I lectured at one of the offshoots of the Free University at
Pullman, WA. in the 1980s.
In the Bay Area, there was some degree of incorporation of
free universities into the official structure of higher
education. I write as follows about this in Saying No To Power,
"One of the most satisfying things I wrote at the time was an
article, 'The Free University of Freeing the University,' which I
originally delivered as a kind of valedictory at the final FSM
executive committee meeting. It was published in the university's
"The FSM won the right to have courses taught for credit on
campus by others than faculty members. In the Bay Area, that came
first and most smoothly at San Francisco State. In 1966 I taught
a course at its Experimental College. Either I or the professor
required to sponsor it posed the question of the students getting
credit. A couple of days later the phone rang, and the voice at
the other end introduced himself as the head of the Sociology
Department of S.F. State, Don Gibbons. 'You don't know me, Mr.
Mandel, but I know you. That will be a three-credit course.' I
taught it for three years, and Tanya [my wife] commented wryly,
'The kids get credit but you get no cash.'
"The San Francisco Bay Guardian is the longest-established
independent weekly in that city. A man named Burton Wolfe was its
crack muckraking reporter when I did that teaching at SF State.
He was also freelancing for Amerika Illustrated, the U.S.
government's slick-paper monthly published in Russian in the USSR
in exchange for their circulation of Soviet Life here. He had the
idea of including my class in an article for Amerika. Describing
a course quite friendly to the USSR given freely in an American
university would score very legitimate propaganda points with
Soviet readers. But when the security idiots in Washington
learned the name of the teacher, they cancelled the thing. I keep
a 1967 letter from Wolfe on my study wall to look at when I'm
down: 'Many thanks for permitting me to attend your wonderful
class. I believe it is the most important in the Experimental
College, and I think it could become one of the most important at
S.F. State if it were included in the regular curriculum. It is a
pity that the classroom is not packed for your course.'
"There was lots of mail like that from students there and
"In 1968 some dozen professors in half-a-dozen departments at
U.C. Berkeley authorized undergraduate and graduate credit for
students taking a course I gave there. They included the chairman
of the History Department....Inasmuch as I did not think of
myself as an historian, and each discipline guards its turf most
grimly, I took satisfaction in the endorsement of my competence
by academics across the board. I know of no other case in
academe, here or abroad, of anyone being honored by acceptance as
qualified in so wide a range of disciplines."
Michael Garrison wrote:
> One of my seminal experiences during the '60s was being a "member" of the
> Free University of New York (67-68) first while a student at Brooklyn
> College and later after dropping out of Brooklyn and moving to the East
> Village to be closer to the "action". The Free U. movement ( San Francisco,
> Toronto, others?) helped motivate change in American Colleges. Does anyone
> know of memoirs written about the Free U. (later Free School) of N.Y.? I
> remember classes with the likes of Connor Cruise O'brian, Tana deGamez, John
> Gerrarsi, Tuli Kupferberg etc.
> I would like to discuss the significance of the Free University movement in
> the educational history since the 60's. What (if any) lasting
> results/changes are still around.. I have heard of offshoots of Free U's such at Pullman, Wa. (WSU)
> lasting for 30 years or more. Any stories about these?
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