Guide to the Records of SLATE
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Organizational History

In 1957 a series of events led to the formation of a UC Berkeley campus political party, TASC (Towards an Active Student Community). TASC in turn led to SLATE, one of the first student political organizations in the rising New Left and student movements and an important influence on these movements.

TASC, and then SLATE, grew out of the student government on the UC Berkeley Campus. On February 19, 1957 Associated Students of University of California (ASUC) Graduate Representative Ralph Schaffer raised the issue of discrimination in UC Berkeley organizations. Schaffer asked the ASUC student government to deny recognition to any groups that restricted membership according to race, color or religious or national origin. While the fraternities and sororities were not specifically named they were the implied targets because their memberships were often restricted by race and religion.

The Executive Committee of the ASUC refused to act on this issue. Because of the debate and the Executive Committee’s refusal to become involved, fellow graduate student Fritjof Thygeson proposed the formation of a campus political party at UC Berkeley. Schaffer, Thygeson and Rick White formed TASC, an ad hoc group of students who could to run for ASUC office and force discussion of discrimination and other such issues that affected both the campus and the greater society, nationally and internationally. TASC linked local and international issues of social and political importance and related these to the society that the students were hearing about and preparing to enter. TASC campaigned specifically against racial discrimination in fraternity and sorority housing, as well as against apartheid in South Africa. It campaigned for free speech on campus and voluntary ROTC and against the loyalty oath, the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), and it vigorously opposed nuclear testing.

TASC modeled itself after the British Labour Party. It adopted the practice, common in the Labour Party, of holding resignations from its parliamentary representatives (in this case candidates for student government office), with the understanding that the party could file these if the candidate, after the elections strayed from the party platform. This concept was so foreign to US consciousness that the resultant furor on the campus ended the short life of TASC.

Only Thygeson won a seat in the Spring 1957 election on the TASC ticket. However in late 1957 senior Mike Miller, (who had been elected to the ASUC government a year earlier, but resigned in protest) called together a group of student leaders including former members of TASC and other previously unaffiliated students, and proposed they run as a "slate" for student government office. This "slate" quickly rejuvenated interest in serious student politics on the campus. While in that first election (Fall 1957) none of the members of the "slate" were elected, they did gain almost forty percent of the vote, and perhaps more importantly, twice the number of students voted in the election compared to the previous election with TASC candidates.

On February 5, 1958, SLATE was officially organized. The Temporary SLATE Coordinating Committee included Charleen Rains, Owen Hill, Patrick Hallinan, Peter Franck, Fritjof Thygeson and Mike Miller. Soon after, February 28- March 1, 1958, SLATE held an organizing convention during which roughly one hundred students founded SLATE to run candidates "committed to a common platform for student office in order to engage in issue-oriented political education both on and off campus. Around the same time, SLATE founded the independent newspaper The Cal Reporter.

SLATE was involved with both on-and off-campus issues such as "fair bear" minimum wages for students and affordable housing for students. SLATE led protests against compulsory ROTC, demonstrations against the death penalty, protests against the California House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and protests against racial discrimination. The organization and its work were quickly noted across the country. Tom Hayden spent the summer of 1960 living with SLATE leaders in Berkeley and learning of their methods. On returning to the University of Michigan that fall, (where he had just been appointed editor of the student daily newspaper,) Hayden formed Voice, a campus political party at Ann Arbor.

SLATE was the first model for a number of similar campus political parties that came into existence in the next few years, including Platform at UCLA, Polit (early known as SRP) at the University of Chicago, FOCUS at Reed, SCOPE at San Francisco State, ACTION at Columbia, TASC and SPUR at San Jose State, THINK at the University of Oklahoma, Progressive Students League at Oberlin, DECLARE at UC Riverside, Independent Student Union in Los Angeles, SCOPE at the University of Illinois, and several others. Many of these organizations were assisted by members of SLATE and there were personal contacts between SLATE organizers and organizers at other campuses.

