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Universities: Sad Scenes at Berkeley

5 minute read

To Berkeley’s aging young agitators, it was a dreamlike revival of past hell raising. To Berkeley’s recently confident administrators, it was a sickening replay of two-year-old nightmares. Cops swung clubs on campus. Angry students scratched and bit policemen, or defiantly lay prone. The perennial martyr, Non-Student Mario Savio, exhorted cheering students, some perched in trees, to stay out of class. Nearly 2,000 of them did, and Berkeley again seemed close to coming unhinged.

There were significant differences between last week’s disorders and those of November-December 1964. Two years ago, well-organized campus rebels cleverly exploited broadly held malaise over the coldness of the “multiversity” to bring the school “to a grinding halt,” as Savio put it. Last week the protesters were chaotic and focused on issues that were either trivial or phony—but the students, as though by reflex, were stirred up. “We have an emotional snowball on our hands,” conceded Chancellor’s Assistant John Searle.

Vicious Speech. This fall Chancellor Roger Heyns has been facing student pressures with a growing firmness. He refused to readmit Savio as a student when Savio broke rules against nonstudents distributing literature on campus. Heyns said that the students’ public-address system in front of hallowed Sproul Hall disturbed classes, carried “speech that is often vicious, dishonest, laced with slander and character assassination and often charged with hatred,” and proposed moving it.

Searching for a trigger for a new tumult, activists lit on U.S. Navy recruiters manning tables inside the Berkeley student union. A nonstudent, anti-Viet Nam, anticonscription group called the Draft Information Committee set up a table next to the Navy recruiters. Campus police ordered it removed. A crowd appeared, including Savio and Communist Student Bettina Aptheker. A fist fight broke out between two students, which drew more spectators. Some set up picket lines around the Navy table, then sprawled on the floor when police said picketing inside was illegal.

Bad Bites. Police sealed the doors of the building after about 200 students and nonstudents had joined the sit-in. Vice Chancellor William Boyd offered to let conscientious objectors set up a table beside the recruiters, and Dean of Students Arleigh Williams said that no one would be arrested if all would move on. Both offers were ignored. Several hours later, Executive Vice Chancellor Earl F. Cheit, filling in for Heyns, who was attending meetings at Harvard and Princeton, summoned about 100 campus and local police. Armed with warrants, they arrested six nonstudents, including Savio.

The arrival of the cops enraged the demonstrators. They shoved the officers, tried to prevent the arrests, blocked their path to the paddy wagons. The police, in turn, lashed out with their clubs. A girl cried, “They’re killing me!” A boy, dragged out by his long locks, screamed, “Damn fascists!” One officer, his hand bleeding freely, said he had been bitten. The officers forced their way through some 400 jeering students outside the building. Three students were arrested for interfering with the police, one in a fist fight.

Students then took over the building, held a midnight meeting in the ballroom at which Cheit tried to defend use of the police and the table-manning rules, but drew hoots and jeers. His efforts were further squelched by cries of “Savio, Savio” as the former Free Speech leader, free on bail, arrived to take the stage, deliver a rambling plea for a student strike. Savio’s wife Suzanne also showed up to urge a strike. On a quick show of hands, with no chance for a negative vote, the strike was approved. A closely divided student-government council later voted 9 to 8 to endorse the strike, as did an organization of teaching assistants.

“MiddleAged Delinquents.” Next morning, a score of classes was canceled when teachers did not show up; about 2,000 students cut classes, and roughly 7,000 gathered in the rain for a noontime rally to cheer Savio’s strike call. The rainfall and the imminence of this week’s quarterly exams also contributed to the absences. The strike organizers demanded that Heyns, who flew back to the campus, promise never again to call police out to handle campus “political” problems, drop all charges against those arrested, accept an entirely new form of student government. Heyns, waiting for emotions to cool, made no promises, but blamed the agitation on outsiders. Berkeley, he said, “can resolve its own problems within its own community, in its own way, but has no protection from outside protests.”

The new unrest posed new problems for the university. Jesse Unruh, speaker of the California assembly, said that the legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education will probe Berkeley’s problems. Governor-elect Ronald Reagan repeated his campaign call for a Berkeley investigation, said the new disorder was caused by “middleaged delinquents.” As Governor he will have few official powers over the university beyond sitting on its board of regents, although he can influence its budget. His guideline will be that “no one is compelled to attend the university. Those who do attend should accept and obey the prescribed rules or get out.”

All of which seemed to fall on deaf ears. Said Non-Student Savio, as the strike continued: “We have gobs of great things popping up because only when we have palpable power will the university listen to our demands. We have power.”

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