The Real History Of The San Francisco State University Student Strikes From 1968-1969, Part 3

[Editor’s note: this article is part 3 of a primary source, historical deep-dive into the San Francisco State University student strike, the longest campus strike in the history of the United States. Read here for part 1 and here for part 2. Stay tuned for part 4.]

American Federation Of Teachers

To understand the introduction of the AFT in this conflict, we’ll have to first look at the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee. This committee was formed ostensibly to negotiate with the students. In practice, it acted partly to put pressure on the administration and partly to help the BSU and SDS organize and strategize. These faculty members desired to get the teachers and particularly the AFT embroiled in the strike.[i]

Elsewhere, the chaos had attracted the attention of a power player in San Francisco. Bishop Mark Joseph Hurley, seeing echoes of his days in Peru, took it upon himself to talk with San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. Mayor Alioto had previously been critical of both the chancellor and the Board of Trustees for not working with President Smith. Alioto was sympathetic to Smith’s diagnosis and blamed the Board of Trustees for the violence. Alioto was especially hopeful he could also use this committee to keep Reagan from bringing in the National Guard or other police forces over which he would have no control. Lastly, Alioto being Catholic, listened to the fears of the bishop and formed a commission to monitor and negotiate the conflict. Hurley and Mayor Alioto used their influence to draw together a committee of some of the most powerful people in San Francisco.[ii]

This committee met in secret with AFT professors Art Bierman and Peter Radcliff to convince them to go on strike. Bierman agreed on one condition, namely that Alioto promise that the police would not arrest the striking professors as long as they stayed in the picket line (even if they broke some ordinances in the process). This was, of course, kept a secret, so that the AFT would not be seen as merely an arm of the mayor. Having the mayor and influential men on the same page, Bierman and Radcliff had two things left to do: first, get the AFT on board with the strike, and second, get sanction from the Labor Council to strike.[iii] [iv]

As it turned out, it was indeed politics which incensed the AFT. Immediately after President Smith resigned, S.I. Hayakawa was appointed president. Remember when I said the change in the structure of the governance of the college would change perceptions of its partisan nature? This is where some political context comes in handy. Reagan had been elected governor in 1967. As a reminder, the governor had the power to appoint (per senate approval) members of the Board of Trustees of the state college system. This gave them the aura of pretenders to the academic throne. Even worse, the Board of Trustees had already blocked the Academic Senate from ending cooperation with the Selective Services (yes, the same demands as the Associated Students and the SDS and the TWLF).

The resentment normally felt against those who deny budget requests is directed now at the chancellor and the trustees. “We are always the people who have to say no; we are always in a negative position,” said one member of the chancellor’s staff, “we can never say ‘yes, this is how you do something, and here’s some money for your new program.'”[v]

Now, most of the actual members of the board of trustees were appointed by the previous Democratic governor (at least 12/16 of were appointed before Reagan’s election). Given that this is a story about politics, facts are less important than perceptions. The teachers had built up quite the boiling antipathy towards the board. Naturally, when S.I. Hayakawa, seen as a tool of both the Board of Trustees and Reagan, was appointed, the AFT was incensed.[vi] [vii]

Hayakawa was a convenient foil for the AFT to get its organizations in the strike and therefore supporting the tiny BSU. The students might have genuinely hated the previous administration, but the professors had maintained somewhat normal relations with Summerskill and Smith. For Hayakawa, the hatred was not just for show. The AFT genuinely hated him.

Just as the suspension of Murray (technically for the 2nd time) had been the tipping point for the BSU, the appointment of Hayakawa was the tipping point for the AFT. It was the moment that Bierman seized on to draw the AFT into the student strike. As Bierman, socialist, founder of the local AFT (at times the president), and key professor in the strike described Nov. 26th:

“And then people after they started talking, expostulating. I had figured that was the right moment, so I had Jeff come in and [announced], “Hayakawa has just been appointed president!” And they were all, “what!” And I was sitting there and I starting pounding, “strike! Strike! Strike!” And people started taking it up, “strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!” And the whole room, they were shouting, “strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!””[viii]

The AFT at SFSC itself had been founded to push the professors into more activism in place of the progressive but largely passive ACSCP union.[ix] From the calls to “strike,” Bierman was able to build his coalition. Having found an issue that the normal AFT could rally around, he brought in the radical professors to the union concerned only with the student issues.[x] The radicals of the New Left had brought with them a new conception of the responsibility of teachers. Rather than focusing on bread and butter union issues, the radicals had, with their sympathies to the SDS and BSU, brought social issues in to the AFT. The AFT, like most unions of the era, had traditionally centered on, well, union issues.[xi]

