Reports in the Eastern press have tended to treat the riots at the Berkeley Campus of the University of California as one more example of undergraduate hooliganism. But the fact that most of the students, 800 members of the faculty, and the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors blame the University administration for causing the riots suggests that something more important is at stake.
The trouble started in September when the University announced it would enforce an old rule which prohibits any organization from soliciting funds or membership on campus, and makes participation in illegal off-campus political activity, such as sit-ins, subject to University discipline. Student political leaders claimed that President Kerr and the California Regents were submitting to pressure by right-wing groups which resented student civil rights projects in the San Francisco area.
The controversy centered over an area of the campus that had traditionally been set aside for fund-raising and political speeches. When the ban on political activities was issued, the whole spectrum of Berkeley's political make-up, from Goldwaterites to Socialists, rallied together, and on Sept. 30 several groups set up fundraising tables in the area. That night Chanceilor Edward W. Strong announced the "indefinite suspension" of eight students who had taken part in the civil disobedience. The following day, when University police tried to arrest one of the protesters, hundreds of students sat down on all sides of the police patrol car and prevented the police from removing the demonstrator. The sit-down went on for 32 hours, until President Kerr, with Berkeley Parents' Day just one day away, agreed to negotiate with the students if they would call off their demonstration.
The suspended students were reinstated, and on Nov. 20th the Regents ruled that organizations would be allowed to solicit funds and membership at certain designated places on campus. They reiterated, however, that illegal off-campus political activity--and advocating such activity--still constituted campus crimes.
Although the Free Speech Movement, which had been formed to carry on the battle with the administration, still protested these restrictions, to all intents and purposes the issue was dead. It was the administration that revived it. On Nov. 30, the University announced that it would press charges against four of the leaders of the October demonstrations. The students felt that the administration had broken an implicit promise, and the F.S.M. had a new campaign to fight. As one student put it, "the feverish enthusiasm for the F.S.M. always seems to die out until the University makes another incredible blunder, which it always seems to do."
The protest last week, which led to the spectacle of California Highway Patrolmen dragging students down four flights of stairs in the administrative office building, clubbing some of them, can be attributed only to obstinacy and bad faith on the part of Kerr's administration. The action by police led a meeting of more than 800 of Berkeley's 1200 faculty members to send a telegram to Governor Edmund Brown, condemning his use of the Highway Patrol. The same meeting urged a further liberalization of the University rules on political activity, and the establishment of a subcommittee of the Academic Senate to act as an appeals board for students charged with violating campus political regulations.
On Monday President Kerr announced that the administration was dropping the charges against the four leaders of the October sit-down. But the 786 demonstrators who urged him to do just that now face court action for violating California laws.
President Kerr should use his political influence to convince Governor Brown to drop the charges against the demonstrators. Kerr's administration should adopt the liberalized rules proposed by the faculty members, and should abandon the notion that a University has any legitimate role in restricting the political activity of its students.