[sixties-l] Speaker Ban

From: Jo Freeman (JFRBC@cunyvm.cuny.edu)
Date: 12/15/00

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       A Short History of the University of California Speaker Ban
                               Jo Freeman
         Once upon a time the University of California had a policy of
    strictly limiting who could speak on campus.  This was known as the
    Speaker Ban, and it largely applied to known Communists.
         The Speaker Ban was based on two rules promulgated under the
    paternalistic presidency of Robert Gorden Sproul.
         Rule 5 said: "the University assumed the right to prevent
    exploitation of its prestige by unqualified persons or by those who
    would use it as a platform for propaganda."
         Rule 17 put control of all university facilities under the
    President.  It said in part "In no circumstance shall any speaker
    ... be invited to address any meeting ... except upon invitation of
    the president or his direct representative".
         The President and his campus representatives relied on these
    rules to decide who could safely address the student body and
    faculty colloquia.  However, it was flexible.
         In 1947 former Vice President Henry Wallace was deemed too
    controversial to speak at UCLA because he opposed Cold War
    policies.  But in early 1949 UCLA students heard a debate between
    two professors, one of whom had just been fired from the University
    of Washington after he admitted membership in the Communist Party.
    Sponsored by the Graduate Student Association, the Provost limited
    attendance to faculty and graduate students.
         Shortly thereafter UCLA withdrew an invitation to socialist
    Harold Laski, a professor at the University of London and Labour
    Member of Parliament, after President Sproul said his appearance
    "would not be pleasing to the Board of Regents."
         In 1951 Max Schachtman, a prominent socialist who was not a
    Communist, was not allowed to speak at Berkeley.  At UCLA nine out
    of ten prospective speakers for an Anthropology Department forum
    for "Negro History Week" were denied clearance because they were
    members of organizations on the Attorney General's list of
    subversive organizations.
         In the Spring of 1962, two Soviet nationals, Cosmonaut Gerhman
    Titov and Professor Troukhanovskii, spoke on the Berkeley campus.
    But a year later Chancellor Strong personally forbid the
    participation of Herbert Aptheker, editor of the Communist Party
    (USA) journal Political Affairs, in a graduate student colloquium
    run by the Berkeley History Department, citing Regulation 5.
    Aptheker held a Ph.D. in History from Columbia and had published
    extensively on Afro-American history.  The History department moved
    the meeting to Stiles Hall and passed the hat to pay Aptheker's
         Communist affiliation was not always the criteria.  In May of
    1961, Malcolm X was not approved to speak at Berkeley on the
    grounds that he was a religious leader.  He too spoke at Stiles
    Hall.  That same year evangelist Billy Graham and Episcopal Bishop
    Pike both spoke on campus.
         All candidates for public office were kept off campus, though
    that did not stop them from speaking to students.  When Richard
    Nixon ran for the Senate in 1950 and Adlai Stevenson ran for
    President in 1956, they stood on city property to address students
    amassed on campus.  During Pat Brown's 1958 gubernatorial campaign
    he spoke at all the state colleges but none of the University
    campuses; they had different governing bodies and different rules.
         Sproul retired in 1958 as the fierce anti-Communism which he
    embraced was also receeding.  As a result the Speaker Ban began to
    loosen.  In March of 1961 SLATE sponsored a talk by Frank Wilkinson
    at Berkeley.  The House Un-American Activities Committee had called
    him a Communist organizer but he had neither denied nor admitted an
    affiliation.  When he twice refused to testify at HUAC hearings, he
    was sentenced to one year in prison for contempt of Congress.
    President Sproul would not have allowed him to speak on campus, but
    President Kerr refused to cancel his appearance.  When three dozen
    carloads of Bay Area citizens went to Sacramento to protest,
    Governor Brown told them that "This country has become great
    because we let everybody speak their piece.... [T]o ban them before
    we know what they're going to say,... is a very serious mistake."
    However in 1962 Riverside's Chancellor would not let Nobel Laureate
    Linus Pauling speak about disarmament on his campus, stating that
    this was not Pauling's area of expertise.  Pauling had repeatedly
    denied ever being a Communist.
         The Speaker Ban did not stamp out Communist ideas, or even
    opportunities for students to hear Communists speak.  Wrote the
    California Monthly (published by the alumni association) in October
         Despite this policy, students could and did hear
         Communist speakers across the street or, at most, a few
         blocks away from university campuses.  Moreover, the
         ideas of Communists were available to students in the
         daily press, over radio and television and in books and
         periodicals in the campus libraries.  Political activists
         in the student body, usually caring less about Communists
         than about the right to hear all sides of current
         issues, engaged in intricate series of skirmishes with
         the administration of the university.  Permission to hold
         meetings featuring speakers of a wide range of
         controversial persuasions was sought.  Whether permission
         was granted or not, sponsors of such meetings gained
         campus and public notoriety far out of proportion to
         their real influence among the students on campus.
         Brown and Kerr decided it was time for the Speaker Ban to go,
    but it was necessary to convince the Regents, some of whom were
    rabid anti-Communists.  Kerr tested the waters at the March 20,
    1961 Charter Day ceremonies when he said that "The University is
    not engaged in making ideas safe for students.  It is engaged in
    making students safe for ideas.  Thus it permits the freest
    expression of views before students, trusting to their good sense
    in passing judgment on these views."
         In the fall of 1962 Richard Nixon, running for Governor
    against incumbent Pat Brown, made the Speaker Ban a campaign issue.
    Nixon said he would expand its scope to include "any individual who
    pleads self-incrimination [the Fifth Amendment] before a legally
    constituted legislative committee or grand jury investigating
    subversive activities" and "any individual who defies the
