Berkeley's Senate Was the First Institution of Its Kind in American
by Jeff Hall and Fernando Quintero
Behind the scenes of many great moments in Berkeley's modern history was the Academic Senate, an organization of faculty leaders who 75 years ago changed the course of the campus and all of higher education when they demanded a greater voice in running the university.
State legislation in 1868 creating UC also provided that "the immediate government and discipline of the several colleges shall be entrusted to their respective faculties."
However, it was not until 1920, following 20 years of the dynamic but increasingly autocratic presidency of Benjamin Wheeler, that a buildup of circumstances gave birth to what we now know as the Academic Senate.
Wheeler's unpopular pro-German sympathies during World War I, the faculty's interventionist leanings, then Wheeler's death and the short-term administration of the university by a council of three equally unpopular men galvanized the faculty to demand a reform of the governance of the university.
The faculty dispatched a memo to the Board of Regents asking that it issue a special order requiring that deans and department chairs be selected only after consultation with the faculty, that faculty have broad authority over curriculum and admission standards, that faculty may advise the UC president regarding the budget and that a master committee be elected by the faculty and authorized to select the members of all senate committees.
The regents responded positively and issued a directive. The Berkeley Academic Senate, the first institution of its kind in American higher education, was born.
In the two decades that followed, the university expanded to develop campuses at Los Angeles, Riverside, Davis and Santa Barbara--the faculties of which all patterned themselves to varying degrees after the Berkeley model. Other institutions throughout the country followed suit.
In the post-war years, UC enrollment mushroomed and the faculty grew apace. As a result of the sudden large infusion of new faculty, the Academic Senate became less cohesive and was less effective in self-governance.
The senate leadership at the time had closer ties with the UC president and regents than with the recently hired faculty. A crisis arose when those in positions of power in the senate found themselves to be unrepresentative of the faculty majority.
The crisis came to a head during the McCarthy Era, when the regents imposed a loyalty oath on faculty. A total of 31 faculty were dismissed for refusing to take the oath before the state Supreme Court determined that requirement was unconstitutional.
Antagonism between senate leadership and non-oath signing faculty grew. In an effort to make the senate leadership more representative and responsive to its constituency, the senate increased divisional autonomy and created a statewide faculty legislative structure, the Academic Council. This is the system under which the senate operates today.
Other controversies over the years were addressed by the senate including the historic Free Speech Movement in 1964. An ad hoc committee attempted to develop a liberalized policy regarding political activity on campus, and the faculty voted to support the basic tenets of the movement.
In the mid-1980s, UC's investment in businesses that had dealings with South Africa became the subject of student protest and faculty debate.
The regents formulated a vague policy which examined investments on a "case-by-case basis." The senate found this unsatisfactory and endorsed complete divestment.
Most recently, at Berkeley and the other UC campuses, the senate has articulated its strong endorsement of using affirmative action criteria in admissions and hiring following the regents' decision last July to eliminate race or ethnicity as a factor in determining admissions.
In October, a near-capacity turnout of faculty members voted to reaffirm the tradition of shared governance by asking the regents to rescind their decision on affirmative action policies in response to the
fact the regents took their action despite opposition from the Academic Council, UC president, Council of Chancellors and Associated Students.
In addition to addressing high-profile cases, the senate has through the years remained responsible for the formulation and execution of less newsworthy but still significant decisions in the governance of the Berkeley campus.
The senate is engaged in the planning and allocation of capital expenditures and faculty across campus. It sets curricular policies and priorities, advocates for its membership on issues of compensation and academic freedom, and defends rigorous standards of scholarship for its members and for the students at Berkeley.
The price of the ideal of shared governance is paid for by each individual faculty member. As former Senate Chair Gene Brucker observed: "In the last analysis, the viability of the senate will depend on the willingness of its membership to devote some portion of time and energy to senate services."
Editor's note: Historical information for this article was excerpted from "The Academic Senate of the University of California" by the late Russell H. Fitzgibbon, who was professor of political science at Los Angeles and Santa Barbara campuses and was active in senate affairs. Jeff Hall is a senate analyst.