David Hollinger’s office looks like what a professor’s office should look like. Two walls have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and books still spill over random surfaces. The walls are a pleasant, sea-foam green, and old maps cover the little open wall space that’s still available. Professor Hollinger has inhabited this room in the bottom of Dwinelle during his time as a professor of American Intellectual History for the last twenty-two years; however, he also walked these same halls as a graduate student from 1963-1969.
“Berkeley transformed me in a lot of ways. I owe just about everything to Berkeley” he fondly reminisces.
When Hollinger first arrived on campus in 1963, he received a culture shock. He came from a small Christian college in Southern California and was raised in a conservative Protestant family. Before coming to Berkeley, he had never met a communist or an atheist. Just as he had never encountered liberal-minded people, many of his peers had never encountered people with a background like his. They regarded him as a hick originally, but after some time, he convinced them otherwise by proving his aptitude in the classroom.
“The kind of really hardcore Protestantism that I came out of was very earnest out of everything. Very little sense of irony and wit was often to be suspect because it undercut this or that truth, so Berkeley was liberating for me in that I encountered so many people who were interested in ideas about so many things and were able to converse in a civilized and probing manner and where greater amounts of knowledge were respected rather than suspected. And it was an explosive, in the best sense of the word, period, for me,” he says of the change.
With these peers, Hollinger was able to discuss ideas he had never discussed before and have the freedom to love and play with these various ideas. He fell into acquaintance with many different kinds of people he hadn’t known before, politically active, left-leaning, caring people. He was so enchanted that he decided Berkeley-life was the life for him and that he wanted to stay in the university system permanently.
He happily embraced the intellectual, spirited Berkeley culture and picked up a picket sign to protest the Vietnam War. He laughs as he remembers running into a professor at a liquor store. Hollinger had a bottle of cheap scotch in his hand, and in line in front of him was a professor who was about to purchase a bottle of high quality scotch himself. This professor had written a book that Hollinger had just read and enjoyed.
Hollinger was excited to talk to him about the book, but before he was able to ask any questions, the professor turned around and roared, “Hollinger! Don’t you know when the revolution comes, it’ll be liberals like you who’ll be shot?” This was not the interaction the Protestant kid from Southern California had anticipated.
After graduating from Berkeley, Hollinger took a job teaching at University at Buffalo. While there, he had many different experiences, including surviving the Great Blizzard of 1977. From there, he moved to the University of Michigan and taught there until 1992 when he was offered a job at Berkeley.
“I don’t think I would have left Michigan, if not for Berkeley.” he claims.
Even as an ardent supporter and champion for commemoration of the Free Speech Movement, Hollinger acknowledges the certain romance that surrounds the Free Speech Movement and the political nature of the ’60s. He remembers some detractors of the time saying that the idea of a free speech movement was the result of “bourgeois conceit.” He also recalls the people engaging for the opportunity to showcase their intelligence and not with genuine fervor for the cause. With time, he learned how to distinguish the “sanctimonious blowhards” from those who were real supporters.
Ultimately, the Free Speech Movement was an embodiment of a certain aspect of liberalism. Hollinger says that the time was consistent with classical academic values, not just the intention of them. He recalls a space in which the sharing of all sorts of ideas was welcomed, when debate was anticipated, and minority voices were not shut down.
“It gave me sense of what it meant to be an academic, what it meant to be an intellectual, what it mean to be a citizen, what it meant to be a more complete person. All of these things came to me as a graduate student in my six years here at Berkeley,” he says of the time. He emphasizes the fact that what he got most out of his time at Berkley came from the already established culture, the culture of intellectual openness and dialogue.
In light of the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement and the brewing political tension here at Berkley, Hollinger offers this advice: “Don’t try to copy what we did. Go your own way.” The spirit of the FSM and the spirit of what is happening now are wildly different, and the same sentiment can’t really be captured.
Hollinger encourages students to be active but warns that one should be careful to avoid falsely championing causes without the conviction or knowledge to back them up. More than anything he says that students need to remember that their time at Berkeley is a time to experience the great academics, so students need to be studying above anything else.
Though Hollinger has many pieces of wisdom to offer Insight, he wants his parting words to be these: “Not everything in life is political.”