4. Free Speech at Berkeley, 1964–1967: Mario Savio, Clark Kerr, and Ronald Reagan
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119 4 Free Speech at Berkeley, 1964–1967: Mario Savio, Clark Kerr, and Ronald Reagan David Henry and James Arnt Aune T wenty-six by forty feet. The University of California at Berkeley allotted that amount of space at the campus’s Bancroft Way–Telegraph Avenue entrance for a “free speech area” when the campus expanded in the late 1950s. There, activists advocated social and political causes and solicited donations. Originally located on campus near Sather Gate, the free speech area had been in place at least since 1933, when UC President Clark Kerr arrived as a doctoral student.1 But while President Kerr was out of the country on university business in the summer of 1964, Berkeley chancellor Edward Strong and vice-chancellor Alex Sheriffs discussed terminating the policy. On September 14, 1964, dean of students Katherine Towle, reluctantly but on Sheriffs’s direction, revoked the “Sather Gate tradition.” Though Kerr had just returned from Europe, he understood the potential impact of the decision and met on campus with the Berkeley administrators the day he returned to his office, September 16. Not ordering his subordinates to reverse their decision, Kerr recalled later, was one of the two worst decisions he made in his career as Berkeley’s first chancellor (1952–58) and the University’s twelfth president.2 Kerr’s decision not to order Strong, Sheriffs, and Towle to reinstate the free speech area set in motion a series of events that would result more than two years later in the end of his presidency. The business of this chapter is the interanimation of the Free Speech Movement, President Kerr’s efforts to balance the students’ demands with the concerns of an increasingly conservative electorate, and gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan’s use of Kerr as a foil for a campaign grounded largely in the promise to “clean up that mess at Berkeley.” With a focus on Berkeley between the fall of 1964 and the spring of 1965, this project initially attended to seminal texts and matters of leadership in the Free Speech Movement (FSM).3 Mario Savio’s “An End to History ”—itself a subject of controversy—and the FSM’s “Declaration of Independence” SOCIAL CONTROVERSY AND PUBLIC ADDRESS IN THE 1960S AND EARLY 1970S 120 showed promise for useful textual criticism, and Savio’s roles in the FSM intimated a productive exploration of movement leadership. Shortly after we began independent readings of the period, however, that original focus changed sharply. Or, rather, it evolved and broadened in unanticipated directions. Savio and the FSM remain important to the analysis. But the central leader with whom we are concerned is Clark Kerr. And the documents to which we attend are the FSM texts, Kerr’s words before and after the events of 1964–65, and the nascent conservative movement’s exploitation of the FSM-Kerr conflict to usher in the age of Reagan in California—and ultimately national—politics. The controversy assessed is thus framed by the events of late 1964–65 on one end, and 1966–67 on the other. Left and right alike targeted Clark Kerr as, if not the root cause, at least an agent of the problems that prevented the university and the state from “moving forward.” Kerr responded with a rhetoric grounded in a rational world model of deliberation and decision-making. It was a model that proved ill-suited to the contextual dynamics of California political culture in the mid and late 1960s. At the most abstract level, the Savio-Kerr-Reagan encounter reveals a rhetorical crisis, a “Thucydidean moment” in which, as James Boyd White puts it, “words lose their meanings,” and conflicting rhetorical idioms propose and reject alternative ways of constituting and reconstituting community.4 The very meanings of “free speech,” the “university,” and, indeed, “liberalism” broke down in the Thucydidean moment of the FSM. Each rhetor spoke a different rhetorical idiom that was grounded in a different vision of the American social system—a different implicit macrosociology. In her study of the historiography of the American Socialist Party, Aileen Kraditor makes an intriguing distinction between what she calls the System model and the Society model of discussing public life. From the System model perspective, Mario Savio spoke of the university and the United States as a System in which the economic , political, and social spheres were tightly integrated to block critique and social change.5 As Kraditor writes, The Society model includes interdependent and mutually influencing institutions , communities, and ideological currents...


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