Hal Draper


Berkeley: The New Student Revolt


9. The First Sit-in and the Eight Suspensions

On Wednesday, September 30, the dean’s checks continued, but this time they ran into a stiffening resistance. By afternoon five students – Brian Turner, Donald Hatch, David Goines, Elizabeth Stapleton and Mark Bravo – who had refused to back down on what they insisted were their constitutional rights, were summoned to the dean’s office 3 o’clock. The deans quit taking names when they realized that their list might run into hundreds. Hastily written petitions were circulated among the students gathered in the Sather Gate area, and some 400 of them signed statements on the spot, like the following:

We the undersigned have jointly manned tables at Sather Gate – realizing that we were in violation of University edicts to the contrary, and that we may be subject to expulsion.

At 3 o’clock over 500 students showed up at the dean’s office together with the five cited. Their spokesman was Mario Savio, not one of the five. He told the dean: all the students present had equally violated the rules; they wanted equal disciplinary treatment and were not going to leave till assured of it.

... the administration explained that it was punishing only observed offenses, an explanation which under the circu stances struck the student community as disingenuous ... (Suggestion for Dismissal, p.5.) [1*]

Right there, instead, three more students were added to the cited list – Mario Savio, Art Goldberg and Sandor Fuchs – making eight in all. Originally scheduled for 4 P.M. had been another meeting between the administrators and the club representatives; but this point the administration unilaterally canceled the parley on the ground that “the environment was not conducive to reasonable discussion.” Did the chancellor consider that his own intimidation campaign of the past two days, preceding this scheduled meeting, had been “conducive to reasonable discussion?” At any rate, the students were inaugurating a principle they never dropped: When they try to pick off a few leaders, hit ’em with all you’ve got. As Kerr was later to write retrospectively about the FSM activists: “They have a remarkable sense of solidarity among themselves ...”

The students, swelling eventually to several hundreds, stayed in the halls and turned the sit-in into a mass “sleep-in,” till early morning. Shortly before midnight, after conferring with Kerr, Chancellor Strong issued a statement announcing that the penalty of “indefinite suspension” was being assessed against the eight students.

It was characteristic of the panicky virulence with which Strong and Kerr moved to strike that they fixed on a penalty which did not even exist in the very university regulations which they were presumably defending. But this was only one detail. For an assessment of this fateful decision which was made by the chancellor in conference with the president, we must look ahead to the judgment finally rendered in mid-November by a faculty committee appointed by the Academic Senate, usually called the Heyman Committee after its chairman, a professor of law:

The procedures followed were unusual. Normally, penalties of any consequences are imposed only after hearings before the Faculty Student Conduct Committee. Such procedure was not followed here with the result that the students were suspended without a hearing ... in hindsight, it would have been more fitting to announce that the students were to be proceeded against before the Faculty Committee rather than levying summary punishments of such severity. We were left with the impression that some or all of these eight students were gratuitously singled out for heavy penalties summarily imposed in the hope that by making examples of these students, the University could end the sit-in and perhaps forestall further mass demonstrations.

In the case of six students out of the eight, even the administration admitted to the Heyman Committee that the table-manning offenses would normally have been considered “innocuous” but that the draconic penalty was imposed for the “context.” The Heyman Committee disagreed, since it saw the context as a sincere belief by the students that their constitutional rights were at stake:

Moreover, we believe [went on the Committee] that these students viewed their actions in operating the tables as necessary to precipitate a test of the validity of the regulations in some arena outside the University ... [the Chancellor had] made it clear that the President and the Regents had rejected in final form the request of the ASUC Senate for changes in the rules to permit solicitation of funds and membership and organization of political and social action campaigns on campus. The door was thus seemingly closed to any negotiations on these central points.

We should note two things in connection with this very important passage. (1) Later on, the ASUC Senate was going to decide, unanimously, to force a court test of the regulations through an arranged violation of them – that is, it decided do exactly what the rebel students were suspended for doing. (2) The last two sentences give an official quietus to Kerr’s later claim that all he wanted was “reasonable discussion.” At every crucial point the administration systematically struck the attitude “Not negotiable!” [2*]

This persistent intransigence made sense in terms of the usual bureaucratic calculation: insofar as the students could be induced to give up all hope of moving the administration, they could the more easily be discouraged from even making the attempt. It is a usually effective approach; the only reason it failed in this case is that the administration confronted a student leadership which was not ruled by “possibilism.” This indeed was going to be the FSM’s main offense in the eyes of a number of dogmatically “possibilist” academics, who were going to “project” the Administration’s indubitable intransigence onto the militant students.

Regarding the sit-in at the dean’s office, the Heyman Committee observed as follows, naturally unaware of the full future import of its remarks:

In retrospect, the University’s best tactic might have bees to carry on operations in Sproul Hall as usual, leaving the students where they were until the demonstration ended naturally through the weariness of the demonstrators.

And here is its general summary on the suspensions:

... the procedure by which the University acted to punish these wrongdoings is subject to serious criticism. The relevant factors are: first, the vagueness of many of the relevant regulations, second, the precipitate action taken in suspending the students some time between dinner time and the issuance of the press release at 11:45 P.M.; third, the disregard of the usual channel of hearings for student offenses – notably hearings by the Faculty Committee on Student Conduct; fourth, the deliberate singling out of these students (almost as hostages) for punishment despite evidence that in almost every case others were or could have been easily identified as performing similar acts, and fifth, the choice of an extraordinary and novel penalty – “indefinite suspension” – which is nowhere made explicit in the regulations, and the failure to reinstate the students temporarily pending actions taken on the recommendations of this committee. [The last remark is ahead of our story.]

“We do not believe or suggest that the administration was motivated by malice or vengeance,” the Committee assures us, expressing “confident faith that the university administration will be as desirous as we are of correcting [the shortcomings].” Alas, chancellor, president and Regents were going to reject the Heyman Committee’s recommendations about as summarily as the eight students had been suspended.

The administration does not always act so precipitately in putting regulations into force. For example, in connection with its laudable decision to abolish racial discrimination in fraternities, the administration gave frats a period of five years to get into line. The long delay may have been justifiable; it is the contrast that tells the story.



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

2*. Cf. the later summary statement by Chancellor Strong: “During the days leading up to the fateful evening of October 2, the position was stated and restated for all to hear that the university would never negotiate with individuals who were at time engaged in unlawful behavior ...” (Confidential report to Regents dated December 16, 1964. Published in S.F. Examiner, March 13, 1965.)


Last updated on 29.8.2006