Design Radicals: Creativity and Protest at Wurster Hall, UC Berkeley

This is the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, and one of its immediate legacies was an outpouring of creative and political energy that blossomed at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design in the spring of 1970. An exhibition of posters, experimental structures, and other phenomena are on display at CED’s library gallery October 16 – December 19, 2014.

For more, see the CED web posting.


CSA selects Susan Straight for Carey McWilliams Award. Straight will give keynote at CSA conference April 26

The California Studies Association issued the following press release today:

For immediate release

March 10, 2014

Contact: Rachel Brahinsky  — rbrahinsky (at)

California Studies Association to award writer Susan Straight with Carey McWilliams honor.  April 26 conference at University of California, Berkeley will highlight Straight’s work as part of a day focused on the theme “California on Fire.”

*Note that our conference location has changed since earlier announcements. The event will be held – free and open to the public – at UC Berkeley*

The California Studies Association, a statewide group devoted to scholarship and new thinking on the history, politics and cultures of California, is honoring writer Susan Straight at its annual conference. The one-day conference, to be held April 26, from 9 AM – 5:30 PM in UC Berkeley’s McCone Hall, is titled California on Fire, and will feature panels that address the literal and metaphorical fires consuming the state – from climate change to the real estate market. Straight will give the keynote conference talk. See below for the complete schedule.

The California Studies Association

The California Studies Association (CSA) is an independent organization, dedicated to the exchange of ideas about California, the promotion of an integrated understanding of California as a region, and to creating a public discourse on the future of this richly textured state. The CSA embraces the broadest spectrum of concerns about California, its people, politics, economy, environment, science, arts, history, and literature. Through an annual California Studies Conference and other programs, the Association creates a public forum for the discussion of California, past, present and future. It promotes public education about California and serves as an umbrella group for California Studies programs at all educational levels.

The Association includes people from every walk of life: faculty and teachers, students, policy makers, labor organizers, business people, local historians, writers and artists. It features the contributions of everyone who studies California, makes practical contributions to the State, or seeks to express the fabric of this multiethnic society. It values the cross-fertilization of ideas between fields of expertise and around the state and emphatically maintains a balance of academics and non-academics in its leadership, membership and activities.

CSA seeks deeper bonds among all Californians and a stronger sense of the common weal, through networks of small and large institutions, across diverse communities, and among activists, experts, civil servants, writers, artists and performers. It hails the discovery of better ways to live and work in California and more enlightened public policies that serve the broadest definition of the people of this state.

Carey McWilliams Award

Straight is our 2014 selection for the Carey McWilliams Award, which is given each year to a writer, scholar, or artist who lives up to the best tradition of McWilliams’s work. That is, someone whose artistic vision, moral force, and intellectual clarity give voice to the people of California, their needs and desires, sufferings, struggles, and triumphs.

McWilliams (1905–1980) is best known for his writings about California, including the condition of migrant farm workers and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. His activism took other forms as well. In the early 1940s, he led a campaign to overturn the convictions of mostly Latino youths following the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial. He also helped cool the city’s temperature during the Zoot Suit Riots, when scuffles between servicemen and Latino youths spun out of control. From 1955 to 1975, he edited The Nation magazine, where he sponsored important investigative reporting as well as trenchant social, political, and cultural analysis.

Previous McWilliams Award honorees include Maxine Hong Kingston, Mike Davis, Laura Pulido, Robert Gottleib, Peter Schrag, and Kevin Starr, among others.

Susan Straight

A professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, Susan Straight is the author of eight novels, dozens of short stories and essays, and commentaries that have appeared in a variety of publications and web sites.  She was a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of an Edgar prize, among many other honors and awards.

Straight is a native of Riverside and still lives in the working class neighborhood where she grew up, and she’s part of an extended multiethnic Riverside family of about 200 relatives. Straight writes about multiethnic working class people whose lives are difficult and often tragic. While most of her characters live in Rio Seco, she stretches their stories back to family roots in the African American South and the rural villages of Mexico.

Walter Mosley says that Straight’s work creates “an alley, a neighborhood, a history that is as rich and tragic as any Shakespearean tale.”  The Los Angeles Times observes that  “you’ve never seen writing like this about this part of Southern California—the parking lots and backyards, the dusty foliage no one bothers to name.”  The Boston Globe says that despite their often tragic lives, Straight’s characters “still recognize the splendor of the natural world, from the pepper trees behind the taqueria to the orange blossoms in the alley scenting the midnight air.”  This spring Susan Straight will also receive the Los Angeles Times Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement in literature.

