Berkeley, as seen by John Kenneth Galbraith

From "Berkeley in the Thirties," by John Kenneth Galbraith

Not everyone is as restrained as I am about Berkeley. A few weeks ago I shared a seat on an airplane with a young colleague newly recruited, like so many before him, from the University of California. I asked him if he missed it. He replied, "Christ, yes! At Berkeley you worked all morning in the library and then at noon you went out into the sun and there was always a demonstration going on or something. Man, that was living!"

The days passed. During my second year my stipend was raised to seventy dollars a month, allowing me to save a little money and also to have a larger social life. Then in my third year I was sent to Davis, which, for the benefit of non-Californians, is in the Sacramento Valley not far from Sacramento. It is now a full-fledged university, but in those days it was the center of agricultural research and instruction too closely associated with orchards, insects and the soil to be carried on at Berkeley. It cultivated, in other words, the lowest of the lower learning. At Davis I was the head of the Departments of Economics, of Agricultural Economics, of Accounting and of Farm Management. I also gave instruction in all of these subjects and, with the exception of one elderly dean who gave instruction to nondegree students, I was also the total teaching staff in these disciplines. During the year I also had time to write my Ph.D. thesis and I do not recall that I was especially rushed. Certainly such was my love for Berkeley that I went there every weekend. At Davis my pay was $1,800 and I was able (by way of repayment of my own college debts to my family) to send my younger sister to college.

The Davis students were also highly stable. My course in beginning economics was required for some majors. The scholars so compelled shuffled in at the beginning of the hour, squeezed their yellow corduroy-clad bottoms into the classroom chairs, listened with indifference for an hour and then, by now conveying an impression of manfully suppressed indignation, shuffled out. Only once in the entire year did I arouse their interest. I gave some support to the textbook case for lower tariffs. Coming as they did from the sugar beet fields, olive orchards, cattle ranches and other monuments to the protective tariff, they knew that was wrong and told me so. My best remembered student that year was a boy who had an old Ford runabout who spent his weekends putting up signs on the highways which warned motorists to repent and prepare at a fairly early date to meet their God. In response on an examination to a question about the nature of money, he stuck resolutely to the proposition that it (not the love of money but money itself) was the root of all evil. I tried to reason with him, but in vain. So I flunked him, for his contention seemed to me palpably untrue. That was my only personal encounter in those days with any form of student dissent.

One day in the spring of 1934 I was in Berkeley putting the finishing touches on my thesis. A Western Union boy came into the room with a telegram offering me an instructorship at Harvard for the following year at $2,400. I had not the slightest idea of accepting, for I was totally happy in California. But my rapid advance in economic well-being, plus no doubt the defense of my faith against that student, had made me avaricious and I had heard that one won advances in academic life by flashing offers from other universities. I let it be known over the weekend that "Harvard was after me," and, on the following Monday, went by appointment to see the Dean of the College of Agriculture to bargain. I carried the telegram in my hand. The dean, a large handsome and highly self-confident man named Claude B. Hutchison, who later became mayor of Berkeley, was excellently informed on all matters in the college and his intelligence system had not failed him on this occasion. He congratulated me warmly on my offer, gave me the impression that he thought Harvard was being reckless with its money and said that, of course, I should go. In a moment I realized to my horror I had no choice. I couldn't now plead to stay at two-thirds the price. The great love of my life was over. I remember wondering, as I went out, if I had been right to flunk that nut.