Dear Chancellor Dirks,
The Free Speech Movement Archives and the Organizing Committee for the FSM 50th Anniversary would like to thank you for generously supporting our efforts to commemorate the Free Speech Movement and to keep the memory of those events alive. We look forward to seeing you at our reunion.
In the spirit of civil discourse, we would like to bring to your attention some history regarding the question of what the movement was about, what we won, and what it means for the campus today. In your email to the campus community on Friday, Sept. 5, you said, “The boundaries between protected speech and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between debate and demagoguery… have never been fully settled.”
In fact, these questions were fully settled. On Dec. 8, 1964, the Berkeley Academic Senate adopted a resolution stating that “the content of speech or advocacy shall not be restricted by the University.” This resolution was then reinforced by the regents’ resolution on Dec. 14, 1964, which stated, “Henceforth University regulations will not go beyond the purview of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
In celebrating the half century that the campus has been “a symbol and embodiment” of the idea of free speech, you are proudly and properly acknowledging the outcome produced by the movement in the fall of 1964. But your statement seems to miss the central point. The struggle of the movement was all about the right to political advocacy on campus. The UC administration of that time insisted it would not permit on-campus speech on advocating student participation in off-campus demonstrations that might lead to arrests. The African-American Civil Rights Movement was then at its height, and students rejected these restrictions. This attempt to restrict our rights produced the Free Speech Movement.
It is precisely the right to speech on subjects that are divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings that we fought for in 1964. From the roof of the police car blockaded in Sproul Plaza, we heard a song written by UC graduate Malvina Reynolds — who earned a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. — that summed up our feelings toward the UC administration and others who were then trying to rein in the Civil Rights Movement. The song was titled “It Isn’t Nice.”
“It isn’t nice to block the doorway. It isn’t nice to go to jail.
There are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once. You told us twice.
But if that is freedom’s price, we don’t mind.”
We note that the charge of “uncivility” was recently used by Chancellor Phyllis Wise of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to justify the discharge of professor Steven Salaita following controversial statements he posted on his Twitter account. For this reason, many read the call for civility in your letter as a potential threat to academic freedom and to freedom of speech.
We understand you have issued no regulation nor taken any steps to restrict political advocacy or “uncivil” speech on campus. Nonetheless, we are concerned that your call for “civility” may have — or already has had — a chilling effect on the exercise of free speech by UC Berkeley faculty and students. Therefore, we welcome your Sept. 12 message that you do not intend to limit or regulate speech on campus, and we ask that you take every opportunity, during this 50th-anniversary semester, to reaffirm the policy that — as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s First and 14th Amendments — the content of speech or advocacy shall not be restricted by the university. We thank you for your email clarifying that you are fully committed to uphold and affirm the proud traditions established on campus 50 years ago.
The Board of Directors of the Free Speech Movement Archives and the 50th Anniversary Organizing Committee
Lee Felsenstein, Gar Smith, Anita Medal, Bettina Aptheker, Susan Druding, Barbara Garson, Jackie Goldberg, Lynne Hollander Savio, Jack Radey, Barbara Stack, Steve Lustig, Karen McLellan, Mike Smith, Dana MacDermott, Jack Weinberg and Margy Wilkinson
A different version of this letter was published on the Free Speech Movement Archives’ official website on September 11, 2014, before Chancellor Dirks’ second statement on civility.