One of her novels tells the story of a Black firefighter in the 1990s and she plans to focus her talk at the CSA conference around that text and the ways that fire shapes life in Southern California.

Call for Maps and Graphics Still Open!

Please note that the Call for Films has been cancelled but the Call for Maps and Graphics – to be displayed in large format during the conference is still open. See our website for details.


California Studies 24th Annual Conference: California on Fire

Preliminary Schedule: Please see our website for conference registration (available soon). The event is free and open to the public, but please register so we know how much coffee to pour!

9:00 AM – Coffee & Registration

9:30 –  Welcome: Rachel Brahinsky, CSA steering committee chair

9:45-11:15  – Session One: “FIRE” Power: Finance, Insurance, Real Estate.  The institutions fanning the flames

Dominique Tan, Resident & Community Organizer, East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO)

Darwin Bond Graham, PhD, Sociologist and Journalist

Sarah Knuth, PhD Candidate, Geography UC Berkeley

Moderator: Javier Arbona, California College of the Arts

11:15-11:30  Break

11:30 AM -1:00 PM – Session Two: Is it getting hot in here? California in the age of climate chaos

Jason Henderson, Professor of Geography, San Francisco State University

Sabrina Bornstein, Environmental Programs Specialist , South Bay Cities Council of Governments

Celeste LeCompte, journalist and co-founder of Climate Confidential

Moderator: Alex Tarr, UC Berkeley

1:00-2:00  Lunch Break 

2:15-3:30 – Keynote & Carey McWilliams Award Presentation — Susan Straight, award-winning novelist, essayist and social critic

Award Presentation by Rachel Brahinsky and Charles Wollenberg

3:30-3:45  Break

3:45-5:15 – Session Three: Fighting Fire: Community responses to the urban crisis

Erin McElroy, founder and director, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

Ron Sundstrom, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy, University of San Francisco

Eric Ares, Los Angeles Community Action Network

Moderator: Rachel Brahinsky, University of San Francisco

California Design Research Group Graduate Student Colloquium: New Thinking About California

The California Design Research Group, which comprises scholars in the University of California system whose research concerns Californian architecture, landscape architecture, and design, announces its first bi-annual Graduate Student Colloquium: New Thinking About California.

PhD candidates from Europe and the United States will present papers on topics addressing Californian architecture, landscape architecture, and design.

  • When: Saturday, 8 March 2014, from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, with a reception to follow from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm.
  • Where: 101 Wurster Hall, University of California, Berkeley (near College Avenue and Bancroft Way).
  • More information: contact us at:
  • Download the poster here.


What is it really like to be “at Berkeley” — ?

Here’s one UC Berkeley graduate student-activist’s critical response to the film At Berkeley,posted with the author’s permission. Full link below:

At Some Other Berkeley


Frederick Wiseman’s At Berkeley mistakes the enemies of public higher education for its defenders.

The University of California at Berkeley has long been considered the gold standard of public higher education in the US. But the university’s “public” character has come under attack in recent years.

Every semester, jaws hit the floor when I tell my students how much it cost to study at Berkeley when I started there as an undergraduate in 2002. Their tuition today is roughly $14,000 a year; mine, just ten years ago, was roughly $4,000. As a result, the university has become less and less accessible to disadvantaged and under-represented students and, except for those wealthy students whose numbers have risen, the undergraduate experience at Berkeley, as elsewhere, is today shaped to a large extent by the experience of indebtedness and economic insecurity.


[photo: Michael Moore/ Flicker, via]

Frederick Wiseman’s latest film At Berkeley, shot at the university in the fall of 2010, documents daily life at the university during the second year of the financial crisis. The film is motivated by an admirable commitment to advancing the ideal of a public world-class university open to students from all walks of life at a moment when that ideal is under threat as never before.

But Wiseman’s message, implicit in the film and explicit its promotion, is that it is the campus administration that has mounted the defense of public higher education in California. A look at the recent history of austerity at Berkeley shows that students and workers are the ones who have made tremendous sacrifices to defend the public university, despite the violence and repression sanctioned by the very administrators At Berkeley appears to celebrate.

The four-hour documentary is a celebration of the intellectual environment (and aesthetic beauty) of the Berkeley campus, showcasing star instructors teaching classes in a variety of fields to bright and engaged undergraduates. These scenes, characterized by a certain quality of timelessness, are spliced alongside scenes of administrators’ meetings on how to manage the budget crisis. The effect is to underline for the viewer how much, and what exactly, the California public stands to lose through the defunding of its universities, creating a sense of urgency through a lovingly-rendered documentation of this public good.

