The death of the campus protest movement.
The New Yorker has chosen to welcome the new decade by publishing an
obituary: 45 years after the founding of the Free Speech Movement at
Berkeley, the magazine lets us know in its Jan. 4 issue, the campus
protest movement is dead.
Not that Tad Friend, author of the article in question, "Protest
Studies: Berkeley Rebels Again," has noticed he is writing about a
corpse. Recounting the present controversy at Berkeley, Friend proves
The controversy began last year. Faced with a budget crisis, Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger cut state funding for the University of
California by one-fifth. This in turn forced the regents to raise
annual in-state tuition at the 10 U.C. campuses to just over $10,000.
(This excludes campus fees, housing and books.)
Since students at Berkeley, the oldest and most prestigious of the of
the U.C. institutions, are still receiving an education that ranks
with those at Stanford, Harvard, Yale and other elite private
institutions, and since they are still being asked to pay only about
one-quarter as much, you might have supposed they would have offered
a quiet word of thanks for their good fortune and gone on with their
studies. You would have been mistaken.
In October, some 800 Berkeley students attended the "Mobilizing
Conference to Save Public Education." As they debated, Friend writes,
"a student facilitator summarized each idea on a projection screen:
'rolling strikes'; 'nationalize all universities'; 'socialist
revolution'; 'a tent city in Sacramento'; 'create a shadow Board of
Regents'; 'occupy Wells Fargo bank in downtown Oakland';
'worker-student control of the university' ... "
Then, in November, a group of protesters pulled dozens of fire alarms
around the campus while a second group occupied Wheeler Hall, a
classroom building. As the occupation continued, some 2,000 students
gathered outside Wheeler Hall, waving placards and chanting. Police
eventually cleared the building, but not before the university had
been disrupted for an entire day and violent incidents had taken
place. "Skirmishes kept breaking out as groups of students ... surged
toward the stanchions," Friend writes.
If students have worked themselves into a frenzy, surely at least
Berkeley faculty and administrators must have demonstrated a modicum
of circumspection. So, again, you might have supposed. So, again, you
would have been mistaken.
Faculty and administrators have joined the protests. Advocating a
march on Sacramento, Robert Birgeneau, the Berkeley chancellor, has
compared the student movement with the civil rights movement. "I hope
that this [march] will match the March on Washington," Birgeneau
said. Prof. Ananya Roy has become a particular champion of the
protest movement. Addressing students one day, Friend writes, Roy
"began to voice ... [their] dismay in sharp, sloganeering phrases.
... In her piping voice ... she repeated, elegaically: 'We have all
become students of color now.'"
We have all become students of color? A march on Sacramento that
possesses the same moral dimension as the March on Washington? Let us
remind ourselves just what the Berkeley protesters are demanding--not
racial equality but money. For the poor and dispossessed? Scarcely.
For themselves. To place the protesters' demand in perspective, a few figures:
--Despite the cuts it made last year, the state of California will
spend nearly $3 billion on the University of California this year, an
expenditure of around $13,000 per student.Contrast this with the
$10,000 per student the state of Illinois spends on the University of
Illinois system or the $6,000 per student the state of New York
spends on the SUNY system.
--The salary of Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau: $445,716. The
salary of a typical full-time professor at Berkeley: $127,300. The
average starting salary for the holder of a Berkeley undergraduate
degree--I repeat, the average starting salary: $59,900. The median
household income in California: $61,154.
--The number of Berkeley professors who have been laid off as a
result of budget cuts: zero. The proportion of California workers who
are now unemployed: 1 in 10.
"One afternoon just after the spring semester began at the University
of California," Calvin Trillin wrote in the New Yorker some 45 years
ago, "I paused on my way to the Berkeley campus to make a tour of the
card tables that had been set up that day by student political
organizations." Visiting a few months after the establishment of the
Free Speech Movement, Trillin observed students distributing
materials on behalf of the Congress of Racial Equality, the Committee
to End Discrimination, the Young Socialist Alliance and the Student
Committee for Agricultural Labor. Trillin came across a student
wearing a button that read "One Man, One Vote." He found another
student whose button said "Get Out of Vietnam."
Civil rights, economic justice, an end to the war in Vietnam. No
doubt many of the student organizations at Berkeley in those days
proved naïve. Yet the causes for which they stood all displayed a
certain selflessness and idealism. At Berkeley today? The only cause
"[R]isen again," Friend writes, concluding "Protest Studies," are
"the rebel students and the flailing nightsticks, the days of rage."
As the earnestness of this prose suggests, good liberals such as
Friend and his editors at the New Yorker appear to have lost the
ability to distinguish between high-mindedness and crassness.
Something may have risen again at Berkeley, but it's not the campus
protest movement. It's a zombie.
Peter Robinson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at
Stanford University and a former White House speechwriter, writes a
weekly column for Forbes.