Edit ModuleShow Tags

From the Archives: Angela Davis Stirred up Campus Controversy in 1969

The activist and UC San Diego PhD candidate had created an uproar with the university regents


Published:

In the September issue of San Diego Magazine, we meet four fearless women—none of whom are remotely controversial. But in the November 1969 issue, we profiled UC San Diego PhD candidate and UCLA philosophy teacher Angela Davis, who, by identifying as a Marxist and Communist and as a former member of the Black Panther Party, had created an uproar with the university regents. They, along with then-Governor Ronald Reagan, wanted Davis out.

Republican Assemblyman John Stull was quoted by SDM Contributing Editor Harold Keen*: “It seems to me that the faculty and some of the administrators have a death wish. The people of California are sick and tired of paying taxes and seeing this nonsense on the campuses.” Earlier that year, Berkeley residents had seized a UC-owned lot to create People’s Park, and 350 students took over a Harvard administration building, resulting in 40 injuries.

Davis, just 25, was a protégé of UCSD philosophy professor Herbert Marcuse. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Davis had known several of the girls killed in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Davis was highly vocal and refused to keep her political views out of the classroom—just as J. Edgar Hoover was warning the public that Communists were in favor of the “violent and complete destruction of the American Government.”

In trying to dismiss Davis from her teaching position, all kinds of questions emerged—who should control curricula and the appointment of instructors, and therefore the university: the regents or the faculty? Do political beliefs come into play when hiring faculty? Should a professor be able to share his or her political views, as long as they invite criticism? Are young students capable of deciding independently what they want to believe? Davis had many followers on campus, but outsiders feared that students were naturally vulnerable to radicals.

“I’m amazed that then-Governor Reagan, state legislators, and UC regents thought it permissible to weigh in on this question of academic staffing,” says Jonathan Cohen, current professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy at UCSD. “The reasons they offer for their view are bizarre. The evidence they had about Davis’s scholarship and teaching, including the testimony of everyone who interacted with her in any academic capacity, was strongly positive. Setting aside the relevant evidence in order to appeal to their unsubstantiated fears about politically indoctrinating the students is not only unfair: it is procedurally irregular, at odds with the interests of the students and the university, and frankly absurd. I’d like to believe that nothing like this strange episode could happen now.”

Over the decades, Angela Davis has continued to stay in the forefront of activism, most recently as an honorary cochair of the January 21 Women’s March on Washington. Meanwhile, UCSD has been enjoying relatively peaceful vibes—helped in part by this June’s commencement address from the Dalai Lama.

*Harold Keen (1912–1981) anchored San Diego’s first TV news program and interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964. He also contributed to San Diego Magazine for 21 years, and proofread an article he wrote for us the night before he died.

In 1969…

  • UC San Diego was 9 years old
  • Richard Nixon was president
  • Apollo 11 landed on the moon
  • The first US troops withdrew from Vietnam
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

The SoCal (Social Calendar!)

From black-tie galas to costumed 5Ks, these events will keep your social calendar full—and you feeling good

From the Archives: Surfing Like a Girl in 2000

A look back on San Diego surf culture, and the women who spurred a sea change in the sport

Are We Taking Care of Our Seniors?

How San Diego is—and is not—meeting the needs of a growing population
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Best of San Diego 2019
    Our annual compilation of everything delicious, cool, and Instagrammable in San Diego (and Baja!)
  2. Where to Watch the Fireworks in San Diego this Independence Day
    Where to catch the fireworks displays in every corner of the county
  3. What Will San Diego Look like in 2069?
    The City of San Diego is 250! Instead of looking back, we asked experts to predict how our city will look in 50 more years.
  4. The Best San Diego Happy Hours to Get You Through the Week
    All the best spots to take advantage of drink specials, cheap bites and more, from Pacific Beach to South Park
  5. Morning Glory Is a Millennial Wonderland
    The Little Italy restaurant may finally break San Diego's aversion to brunch
  6. A Deep Dive into the San Diego Fishing Industry
    A $2 billion project is poised to revive San Diego’s commercial fishing industry
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles

October is Rideshare Month

Join the Rideshare 2015 Challenge and get there together
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

We Chat With Richard Blais About What’s Cooking at KAABOO This Year

Sponsored by KAABOO Del Mar

Wheelhouse Credit Union Reopens Downtown Branch

Completely remodeled branch brings a modern service experience to members
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags