BERKELEY, Calif., Jan. 13 – In her own day, the Lithuanian-born anarchist Emma Goldman roused emotions including considerable fear with her advocacy of radical causes like organized labor, atheism, sexual freedom and opposition to military conscription.
“Emma Goldman is a woman of great ability and personal magnetism, and her persuasive powers are such to make her an exceedingly dangerous woman,” Francis Caffey, the United States attorney in New York, wrote in 1917.
Goldman died in 1940, more than two decades after being deported to Russia with other anarchists in the United States who opposed World War I. Now her words are the source of deep consternation once again, this time at the University of California, which has housed Goldman’s papers for the past 23 years.
In an unusual showdown over freedom of expression, university officials have refused to allow a fund-raising appeal for the Emma Goldman Papers Project to be mailed because it quoted Goldman on the subjects of suppression of free speech and her opposition to war. The university deemed the topics too political as the country prepares for possible military action against Iraq.
In one of the quotations, from 1915, Goldman called on people “not yet overcome by war madness to raise their voice of protest, to call the attention of the people to the crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated on them.” In the other, from 1902, she warned that free-speech advocates “shall soon be obliged to meet in cellars, or in darkened rooms with closed doors, and speak in whispers lest our next-door neighbors should hear that free-born citizens dare not speak in the open.”
Berkeley officials said the quotations could be construed as a political statement by the university in opposition to United States policy toward Iraq. Candace S. Falk, the director of the project and author of the appeal, acknowledged that the excerpts were selected because of their present-day resonance. But Dr. Falk said they reflected Goldman’s views, not the university’s policies.
Robert M. Price, the associate vice chancellor for research, said, “It wasn’t from nowhere that these quotes randomly happened to fall on the page.” Dr. Falk “was making a political point, and that is inappropriate in an official university solicitation,” he said.
Dr. Price edited the fund-raising appeal, striking the two quotations. A third quotation – “the most violent element in society is ignorance” – was not removed. “We didn’t think that was political,” Dr. Price said. About 400 of the altered solicitation letters were mailed late last month.
The university’s action has infuriated Dr. Falk and her small staff, who work out of a cramped former dentist’s office a few blocks from campus. It has also raised concerns among scholars at similar documentary editing projects about academic freedom and free speech.
It was at Berkeley in 1964 that the free speech movement got its start when the administration tried to limit the political activities of students.
“I feel this is not the way the university either should or wants to operate,” said Robert H. Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, another documentary editing project at Berkeley. “We just got through creating the Free Speech Cafe on campus, and we have a free speech archive. How many times does this have to happen at Berkeley before they learn?”
Roger Bruns, the acting executive director at the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which is part of the National Archives in Washington, said he had never heard of a university objecting to a documentary editing project using quotations from its subject. The commission provides financing for 40 such projects, including some for the Goldman Project.
“If it were repeated a number of times, it would have a chilling effect,” Mr. Bruns said.
In protest, Dr. Falk withheld the revised solicitation from most people on the project’s mailing list of 3,000. She then had an alternative mailing printed at her own expense.
“You can’t work on the Emma Goldman Papers Project and fold on something like this,” said Dr. Falk, who sent out 60 of the new solicitations last week. “We just had to find a way to get this out.”
Since 1980, the project’s annual mailing for donations had included at least one quotation from Goldman, often with current events in mind, Dr. Falk said. After Sept. 11, the project sent out a bookmark with a one from 1912: “Out of the chaos, the future emerges in harmony and beauty.”
Dr. Falk called the university’s editing censorship and said it violated the spirit of Goldman’s work, which emphasized freedom of expression. During a time when many universities depend heavily on government grants and contracts, she accused the Berkeley officials of worrying too much about crossing the Bush administration.
“Sadly it is the politics of scarcity and fear, that instead of opening up they have shut down,” Dr. Falk said. “We are a group with a lot of integrity on a campus that has a lot of financial problems. We are like the canary in the mine."
Robert Cohen, an associate professor at New York University and a co-editor of a new book about the free speech movement said the university’s action reminded him of the 1950’s. At that time, Professor Cohen said, professors were barred from identifying themselves as employees when they participated in outside activities deemed political.
“This strikes me as being a sign of the times, that something has changed in the political climate and people are more tense in the administration,” said Professor Cohen, who worked at the Goldman Project while in graduate school at Berkeley and remains a consulting editor.
Last Wednesday, Dr. Falk hand-delivered a five-page letter to the office of Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl that detailed her concerns.
Dr. Falk said she received a telephone call from the chancellor on Thursday in which she said he sympathized with her viewpoint. Though nothing changed as a result of the conversation, Dr. Falk said the chancellor assured her that “there would be no retaliation” against the Goldman Project for speaking out against the university’s action.
George Strait, an assistant vice chancellor for public affairs, said that the decision to remove the quotations “did not rise to the chancellor level,” but that Dr. Berdahl was aware of the dispute.
“He doesn’t necessarily feel the two quotes make a direct political statement, but he understands how someone can infer that they do," Mr. Strait said.
Mr. Strait said the dispute was not a free speech issue. “Clearly Ms. Falk had one opinion on the best way to raise money for the Emma Goldman Papers Project, and the person with direct responsibility for supervising that project had another,” he said. “At best, what we are talking about here is a difference of opinion between two people who are valued members of the Berkeley community."
Leon F. Litwack, a professor of history who until recently was the liaison between the administration and the Goldman Project, said the university’s explanations did not ring true. In purely scholarly terms, Professor Litwack said, the project had the right to quote any of Goldman’s works, so long as the excerpts were not abridged in a manner that altered the meaning.
As such, he said, Goldman’s views already appear in many forms associated with the university – from university publications to high-school curriculum materials prepared by the project to an Internet site (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Goldman/) – but no one has suggested that they are an endorsement of Goldman’s views by the university.
“It seems the administration is mocking freedom of expression by limiting it,” Professor Litwack said. “The First Amendment belongs to no single group or ideology, but that message is often difficult to implement even at the University of California, Berkeley."
Dr. Price, the associate vice chancellor, said the central issue was not the content of Goldman’s quotations.
“We are not saying these quotes should never appear anywhere in the publications of the Emma Goldman Papers Project, but that they are not appropriate in the context that Candace Falk put them in,” he said. “She can disagree with us, but it is not a matter of the First Amendment.”
New York Times, 14 January 2003