Berkeley in the 1960s. More than just the subject for documentaries, books and essays, Berkeley was ground zero on the West Coast for the sweeping protests that helped define the 1960s, came to epitomize campus life and came to symbolize all that entailed the concept of Law and Order. And seemingly no one was more visible on the embattled College campus front than Dr. Clark Kerr. He was the first chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, and twelfth president of the University of California.
He was the one at the epicenter of The Free Speech Movement and subsequent other protest movements emanating from UC Berkeley. He was also object of derision and eventual firing by then-Governor Ronald Reagan who ran on a “law and Order” platform, was elected to Governor in 1966, and within weeks of his inaugural fired Clark Kerr from his position at Berkeley and as president of the University of California.
The firing of Kerr occurred at the first meeting of the Board of Regents attended by Governor Reagan. The headline above the lead story in the San Francisco Chronicle the next day, Saturday, January 21, read: “U.C. Regents Fire Kerr–Big Victory for Reagan.” The opening sentence stated that Kerr “was summarily fired yesterday.” The story pointed out that Reagan had made criticism of the university and its president a favorite issue of his gubernatorial campaign.
In the days that followed the governor’s inaugural address on January 5, Reagan’s announced intention to make a large cut in the university’s budget and his stated belief that the regents should impose annual tuition on students attending the university were major topics in the newspapers. There were strong protests from university leaders (Kerr and the campus chancellors), faculty members, students, and a number of regents. The governor’s Director of Finance, Gordon P. Smith, proposed a budget cut of 10 percent and an annual tuition of $400. At a special meeting of the regents in Los Angeles on January 9, Kerr and his staff explained to the regents and members of the governor’s staff the consequences of serious cuts in the budget in terms of the university’s ability to accept large numbers of new students and to hire additional faculty members to help in dealing with the anticipated increases in enrollment. A few days before the January 20 regents’ meeting, Reagan accused top university and state college officials of needlessly frightening parents and students by “precipitate and unwarranted” indications that new students would be turned away in reaction to his economy drive. He made clear his dissatisfaction with those who were strongly critical of his cost-cutting campaign. Although not mentioning Kerr by name, he was clearly referring to him.
Between January 5 and January 20, there were published rumors as well as private speculations about Kerr’s situation. On January 6, the Oakland Tribune carried a headline: “UC’s Kerr May Quit Or Be Fired” which, the paper said, was a common opinion in Sacramento. On January 22, Regent Theodore Meyer issued a statement, published in the San Francisco Chronicle the next day, about the meeting at which Kerr was dismissed.
This episode of the CBS Discussion program Face The Nation features an interview with Clark Kerr and his take on the situation surround the firing and the state of the College President in this time of upheaval and flux.
Here is that episode, as it was broadcast over CBS Radio in February 1967.