I matriculated to the University of California at Berkeley in the Fall of 1964. I was a very naive seventeen year old kid from a small town of 3000 people. Consider this! There were 1500 students in my freshman Chemistry 1A class! Some of my dorm mates were in liberal arts classes that contained over 2000 students. Yet some classes, like Speech, Foreign Language, English, and Calculus labs had less than thirty! And of course, having a Nobel or Pulitzer winner as the professor could be rather intimidating, to say the least.
In fact, I could probably place my entire little town easily within the boundaries of the UC campus. And I had to take an elevator to my eighth floor dorm room that had a view of beautiful San Francisco Bay. I could see the bon fires on Alcatraz, started during the Indian takeover of the island after the prison was closed. I could even see the glass elevator go up and down from the Crown Room at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. I could see the ghetto flatlands of Berkeley, the stark contrast to the greatest university in the world. The great city of San Francisco was a 50 cent bus ride away.
Today, I am taking a walk back in time, to amble the Berkeley campus with my eyes and camera lens wide open. I want to remember, and I also want to see the differences. Has the limited state and federal funding affected my beautiful campus? Do the students walk around campus the same way we did back in the sixties and seventies? Will I set foot on the very spot where I once stood or walked some decades ago? Might I even see a familiar face or two?
I will try to remember where I had some classes. I will remember the obvious, like the Campanile (Sather Tower), Sproul Hall (home of the Free Speech Movement), the Bancroft Library, the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall (now Pimentel Hall), Haas Pavilion (formerly Harmon Gym), and the ASUC Student Union Building. I would venture to say that the off campus areas around Bancroft and Telegraph have changed more, and probably not for the better. We had numerous nice men’s and women’s clothing stores back then to choose from. And there must have been a dozen record stores. You do remember licorice pizzas?
Probably the most quixotic place was The Forum, at the corner of Dwight Way and Telly. It was the west coast home of the Beat Generation, aka Beatniks. This was the typical dark coffee house vibe, with coeds in black leotards, guys with black turtlenecks and Fu Manchus, pretending to be extra cool, and extra hip. The patrons were drinking coffee at all hours of the day and night. It seemed nobody spoke or laughed. Perhaps a bongo or guitar played faintly in the background. Of course, sunglasses were worn all night long.
So, some quick observations. Several buildings have been added to the campus, as very little open space remains. A key card is required to get into Latimer Hall where the chemistry labs are located. Some buildings have been renamed. It cost $2 ($1 for seniors) to take the elevator up to the top of the Campanile. I notice far more minority females on campus, especially African-Americans. The coeds still lay in the sun with sundresses or bikini tops between classes. One young coed pulled down her sundress to her waist, as she lay on a large concrete slab in front of the Campanile. But mostly, the student body looks even younger and more naive than I did, so many years ago.
But I made my rounds, passed Boalt Law School, then to the Faculty Glade, and the Faculty Club (great place for lunch) over to LeConte Hall (physics), Pimentel Lecture Hall, Latimer Hall (chem lab), up to the top of the Campanile, Stephens Hall (the old student union building), Bancroft Library, the Life Science Building (
was at one time the largest building of any educational institution, California Hall (calculus), Dwinelle Hall (liberal arts and language), Wheeler Hall (history, poli sci, psych), Zellerbach Hall (performing arts), Sproul Hall, and finally the Student Union and Bear’s Lair.
It was a glorious spring day, reminding me of many previous spring days on campus. Missing were frisbee throwers, dogs off leash, student athletes in their blue and gold, and the Asian American social club at Dwinelle Plaza, which was my personal favorite. Yet, it is the most diverse place on the planet. And nobody seems to notice my gray hair. Some young lady even offered me her seat on BART this morning! I felt so glad that my undergraduate days are over. But, I still long to sit in a classroom or auditorium for a lecture, to take notes from a learned scholar, to argue the merits of an author with a classmate. Learning is still in my blood, and will remain part of me until I die.
We commonly sat in on lectures by famous professors. Dr. Edward Teller actually taught a bonehead physics class for liberal arts majors, once every few years. The lecture hall was packed, not so much with students registered for his class, but students like me who wanted to see and hear the famous man. Same for Dr. Melvin Calvin, the 1961 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry for discovering the complete path of carbon in the photosynthetic process. Of course, many roamed around campus, almost unnoticed by the student body. Dr. Glenn Seaborg discovered plutonium in 1942, was a campus regular at the Faculty Club. Leon Litwak won the 1980 Pulitzer for Been in the Storm So Long, was a history professor, when I challenged the course. Other professors were part of FDR’s New Deal, or JFK’s New Frontier. Some were advisers to foreign countries.
Mostly, a University campus is about hope, hope for the future, and a better world. This latest generation will be the wage earners, mothers and fathers, inventors and number crunchers, ambassadors and business leaders. They face an enormous challenge, for we have left them a mess of an environment, a global economy that is difficult to manage and understand, and conflicts of every color and religion. These innocent fresh faces will soon be wearing suits to work, and commuting on BART. It is a frightening thought.
Talking to people on campus, many felt that today’s students are not as dedicated or motivated as past students. But with rigid admission requirements, and costly tuition and books, I find it hard to believe these kids are just killing time. The cost of my school year was $121.50 incidental fee per semester, and $440 for room and board (20 meals) in the dormitory. Add books and a few trips home. The total cost was about $1600 per year. Living on campus as I did, the cost today for the same education is $31,534 per year. The good news is that 64% of all undergraduates receive some form of financial aid. And Berkeley educates more economically disadvantaged than all of the Ivy league schools combined.
In any given year, more than 4000 UC Berkeley students do volunteer work. Berkeley is the only school in the US to have produced more than 3000 Peace Corps volunteers, since 1961 when it was started by JFK. And 52% of Berkeley seniors have participated in faculty research and special projects. More than 7000 courses are offered in 350 degree programs. The Berkeley campus produces more Ph.D.’s than any other US university. The average composite SAT score for freshmen admitted in 2010 is 2031. The average grade point on a scale of 4.0 is 4.19 for high school grade points admitted as freshmen. The student to faculty ratio in 2009 was 15.1 to one. The campus occupies 1232 acres, with almost 36,000 students. The library is rated as the best public university library in the US. And 79 teams have won NCAA sports championships.
Besides famous alumni like Steve Wozniak, Alice Waters, Eric Schmidt, and me, there are many fictional grads. The most famous is 24’s Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who received a Masters of Science in “Criminology and Law” from Berkeley. Other famous fictional grads are Joannie Caucus of Doonesbury, C.J. Cregg of the “West Wing”, and Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter on “The Graduate”. Speaking of fictitious, I wonder what ever happened to my chemistry professor, Dr. Charles Sederholm? I somehow managed to get the highest grade in his chemistry 1B class.
But the campus is clean, and the buildings looked pretty well maintained. The Libraries were full of books and periodicals. Perhaps what I did not see might ultimately hurt the University. That would be top quality professors, lecturers, and graduate students. Only time will tell.