Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 6 6 May 1970
More on Berkeley's Riots — Riots
More on Berkeley's Riots
In the last issue of Salient, Janice Marriott described Berkeley's February riots in protest about the Chicago Conspiracy Trial. She concludes that the violence on 15 February was "a wet dream for the ruling classes. There was no concrete political purpose to the demonstration, no distinction as to who should have been attacked. Both leaders and participants were bankrupt of ideals. The rampage was a victory for Reagan and a defeat for the people.".
Dr John C. Gowan, Professor of Education at San Fernando Valley State College, University of California and visiting professor at Canterbury University, was in Wellington last month to lecture in a University Extension seminar on educational guidance. We asked Dr Gowan to give us his thoughts on the matters raised in Janice Marriott's article.
It may be hard for New Zealand students to realise the simultaneous impact on American culture and in particular, on student culture of Vietnam, black student activity, drugs and the SDS. The concatenation of all these things, I think, has made our situation much more complex than your situation has been here.
One of the problems found throughout the world, and particularly in the United States, is the fact that it has been discovered by the New Left that the universities are a good haven for guerilla warfare, and I think this is precisely what we're getting. What we're going to have to figure out is how can one deal with this kind of activity because, frankly, I don't see how universities can survive in America very long under conditions like the present because they will not continue to be supported properly by public funds. The immediate reaction in a situation like this would be that the Government or legislature will withdraw funds from the university.
The problem therefore is that however well-meaning some of the objectives of the student protest at Berkeley may be, the result is going to be the loss of a great university and many of us who are friends of the University of California—and I myself have my doctorate from it—are very saddened by the prospect. This can be accomplished in a few years and it may take a century or it may actually be impossible to build a university like this back up again.
I would like to point out to you that one of the very unfortunate things that has happened at Berkeley is the fact that a small group of people—the SDS and the very far left—has been able to bring moderate students to its side due to the mistakes which have been made by administration and the establishment authorities. Now in the Berkeley case this has been compounded by the nearness of Berkeley to the state capital, Sacramento, and to Governor Reagan and to the fact that the Governor has personally intervened in Berkeley on several occasions.
In the past it has been found in American universities that the very small extreme radical group of people who are quite violent can't really make very serious trouble unless they can, through the mismanagement or the over-reaction of the authorities, bring the moderate students in with them. Wherever this has happened—as in Columbia and Harvard—there has always been a history of mistakes being made by the Vice-Chancellor or one of his representatives. I know my own university was in serious trouble in this regard because of mistakes which were made by the top people. In contrast, a nearby sister college escaped completely unharmed because of the almost brilliant understanding shown by the Dean of Students to legitimate student demands. In this way, he was able to separate the moderates from the extremists and to satisfy the realistic demands of the moderates. Wherever there has been peace in American university life it has been due to the fact that a separation has been effected between moderates and extremist. I think the answer is that if university authorities went a deal they have to deal with moderates and what happens so often is that they won't deal with anyone and then, of course, the moderates are supplanted by the extremists and the extremists draw the moderates in.
I'd like to give you an example—this from my own campus—of one of the more interesting things about American violence. The whole campus will be quiet and there's no trouble until about midday when the vast number of students are out for [unclear: leech]. At this time the television people arrive and it's time to stage a riot and so the riot goes on usually between 12 and 3. By 3, the television people have to pack up and take the cameras back so that the material can be put on for the evening news broadcast, so the riot is usually over by this time. Then when you go back for the late afternoon/early evening classes where the older people come in from work the campus is getting quiet. In other words, the not is partly the product of the fact that it can be publicized. I have seen cases on both sides where people would say "Do you want us to wait? Shall we wait till the cameras are here?" Now partly this is due to the fact that the camera on this man is protection to the rioter. It means that the police will be a little less likely to beat him up, for example. Police don't like to be seen beating up people on television. It doesn't look good. So a policeman who might beat up a rioter would be less likely to beat him up if the cameras are there. As a matter of fact, at some of the riots we've had police trailing the cameras and smashing the cameras first and then, when they've done that, they proceed to beat up the rioters.
New Zealand students might be interested in knowing approximately what percentage of students are involved in this thing. It has been estimated that about a 12% of students are really in the violent weathermen category. There is then about 214% of the student body—and I'm talking now about universities where there are, say, 20,000 students—who are well to the left. However, most of these students are not in favour of violence per se. They would be fellow travelers of some kind but unless they're provoked they're not in favour of bringing things down. Then about 10% more would be people who are sympathetic and who can be led in a particular not situation, but who are not primarily either strongly ideologically committed or politically committed. They consist of hippie types and militant black types and other people who are rather against the establishment but have no really strong commitment to anything else. Then you find probably 40% more of the students are what we call moderates. These people object to the draft, probably would like to see some changes in the marijuana laws and certainly want to see some more aspects of other changes. However, they will probably grow up and go the way their parents did because most students tend to, you know.
The final group of people, the rest of the student body, is inert and cannot probably be brought into the situation except when there is extreme provocation—when the police brutalise students or something like that—but ordinarily these people are the inert group. So we're talking about a group of people which is rather small and I think we have to realise that it is only when the public becomes impassioned or something that the small group is able to dominate and to lead.
The universities are a reflection of American culture. There's a lot of violence in American culture and I think that the violence in the universities is partly a reflection of that violence. Another point that I, as an older person, certainly see is that prosperity has to have its own type of adversity. Most of the young people in America have never known anything but complete prosperity, whereas those of us who are older came up through adversity in the Depression and so on and I think in a certain peculiar way we were advantaged by it. If a young person has never known anything but prosperity he has to find some kind of testing and he finds it in these ways which are outside and this is one of the reasons for the great generation gaps. When you talk to a young person and say "Well, if you're going to pull down a system, what are you going to put up?" he doesn't know and for us that's meaningless and for him it means something.
Another point is that the electronic media, particularly television, have made for tremendous difficulties of two-way communication. Now the process of orderly disputation and reconciliation, compromise and so on is essentially a process carried on by face-to-face discussion. It is not a process where one side gets on to television and airs his views. Take the situation between the Arabs and the Jews at the present time, for example, they never will come and talk with each other Each side wants to present its face to the public through the media and when you have a situation like that you never will get consensus, you'll never get agreement, you'll never get compromise or reconciliation as long as people are allowed to do that. Television—in its dramatic impact and the fact that it's much more interesting to see a fight than it is to see anything else—subtly encourages this lack of consensus. An example of this occurred during one of the riots on our campus. A television reporter was on campus with his television crew and some of the black militants had indulged in some violence. We found a black student who was not violent and we said to the reporter "Wouldn't you like to interview this student and see what he thinks about it because he represents a considerable majority of the black students?" He said "No—this is not news." So you see this is one of the problems.
I really think that one of the things that the whole world is going to have to contend with in a few years is the impact of electronic media on the thinking cognitive processes. In this sense, McLuhan was right. I think we are in a new ball game. The problem of dealing with controversy via electronic media is a really unsolved problem. In the so-called Nixon/Kennedy debates we thought we were going to get something. Actually what we got was mere posturing. We got images and this has resulted in our American democracy in the election of men like Reagan, Nixon, George Murphy and other people who primarily can present an image—some of them even being actors. This problem is a very serious one and one which is perhaps not fully realised even in the American culture.