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Readers Sound Off On Rossman’s Clark Kerr Story

Friday January 30, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for giving us Michael Rossman’s reality check on Saint Kerr (“Free Speech Movement Activist Finds Tarnish On Clark Kerr’s Legacy,” Daily Planet, Jan. 23-26). Could you induce Rossman to provide a follow-up piece on how the Smithsonian emasculated the Enola Gay exhibit on Clark Kerr’s watch?  

Gilbert Bendix 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

What are Michael Rossman’s credentials that would justify publication of his denigration of Clark Kerr? Kerr was greatest of educators. Anyone who could garner the ill-will of Ronald Reagan must have been a noble person. 

Karl Kasten 

Professor Emeritus  




Michael Rossman has given us his version of the Free Speech Movement’s struggles with Clark Kerr—a view from “Ground Zero, in the actual trenches of making history”—and also his opinions about Kerr as an educator. 

Kerr—Quaker and man of peace—probably was unprepared for the determination and brashness of the FSM activists. Wanting to keep the Berkeley campus operating, he sought compromises, which satisfied no one, least of all the regents and Gov. Reagan, who soon fired him. 

Can Rossman imagine the range of interests continually pulling on the chief administrator of a multi-purpose, multi-campus public university? By what standard, one may ask, should the interests of 1,000 student activists have been allowed to disrupt the work of the 30,000 other students and faculty? 

From my several years working with Kerr, I think he was well aware that huge universities could be “depersonalizing,” as Rossman charges. Thus he regarded creation of the Santa Cruz campus, with its smallish colleges and relatively close student-faculty contact, as one of his signal accomplishments. 

Rossman worte that Kerr ha no “vision...geared to deep values.” On the contrary, one of his “deep values” most certainly was the idea of access—that virtually any high school graduate in California could aspire to a college degree—via UC, CSU, and the community colleges—at very low cost (then). This was the 1960 Master Plan, of which Kerr was chief author. 

He believed in experimentation and innovation in higher education. In one of the first reports from the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, Kerr proposed a federal agency, which became the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, that over the years funded thousands of innovative projects on all sorts of campuses. 

Michael Rossman and his FSM colleagues did indeed make history—in the sense of triggering a national and international student protest movement. But so also did Clark Kerr, with his vision of (and design for) inexpensive higher education for all. 

One might have expected Rossman, aside from the target of his ire being no longer alive to rebut, to have been more charitable in his analysis—if for no other reason than without Clark Kerr, Rossman himself might never have become the history-maker he indicates he was. 

Richard Peterson