Many colleges and universities across the United States, particularly the University of California - Berkeley, experienced a profound change during the 1960s as a result of the Free Speech Movement and its subsequent events. These events will be briefly discussed followed by an examination of how they changed the overall function of the university in America. In short, the Free Speech Movement led to a decade "of testing; when all social, political, and economic assumptions came under attack" (Rorabaugh, 45). At first, no one knew the implications the Movement would have for Berkeley, much less the rest of the nation.
It began in 1964, when students at UC Berkeley opposed a decision by the Regents to ban a communist, Frank Wilkinson, from speaking publicly on campus. University President Clark Kerr and Governor Edmund Brown both defended Wilkinson. The Regents reluctantly reversed their decision, but Mario Savio, a Berkeley student, thought their decision still limited student civil rights. In the past, students would often set up tables and participate in political recruitment and advocacy on a 25 by 60-foot piece of land along the edge of campus. However, due to the peak of McCarthyism, this activity was seen as a barrier in defeating Communism. And so, the Free Speech Movement began (Youngs, 282-284).
It started simple enough - Savio spoke in Berkeley's main campus plaza and the tables in the narrow strip of land were set up again. Police were called in to break up the incident, and some students were arrested. Because of the shear size of the crowd, they were able to set up a human barricade and prevent the police from leaving with the arrested students, so they remained there for almost a day and a half. Eventually, the university agreed not to press charges, and a committee was established to determine how to regulate advocacy. Students soon resumed rallies in the plaza, and the committee was abolished.