“The newer movements for self-determination among students and Third World communities are a similar effort to destroy the trustees’ power and present us with the possibility of an alliance which could through struggle finally put control of education in the hands of those most concerned.”1 – Bill Carpenter, AFT Local 1352 Member, 1970 [xii]

The AFT was split on the meaning of the strike. The AFT strike was as much about the “reactionary” or “conservative establishment” as it was about the BSU, but none of this was official. The AFT could never have received sanction from the San Francisco Labor Council if it admitted its goals, nor was it likely to have passed an internal vote. Many of the traditional union members (and indeed practically everyone in this story) had sympathies with the demands of the BSU. What bothered the old socialists was the militant language, tactics, and disorder.

For the New Left, this attitude was passé. For the old socialists (like Bierman) used to traditional labor issues, these tactics were beyond the pale. Thinking themselves the “conscience” or the “id” of the professors, the New Left radicals served to question the resolve of the professors’ commitment to progress. These New Left ideologues, far from being crypto-entryists, as they were accustomed to at other universities, were allowed in by Bierman, who knew full well their inclinations and desires. They were necessary to kick-off the conflict with Hayakawa and, more importantly, the Board of Trustees.[xiii] [xiv]

Enter Hayakawa

As the new president, Hayakawa immediately closed the campus.[xv] He used the prolonged Thanksgiving break to regroup and declared a state of emergency, giving him and the administration greater powers to handle the crisis.[xvi] These powers included acceleration of the campus disciplinary process.[xvii] Classes resumed December 2nd, with the size of the mob escalating.[xviii] This time, the office of president was occupied not by a milquetoast liberal, but a milquetoast conservative with a taste for law and order.

In the following weeks, San Francisco State College was the scene of violence unmatched in the history of American higher education. The campus became the first to be occupied by police on a continuous basis over several months, and it was only the daily presence of 200 to 600 policemen which kept the college open from the start of the strike on November 6 to the end of the fall semester.[xix]

While the police were able to keep the campus mostly open, this is not to say there weren’t casualties. It is not solely direct violence that affects the psyche, but also uncertainty in the face of continued clashes and general anarchy. The danger of being attacked in the worst of areas may be low, but humans are often cautious creatures in the face of random predation. The feeling of security is a salve for the psyche. Many will take their chances and accept fate, but many more will buckle under pressure.

This sort of hit-and-run action made people uneasy. The administration reported that some secretaries asked to go home early, and many of the students were nervous. One 22-year-old biochemistry major (male) told a reporter: There are a lot of people in my 12:30 class, and every time we heard a noise even the wind we looked around expecting a mass of them to come wheeling through the door.[xx]

As the strike went on, fewer and fewer students attended classes:

Many were frightened, or they had no class to attend because their teachers were on strike or afraid to teach.[xxi]

Within a day of the campus re-opening, 350 policemen rushed onto campus to quell a riot. 700 students: “…were hurling rocks, metal chair legs, and lead pipes and smashing windows and screaming obscenities.”[xxii] The SDS used the violent engagements with police as a further grievance. The SDS drew in moderate students, concerned only with free-speech, police brutality, and even the Vietnam War. Reagan describes these moderates as a “cushion of support”. Hiding among the crowds of moderates, the SDS and BSU would launch their assaults on police, only to dissolve back into the crowd as the police brought retribution.[xxiii] These clashes left 21 officers injured (one seriously). One police officer was hit in the head by a lead pipe and saved only by his riot helmet. Hayakawa declared that this “reign of terror by anarchists” had to end.[xxiv]

The BSU’s activities were covered by the less militant but no less disruptive SDS and MAPS. SDS continued to leverage connections made during their organizing activities to bolster its numbers and attempt to give this strike legitimacy by making it a “community issue.” Given the demographics of the campus, it was paramount that as many apolitical or non-radical students could be drawn into the strike. Generic issues unrelated to the BSU proved useful in recruiting more and more students. After all, there were only a few hundred radicals, yet through moderate recruitment, the rallies at times surged to 5,000. For the SDS this was about the BSU but for the average student this was a war on the “racist authoritarian reactionary” administration.

