November 27, 2009
By ANDREW GALVIN
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The arrests this month of University of California students
protesting a 32 percent fee increase recall a time of bigger
protests: the 1960s.
The events of Nov. 19 and 20, in which 50 people at UC Davis were
arrested along with smaller numbers at other campuses, don't compare
in size to the Free Speech Movement protests of 1964, when 750
students who had occupied UC Berkeley's Sproul Hall were removed in
what the historian Kevin Starr has described as the greatest mass
arrest in California history.
The campus protests of the 1960s alienated many Californians and
weakened their support for the University.
"Many Californians sought to punish the University, particularly by
supporting budget cuts, because they thought UC was not taking
sufficiently strong action against those threatening it," says an
official history of the University on a UC Berkeley Web site. "They
wanted students responsible for disruptions at UC to be severely disciplined."
It was a stark change in public attitudes from a decade earlier, when
Californians backed an ambitious upgrade of the university. In the
decade following World War II, "the University of California
transformed itself from a first-rate regional university into a
first-rate world university, and it did this, in significant measure,
because the taxpayers of California saw in the UC system a vehicle
for their own betterment," Starr wrote in his book, "California: A History."
They bought in to a vision articulated in 1958 by UC President Clark
Kerr, who characterized the research university as "society's
think-tank, essential to progress," Starr wrote.
With the adoption in 1960 of the state's Master Plan for Higher
Education, which restricted UC admissions to the state's top eighth
of high school graduates, "taxpayers were now willing to support the
University of California even though nearly 90 percent of them would
never see their children enrolled at a UC campus," Starr wrote.
But the Free Speech Movement and the Vietnam War protests tested
Californian's pride in UC.
In 1966, Ronald Reagan was elected governor "on an outspokenly
anti-student protest platform," and in 1967, a Reagan-dominated UC
Board of Regents fired Kerr, Starr wrote.
In 1966-67, student fees were just 5.7 percent of the amount that the
state contributed to UC. In 2008-09, student fees reached 53.4
percent of the state's contribution, according to the California
Postsecondary Education Commission.
The latest fee hike and the protests they inspired are a consequence
of the economic recession and its decimation of the state's tax revenues.
But if you ever wonder what happened to the statewide consensus that
propelled UC to a place among the world's elite universities, look
back to the big campus protests of the 1960s.