The name Clark Kerr may not ring bells with many people these days, but in the 1960s he was at the epicenter of what became a political storm of controversy and later, the discovery of some rather sordid details of blacklisting and suppressing of dissidents within the California University system. But in 1967 the blacklisting discoveries hadn’t yet surfaced – but Governor Reagan’s decision to dismiss Kerr based on his supposed leniency with students arrested during the Free Speech Movement of 1964 was the issue at hand. During this episode of CBS Radio’s Face The Nation, Kerr is questioned over the series of events which led to his dismissal and how it was deemed a political act on Reagan’s part as a general reaction to campus protest in the 1960s. The Free Speech Movement was only one major issue sweeping the UC campuses at the time, it also involved protest to the Vietnam War, which exacerbated the issue and led to a general crackdown of campus protest.
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.
So as a reminder of tumultuous times and the people stuck in the middle of them, here is that Face The Nation interview with Clark Kerr from February 5, 1967.