The administration’s line has always been that students should join them in pushing for more funding from the state house in Sacramento; in lieu of higher levels of funding, however, difficult decisions would have to be made by administrators — and accepted by students and workers — on the campuses.

Students and workers, on the other hand, while pressing for increased funding from the state, have always maintained that in the absence of higher levels of funding, administrators must prioritize maintaining access and equity at the university for low-income students, students of color and campus workers.

Despite the budget crisis and the supposed need for austerity, the number of non-academic managerial positions, and average pay for these positions, has ballooned during the same period that low-wage workers were being fired and furloughed and tuition was skyrocketing. The statewide and campus governing bodies of the public university systems have become heavily stacked with business and finance leaders, predictably resulting in the increasingly corporatized character of these public entities.

The crisis at the California universities, therefore, has been as much a crisis of administrative priorities as it has been a crisis of the state budget. And by repressing student and worker protests on the campuses, which were arguably the most effective form of pressure on legislators, administrators actually made it less likely that higher levels of funding would be forthcoming from the state. In fact, the administration has consistently played the role of enforcer of UC’s privatization through the use of police violence and legal repression.

But Wiseman’s film lacks any context for understanding the dual crisis of university administration priorities and social welfare state retrenchment during the financial crisis. Without this context, the dramatic high-point of the film – a student protest directed at campus administrators – reads as little more than a misguided non-sequitur. This is an egregious oversight on Wiseman’s part, but one that should not have been difficult to anticipate — he basically embedded his film crew with the administration, producing a film that reads more like an advertisement put out by the university’s public relations department than a serious political documentary.

The neoliberal response to the global economic crisis has included the privatization of public goods including education, which has propelled the development of massive, militant student movements in the UK, Chile, Puerto Rico, Quebec and California, among other places, since 2008. Privatization dispossesses students of a social good, our universities, created by and for the public at the same time that university workers are dispossessed of their livelihoods and pensions.

In 2009, a year before Wiseman’s film was shot, students at the University of California, the California State University and the Community College systems faced unprecedented tuition hikes, and workers faced unprecedented attacks on their livelihoods, due to cuts in state funding and administrative refusal to reorganize budgets in order to maintain equity.

In response, students across the state from California’s three-tier public university system, the largest public higher education system in the country, engaged in a series of… [To keep reading, see the original article here, on Jacobin.]

California Studies Dinner Seminar: Spring 2014 Schedule

Thursday, January 16  TOMAS SUMMERS SANDOVAL, Pomona College, on his new book, “Latinos at the Golden Gate”

Wednesday, February 19  JOSHUA BRAHINSKY, UC Santa Cruz, on “Pulled Between Fundamentalist and Evangelical: Pentecostal Higher Education in Central California”

Tuesday March 18  DICK WALKER, UC Berkeley, on his new book, “The Atlas of California”

Thursday, May 15  PATRICIA WAKIDA, author and editor, on her Los Angeles Atlas Project

UC Berkeley Labor Center, 2521` Channing Way, 7-9 p.m.

Free admission and dinner

Contact Myra Armstrong,

Gray Brechin Ph.D. Lecture – The First “Big Game” at Cal: John Galen Howard vs. Julia Morgan & Bernard Maybeck

Lecture hosted by the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art – Northern California
Monday, May 13, 2013 – 6:00pm
The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco

Gray Brechin’s talk will illustrate University of California Berkeley campus architectural triumphs, such as the Hearst Greek Theatre, Hearst Mining Building, and Hearst Gymnasium, which were born from spirited competition between three of the Bay Area’s most distinguished architects.
For more information, see the ICAA-NC website.

New Free Speech Movement photos

It’s hard to believe that history hasn’t been picked clean as years go by, but as an archivist I’m always amazed about new content that surfaces. Check out these color images taken during the confrontations at Sproul Hall in 1964, with the story of their accession. Thanks to FSM historian Barbara Stack for scanning and posting them.

“Making Cents” Conference in Berkeley Will Address State Budget Crisis Oct. 22

An group of graduate students in several departments at UC Berkeley including, City and Regional Planning, Sociology, the School of Education and the Berkeley Law School, along with many co-sponsors, have organized a conference to take place Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 at the Berkeley Law School to address the state’s budget crisis. Entitled, “Making Cents: Forging a New California in a Time of Crisis” the conference will address “the causes of the California budget crisis, the impact across diverse communities, and the most innovative short-term and long-term strategies for forging a new California in this crisis.”

