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Graduate Students and the Free Speech Movement1
This document gives some of the details of graduate student participation in the events of last semester. The author, a member of the GCC, writes from the point of view of a participant. This history provides further background for parts of Mr. Kaplan's analysis.
Although graduate students actively participated in the protest of the new regulations on student political activity by the Dean of Students in the first weeks of the fall, 1964, semester, they did so as individuals and not through any organization of their own. This was necessarily so because the old Graduate Student Association was defunct. The GSA had been established after the disfranchisement of graduate students from ASUC in 1959. Never a very effective voice or force for graduate needs, the GSA had by 1964 withered. When graduate students concerned with the suppression of political freedom on campus tried to contact GSA officers, they were informed that no officers presently existed and that the last president was in Germany, along with all of the organization's records. The field was therefore clearly open for a new graduate student organization.
After the "Pact of October Second" was signed, the police car and its occupant released, and the student protest entered the period of "negotiations" with the administration and the faculty through the Committee on Campus Political Activity (the Williams Committee), a group of graduate students, primarily from the departments of history and economics, circulated two petitions addressed to the administration. The first, signed by about seven hundred teaching assistants and graduates, read:
We... believe: Freedom of speech and expression are both inalienable constitutional rights of students as citizens and a necessary part of the educational process. True freedom of speech requires that students and student organizations be free to promote the causes they
― 18 ―support by any peaceful action on or off the campus. Free speech can only thrive in an atmosphere of mutual trust. This atmosphere cannot be sustained when student leaders are suspended for political actions, when force is threatened by one party to negotiations, and when irresponsible statements are made to the press. The Free Speech Movement is composed of responsible students whose goal is to secure for us all the right to freedom of speech and expression on the Berkeley campus. We support this goal and the leaders of the Free Speech Movement, who are working to achieve it.
The second petition was circulated by graduates among members of the faculty. It contained an endorsement of a statement by the American Association of University Professors to the effect that students should be free to organize for political and other purposes, that they should enjoy the same freedom of speech, press, and assembly as citizens generally possess, and that the faculty should protect these freedoms. The petition urged that the AAUP position be the basis for campus policy at Berkeley.
At the same time these petitions were being circulated a call was sent out for all graduate students to attend a meeting on October 9, to form a graduate coordinating committee of the Free Speech Movement. Over 100 graduates from about twenty-five departments came. It was decided that each department would in the future send an elected delegate to the GCC to map graduate policy in the FSM. Five graduate delegates and two alternates were elected to ask FSM for graduate representation and to serve on the FSM Executive Committee.2 Graduate students were urged to return to their departments to organize their colleagues and to discuss the free speech issue with the faculty. Within a few weeks GCC had representatives from about fifty departments.
Several important points should be made about the formation of the Graduate Coordinating Committee. In the first place, it arose almost spontaneously to meet the existing crisis on campus. Although attempts were made to contact participants in the GSA, it could not be called back into existence to serve the immediate political needs of graduate students. It somehow seemed more natural to form an ad hoc group rather than to be burdened with the bureaucracy of an established organization. Second, it was not formed as an independent graduate organization, but as the autonomous arm of an on-going movement; it was specifically organized to coordinate graduate activity concerning the free speech issue. Third, the GCC came to be quite firmly based in many graduate departments. Typically, as in the history and sociology departments, the existing graduate clubs voted to associate with the GCC and through it with the FSM. Lastly, it was democratically organized and run, with each department having one vote, with full discussion
― 19 ―from the floor, and as much as possible with decisions being made by a consensus of the delegates present and in many cases by a vote of all graduates present, as in the decisions to renew direct action in November and to strike.
During October, besides fully supporting the FSM position on advocacy, that only the courts should regulate the content of speech, and the struggle within the Williams Committee to gain that position, the GCC sponsored (October 27) a forum on "Students, the University and Social Action." Professors Seymour Martin Lipset and John Searle and graduates Myra Jehlin and David Rynin discussed the issues before the campus in order to clarify the differences between the students and the administration.
It was during this period, too, that a group of graduates and undergraduates did the research for the report on the administration's restriction of student political activity and expression. Edited by Michael Rossman, a graduate student in mathematics, this massively documented work was presented to the Williams Committee by the FSM, and a synopsis of its findings was distributed to the campus as a whole.
