The Free Speech Movement
To the Editor:
The view of the Free Speech Movement which Nathan Glazer propounds in his article [“On Being Deradicalized,” October 1970] is one widely divergent from my own observations as a member of both the Central Staff and the Executive Committee of the FSM. Although Mr. Glazer allows that youthful idealism, a desire for better education, and an insistence that the university “abandon hypocrisy and the support of evil public policies” were present at Berkeley to some extent, he considers that “to see the student revolt . . . as a movement that could be satisfied by educational change was sentimental.” Mr. Glazer feels that the dominant factor at Berkeley “was a passion for immediate action, for confrontation, for the humiliation of others, for the destruction of authority . . . and what was most distinctive and valuable about the universities—their ability to distance themselves from immediate crises, their concern with the heritage of culture and science, their encouragement of individuality and even eccentricity. . . .”
I was anything but an activist when I became president of Particle-Berkeley, the on-campus science club which sponsored lecture series and colloquia. The club also provided manpower for Particle Magazine, a journal of undergraduate research which had been cited by the U.S. State Department in a display of American periodicals in the Soviet Union. Particle was classified as an off-campus activity because non-Berkeley students also contributed to it and because by accepting advertising it was deemed commercial literature (hence legally vendable only under the auspices of the student store . . .). The administration apparently considered it unworthy of either inexpensive distribution or of the benefits attendant to on-campus status, a status forfeitable by Particle-Berkeley should its link to Particle become known.
Represented in the FSM coalition were groups who realized that they should try to ease the rules regarding the soliciting of funds as well as other rules whose fresh enforcement had been found equally onerous. Particle-Berkeley sent Robert Holmes and me to the Executive Committee with the proviso that we resign upon the adoption of any civil-disobedience tactics (after Thanksgiving this was amended to any violent tactics). To rebut the charge that all FSM members were politicized radical agitators, let me mention that other groups which joined were the Arts and Architecture Students and two different campus Republican clubs. Of six core members of the Central Staff, two were Objectivists, another a Republican. As the semester proceeded, support was garnered both from studious students who saw the concept of academic freedom threatened and from socially-active students, the stanching of whose ordinary activities forced them to face the barrenness of their Berkeley education.
Meanwhile, the administration-faculty-student negotiations continued deadlocked. The cause had seemingly dragged into tedium when directly after Thanksgiving we discovered that a clerk had obtained a copy of a letter to Thomas Cunningham, the general counsel to the university, from Chancellor Strong (or perhaps President Kerr—my memory is hazy), asking him to effect sub rosa certain changes in the rule books. Simultaneously the administration announced further penalties on four students arrested in September. When new clemency demands went unmet, the Sproul Hall sit-in resulted.
Would Mr. Glazer have those long hours and weeks of quiet negotiations . . . transmuted into a passion for immediate action? They can be so viewed only if one forgets the exigencies occasioned by the academic calendar. As for “those distinctive and valuable attributes of a university,” they were visible in Berkeley neither to me nor to most others. Is bowing to personally-applied political pressure in stopping the benign practices of thirty years distancing oneself from immediate crises? Is graduating thousands of B.A. recipients who are known personally to literally none of their instructors evidence of a concern for imparting a cultural heritage? Is the administrative insistence upon the punctilious fulfillment of picayune requirements the encouragement of individuality? Balderdash!
For his “misuse of power” I suggest Mr. Glazer look to the quarter which deliberately presented the distorted picture which is now accepted as the reality: the news media.
B. Meredith Burke
Los Angeles, California
Nathan Glazer writes:
I am impressed by Mr. Burke’s letter—as anyone would be. My own experience was that Republicans, groups with non-political interests, and even right-wing Socialists, very rapidly left the Free Speech Movement because of its rhetoric and tactics. My views were not taken lightly, and were based on my own direct experience—which I will not bother to detail further here.