The optics of police beating students, however deserved, had made what was an ethnic issue a student one. The SDS exploited the beatings of the “innocent onlooker,” as distinct from the violent rioter, to paint police officers as wanton and arbitrary in their use of violence. Naturally, the SDS’s guerrilla tactics were useful in increasing the chances of innocents being hurt, so as to galvanize the moderates. Moderate students largely uninterested in the origins of the strike joined up to kick the “pigs” off campus.[xxv] [xxvi]

The strike fell into a near daily pattern of students gathering near the Speakers Platform, perhaps marching somewhere and breaking something and Hayakawa calling in the police in to break it up. On December 5th, a howling mob attempted to storm the offices of Hayakawa. Having stormed the administration building, the mob headed for Hayakawa’s office, screaming: “we want that puppet.” Six police officers tasked with protecting Hayakawa were trapped against his door.

When one of the BSU students raised a lead pipe, the police officers drew their guns, yelling: “Fall back!” The police officers used their free hands to spray irritants to drive back the crowd. The mob moved on, smashing windows as they went. A bomb was left in an attaché case at the scene. A BSU member later returned claiming that it was his attaché case, and he wanted it back. He was promptly arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. Elsewhere, three cars had their parking brakes released by students, sending them careening down the hill at pursuing police officers.[xxvii]

The next day, Hayakawa announced his offer for peace: addressing the issue of a black studies department, a special admission program, and finally offering to appoint an associate director of financial aid to help address the needs of Third World Students.[xxviii] As with all other attempts to assuage the mob, this offer of peace had no discernible effect.

On December 9th, the AFT had its chance to present its case to the labor council. The executive secretary of the Central Labor Council, George Johns, had a plan to pressure the council.

“He [George Johns] invited all the presidents of the radio stations and the T.V. stations and representatives from both newspapers were all there. And rabbis and ministers and representatives from the archdiocese. The Episcopal bishop and the Catholic Church were all there. It wasn’t just a Labor Council meeting, it was like the council of San Francisco. And all the assemblymen and senators were there. The room had about twenty people, and you know, all the power in the city was there. It was very interesting. And the Labor Council people have never had any, not like this in the strike sanction before.” [xxix]

The Labor Council agreed to sanction the strike, but qualified this sanction with the condition that the “student problems” were not a labor issue. Officially at least, the AFT had to stick to traditional labor issues and not provide support for the student riots. The Labor Council only approved a list of standard issue demands like salaries and course load, etc. The AFT promptly ignored these conditions and included a number of student demands into its strike grievances. The AFT still was required to negotiate before the strike began, but unofficial participation from professors, many in the AFT, continued.[xxx]

On December 10th, Alioto officially announced the Concerned Citizen’s Committee to help with the strike. The Concerned Citizens Committee was immediately marked as the enemy by Reagan, the Board Chairman, and the radical students. To Reagan, the committee was just a ploy of Alioto. To the students, the committee was just another arm of the reviled establishment.[xxxi]

Two days later, on December 12th, police and students again clashed, with students throwing rocks and police swinging their clubs to drive the mob off campus. Hayakawa continued his “strong” law and order stance by promising to leave peaceful rallies alone.[xxxii] The mayor worked with the police to established procedures to “reduce violence”.

Procedures were established which allowed police to absorb two or three rocks or bottles, so that one person could not cause a confrontation. It was also decided that occupation of any building by force would not be permitted, nor could any doorway be closed or blocked. Ultimately, it was necessary to ban meetings in the area where violence had occurred before, with an area perhaps 100 yards away designated as the area to remain open for speeches and rallys. This, the mayor believes, fully protected the exercise of free speech. He notes that, as a result of these rules the on- campus violence now seems to have come under control. “It is limited now to surreptitious nighttime bombings.”[xxxiii]

The violence is under control, except for the bombings. I wonder how Alioto defines “under control”. Given Alioto’s sympathies for Smith’s methodology, is it so surprising that “under control” looks suspiciously like rioters getting beat up less?

“You can’t just talk tough” says the mayor. Public officials can only afford to be tough if they are willing at the same time to work with the militants for the constructive solution of legitimate demands. [xxxiv]

I guess we can put Alioto firmly in the unnatural response camp.  On the other hand, in the natural response camp, Hayakawa warned students:

“Do not form crowds. Do not join crowds that already exist.”

