) As Campus CORE put it in a leaflet reproducing such a bill: “forcing people to pay for protection from non- existent dangers is extortion ... The administration is pushing us off campus with its protection.”

But it was not any of this that led directly to the explosion. All of this was, so to speak, routine administrative harassment of free speech and political activity.



1*. But a revealing modification of the tenured-professor rule was later (December) instituted at UCLA. New regulations required a tenured chairman only “in the case of speakers representing social or political points of view substantially at variance with established social and political traditions in the US.” Thus the conditions for “free speech” are here officially made dependent on a speaker’s support of or disagreement with the American Party Line.


Last updated on 27.8.2006