The University administration was from the start wary of the popularity and pronounced politics of SLATE, (SLATE was jokingly referred to as the "Student League Accused of Trying to Exist"). The administration routinely and continually tried to diminish SLATE’s popularity and political power on campus. Overwhelming graduate student support for SLATE led, in April 1959, to the University disassociating graduate students from the ASUC, in an effort to take away some of SLATE’s electoral power. However, in the May 1959 election SLATE candidate David Armor beat fraternity-backed independent candidate, Dan Lubbock for student body president, also during that election a SLATE candidate was elected a representative-at-large. Two SLATE graduate students, Marv Sternberg and Cary McWilliams Jr., still on the ballot, were elected graduate student representatives (though they would not be allowed to serve). The dissociation of graduate students took away SLATE’s largest constituent and much of its electoral power and while the group continued to run candidates following the 1959 decision, few SLATE candidates were elected.

Beginning as early as 1956, students Hank DiSuvero, Peter Franck and Pat Denton, who would later join TASC and most of whom would become leaders of SLATE had, with the encouragement of Clark Kerr (then Chancellor of the Berkeley campus and later President of the University), worked to modify "Rule 17" which limited the free speech and political organizing abilities of students on campus. Kerr encouraged these student leaders to lobby the University President Robert Gordon Sproul to modify rule 17 and allow political speakers and meetings on the campus. However, after becoming UC President, Kerr would later (October 1959) issue the Kerr Directives, which reorganized and codified the rules, (including Rule 17) for political participation on UC campuses and severely limited student groups’ ability to organize or speak out on contemporary political events.

In May 1960 SLATE students helped organize and attended the Anti-HUAC demonstration outside San Francisco’s City Hall. The peaceful demonstration turned violent when police fire-hosed the demonstrators and arrested sixty-eight people, thirty-one of whom were UC Berkeley students. That same year the group was featured in California’s HUAC report on subversive activities. In December 1960 SLATE published a LP record about the HUAC hearings and demonstrations called "Sounds of Protest," narrated by Kenneth Kitch and Mike Tigar. While the record was not as popular as the film on the same topic, "Operation Abolition" it did cause the university embarrassment.

SLATE, which repeatedly clashed with the UC Berkeley administration, was warned in March 1961 that calling itself a "campus political party," rather than a "student organization concerned with the ASUC, as its official application for on-campus recognition state, was in violation of the terms of SLATE's campus recognition. While SLATE chairman apologized for using the term "political party" and explained that it was a mistake, a second published identification of SLATE in a telegram published in the Ohio State Lantern, as a "campus political party" led to the UC administration revoking SLATE's status as a recognized student organization on June 10, 1961. By taking away SLATE's status as a recognized student organization, the UC Berkeley administration took away its right to hold meetings on campus, have office space on campus, and generally participate in campus life. Student political groups such as the Young Republicans, the Young Democrats and the Young Socialists were also off-campus political groups, which meant that they could take part in political discussions and activism off campus, but could not enjoy any of the privileges of campus recognized groups, including holding business and membership meetings on campus. However, as an off-campus group, SLATE was still allowed, with advance permission to sponsor special events on campus.

In 1962 SLATE took part in protests against during the Charter Day ceremonies, at which President John F. Kennedy spoke. Protesters used this event to protest against the resumption of nuclear testing, as well as US-Cuba relations, civil rights violations, both in the South and locally, as well as the activities of the HUAC and compulsory ROTC.

In 1963 the last issue of the Cal Reporter was published as a special issue on education at Cal, after which SLATE began publishing the SLATE Supplement to the General Catalog, which offered student evaluations and recommendations of courses and professors. The Supplement was among the first student evaluations of teachers and courses and was received critically by both the UC administration and the faculty. The Supplement served as a guide for new undergraduates about how to enroll in classes and navigate the large university, as well as offering evaluation of specific courses and professors.

SLATE members took an active part in the formation and life of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) in 1964-1965. During these events SLATE candidates swept the December 8, 1964 ASUC election, Sandor Fuchs, Slate chairman and an FSM leader, said:

"The victory for Slate is a victory for the Free Speech Movement, and an independent ASUC. It comes at a time of the greatest victory for the student movement, just hours after the Academic Senate voted for full free speech on campus." ["Three Months of Crisis: Chronology of Events," California Monthly, (February 1965). Free Speech Movement Chronology, Bancroft Free Speech Digital Archives,]

During the life of SLATE, both as an on campus and off campus group, roughly 850 students were "card carrying" members of SLATE.