Kerr Reacts to Past and Present FBI Involvement

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Seth Rosenfeld began his 17-year odyssey to uncover the FBI's involvement in the firing of then UC President Clark Kerr as a reporter for The Daily Californian.

"I did some stories when I was with The Daily Cal about some FBI files, and I realize there must be more there. So I submitted a much larger (Freedom of Information Act) request," Rosenfeld says. "I'm glad to be getting the information out to the public. I had no idea it would take this long."

In the name of national security, the FBI unlawfully gathered information on Free Speech Movement members and UC faculty, and worked with elected officials to fire former UC President Clark Kerr, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday.

Rosenfeld became interested in the FBI presence at UC Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement when he was an undergraduate journalism student at UC Berkeley and a Daily Cal writer.

Clark Kerr, who was UC president during the turbulent Free Speech Movement, was fired after then Gov. Ronald Reagan's election and campaign pledge to clean up "the mess at Berkeley." Kerr had come under fire for his handling of the Free Speech Movement because of his reluctance to use police force against students.

In a telephone interview, Kerr said Reagan was motivated by politics.

"I think there was nothing personal about it. (Reagan) was just trying to get elected and then got to be governor, and decided the first thing to do was to clean up the mess of Berkeley and to clean me up," Kerr says. "I never really had a chance to get to know him-not that it would have helped."

Although much has changed at UC Berkeley since the Free Speech Movement, the university currently faces a similar conundrum with heightened homeland security worries.

"I know there are proposals to increase the authority of the FBI and...given this international terrorism, it's bound (to happen)," Kerr says. "The difficulties (I had) were really not that the FBI was following its rules in my particular case. They went outside the rules."

Kerr brought up the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision on June 12, 1995, which declared the FBI's behavior "unlawful" with regard to their continued investigation of Clark Kerr, the university and Free Speech Movement members.

"Take a look at the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, a pretty strong decision by a federal court about the FBI when they acted with an illegitimate law enforcement purpose," Kerr says. "In American history, there can't be illegitimate law enforcement. That's a very, very severe condemnation."

Kerr says that his difficulties with the FBI were mainly a reflection of their "unlawful" behavior, and he cautions against trampling the rights of people.

"I think it's quite clear there are going to be some new rules and they may be quite tough," Kerr says. "But we have to be very careful that the rights of individual Americans aren't sacrificed in the course of it all."

Rosenfeld discovered the story as a result of a senior project at the journalism school.

"I did write some stories of the FBI on campus," Rosenfeld says. "That's how I first got interested in it, and then it became a class project at the journalism school. I was very curious about this history at Berkeley and wanted to know what the government was up to, so I filed this (Freedom of Information Act) request. I think it shed light on a turbulent historic period of time."

The FBI documents required to write the articles took three lawsuits and went all the way to the Supreme Court.

"The government spent nearly a million dollars in trying to improperly withhold public information," Rosenfeld says. "The FBI's position is it was trying to investigate possible federal crimes and to protect national security, and that's a proper job for the FBI."

Kerr is often credited with bringing academic excellence to the UC system.

Improving the academic standing of UC Berkeley, giving more power to chancellors, accommodating a tidal wave of students and creating lifetime tenure are just a few of the accomplishments that Kerr lists.

Kerr was also involved in the expansion of several smaller UCs to accommodate the increasing amount of students that would triple in a span of 10 years.

Rosenfeld's article reveals "a secret history, a secret part of California History."

Kerr declined to comment on what the future may hold but says, "What the situation might be in the future depends on the leadership from here on out."


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