Savio Steps dedication

Tue, 2 Dec 1997 12:04:10 -0500

This message is forwarded for Michael Rossman (

>Dear friends on the FSM (e-)mail list --
>As we trust you know, Sproul Steps is being re-dedicated as Mario Savio
>Steps on Wednesday, Dec. 3 from 12:00 to 1:00. The brass plaque has
>already been installed -- though Mario's widow Lynne and others hope it
>can be revised to include his favorite quote from Diogenes, "The most
>beautiful thing in the world is the freedom of speech."
>There will be a reception from 1:00 to 3:00 in the Student Union, in
>the Tilden Room on the fifth floor. We'd love to see you there!
>Speaking at the dedication will be Sharon Yuen, current ASUC President;
>Kevin Zwick*, the ASUC Senator who co-authored the resolution to rename
>the Steps; Hatem Bazian* from the Graduate Assembly; Carol Christ, the
>university's top Vice-Chancellor; Leon Litwack from the History
>Department; Michael Rossman* from the FSM veterans' association; and
>Lynne Hollander*, Mario's widow, also from the FSM. (Those *-ed were
>among the speakers at Mario's memorial last December.)
>The reflections below may be of interest to you. We have hardly been
>able to do anything about publicity of this occasion; if you can do
>anything at this late date or thereafter relevantly to alert any media,
>please do.
> The participation of Vice-Chancellor Christ is worth particular
>note. As recently as six years ago, the university administration's
>attitude towards the FSM was still one of utter abhorrence and
>rejection. A small monument to honor the FSM -- a site-specific
>sculpture in Sproul Plaza, commissioned by university faculty in
>international competition and chosen by a process involving the campus
>public -- was permitted by the administration only on the condition
>that the monument itself and publicity about it would make no reference
>to the FSM. That's right, and two of the three faculty organizers
>bought the deal, to their profession's disgrace. The sculpture remains
>sunk in the center of Sproul Plaza, a monument not to the FSM but to
>the university's cowardice and shame. The Chancellor who took this
>attitude then to the university's history, Ira Michael Heyman, has
>since gone on to head the Smithsonian Institution, in charge of the
>nation's history.
> By 1994, the adminstration's attitude had begun to shift. The
>succeeding Chancellor (Tien) was committed to affirmative action, and
>sent a representative to the 30th Anniversary Reunion of the FSM -- to
>a noon rally in Sproul Plaza, covered by national media -- to read his
>cautiously-favorable acknowledgement of the importance of the original
>event. In 1996, after Mario Savio died, the Vice-Chancellor for
>Undergraduate Affairs, Genaro Padillo asked to speak at his memorial
>service on campus, and delivered a touching tribute to Mario and the
>FSM's effect on the university, to an audience old enough to remember
>when the university had no Hispanic- or Asian-American high adminstrators.
> In spring 1997, a proposal to dedicate the steps of the
>administration building as the Mario Savio Steps was advanced by then
>ASUC President Grant Harris and Kevin Zwick, resolved by the ASUC
>Senate, and approved by Chancellor Tien. That decision and
>Vice-Chancellor Christ's participation in this December ceremony of
>dedication represent a third public step in the university's
>long-delayed coming to terms with the FSM as a vital and honorable
>episode of its history. Because renaming the Steps may anger some
>reactionary Regent, this may seem a large step -- until one steps back
>to see these three in perspective as the first tiny steps on a long
>path of healing.
> The administration's shame in 1964 in attempting to extirpate
>student activism on campus, and then in dealing with the live reality
>of the FSM, must remain as a historical wound. But its attitude now in
>dealing with the FSM's legacy of student activism, in a time when
>ever-more-vital issues are ever more deeply at stake, is important for
>the future. We hope that the administration's honoring of Mario and the
>FSM's memory will signal and inform its attitude about the live legacy
>of the FSM.
> We must observe that these steps of reconciliation have so far
>been only symbolic. The symbolism of the Steps is certainly important,
>first of all to students. But everyone should understand that the Steps
>are being dedicated now to Mario Savio not simply because he led a
>movement long ago that defended students' rights to speak freely there
>about issues of social consequence, but because students have continued
>since 1964 to do so and to defend their rights to do so. In this light,
>the Steps' dedication to Mario is a tribute to their perseverence, to
>two generations of effort to make the Steps a place where a plaque to
>Mario, with his favorite quote (see above), could _make sense_.
> But a symbolic plaque is no magic charm, unless one touch it
>often to remember. As we learned with Mario in the FSM, nothing is won
>without being constantly defended; you must exercise free speech to
>keep it free. Until the administration and the university itself come
>not simply to accept but to understand why students should be
>encouraged to engage with the problems of society as concerned
>citizens, and come to support this as an essential dimension of their
>education, discord between student activism and administrative
>managagement will continue to flare again and again; and the freedom of
>political expression will need defense ever in new ways.