In the first week of November, when it began to appear that the FSM would make no headway in the Williams Committee deliberations, the GCC decided that it might be necessary to resume the exercising of its constitutional rights, to test university regulations restricting political activity, and to apply more pressure on the administration. Plans were laid to set up tables again, which would openly solicit funds and membership for student organizations, in violation of university rules. These tables would be manned by teaching assistants and graduate students from a single department, so that if disciplinary measures were taken against them, the teaching staff would be found to be crippled.
It was also contemplated that a teaching assistant's walkout might be called, and that classes could be held off-campus, not at all, or that First Amendment principles could be taught in place of the normal academic curriculum. A strike committee of the GCC3 was formed to propagate the idea of a strike, in the mathematics department a strike fund was set up, and the following notice was distributed to teaching assistants to be read to students in their sections: "For some time now the FSM has been unsuccessfully pressing its demands for freedom of political activity on campus. Many T.A.s are concerned both with the issues and with the administration's responses. Strike committees have been formed among the graduate students in many departments. This is to inform you that events are moving in a way which may lead to one or more short strikes.—The Strike Committee of the GCC..."
Later, in December, when the student strike actually occurred, some
― 20 ―of those who opposed it accused the GCC of having carefully plotted a strike for over a month. Actually the strike proposal of early November was made to warn the administration that its position on free speech could not be tolerated much longer.
While the GCC was fully aware that it did not yet have the departmental strength to call a successful strike unless the administration persisted in its stand, made new provocations against the students, or called the police on campus again, nevertheless many members of the faculty and the administration took the idea of a strike very seriously. Apparently, faculty meetings were held in several departments to try to head off the strike. Threats were made to graduate students that a strike would be illegal, that they would lose their jobs or not be rehired, that they would get bad recommendations, and that faculty or graduate students would be used to replace striking teaching assistants.
It was at this time that teaching assistants in the GCC realized for the first time what a sensitive position they occupied within the functioning of the university. Ironically, the teaching assistants, who had only contemplated a strike and had not intended one, became impressed with the potency of the weapon they in fact had at their disposal.
On November 9, with the Williams Committee hopelessly deadlocked over the question of advocacy, the FSM and the GCC resumed solicitation of funds and membership, in violation of administration rules. Deans took the names of some of the students manning the tables. Other students presented a statement to the deans that they too had been sitting at the tables and wanted equal treatment with those whose names had been taken. Letters were soon sent to about seventy students requesting their appearance in the Dean's office.
The next day, November 10, was "graduate day." About 100 teaching assistants and other graduate students again sat at tables, while many more signed a statement for the deans that they supported the action of their colleagues. Oddly enough, however, letters were not sent to the graduate students until ten days later. There then followed an amusing exchange of letters with the Dean of Students, in which the graduates were asked to affirm that they had signed the statement that they had sat at the tables, or else the matter would be dropped. The graduates replied that they had signed the statement and that unless they heard from the deans again they would assume that the administration's rules were in violation of the Constitution. Nothing was ever heard from the deans again on this matter; and the tables continued to be manned throughout November without further incident.
It was during this period also that all teaching assistants were invited by Graduate Dean Sanford Elberg to attend a meeting to hear
― 21 ―Professors Earl Cheit and Henry Rosovsky present the faculty report from the Williams Committee. The GCC interpreted this as a move on the part of the administration to persuade them to accept the faculty-administration stand rather than that of the FSM. A member of the GCC asked Dean Elberg if two GCC speakers might have equal time after the professors' presentation. This was agreed to by Dean Elberg and the professors. However, at the meeting, when it appeared that the first student speaker (Suzanne Goldberg) had taken too much time (actually she had taken less time than the professors combined), the second student (Stephen Weissman) was told he could not speak. When it was protested that this was in violation of the agreement and of free speech, he was finally allowed to speak. From this point on, the faculty-administration position was repeatedly challenged, and apparently very few graduates ended up accepting it.