“There are NO innocent bystanders in this situation, because a bystander, even if innocent in intent, serves to shield with his body the activities of troublemakers.”[xxxv]

Hayakawa closed the campus a week early on December 13th. Over the break, he met with both the AFT and the mayor’s Citizen Committee. During negotiations, AFT didn’t resolve its issues with SFSC and received sanction to strike beginning on January 6th, 1969.[xxxvi] This strike, while numerically small compared to the student riots, would prove vital to the longevity of the strike. The advantage of the AFT was its connections and experience. Among the AFT were not only wild-eyed radicals, but many experienced organizers who knew how to “hire a hall”. [xxxvii]

While the AFT radicals were itching to join the students, there was a quiet socialist faction who supported the students but knew the implications of their participation. The AFT’s goal was two-fold: first, protect the student strikers, and second, shut down the campus. As indicated above via the Citizens Committee and Alioto, the AFT was protected from police interference, so long as it followed agreed upon protocols for striking. Knowing this, the AFT followed them to the letter and used its strike line as a human shield to protect students from police and to prevent regular students and professors from entering the campus. AFT members stationed themselves at key entrances, effectively shutting down the dining hall and cutting down student attendance by around 60%. Despite the tenacity of the mob, getting beaten, chased, and/or arrested on a regular basis was having an impact. Behind the scenes, Bierman and Solomon, among others, were helping organize and coach the BSU, often providing them inside information. The AFT strike lines were the saving grace for the “strike.”[xxxviii] [xxxix] [xl] [xli][xlii]

The Beginning Of The End

Just as the AFT was giving some breathing room to the student riots, Hayakawa rained on their parade.

On January 8, the State attorney general, acting on behalf of Acting President Hayakawa, obtained a temporary restraining order enjoining the faculty strike. Hayakawa claimed that the teachers’ picketing “contributed to the tensions on this campus and threatens to bring about a renewal of violence and disorder.” [xliii]

The next day, the AFT was back to the picket lines in defiance of the court order. Despite AFT’s defiance, only students were arrested. We can thank Alioto for that. The AFT steered clear of students to avoid collateral damage (and therefore breaking the police detente). Elsewhere, the police pushed the mobs into the streets and away from campus.[xliv]

Around January 10th, firebombs were thrown into the home of the SFSC coordinator of internal affairs. While his home was damaged, thankfully, one of the fire bombs failed to go off, leaving his wife and children unharmed.[xlv] [xlvi] At this point, it is hard to see how the AFT could continue to support the riots, but I’ll let our New Left Professor Eric Solomon make an attempt:

“So Hayakawa became president. The students then brought a certain amount of possibly planned – these plans they rarely shared with me, but certainly also anarchic violence into the – the daily, almost running of the bulls. And that was the most horrific…That no one could deal with. It was ritual…When I called it a ritual, there aren’t any alternatives when the Mayans are – just come back from the Yucatan – and, you know, sacrificing people, there are no alternatives. It just happens. And that’s what this was beginning to feel like. [xlvii]

I think I’ve got it. Human sacrifice just happens, and bombings just happen. There clearly are no alternatives. Did I get that correct?

“The word is,” said one student, “that if you want to throw rocks or plant bombs, that’s OK, as long as you don’t try to change the issues or make new demands.” [xlviii]

As the protests continued, Alioto and Bierman’s little secret was about to be tested. Unfortunately for the AFT, Art Bierman had found himself in a bind. He knew of the planned protest on January 23rd. He also knew that if his AFT professors joined the students, they would be arrested (because they weren’t in a picket line), but he couldn’t give away the game. He told the mostly New Left Professors not to go, but he held his tongue as to why. The New Left hadn’t been around long enough to know the game. They hadn’t guessed why the police had been leaving them be.[xlix]

With near daily encounters with the radical students, the police had plenty of practice with riot control. Their experience continued to improve their methods, and on January 23rd, practice paid off. Police encircled a protest, while the screaming students threw rocks, bottles, and bricks. Others were brandishing clubs. The police held their line and threw the crowd into paddy wagons, arresting 453. After noting that the head of the BSD (Nathan Hare) had been among those arrested, Hayakwa stated: “Hopefully, the black studies department will be ready to function as the semester starts.” As it turned out, the New Left Radicals in the AFT had failed to heed Bierman’s warnings. Quite a few AFT professors ended up in the back of those paddy wagons, ensuring that the AFT had to drain their coffers to bail them out.[l] [li] [lii]

As we have seen, Hayakawa, unlike his fellow university presidents, used the police as quickly as possible with ample force. His goal was to push the conflict further and further out to allow classes to continue. First the classrooms must be made safe, then the hallways, then the outsides of the buildings, and finally the streets outside the campus.[liii]

Even after these arrests, students continued to interrupt classes repeatedly as the campus attempted to resume normalcy. Just before January 30th, Hayakawa sent 1,000 police officers onto campus to clear out the students. Reagan was quoted as saying: “There is no longer any room for appeasement or give.”[liv] Reagan wasn’t wrong: the next day the stakes elevated.

The strikers announced another “mass mobilization” for January 30. Judge Edward O’Day issued an order restraining them from gathering in large groups and Hayakawa announced that anyone already arrested on the campus since November 6 and arrested again would be immediately given an interim suspension.

So, did the BSU and SDS set out with an iron will to face the police once again?

On Thursday, January 30, seeing the large numbers of police on campus, the strikers decided not to hold a rally because they felt the campus situation was “a trap.” At about 3 p.m. the strikers announced they were “declaring a tactical victory.” [lv]

This “tactical victory” would be the first sign of the strike’s enervation. The AFT, hurting for money, sent Erwin Kelly and others to travel around the country begging for money.[lvi]

On February 4th, fights broke out between students trying to attend classes and a “stationary picket line” blocking entrance to the campus, mirroring the almost daily fights between police and students.[lvii] On February 16th, two bombs ripped into the administration building over the weekend. This was the second bombing that week.[lviii]

By now, even the Experimental College was hurting for money. The student government had allocated the Experimental College $15,000 dollars. Within a year of it opening (1967), the college was already running out of money. Further, this initial $15,000 was supposed to be a loan to be paid back by securing outside funding (from the federal government). So, did the feds reject the request for funding? No, writing a written proposal for government funding seemed to be beyond the capabilities of the students running the Experimental College. In fact, even the progressive slate running the student government was disappointed with the results of the Experimental College and promised to centralize operations to improve results.[lix]

The killing blow for the strike is telling to the nature of this problem. I started the story back in 1962 when the Associated Students (student government) was taken over by a progressive slate. If you are asking yourself where the rest of the money went, you were not the only one. After all there was “a million dollars” available. What was $15,000 but a drop in the bucket? In 1968, a student blew the whistle on the Associated Students. Around Christmas of 1968, the investigation by the attorney general’s office began. All those programs that the AS had been funding had not been entirely above board.[lx] [lxi] [lxii]

On Feb. 17, Judge O’Day agreed with Condas. He concluded that the law did not permit the BSU and other radicals to stage phony elections, loot student funds, or assign each other federal work-study grants. Judge O’Day placed the student corporation in receivership, freezing the radicals’ money. They had to find jobs. The daily riots ended overnight.[lxiii]

Even though the protests dried up, the violence wasn’t yet over. On February 18th, students, some at the behest of the striking professors, broke up classes of a teacher opposing the strike.  Targeting the opposition, they made sure that “scabs” got their due.[lxiv] [lxv] At the same time the student strike was on pause, students rushed to join classes without students, lest they be cancelled, thereby protecting professors. The students resumed the strike, albeit in smaller numbers, as soon as the continuation of the classes was guaranteed.[lxvi]  As the funds started to dry up, the BSU made naked demands for money to fund itself, citing needs for a better building and travel to conferences.[lxvii] The legal committee of the Third World Liberation front asked the Federal District Court to intervene and end the arrests and prosecution of strikers.[lxviii] Things were beginning to fall apart.

Without money, the strike was not long for the world, and the AFT strike was the last gasp of this affair. According to Bierman, soon after only the AFT was left “striking”. With threats to fire the faculty on strike, the AFT considered surrendering. Key members of the AFT discussed what to do with the students. Some of the students wanted the AFT to continue to strike; some thought they had done enough. The AFT voted to end the strike. Many of the New Left members broke with the AFT to go back out, but they soon realized without either the AFT or students their strike was a hollow affair.[lxix]  As Bierman describes the New Left Professors:

And I knew that they were absolutely incapable of doing anything. They had no organizational skills. They had no place to go. It was idealism without brains, power, or organization. And nobody else came there from the side that had won, but I went there that morning. Practically nobody showed up.[lxx]