For more information and to register to attend, click this link.

New Journal Announcement: California Journal of Politics and Policy

In what constitutes a landmark in the study of California, the Berkeley Electronic Press and the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, have announced the launch of a new electronic journal, California Journal of Politics and Policy, the first academic journal devoted to California.

The journal’s first issue offers immediate analysis on key debates in redistricting, the state budget, Proposition 11, and California demographics.

From the new journal’s website:

A bellwether and testing ground for emerging trends in policy and political developments, California’s politics reverberate around the world. California Journal of Politics and Policy is the only journal devoted to this unique state, publishing peer-reviewed research and commentary on state and local government, electoral politics, and policy formation and implementation, in California and in relation to national and international developments. Edited by leading experts James Q. Wilson (Pepperdine University), Jack Citrin (University of California, Berkeley), and Bruce E. Cain (University of California Washington Center), California Journal of Politics and Policy will appeal to scholars, practitioners, journalists, policymakers, officeholders, and anyone needing to understand the newest directions in state politics and policy.

The editors of the journal are

James Q. Wilson
Pepperdine University

Jack Citrin
University of California, Berkeley

Bruce E. Cain
University of California, Berkeley

Jerry Lubenow
University of California, Berkeley

The table of contents of the first issue is the following:


Reflections on “Redistricting and Legislative Partisanship”

Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California discusses the do’s and don’ts of redistricting reform.

Redistricting Reform Could Save California from Itself

Matthew Jarvis of Cal State Fullerton suggests that good redistricting reforms could help solve California’s budget woes.

Redistricting Reform Will Not Solve California’s Budget Crisis

Justin Buchler of Case Western disagrees, and argues against redistricting reform as the answer to California’s budget crisis.

How Geopolitics Cleaved California’s Republicans and United Its Democrats

Thad Kousser of UC San Diego explains the new mosaic of blue and red districts.


Tony Quinn of the California Target Book and Darry Sragow of USC each offer their take on Proposition 11.

Proposition 11 – What Will It Do?

Tony Quinn

Proposition 11 – What It Will Do

Darry Sragow

Origins of a Stalemate

Tony Quinn of the California Target Book then turns to the historical decisions that have led California to today’s budget stalemate.

Book Reviews

Sorting It Out: Review of The Big Sort

Bruce Cain of the UC Washington Center reviews The Big Sort, a new book by Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing.

“Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century”; at the Berkeley YWCA Jan. 22

The UC Berkeley Labor Center, Institute for the Study of Social Change, Institute of Governmental Studies, and Chicano Studies are sponsoring an evening with Randy Shaw, author of the new book Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. In Beyond the Fields, Shaw reveals the untold story of how the spirit of “Si Se Puede” that began with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in the 1960s still sets the course for today’s social justice movements. Shaw finds that the influence of Chavez and the UFW has ranged far and wide: in labor campaigns like Justice for Janitors, in the building of Latino political power, in the fight for environmental justice, in the growing national movement for immigrant rights, and even in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. In fact, many of the ideas, tactics and strategies that Chavez and the UFW so skillfully employed, like grassroots organizing and the cultivation of young activist talent, were integrated into the Obama campaign and overseen by former UFW disciples like Marshall Ganz.

Thurs., Jan. 22, 2009, 6:30 p.m.

YWCA Berkeley
2600 Bancroft Way
Berkeley (2 blocks from the Labor Center)

For more information contact Andrea Buffa,, 510-642-6371.

Ishmael Reed to Speak in Berkeley

Critically acclaimed author, MacArthur fellow, and Oakland resident Ishmael Reed will speak Oct. 22, 2008, at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley in a talk sponsored by Berkeley Arts and Letters.

From the Berkeley Arts and Letters website: Reed “takes on the mainstream media for its misrepresentation of African Americans, calling out new outlets as diverse as CNN, the New Republic, the New York Times, and Imus in the Morning. At once Reed’s response to his critics and an attempt to open a candid public dialogue on African American issues, MIXING IT UP paints a complex portrait of the landscape of American journalism and exposes the often-overlooked prejudices of even the most respected news organizations as Reed looks at Katrina coverage as well as media portrayals of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, and Barack Obama. ‘One of the tasks of this book is to challenge media bullies and encourage members of the underclass to do the same. If a high school and college dropout who spent years living in the projects can do it, so can they,’ notes Reed.”

7:30 PM at First Congregational Church of Berkeley (2345 Channing Way at Dana, Berkeley) Tickets $10 at the door., no one turned away for lack of funds.