Not-so-Secret Society

Dev Chatterji thinks Cal needs some secrets to be fun. Tell him yours at [email protected]





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Out of the 30,000 students who attend UC Berkeley, only about 200 have a voice as to what goes on. I'm not talking about the ASUC. This is something older and more menacing. They are perhaps the oldest and most powerful group on campus. Meeting twice a month, the decisions they reach on campus issues soon manifest themselves as UC policy. With a membership list that includes Chancellor Berdahl, Clark Kerr and Walter Haas, it's no surprise that this group has so much clout over campus policy. Because they are so vast and powerful, with tentacles existing in every department, every college and every association at UC Berkeley, there has never been an exposť written about them-until today.

The ranks of this order consist of a veritable Who's Who in the campus community. What organization could I be talking about? A name many students have never heard-The Order of the Golden Bear.

This week, I'm going to break the conspiracy of silence wide open.

Two weeks ago I ended my story as we were about to exit the Tunnels. We emerged from a steam grate that night near the College of Chemistry path right by the Faculty Club. It was 3 a.m., and dawn was fast approaching. For two of my friends, one tunneling adventure was enough.

This left only my friend Robert and me. We walked into Faculty Glade and went over our whole tunneling experience while looking over our map. We were so caught up in our adventure, it was several minutes before we noticed the presence of two other people in Faculty Glade.

At first we thought nothing of it-until we saw three more people materialize out of nowhere. From our viewpoint-only accessible via our path from the Tunnels-we had a clear view of the figures down below.

Five figures near the Faculty Club soon became seven, which soon became 10. At the end of 15 minutes, my friend and I had witnessed some 20 people emerge from the bushes and out into Faculty Glade. And just as quickly as they seemed to have materialized out of thin air, they soon parted ways and dispersed.

The situation was unique. We had just witnessed something secret go down right in the middle of campus.

The next morning, Robert and I ventured back into the glade. As we came upon where the shadowy figures had stood the night before, we saw a path leading into the bushes. What we saw in them confounded us, however.

The area between the Faculty Club, which we had once thought to be full of bushes, turned out to have only a single building-something on the campus map known as Senior Hall. There was no name on the outside. Furthermore, it was shaped like a log cabin. There was a big throne on one side of the room and a full-size portrait of someone on the other side.

We would have investigated more, but all of a sudden the shutters came down. I saw a hint of movement within the cabin and heard footsteps coming to the doorway. The entrance had been locked from the inside, and there didn't even seem to be a way to unlock the door from the outside. And now someone was opening the door from the inside! Common sense dictated that Robert and I should run away. Curiosity demanded that we stay and investigate. In the end we ran away.

We never again talked about that day when we came so close to the secret cult on campus. However, my mind wouldn't rest. It wrestled with the details of the situation over and over until it seemed like I was going crazy. So exactly one month later, I ventured back to the point where Robert and I had seen the figures. I staked out the spot at 8 p.m. with my friend Keyvan. We waited for four hours in silence, hoping it was the right night. Finally, at the stroke of midnight, lights came on in the log cabin, and we heard the creaking of the wooden door. I crept out slowly from my hiding spot, telling Keyvan I'd be back in 10 minutes, and made my way toward the light in the cabin. I was determined to have my questions answered.

Without mentioning to whom I talked and what I saw, I found the answers to pretty much everything. The secret society upon which we had stumbled was known by an elaborate name-the Order of the Golden Bear. The Order was formed in 1901 and has met twice a month ever since. As they meet behind closed doors, these figures of influence prevent any outside opinion from breaching their wall of exclusion.

While it is true that older schools such as Harvard and Yale have numerous secret societies, the university administrations at these older schools are not so intricately intertwined with their activities.

UC Berkeley is the last place I'd imagine a group of people to form a secret association-let alone discuss and attempt to resolve many of the university's issues by themselves. Their subversion of the democratic process is almost a slap in the face to tens of thousands of students who still have some belief in the self-government machine.

The Order of the Golden Bear represents the last bastion of the establishment defending against the chaos of democratic policy making within the University. The power and influence that it wields are exerted in every facet of any student's experience at UC Berkeley, whether during the academic year or the summer. The separation from the rest of the students leads to a level of elitism that is commonly not found at UC Berkeley.

Dealing with an organization of such magnitude, I attempted to question Chancellor Berdahl about his extensive involvement with the Order, but my inquiries for the truth went unanswered. Perhaps the Chancellor was unwilling to give details about the vast and powerful organization. Maybe he was forbidden to grant me an interview by those to whom he has to report-the people who really control the university today.

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