Unable to justify their continued strike on strict union issues, on February 24th, the teachers ended their strike and presented conditions for returning to work. There was nothing left for the AFT strike to do but compromise.[lxxi]

On March 7th, in one of their last acts of the strike, the BSU attempted to bomb the Creative Arts building. Fortunately, for everyone else, the bomber, a certain Mr. Peebles, continued the BSU’s inept streak by only blowing off his own fingers and partially blinding himself. The police swept the campus and found two more bombs. One of the bombs was found behind a drinking fountain set to go off during the busy lunch hour. This was the seventh and last bombing attempt at SFSC. Despite the many attempts, and plenty of property damage, Mr. Peebles would share the honor with a campus guard of being the only two people injured by any of the bombs. Though he was initially arrested, Mr. Peebles was allowed to return to class after his recovery. So much for “law and order.”[lxxii] [lxxiii] The same day, Hayakawa declared in front of a congressional subcommittee: “I believe I have introduced something new to this business of preserving order on campuses…”[lxxiv]

Frank Brann, attorney for the BSU, began negotiations with the administration. When our notorious George Murray, still languishing in jail, finally gave the go ahead, the BSU settled.  Negotiations between BSU, TWLF, and Hayakawa’s administration finally ended on March 21st, 1968. By then, around 4,000 students had already transferred to other schools.[lxxv]

The agreement provided for the establishment of a College of Ethnic Studies that would include a Black Studies Department along with departments representing the other ethnic groups involved in the Strike. The Administration committed to fulfilling the “special admissions” quota for underrepresented students and to seek legislative approval for an increase in the percentage of students who would be admitted through such provisions. No agreement was made to maintain all student-run on- and off-campus programs, nor to reconfigure the Office of Financial Aid. No strikers were given amnesty from the university and neither George Murray nor Nathan Hare was given the faculty positions originally demanded. Perhaps most importantly, control over curriculum and hiring and community involvement in the College was not included.[lxxvi]

Our conflict came to a close.

Wait, But How?

How had Hayakawa done what Smith and Summerskill had failed to do? Unlike his predecessors, Hayakawa had done nothing but piss off the faculty and clash with the students. Let’s set the stage for the state of San Francisco State before Hayakawa. According to National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, SFSC was one of the most liberal institutions in the country. As Eric Solomon put it, SFSC “…was a liberal teacher’s dream. Progressive.”[lxxvii] [lxxviii]

The liberties and activities of the student government and its programs were the most outward symptoms of this attitude. Even faculty had become quite used to getting its way with the previous weak-willed presidents. In fact, the events of 1968 seemed inconceivable to the students only two year before. If the administration had been slow to implement the concessions to the BSU, I must remind the reader that these concessions were light years ahead of the rest of the country. Even the positions allocated to the ESD and the Educational Opportunity Program had come at the expense of other departments, including positions slated to improve the graduate studies program. If liberality and progress had a chance of changing the mind of the radicals, by the time Hayakawa became president, they had their due.[lxxix]

If one accepts the progressive view of history, then these facts should surprise you. Why would they rebel against what was an incredibly liberal, tolerant, and progressive campus? Why indeed: because they could, or more aptly, because they were allowed to.

I’ve already covered Hayakawa’s use of force on campus. Hayakawa was hardly an authoritarian, nor was he particularly a disciplinarian. Even the mild doses of resistance which Hayakawa was willing to use seemed to wear on the students. If I were to choose a killing blow, though, the freezing of student funds, and of course the draining of the AFT coffers, seemed to provoke the most immediate reaction. Unlike popular perception, political action requires resources. Starved of resources, the sustained campaign of violence and intimidation was brought to compromise within a month.

One thing I’ve failed to address is how this conflict played out for the rest of state. If it were not already clear, this conflict, in addition to being a leftist signaling spiral, became a proxy war between political factions. The AFT was able to act the way it did because Mayor Alioto wished to diminish Gov. Reagan’s influence. Political conflict, unlike signaling between professors, is dependent on maintaining the frame. In the world of politics, the journalists often wear the pants; there’s always another election to win, and there’s always another coalition to lose. If President Smith and Summerskill had been overly concerned with keeping the left-leaning professors happy, Hayakawa chose to win over the public. Who speaks for the public?

