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An article about Mario Savio appeared in the February 16, 1965 issue of Life Magazine
Below is the text of the article.
HERE is a PDF of the actual article
including the cover of that issue.
In what may be the largest court test in the history of American jurisprudence, 703 demonstrators arrested during last fall's sit-in at the University of California at Berkeley will be set for trial in Municipal Court this week. The defendants, most of them students, are charged with trespassing, resisting arrest and unlawful assembly.
The direct cause of the sit-in, which climaxed weeks of demonstrations, was a
sudden tightening up of the rules governing recruiting and fund raising for
off-campus political and civil rights causes. University officials soon realized
this was an arbitrary and unwise move and modified the regulations. But by then
the episode had brought into the open an enormous, smoldering frustration on the
part of many who feel the very size and impersonality of their university is
depriving them of a worthwhile education. These dissidents soon organized as the
Free Speech Movement and found an eloquent spokesman in 22-year-old philosophy
major Mario Savio, a native of New York. His own views—excerpted here from a
lengthy interview with Life's correspondent in San Francisco, Jack Fincher—cut
to the heart of a system he sees as "totally dehumanized, totally
impersonalized, created by a society which is wholly acquisitive." Savio's
rebellion is not so much political as against schools—and a society—where
everything seems to be geared to "performance and award, prize and
punishment—never to study for itself." Because Savio's outlook is shared by so
many, its significance goes far beyond the court trial he and his contemporaries
will face this week.
THE ROOTS OF THE PROBLEM
The university is a vast public utility which turns out future workers in today's vineyard, the military-industrial complex. They've got to be processed in the most efficient way to see to it that they have the fewest dissenting opinions, that they have just those characteristics which are wholly incompatible with being an intellectual. This is a real internal psychological contradiction. People have to suppress the very questions which reading books raises.'
ON THE ADMINISTRATION
ON BEING AN AMERICAN STUDENT
In the Berkeley ghetto—which is, let's say, the campus and the surrounding five or six blocks—you bear certain stigmas. They're not the color of your skin, for the most part, but the fact that you're an intellectual, and perhaps a moral nonconformist. You question the mores and morals and institutions of society seriously; you take serious questions seriously. This creates a feeling of mutuality, of real community. Students are excited about political ideas. They're not yet inured to the apolitical society they're going to enter. But being interested in ideas means you have no use in American society . . . unless they are ideas which are useful to the military-industrial complex. That means there's no connection between what you're doing and the world you're about to enter.
There's a lot of aimlessness in the ghetto, a lot of restlessness. Some people are 40 years old and they're still members. They're student mentalities who never grew up: they're people who were active in radical: politics, let's say, in the Thirties, people who have never connected with the world, have not been able to make it in America. You can see the similarity between this and the Harlem situation.
ON THE STUDENT PROTESTS
As for ideology, the Free Speech Movement has always had an ideology of its own. Call it essentially anti-liberal. By that I mean it is anti a certain style of politics prevalent in the United States: politics by compromise—which succeeds if you don't state any issues. You don't state issues, so you can't be attacked from any side. You learn how to say platitudinous things without committing yourself, in the hope that somehow, that way, you won't disturb the great American consensus and somehow people will be persuaded to do things that aren't half bad. You just sort of muddle through. By contrast our ideology is issue-oriented. We thought the administration was doing bad things and we said so. Some people on the faculty repeatedly told us we couldn't say or do things too provocative or we'd turn people off—alienate the faculty. Yet, with every provocative thing we did, more faculty members came to our aid. And when the apocalypse came, over 800 of them were with us.
ON THE TEACHING SITUATION
The primary concern of most of the teaching assistants is getting their doctorates. They're constantly involved in their own research, working their way into so narrow a corner of their own specialty that they haven't the breadth of experience or time to do an adequate job of teaching. Furthermore, what they've got to do, really, is explain what the master told you, so you can prepare to take his tests. When teaching assistants deviate from the lesson plans to bring in new material, this enriches their students; but sometimes another result is to make it more difficult for those students to do well on the exams.
ON CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
Unjustified civil disobedience you must oppose. But if there's a lot of civil disobedience occurring, you better make sure it's not justified.
ON THE TRIAL
Some people say, "Okay, they've been crying for their political acts to be judged only by competent authorities—the courts, not the university; so now they get what they want and they aren't happy." That isn't the point. We're not complaining about being treated fairly by the courts. We're complaining precisely because we're not going to be treated fairly, because we're not going to get due process. I didn't commit myself to accept whatever the state might do to me, you know, and I'm not going to accept anything which doesn't guarantee me my constitutional rights through fair trial. 1 think it's a scandal that an action which can be argued legitimately as an exercise of constitutional rights may be punished so severely that people who have taken part in it—and others to whom it has been an example—may be thereafter dissuaded from exercising their constitutional rights.
(Thanks to FSM Bibliographer, Barbara Stack, for the work on this.)