Hal Draper


Berkeley: The New Student Revolt


7. “What’s Intellectual About Collecting Money?”

When Kerr finally gave the public his history of how the fight all started (interview of January 5), his account went as follows:

Returning from a trip abroad on September 15, he found that, the day before, the Berkeley administration had closed the Bancroft political arena. He thought this was a mistake, but, instead of correcting the mistake, he suggested that Sproul Hall steps be made a “Hyde Park” area. “I thought,” he said, “we could get things back into channels of discussion if we showed reasonableness, but it didn’t work.” The interview adds: “Instead of reasonable discussion Kerr got the Free Speech Movement.”

We shall see the administration’s view of reasonable discussion.

The edict of September 14 was handed down, a week before classes started, with no consultation of the student clubs affected. There was likewise none even with the ASUC, the “sandbox” student government. The administration ignored the impotent ASUC as fully as did the student protesters.

“Off-campus politics will be removed from its last on-campus stronghold,” interpreted the Daily Cal. “The boom has been lowered ... on off-campus political activities within the limits of the Berkeley campus,” reported the Berkeley Daily Gazette.

In addition to banning the use of tables (and posters) at Bancroft, the September 14 announcement also specifically prohibited fund-raising, membership recruitment and speeches, and the “planning and implementing of off-campus political and social action.” The reason given for banning the tables was their “interference with the flow of traffic.” The clubs offered to conduct a traffic-flow survey, but without result.

The ban on the activities was based on Art.9, Sec.9 of the State Constitution which reads: “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 ...” Many pointed out in the ensuing three months that the best way to insure the university’s independence of “political or sectarian influence” was to permit free speech and advocacy of all views on campus, not to bar any. [1*]

Although the September 14 regulations were presented as the “historic policy” of the university – historically winked at – a second and new version of the “historic policy” was disclosed a week later, on September 21, after student protests spread. Following a conference with Kerr and Strong, Dean Towle met a group of club representatives and announced some “clarifications”:

(1) Sproul Hall steps would be the new “Hyde Park” – the concession suggested by Kerr – but no voice amplification would be allowed. (2) A number of tables would be allowed at Bancroft; presumably it had been ascertained in the meantime that they would not block traffic. (3) But at the tables there could still be no fund-raising, no recruitment, and no advocacy of partisan positions. Only “informative” material, not “advocative” “persuasive,” could be distributed for or against a candidate, a proposition or an issue; but no urging of “a specific vote” or “call for direct social or political action.” Chancellor Strong added: there could be no “mounting of social and political actions directed to the surrounding community.”

The student representatives tried to find out where the line was being drawn between informing and advocating, and ran into the Semantic Barrier. The dean offered the interpretation that “information” about a scheduled picket line would be considered “advocacy.”

This abstruse distinction between “information” and “advocacy” had to be partially scuttled within the week, after a discussion on September 24-25 between the campus officers and Kerr. The third version of the “historic policy” was announced on September 28 by Chancellor Strong. “Advocacy” would be permitted of a candidate or a proposition currently on the ballot, but that was all.

And the chancellor announced at the same time that discussion on the matter was over: “no further changes are envisaged. The matter is closed.” So much for “reasonable discussion.” [2*]

By this time it was quite clear that the administration could not possibly believe it was merely enforcing the state constitution. It would have been difficult to claim that the constitution smiled on advocacy of Goldwater after he had become the candidate but frowned on advocacy of Scranton before a candidate had been chosen. Nor would a battery of lawyers have undertaken to prove that it was the constitution that banned “information” about a scheduled picket line. Nor could the constitution explain why fund-raising on campus was allowed for the World University Service, for schools in Asia, while SNCC was barred from collecting for “freedom schools” in Mississippi, or CORE for tutorials in Oakland.

But these interpretations had the undeniable virtue of giving the “outside pressures” what they were demanding. At the same time the new version eased an embarrassing contradiction: the university was spending taxpayers’ money to mail out propaganda in favor of Proposition 2 (the bond issue) while it cracked down on students for collecting nickels for “No on Proposition 14” (the anti-fair-housing measure). It had taken two weeks and Kerr’s best advice to work out this highly selective gloss on the state constitution, which would give substance to Power and rhetoric to Ideals.

(Version 4 of the “historic policy” was going to come in November.)

Students and some faculty members reacted sharply on educational grounds to the prohibition of “mounting social and political action.” A statement by the clubs, for example, spoke of an “obligation to be informed participants in our society – and not armchair intellectuals.” Kerr took up another challenge:

In an apparent retort to the history professors who joined the student protests on the Berkeley campus earlier this week, Kerr said: “If action were necessary for intellectual experience we wouldn’t teach history, since we cannot be involved with the Greeks and Romans.” (S.F. Chronicle, Sept. 27.)

Since we cannot learn through acting in Greek history, is it proper for an educational institution to discourage acting in our own history? The implied argument did nothing to improve the intellectual respectability of the administration’s stand in the eyes of the university community. It did not help that Kerr also added: “What’s so intellectual about collecting money?” Only the civil-rights workers in Mississippi could have replied adequately.



1*. Even Kerr later admitted that “by the fall of 1964, certain of the university’s rules had become of doubtful legal enforce ability.” (Calif. Monthly, February 1965, p.96.)

2*. Three days later, a statement by the chancellor asserted that the new policy “is now and has always been the unchanged policy of the university ... No instance of a newly imposed restriction or curtailment of freedom of speech on campus can be truthfully alleged for the simple reason that none exists.”


Last updated on 29.8.2006