Rather than any sort of Machiavellian scheme, it was luck that brought Hayakawa to the attention of the wire pullers. Serendipitously, an incident was caught on film: during one of the protests, Hayakawa tore the wires out of the protesters’ sound truck and yelled at the mob. As the news media broadcast the footage, Hayakawa became a symbol for the media and the public. After that event, the newspapers and news crews came to him. As his stature on campus diminished, he became wildly popular with the public. The public had little patience or understanding for social causes on campus. Hayakawa became a media darling, even a national figure, seizing the spotlight to control the narrative. Hayakawa knew the game. By ignoring the professors, Hayakawa used the media to speak to the people, politicians, and the powerful through their platform. [lxxx]

Even the BSU had quickly become wise to losing control of the narrative by making the mistake of speaking with a hostile press.

They had learned the way in which newsmen often take only sketchy notes of what is said and later fill in inaccurate details by faulty memory. [lxxxi]

The BSU quickly grew to distrust the news media, correctly understanding that it was the filter which controlled the interpretation of any given event. Even among black community leaders uncomfortable with the violent tactics of the BSU, it was common knowledge that if they spoke out against the violence, any sympathy to grievances would be scrubbed from the record. A condemnation of violence would serve only to hamper their allies, and their words of praise would never make it on the page.[lxxxii]

Despite awareness of the power of narrative, the BSU, AFT, and SDS quickly “lost control.” The press came down on the rioters and this weight was felt by the AFT, as told by Bierman:

“When everybody comes down and the whole fucking city’s coming down, and Reagan’s coming down and the State’s coming down, the cops are there. Everybody’s there. The newspapers are against you.”[lxxxiii]

The AFT got tarred with the same brush as the radical students. As the newspapers condemned the SFSC AFT chapter, the national headquarters put pressure on it to pull out and save face, which was one of the many reasons the chapter had been forced to settle.[lxxxiv]

Even for those people who experienced the conflict firsthand, the press still managed to control the narrative. Despite moderate gains from the AFT strike, the members of the AFT felt that they had lost: “They read the papers instead of reading the contract agreement.”[lxxxv] The AFT, like the rest of the public, rather than rationally evaluating their own goals and achievements, let the press gaslight them. As Bierman describes their reactions:

“They thought they were defeated because the paper said they were defeated. People don’t believe anything is real until they read it in the newspaper. This is one of the things I learned early on in organizing people and so forth. I could stand up in a union meeting and tell ‘em things that happened. They don’t believe that – I have a press conference, and now they read it in the paper they say, “oh.” It’s really amazing. I don’t think people understand the effect that the media has. It’s official only when they hear it from the media, which somehow gives it credence, and you can tell ‘em the same fucking thing right to their face and they don’t believe it or they don’t understand it, or, you know, just you talking, you’re giving them a con sale. They have to have it – [laughing] – they have to have a confirmation, you know. It’s wild. It’s a discouraging thing.”[lxxxvi]

Further reflecting on the lack of realpolitik and general mindset among the AFT:

“And I said, “one of the things that I can understand, you’re all apocalyptic thinkers. You’re all Utopians. You have an ideal and you think that you’re going to have some extraordinary action and Armageddon is going to be taking place and you’re going to win once and for all. And I think you have heroic views of yourself which are very childish. They’re images that come from a mythical literature.””[lxxxvii]

This unpopularity of the strikes was reflected in the actions of the state Senate. The public believed as they were told. The Board of Trustees was soon inundated with pleas to keep the campus open. This reinforced the consensus among the Board of Trustees that closing the campus did not serve the public.[lxxxviii]

There was a consensus at its November 18 meeting that the board could not allow any group to force the closing of a college. Fundamentally, the board rested its position upon the fact that the colleges are tax-supported, public institutions. In the words of one highly respected trustee: “In the final analysis, maintaining the State college system, or any one of the colleges- keeping them open and operational-is a board responsibility. It must be.” [lxxxix]

The loop was closed, and the views of the press had reached the ears of the elite. If there had been any doubt as to how to act, the Board received its mandate.

What of the New Left ideologues? As we recall, Bierman charged them with being “idealism without brains, power, or organization.”[xc] Certainly, they weren’t playing the game Bierman or Alioto were playing. They weren’t concerned with politics, but with holiness. The protesters were screaming at the president, they were screaming at the cops, and they were screaming at the students and professors who wouldn’t join them.

Yet, none could fix their situation. Not even the all-powerful Board of Trustees could really have made their dreams come true. There wasn’t the budget for it. Anything everything that they gave the ESD came at the expense of someone else. The students who had been handed a budget couldn’t understand why they couldn’t be given more. Their first and last reaction was not considering the scarcity of resources, but demonizing everything and everyone who stood in their way. This even though most, if not everyone involved, including Reagan himself, sympathized with their demands to one extent or another.

