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  Malcolm X finally speaks on the Berkeley campus in 1963, after being banned in 1961.

A Short History of the University of California
Speaker Ban

by Jo Freeman (2000)

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 the YMCA and passed the hat to pay Aptheker's expenses.
Communist affiliation was not always the criterion. 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 the "Y". 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 receding. 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 1963:

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 best 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 salesmanship.
... 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.

Berkeley 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 campus. In July SLATE sponsored Albert J. "Mickie" 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. Chairman Hugh Burns was also the President Pro Tempore of the state 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 entertainment.
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 intellectual.

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.

Copyright (c) 2001 by Jo Freeman

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