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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 3. 1965.

Clarke Kerr and the Berkeley Affair

page 11

Clarke Kerr and the Berkeley Affair

After the breaking up or the Freedom of Speech Movement's protest meeting at Berkeley University, and the arrest of 801 students, the president or the University or California, Clarke Kerr, has found himself isolated and disillusioned. The regents, the University's governing body, demanded that Kerr himself immediately expel those members of the Movement who flaunted obscene language on the campus. Kerr refused: this was to act without due process of law and in spite of the regents' earlier approval of the delegation of discipline to faculty members. However, the two relevant disciplinary committees both refused to act, each pleading that the case lay in the other's jurisdiction.

Kerr's position before the latest trouble had been precarious: the Academic Senate had voted, against his wishes, to recommend that there should be no regulations governing student activity on the campus, and a regents' committee had voted during Kerr's momentary absence from its meeting to investigate both the FSM disturbances and his handling of the situation. Kerr heard of this decision when a press statement was released.

Recently he resigned. He made a statement which covered his dissatisfaction with the regents' pressure for precipitate action and the faculties' avoidance or responsibility, but was primarily devoted to an attack on the "destructive degradation of freedom into licence." He asserted that the University community had failed in its collective duty of responsibility, and that "the 'filthy speech movement,' as the Daily Californian has called it, has been characterised by the shouting of obscene phrases and the display of obscene words in public places."

His dramatic step caused some stir. Many staff members swung to support him; faculty members of the University of California's medical centre petitioned the regents not to accept the resignation; in New York, a professor claimed that Kerr was the victim of an attack by the "Irresponsible far-out left." The FSM leaders, however, were furious that their movement should have been deliberately and inaccurately identified with the nine of its members who had espoused obscenity. At a rally of 2000 they pointed out that the obscenity issue was dead, and affected the main issues only in so far as the Movement's action for academic reform demanded that the law courts deal with breaches of the law, unprejudiced by previous university action. Kerr was not to think it could be used to obscure the passionate struggle for political freedom that caused the October meetings and was demonstrated by support for integration in Selma and Oakland