They had a pack of allies, but that was never enough. More than anything, the New Left lacked the allies to change the outcome. Whereas the AFT and Alioto tolerated the New Left, used them even, the factions aligned with Alioto operated under their own agenda. The New Left was yelling at all the wrong people. Worse, they didn’t win over the press, despite their best efforts. In the short-term, this would play out in a series of political defeats. According to interviews by the study team for the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence:

The legislators interviewed are Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. For all of them, campus unrest is an immediate and important issue. Uniformly, they feel that the legislature must make some response to demonstrate its political credibility to the voters. Their views of the public attitude differ sharply. The more liberal of the legislators see the public response as a rejection of the new doctrine that colleges and universities should be powerful “relevant” agencies for social change, rather than instruments for indoctrination in the traditional wisdom. The most conservative see the public reaction as a justifiable response to a coercive effort by radicals to impose their views on the majority. Where one legislator sees the unrest as a struggle for Negro manhood, another sees only “creeps” and “bums” agitated by a hard-core preaching revolution imported from Cuba [like our friend George Murray] . [xci]

This translated into legislative changes which took effect even before the strike was wholly resolved.

Week of Mar. 17, 1969: The State Senate passed four measures to deal with campus disorders. The bills passed by the senate would: (1) Make it a crime punishable by fine of up to $5,000 and 5 years in prison for anyone to willfully “use force, violence, threat, intimidation, extortion, or coercion” to obstruct any school officials in performance of their duties. (2) Require the mandatory expulsion of any State college student found to have participated in a disruption, or to have attempted to do so, and prohibit his readmission for 3 years. (3) Permit a State college president to declare a “state of emergency” if a disruption of normal activities occurred or was threatened, and to restrict access to the campus. Violation would be a misdemeanor. (4) Require the mandatory firing of any State college faculty member found to have participated in a campus disruption, or to have attempted to do so, and prohibit his rehiring for a 3 -year period. [xcii]

If it has not become clear, in the short-term the strike was a tactical disaster. It changed little in the way of campus policy, while serving as a PR disaster for the parties in support of it. Yet in the long-term, we must look at how it all turned out. Who won the war? What is the fallout of this conflict for the heart of an institution?


[i] Organizing for Social Justice: Rank-and-File Teachers’ Activism and Social Unionism in California, 1948-1978 Smith, Sara R.










[xi] Organizing for Social Justice: Rank-and-File Teachers’ Activism and Social Unionism in California, 1948-1978 Smith, Sara R.

[xii] Organizing for Social Justice: Rank-and-File Teachers’ Activism and Social Unionism in California, 1948-1978 Smith, Sara R.










[xxii] The Chicago Tribune Dec. 3rd 1968


[xxiv] The Chicago Tribune Dec. 4th 1968



[xxvii] The Chicago Tribune Dec. 6th 1968





[xxxii] The Chicago Tribune Dec 12. 1968









[xli] The Collegiate Press Services, via The Kentucky Kernel March 2nd 1969



[xliv] The Chicago Tribune Jan. 10th 1969

[xlv] The Chicago Tribune Jul. 13th 1969

[xlvi] The Chicago Tribune Jan. 10th 1969




[l] The Kentucky Kernel, Nov. 12th 1969

[li] The Chicago Tribune Feb. 19th 1969


[liii] Associated Press, via The Kentucky Kernel, February 4th 1969

[liv] Associated Press, via The Kentucky Kernel, January 30th 1969


[lvi] The Kentucky Kernel, February 3rd 1969

[lvii] Associated Press, via The Kentucky Kernel, February 11th 1969

[lviii] Associated Press, via The Kentucky Kernel, February 18th 1969

[lix] The Collegiate Press Services, via The Kentucky Kernel February 7th 1967







[lxvi] Associated Press, via The Kentucky Kernel, February 18th 1969

[lxvii] The Kentucky Kernel, February 19th 1969

[lxviii] The Chicago Tribune, February 19th 1969



[lxxi] The Chicago Tribune, February 25th 1969


[lxxiii] Associated Press, via The Kentucky Kernel, March 7th 1969

[lxxiv] Associated Press, via The Kentucky Kernel, March 7th 1969



















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