This is an excerpt from the book Uncivil Wars, by David Horowitz. (Encounter Books, San Francisco, 2002)


Robert Berdahl, Berkeley, and the Free Speech Movement



Nearly four decades earlier, Berkeley had launched the radical protests of the Sixties with the Free Speech Movement [FSM], a 1964 eruption that had culminated in the occupation of the university administration building, Sproul Hall and the arrest of 800 student trespassers. It was the first “takeover” of a campus building in the history of American higher education and set the stage for political actions on college campuses for the next generation. It had done more than that. It had reshaped the very idea of the university. A year before my scheduled appearance,[1][1] the university’s chancellor, Robert Berdahl, had presided over the dedication of a “Free Speech Café” to commemorate the achievement that university officials had once condemned as a criminal act.[2][2]


            In his remarks at the dedication, Chancellor Berdahl showed how completely university officials had embraced the goals of the FSM radicals:


The turnout for this event is wonderful. It speaks to the timelessness and power of the FSM -- a power that transcends generations … What I want to talk to you about today is the rich legacy that the FSM left for this University and other campuses across the nation and worldwide. We all know that the FSM impacted universities in a historic way.


The Free Speech Movement had indeed impacted universities in a historic way, but as the tribulations of my ad demonstrated, it was not in the direction of increased free speech on campuses. In fact the Free Speech Movement was not really about free speech as such – the atmosphere on campus was actually far more hospitable to dissenting views at the time these events took place than it has been ever since. The Free Speech Movement was specifically about the right of the political left to agitate and to recruit students for its political activities on the campus itself.


Before the FSM radicals occupied the Berkeley administration building and forced a change in university policy, political organizations had been forced to conduct their recruiting operations outside Sather Gate, which demarked the campus boundary. The policy was designed to protect the university as an institution of learning and intellectual inquiry, from the kind of disruptions that become commonplace and now required campus security police to protect speakers from bodily harm.[3][3]  The policy was intended to distinguish the university, which in those days defined itself as place for “disinterested pursuit of knowledge,” from the political arena, where ideological combat generated more heat than light. It was not a legal demarcation so much as but a line attempting to separate the sacred from the profane. It was a boundary that said discourse within the university will be more civil and respectful than in the rough world beyond. It was this protective membrane that the FSM and other radical movements of the day set out successfully to tear down. “The University does not deserve a response of loyalty and allegiance from you,” a leaflet which became the open rallying cry of the FSM declared. “There is only one proper response to Berkeley from undergraduates: that you ORGANIZE AND SPLIT THIS CAMPUS WIDE OPEN.”[4][4] It was a rhetoric that would mark the university’s transformation into the politicized academy of the future.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Berdahl did pay tribute to the ideals of civility and diversity of viewpoint, but the sponsors of the Free Speech Café knew that these were honored more in the breach under his tenure than in the observance, while the movement’s enduring significance was to insert the ideological politics of the left into the heart of the university community. Its achievement was dramatized in the very person of the speaker, whom Berdahl then introduced as “one of the individuals who was a member of the original FSM Steering Committee” and who “like so many of her peers … went on to dedicate her life to educating others and advancing human rights.” This was Bettina Aptheker, daughter of the American Communist Party official, a longtime member of the Party herself, a University of California professor and a lifelong ideologue of the radical left.

As a result of the efforts of Bettina Aptheker and her political comrades, my return to Berkeley was not going to be a simple matter. Three months earlier, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been forced to cancel an appearance in Berkeley because of the threat of violence from local radicals.[5][5] The previous semester a conservative activist named Dan Flynn had been invited to come to the Berkeley campus by student conservatives who wanted him to speak about convicted killer Mumia Abu Jamal, a cause celebre among campus leftists. “Free Mumia” protests had been held at hundreds of campuses and Mumia had been an invited commencement speaker (via tape) at four colleges (more invitations than former education secretary Bill Bennett over the same period of time). Flynn was the author of a pamphlet refuting the claims of the Mumia enthusiasts called Cop Killer: How Mumia Abu-Jamal Conned Millions Into Believing He Was Framed.[6][6] Flynn brought copies of his pamphlet to distribute on campus, but the reception he received was a warning to anyone who might be considering such an event. While campus police stood by, a mob of protesters at the front of the auditorium shouted him down, physically intimidated his supporters, and then stole and destroyed copies of the pamphlets he had brought with him.

In terms of communicating his point of view, Flynn’s appearance was a fiasco. But it was not an unusual one for conservative speakers.[7][7]

Unless they are celebrities like William Bennett, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Henry Kissinger and Oliver North, conservative speakers normally do not attract much attention when they visit college campuses. (When they do, they are often prevented from speaking, as happened to Kissinger at the University of Texas in February 2000, and Kirkpatrick at Brandeis, several years earlier.)  Since the campus left generally controls the speakers programs through its control of student funds, conservatives must generally look for funding to a handful of conservative institutions external to the university, whose resources are limited. Since there are virtually no conservative faculty members at most university campuses, conservative intellectuals are usually unfamiliar to collegiate audiences. Campus papers usually do not publicize their events in advance; posters advertising their event are regularly defaced (often with swastikas) and torn down, while leftist faculty frequently orchestrate boycotts of their appearances as well. Having spoken at more than a hundred college campuses over the years, these conditions were entirely familiar to me.


[1][1] February 3, 2000

[2][2] The Café was housed in the university library, which on April 13, 2001, and with suitable fanfare, opened a new electronic archive on Free Speech Movement.            

[3][3] The catalyst for the Free Speech Movement was a letter from Dean Katherine A. Towle, reasserting a university policy that “prohibits the use of University facilities ‘for the purpose of soliciting party membership or supporting or opposing particular candidates or propsitions in local, state or national elections’ … [and restricts to designated areas] the distribution of handbills, circulars or pamphlets….” Bancroft library archive, ibid.

[4][4] Ibid.

[5][5] SF Chronicle, November 29, 2000

[6][6] Available from Accuracy in Academia, a Washington DC “think tank.” Among other obvious facts, Flynn pointed out that Mumia’s brother was present at the scene of the crime, but in nearly twenty years had not once said his brother was innocent of the brutal murder.

[7][7] Dan Flynn, “Twelve Cases of Campus Censorship,” Two years previously Flynn’s organization, Accuracy in Academia, had attempted to hold a weekend conference in the Faculty Club at Columbia University. Among the speakers were author Dinesh D’Souza and two trustees of the state university systems in California and New York, Ward Connerly and Candace De Russy. But a mob of chanting leftist protesters attacked the conference participants and obstructed the event. Campus police were present, but instead of arresting the demonstrators, under orders from the Columbia administration they shut the conference down. Cf. “Campus Brown Shirts,” in David Horowitz, Hating Whitey & Other Progressive Causes, Dallas, 2000. Also One Hundred Cases of Campus Censorship (pamphlet), available from the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, Los Angeles.