Busting Cleaver

Brass Tacks

IT'S STILL more than a week until classes begin at the University of California. But the potential for the most violent student-administration conflict since the 1965 Free Speech Movement has already developed in a pre-term battle between Regents and Faculty over Eldridge Cleaver's appointment as lecturer on racism.

Black militant Cleaver's qualifications as a University lecturer were genuinely debatable. As Minister of Information of the California-based Black Panthers, Presidential candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party, and author of the widely-acclaimed Soul On Ice, Cleaver undoubtedly had something to contribute to a course on Racism In America. But Cleaver is not a man designed to appeal to classic American educational tastes. His criminal record dates to 1954, and includes charges of narcotics violations, assault, and rape. When his appointment was announced last Wednesday, Cleaver was beginning a trial in Oakland on three counts of attempted murder.

But while objections to Cleaver may be easy to understand, the tactics that the University's Board of Regents have used to remove him have raised widespread fear about the future of faculty and student autonomy in the UC system. In ousting Cleaver, the Regents may have mortally wounded one of the University's most promising innovations--the Board of Educational Development (BED).

After the Free Speech Movement turmoil at Berkeley three years ago, the Regents, who had previously held control of all course offerings in the University system, created the BED as an outlet for student and faculty dissatisfaction. The BED is composed of six professors and one professor-administrator. Until last week, it had completely independent power to create new courses at UC. Its decisions were subject to approval neither by the chancellors nor by the Regents.

In its 28 months of existence, the BED had been enthusiastically supported by professors and students. It created some 60 experimental courses; more than 20 of them have been popular enough to become part of the University's permanent offering. BED members have tried to be sensitive to student requests, and nearly half of its 60 courses have resulted from student suggestions.

The Cleaver course -- Experimental Social Analysis 139X--also came from a student's suggestion. A senior a UCLA approached Cleaver early this summer and asked him about lecturing. Cleaver was reportedly "wildly enthusiastic." The student then took his idea to the BED, which finally approved the course on September 9.

But the BED is far from a rubber stamp for student demands, and its members made some fundamental revisions in the course before they approved it. Most important was the shift in concept from a Cleaver-dominated course (Cleaver continued to claim "It's going to be my course") to a forum, in which Cleaver's lectures would be criticized and analyzed by other professors in section meetings.

"We had to give the course suitable academic merit," said Robert Karplus, one of the BED members, "so we changed Cleaver's role to that of a live source." Cleaver was to lecture once a week; the other weekly lecture would be by a professor or another guest lecturer--such as the Oakland Chief of Police.

When the University announced the course last Wednesday, it neglected to explain the course's "balance," or that Cleaver was not being paid. A revised press release, issued on Thursday, tried to explain the subtleties of Cleaver's appointment, but by then explanations were too late. The public reaction had begun; it was immediate and predictable.

To no one's surprise, Governor Ronald Reagan announced that Cleaver had to go. "It's true, what they've been saying about me all these years," Reagan told chortling reporters on Thursday, "I'm an anti-intellectual. I'm going to take apart the curriculum of this University by at least one course."

More alarming was the reaction of Jesse Unruh, powerful Speaker of the California Legislature, and a frequently-mentioned opponent of Reagan in the 1970 gubernatorial race. Unruh had been Reagan's primary foe in the 1967 fight over the firing of Clark Kerr, and many professors had counted on his support here.

But on Thursday Unruh said the appointment was "a very bad mistake." He also revealed the imminent threat that public blacklash might destroy the BED. When the the Regents created the BED, Unruh said, "they did not intend to give it carte blanche ... to invite any and all dissidents." The Regents had assumed, he said, that the BED "would act with restraint."

While Reagan and Unruh were blasting Cleaver, the state legislature was taking concrete action. State Senator John Schmitz of Orange County, an outspoken Birchite, introduced a resolution to censure the University for its "irresponsibility." The motion passed the Senate by an overwhelming 32-3 vote. In the legislature, debate began on a bill to cut off all funds for the University until Cleaver was fired.

Many UC faculty members who had originally opposed Cleaver's appointment began to unite against this obvious threat to their independence. The BED issued a statement asking the public to consider the dangers in the legislature's action, and BED members, in private interviews, defended the course.

But everyone involved was waiting for the Friday meeting of the Board of Regents. Reagan forces had captured control of the Board in 1967, and even Unruh seemed somewhat afraid that they might over-react.

Late Friday night the Regents released their decision. Billed as a "compromise," it virtually stripped the BED of its power. The compromise permitted the BED to invite lecturers for one lecture only; but the old course-creating power was removed. The Regents' vote was 10-8, with Reagan and his seven backers vigorously protesting the "leniency" of the plan.

But faculty members have been even more speedy than students in protesting the decisions, charging that "it violates every principle of trust by the Regents." It is not yet clear how far the resentment will spread, or how final the Regents' decision is. But the school year is beginning on a tense note in California.