    provisions of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1951."  Kerr
    responded by stating that "the University is an open forum.  We
    have confidence in the judgment, wisdom, and critical faculties of
    our students."
         Only after Governor Brown was inaugurated for his second term
    did the Regents abolish the speaker ban, by 15 to 2 with one
    abstention, on June 21, 1963.  It did not go down easily.  Regent
    Jerd F. Sullivan Jr. wrote a long letter in opposition.  His
    sentiments echoed those of many, some of whom inundated the Regents
    with letters after the change was publicized.
         ... to allow an agent of the Communist Party to peddle
         his wares to students of an impressionable age is just as
         wrong, in my estimation as it would be to allow Satan
         himself to use the pulpit of one of our test cathedrals
         for the purpose of trying to proselyte new members.
         .....Communism.... is a foreign ideology; a subversive
         conspiracy dedicated to the overthrow of our form of
         government, by force if necessary.  Their sales ability
         has been well demonstrated by the strides they have made
         in many parts of the world.  Therefore, if we as a
         country feel that our ideology is superior, why leave our
         youth open to the narcotic influence of that
         ...  The most precious possession of the University is
         its good name, and the respect it has generated among the
         people who provide its financial support.  To tarnish
         that good name and dilute that respect would be an
         irresponsible act far beneath the character of the Board
         of Regents.
         Students celebrated the Ban's abolition by inviting a series
    of speakers who were too controversial under the previous policy to
    open their mouths on the Berkeley campus.  In July SLATE sponsored
    Mickey Lima, the northern California director of the CPUSA.  The
    Daily Cal characterized his speech as boring.  Herbert Aptheker
    returned in late October to discuss U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam.
    Neither evoked much of a reaction by the students or anyone else.
         In the next academic year SLATE sponsored two truly
    controversial speakers: Malcolm X spoke in Dwinelle Plaza on
    October 11, 1963, and Capt. Ralph Forbes of the American Nazi Party
    spoke in Harmon Gym the following May.  Many were in a tizzy about
    what students might do when such provocative people came on campus
    sprouting ideas that few agreed with.  SLATE had to pay for police
    protection just in case the students rioted.
         This did not happen.  Thousands came to hear them speak.  They
    were greeted politely.  Malcolm X was applauded.  Capt. Forbes
    heard silence relieved by occasional laughter.  At the end of their
    talks, the audience dispersed.  What these people said, not whether
    they should have had a University forum in which to say it,
    dominated student bull sessions for days.
         Despite the fact that there were neither riots nor mass
    conversions to politically unacceptable ideas, not everyone was
    satisfied that just anyone, even when properly sponsored and
    chaperoned, should be able to address students on their home turf.
    In June of 1965 the California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on
    Un-American Activities released its Thirteenth Report.  Its
    chairman was the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.  In the
    section on "Communists on the Campus" it excoriated President Kerr
    and the Regents for removing the Speaker Ban.
           [After] Albert J. Lima .... came the deluge.  In came
         Malcolm X, William Buckley, Jr., Mark Lane, Dr. Fred
         Schwartz -- an endless procession of political
         candidates, folk-singers, and an incredible procession of
         controversial figures ranging from the extreme right to
         the extreme left, with heavy emphasis, in our view, on
         the left.  The students no longer had to walk across the
         street to Stiles Hall, the YMCA facility where Communist
         speakers had been holding forth for years, because the
         university was now bringing the Communists to the campus.
           It is difficult for us to understand how a disciplined
         Communist who addresses a crowd of students for 30
         minutes can actually teach them anything worthwhile about
         Communism.  Certainly not anything they could not learn
         much better from the thousands of books on the subject in
         the university library.  The Communist is obviously there
         to indoctrinate and recruit, so he benefits.  But the
         student, presumably there to learn, gains nothing except
         a satisfaction of his morbid curiosity and 30 minutes of
           If, as a result of several years of exposing students
         to the propaganda emitted by Communist lecturers, one
         student is drawn into the Communist conspiracy against
         his own country, who is really to blame?  We conclude it
         must be the persons who are charged with the high
         responsibility of caring for and teaching the students
         entrusted to them.  The Communist speaker is clad with
         the reflected prestige of the university where he is a
         guest; and we are unable to understand why the people
         should contribute to their own destruction by making
         their public institutions available to those who are
         dedicated to the task of overthrowing our government by
         any means available.
         ....It is our considered view that to throw wide the
         portals to any controversial speaker who wishes to
         utilize the opportunity to harangue a college audience,
         is to put curiosity and entertainment above the
         educational process, and to appeal to the morbid and
         emotional rather than to the scholarly and the
         After satisfying their "morbid curiosity," students applied
    the same critical faculties they learned in the classroom to the
    speakers they heard in other arenas, showing they truly were "safe
    for ideas."  And once they were no longer banned, proponents of
    politically unacceptable ideas saw the automatic attention they
    could command, dwindle.  Thus did the students demonstrate more
    common sense than those who would decide to whom they could listen
    on their own campuses.
    The above is based on but not excerpted from my forthcoming history
    and memoir of Berkeley in the early 1960s.  I condensed the history
    and added the long quotes to illuminate the perspective of those
    who supported the Speaker Ban.^Z

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