NEWS RELEASE, 04/29/98

UC Berkeley to honor Mario Savio, Free Speech Movement with library gift, café

By Jesús Mena and José Rodríguez

BERKELEY -- Thirty-three years after Mario Savio mounted the roof of a police car to defend free speech at the University of California, Berkeley, the campus is honoring his name and the movement he started with a much-needed endowment for books, a University Library café, and a digitized archive at the Bancroft Library.

Thanks to a major gift by alumnus and former library employee Stephen M. Silberstein, UC Berkeley will establish an endowment to supplement state appropriations for the University Library's collections, which have been the focal point of concern by faculty and students. It also will build a Library café honoring the significance of Savio and the Free Speech Movement of 1964.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl will acknowledge the $3.5-million gift at a 10:00 a.m. press conference today (4/29/98) in the James K. Moffitt Undergraduate Library, a year and a half after Savio's death and 33 years after Savio exhorted other UC Berkeley students to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of speech, including the right to express political views.

Berdahl, a historian, called the Free Speech Movement a unique moment in post-World War II America and said the gift is an acknowledgment of the impact of Savio and the events of 1964 - a reconciliation with history.

"Inherent in Berkeley's excellence in the postwar era has been the free and open expression of ideas by all members of the university community: an assumption that many of us may take for granted," Berdahl said. "No one would disagree that the Free Speech Movement had a significant role in placing the American university center stage in the free flow of political ideas, no matter how controversial."

To restrict speech may seem puzzling to anyone who was not on a college campus prior to 1964, Berdahl said. Before the Free Speech Movement, the University of California and many other universities placed restrictions on advocating political causes on campus.

The Free Speech Movement left its mark on the UC Berkeley campus after just three months of intense activism in the fall of 1964.

Events were set in motion on Oct. 1, 1964, when campus police arrested 24-year-old Jack Weinberg for violating the ban on campus politics when he set up an unauthorized table in Sproul Plaza on behalf of The Congress on Racial Equality. For the next 32 hours, students blocked the police car with Weinberg inside, while Savio and others took turns climbing atop it to deliver speech after speech defending the right to freedom of expression.

These actions led to three months of unprecedented activism, culminating in a student strike and sit-in at Sproul Hall on Dec. 2, 1964. Police and law-enforcement officials moved in and arrested nearly 800 protesters in what was the largest mass arrest in California history.

In the days following, the UC Berkeley Faculty voted to drop university restrictions on speech.

"We owe no small debt to Mario Savio and the individuals who made up the Free Speech Movement," Silberstein said. "Despite great personal and family sacrifice, they spoke up for the ideals upon which our society is based and in which we all believe: a more just world, civil rights, and the removal of limitations on the free discussion and advocacy of ideas. That we enjoy these freedoms today is due, in part, to the efforts of Mario, who was by all accounts a very quiet and modest person, and to the many others who made up the Free Speech Movement."

He added: "I am honored to help keep alive the memory of Mario and the FSM, so that future generations can appreciate the tremendous amount that they accomplished here. To do so by supporting the University Library, one of the world's truly great libraries, is something I imagine Mario would appreciate, given his love of learning and ideas. Thus, it is a double honor to be able to do this."

Silberstein worked at the University Library for 10 years before co-founding his own company, Innovative Interfaces. The Emeryville-based company develops automated systems for libraries, including more than 700 college and university libraries around the world.

The gift by Silberstein will fund three components of the Library:

  • The Mario Savio/Free Speech Movement Endowment. This fund will supplement state appropriations for the University Library's collections budget, addressing a critical component of UC Berkeley's current capital campaign.

State budget allocations no longer provide enough funds to support adequate research collections for UC Berkeley's 151 doctoral programs - the most at any university in the country, with many programs top-ranked in their fields. The rising cost of scholarly materials has also made it difficult for the University Library to keep its collections current and comprehensive.

  • The Free Speech Movement Café. This 1,460-square-foot café will give students, faculty and the UC Berkeley community an opportunity to engage in further discourse about the Free Speech Movement and, using permanent and rotating exhibits, to learn more about the history of the period.

  • The Free Speech Movement Archives at the Bancroft Library. This will allow the Bancroft Library to enhance, preserve and digitize its collection documenting the history of the Free Speech Movement, the contributions of its participants, and its impact on personal and social levels. This will expand access to UC Berkeley's already extensive body of materials on the subject and also will make the archives available to audiences worldwide via the Internet.

The gift honors the man and the movement that changed campus life at UC Berkeley and universities around the world. Savio raised a family after he left campus, and while shying from the limelight, remained firm to principles of activism and social justice, speaking out on behalf of a variety of causes up until his death in 1996.

Savio articulated with eloquence a reason for confronting social ills, Chancellor Berdahl said, and he brought to Berkeley a conviction that the campus was connected to the rest of the world, that an education was acquired both inside and outside the classroom.

While the gift forms a small part of UC Berkeley's Campaign for the New Century, it is among the largest gifts ever for the University Library, the fourth-largest academic research library in the United States and Canada in terms of the number of items in its collections.

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