Over the weekend after the November 20 meeting of the Regents, a split developed both within the executive and the steering committees of the FSM. It was partly between those who wanted to increase direct action during the remaining days before the Thanksgiving recess and those who felt that this was either unwise tactically or impossible at this time. Though not opposed to sitting-in on principle, the GCC delegates found themselves unanimously against a sit-in at the time. This was so, not only because of their political assessment of the situation, but because they felt that the protest could not be sustained over the vacation. Nonetheless, despite strong graduate objections both privately to the steering committee and publicly at the rally on November 23, about three hundred students entered Sproul Hall. Even so, many graduates sat-in anyway, not wanting openly to split the movement. Once inside, most of the sit-inners realized that they had lost the active support of most of the students who had participated the previous Friday in the march on the Regents' meeting, and partly due to graduate student prodding, the steering committee and the students decided to terminate the sit-in at 5 p.m.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the administration reopened disciplinary proceedings against four student leaders for alleged violations before October 2, and against several student political and social action organizations. In response to this direct attack on its leadership, and shocked at the administration's reopening of a matter assumed to be closed, the FSM issued an ultimatum demanding that the charges be dropped. When these demands were not met, Sproul Hall was again occupied on December 3 by over 800 students, about twenty per cent of them graduates. The GCC delegates to the FSM unanimously supported this action, and at a meeting of the GCC on December 1, the
― 22 ―four hundred graduate students present voted overwhelmingly in favor of a sit-in. They further authorized the Strike Committee of the GCC to call a strike Friday, December 4, or sooner if conditions warranted it.4
The Strike Committee met once on the evening of the sit-in, but never had another chance to meet to call the strike. For early Thursday morning, December 3, after the arrests had begun, the student strike began spontaneously. It was later announced that it would continue until the meeting of the Academic Senate, Tuesday afternoon, December 8, at which time the strike would be called off, with the option of resuming it the next day.
There has been much discussion of the effectiveness of the strike. The University's own Office of Public Information at first said that the strike was 85 per cent effective, but later denied this figure. The local press maintained that it was a flop. The New York Times reported it was about 75 per cent effective. Reports from the departmental delegates to the GCC on Thursday, Friday and Monday, however, revealed that in the humanities, social science and many of the physical science departments the strike was almost totally effective.5 In many other departments there was a good deal of support. Several faculty members openly supported the strike by canceling classes and pledging that they would not fire or punish their striking teaching assistants. Many secretarial and library staff refused to cross picket lines. Some of the delivery trucks to the University were turned back. And many professors indirectly contributed to the success of the strike by canceling classes so that they could confer with their colleagues on the various settlements to the crisis being proposed.
During the remainder of the semester graduate students continued to play an important role in the following areas: They helped the faculty to publicize the Academic Senate's position of December 8 to other campuses of the University and to colleges and universities around the country.
A group of graduate students, led by James Petras, organized a tutorial program for the arrested students and anyone else whose studies had suffered because of the controversy. By finals time several hundred undergraduates had been aided by the tutors. Some of the tutors, along with other students, then went on to form the Free University of California which hopes to establish a provocative series of lectures and courses on campus.
Marvin Garson, a graduate of the University, prepared a report on the conflicts of interest between the Regents and academic freedom and the educational process. And a "Fact-Finding Committee of Graduate Political Scientists"6 prepared a well-documented preliminary report
― 23 ―on the causes of the free speech controversy and the motivations of its participants.
Another out-growth of the free speech controversy has been that a group of graduate students7 have formed a trade union of employed graduate students (and library workers), which has recently been granted a charter as a local of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. It presently has over five hundred members. Having already won some significant victories in various departments, it promises to be an important force on campus in the future.
Similarly, there is the current effort to readmit graduate students to the ASUC. Disfranchised in 1959, graduates have been without an effective organization. The GSA collapsed after a few years. While graduates have been paying fees to the ASUC, they have had no representation in it. At the same time, the ASUC has been claiming to represent all of the students at the University. To remedy this situation, the GCC passed a resolution early in December in favor of the readmission of graduates to the ASUC with proportional representation. Early in March, by a vote of the graduates and a constitutional amendment passed by the undergraduates the graduates were readmitted to the ASUC. However, on March 26 the ASUC amendment admitting graduate students to the ASUC was held by the Regents to be invalid. At present, the end of March, the outcome remains in doubt.
Of all the outgrowths of the free speech controversy, perhaps the most important has been that a whole series of questions that had never before been discussed have been opened up for a dialogue. Thus in departments and in meetings, students, faculty and the administration have begun to talk to each other about their differences and common problems. Very little is now taken for granted by the students; they have begun to question, not only the political and value structures of their society, but also the function of the university in society and the nature of their education.
Although undergraduates perhaps played the most significant role in the FSM, the importance of graduate students has often been underestimated, if not overlooked entirely.
Since 1959, graduates and undergraduates have been unnaturally divided on the campus; the graduate students have had no part in student government. This has allowed the administration to divide and rule the students. However, in the FSM graduates and undergraduates worked together, because they realized that at least in the areas of political rights and the quality of education at the University, the differences between them were negligible compared to their common interests. Thus, the graduates provided student solidarity which greatly aided the movement for free speech.
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Furthermore, graduate students, by virtue of their somewhat closer relations with the faculty, were in a position to make it clear why the FSM chose to stand on the principle of free speech rather than on expediency. Thus, from the founding of the GCC, its delegates had the responsibility of discussing the issues, not only with other graduates, but most importantly, with the faculty. Faculty members were shaken by the loss of respect of some of their best graduate students after they failed to take a forceful stand in the October Academic Senate meeting. Others were shaken by the threats of a teaching assistants' strike. Some department chairmen were likewise shaken by the rejection of the Kerr-Scalapino proposals of December 7 in the departmental meetings with graduates that day. In all of these ways the graduate students were vital in helping the faculty to understand the justness of the Free Speech Movement's platform. Also in this way, partly, a group of 200 faculty members emerged whose principled position on free speech of December 7 became the majority position of the Academic Senate on December 8.
For similar reasons, graduate students were able to discuss the issues with other graduate students. In this way, support for the FSM's principles continually grew.
Within the organization of the FSM graduate students also had an important function. In the realm of tactics, in general they tended to be a moderating force; this is not to say that in the realm of principle they were for compromise. The graduate delegates persistently insisted that the FSM not pursue direct action for its own sake, but that each tactic be calculated to meet the particular move of the administration. The consequences of each FSM action should be weighed as much as possible in advance, and no tactic or position should be taken that would tend to alienate students from support of the FSM. Remarkably, only on one occasion did the graduates find themselves at odds with the FSM. (See discussion of the "abortive" sit-in of November 23, above.)
In addition to demanding well thought-through tactics, the GCC delegates always insisted that the rank and file of the movement be continually educated in the necessity of any position or tactic taken by the FSM. The FSM tended to leave those students behind who could not keep abreast of the complex situation; but the graduates felt that the base of the movement must be broadened. Some elements in the FSM felt that they could win solely on the basis of a small group of dedicated followers; the graduates, on the other hand, felt that this socalled "hard core" would be expanded greatly if the FSM only took the trouble to explain the situation to the students.
In addition to all of these contributions to the success of the movement,
― 25 ―perhaps the most important part of graduate participation in the FSM was in the formulation of tactics and strategy. At the "Victory Rally" of December 9, Mario Savio paid tribute to Jack Weinberg, a former graduate student in mathematics, as the "tactical genius" of the FSM. But credit should also be given to Steve Weissman, chairman of the GCC, for his formulation of the general strategy of the movement. Weissman's important contribution was to suggest that the way to force the administration to capitulate to the demands of the students was to force them to accede to the demands of the faculty. Thus by a direct confrontation of the students with the administration, said Weissman, the faculty would finally be compelled to take a stand on principle. Only then could the administration in effect capitulate to the FSM, by acceding to the stand of the faculty. This strategy, which in the end was successful, combined the experience of the civil rights movement in dealing with discriminatory employers, with the knowledge that at the University there was a third force, the faculty, that had to be reckoned with in the controversy.
It is unlikely, in conclusion, that the FSM would have succeeded at all had it not had the support of thousands of determined and committed undergraduates. But it is also true that the movement would not have been as successful as it was without the important contributions of individual graduates and the firm support of thousands of other graduate students.