> If the university's steps towards reconciliation with its
>history have so far been only symbolic, what more might it do? One
>might think of personal reparations, for many academic careers were
>damaged or ruined in consequence of its mistreatment of students
>engaged in appropriate learning. Such costs are hard to assess, for
>most FSM participants, even among these, found their lives nonetheless
>bettered by their participation. Yet the university can indeed pay
>substantial reparations to the FSM, in a quite different way.
> During the FSM, most professors avoided our rallies in Sproul
>Plaza, detouring around them to go to lunch. It's a remarkable fact
>that although this unprecedented, seminal episode was happening on
>campus for three months, not a single faculty member from History,
>Political Science, Sociology, Anthro or whatnot studied the FSM
>directly. One professor sent aides with a questionnaire; one graduate
>student and one undergrad did interviews on their own. That's all. This
>bankruptcy was hardly relieved in the years that followed, either
>locally or nationally, after a brief spate of abstract discussion of
>the issues subsided. For thirty-two years after the quick publication
>of contemporary opinions and reportage, the FSM has remained as a
>largely undigested episode not simply of Berkeley but of national
>history. Two popular films and a similar book have tried to deal with
>it in recent years; but even among historians of Sixties activism and
>culture, its treatment has been scattered and lacking in original
>research. On the level of popular education, in high schools and
>colleges, text references to the FSM and its issues tend to be
>negligible and misleading when they exist at all.
> In this light, the university can do more than just permit
>student activists to pursue the FSM's legacy as an extra-curricular
>activity. It can take positive steps to turn its apparatus of
>scholarship, of understanding and teaching, to focus actively on the
>neglected history of the FSM, along with its consequences and
>correlates. The stakes in the project of developing coherent critical
>perspectives on the FSM are neither provincial nor minor. Our society
>has hardly yet come to terms even with the struggle of the Vietnam war,
>let alone with the other struggles opened by the FSM that reverberate
>in our time. The meaning of the Sixties remains nearly as contested as
>it was then; and what we make of this now informs our understanding and
>choices for the future. In this circumstance, a university dedicated to
>public service has a certain obligation, as an entity, to pay serious
>attention to a pivotal episode -- known mistakenly but tellingly as
>"the start of the student movement" -- of the nation's history as well
>as its own.
> Concretely, the university can begin by helping to assemble a
>comprehensive archive of materials pertaining to the FSM, preserving
>the physical documents; and by making these accessible not only to
>scholars but to teachers and students,.activists and the public, by
>putting as much as possible on a Web-site. This project has already
>been undertaken by the Free Speech Movement Archives (FSM-A), a
>non-profit association of FSM veterans, whose first web pages have
>recently been posted at -- announcing a site meanmt to
>support research and public education on the FSM, and geared to user
>interaction. The university library has already much material on the
>FSM, and much technical expertise. Its cooperation with FSM-A could
>lend substantial support to the project, and make possible an adequate
>platform of material for research not simply by U.C. Berkeley scholars
>and visitors, but across the world.
> Beyond this, the university -- through its administration and
>its departments -- can provide active support for scholarly inquiry
>into the FSM and its correlate affairs. The possible ways range from
>humble to considerable. Annual awards could be given for the best
>undergraduate paper or graduate thesis related to this theme. A
>professorial chair could be established and endowed, to be filled by a
>scholar concerned with the public issues and consequence of this
>episode and era. Conferences, symposia, and publications could be
>invited and sponsored -- for the recent small panel on Mario Savio and
>the FSM, at the Organization of American Historians conference this
>spring, was apparently the first time an academic group had focussed on
>this subject in anyone's memory, and its proper study will occupy many
>scholars many years together.
> Even to list these options so sketchily is to recognize how
>substantial an effort might be involved, and supported by the
>university, in truly striving to come to terms with this episode of
>history. As to whether the FSM is worth so much attention and expense
>(albeit a pittance beside the costs of the Cal Band), a veteran can
>hardly say fairly. But most universities would fall all over themselves
>to establish an Institute for the Study of Popcorn if popcorn had been
>invented there. For decades, ever since we ached for the missing
>professors to join us on the Steps in 1964, the near-absence of their
>attention has seemed unnatural. For this university to continue to pass
>up the chance to make a big, serious deal of what was indeed a big,
>serious deal seems quite as unnatural. We may hope that the
>administration's latest symbolic step in the Savio Steps dedication as
>a sign that it will go further on the path of healing the contradictions.