Sunday, February 9, 2014

More Insight and Ironies From "Subversives"

For example, I knew that Clark Kerr (UC President during the Free Speech Movement demonstrations in 1964 and 65) was responsible for coming up with the California Higher Education Master Plan -- which is usually attributed to Governor "Pat" Brown -- but I didn't know that he was affiliated with the Quakers or that he had been elevated to the presidency of the University specifically because of his abilities and reputation as a negotiator.

My memories of Kerr are somewhat mixed but overall they are negative, largely because he was demonized during and after the FSM, by student protesters and later by Reagan and his ilk, as part of the ongoing problem at Berkeley and other campuses, not part of the solution. I recognized him as someone who was trying to maintain control and exercise authority in a situation in which control and authority were being exercised for their own sake, and under the circumstances, it was wrong. I see from Rosenfeld's examination of the documents, however, that Kerr was trying to do something else -- not necessarily what it looked like at all -- and that despite his somewhat ham-handedness and bumbling, he may have been doing more good than harm.

It would be some time before I more or less clearly understood the often tense relationship between the Regents of the University, the University administration, and the Legislature, as well as with the Governor's Office, alumni, donors, faculty, students, and the communities in which the University campuses were placed.

Rosenfeld is saying the situation was even more complex than I came to understand it to be, and the complexity of the relationships between all the moving parts of the University was part of what made it relatively easy for interests like the FBI or, as happened with the FSM, student "radicals" to exert so much control -- at least temporarily.

Rosenfeld has also laid bare J. Edgar Hoover's personal interest and the FBI's general interest in the University of California, dating back essentially prior to World War II. Hoover saw it as a hotbed of Communists and Communism from very early on, particularly the Berkeley campus, and he kept his personal eye on what was going on there, and ordered his agents to conduct covert and often lawless surveillance of faculty and administration, students and staff and provide the Director with reports of their findings as well as disrupting any sign of opposition to the Established Order.

I knew about the anti-Communists witch hunts and purges throughout California's public education system (my 5th grade teacher, for example, was accused) but I was not fully aware of how deeply the purges went nor how destructive they were in particular cases. This is something I probably should have been more aware of, but I wasn't.

After all, even though everyone knew that surveillance and anonymous accusation of "Commies" was routine, we weren't necessarily able to recognize the general effects: curbing or crushing dissent and enforcing conformity of thought and action. Conformity being the key -- I've written about it many times as the fundamental social/political factor of the era, far more enthusiastically embraced and enforced than any of the OUTRAGES!!!!!™ we are privy to and are expected to run around denouncing these days.

Given the technology of the era, Hoover and the FBI were as thoroughgoing in their surveillance and interference in the University as it was possible to be at the time, far more directly and disruptively than we realized, and some ways more so than the pervasive surveillance we are under today.

There's much more, of course, and I'm still in the early chapters, but the way the background of the story of the student uprising at Berkeley is being laid out and the underlying issues, personalities, and events are being detailed is actually quite revelatory  to me. I knew a lot of it, but not so many of the details. In many ways, it was worse than we thought.

Much worse. Which makes the story more depressing than I would have thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment