The Clark Kerr (mis)quote Adventure A journey into conventional wisdom, casual scholarship, and librarian redemption
Lincoln Cushing, 10/1/2010 
Author's note: This essay is currently not published anywhere else;
for permission to use contact
Recently, while searching for source material to explain the social transition from the 1950s to the 1960s, I ran across this provocative quotation online in the article "The Indignant Generation" by Jessica Mitford Treuhaft in The Nation, May 27, 1961:
“In 1959 Clark Kerr, President of the University of California, wrote with prophetic irony, ‘The employers will love this generation, they are not going to press many grievances. They are going to be easy to handle. There aren't going to be any riots.’ ”
The text describes the quotation as "Buried somewhere in a 1959 publication of the American Council of Education reporting a conference on the college students."
Despite my respect for Jessica Mitford, I was troubled by the casual citation, and the quotation seemed a bit uncharacteristic of Kerr. Yes, student activists criticized his actions as U.C. president during Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, but he was also a progressive leader in postwar labor-management relations and was personally harassed by none other than the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover for being too liberal. San Francisco Chronicle journalist Seth Rosenfeld doggedly pursued FBI documents that eventually revealed the extent of Kerr’s persecution. 
So I looked for the full quotation, which led me to several dead ends.
It appears in The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964-1980, by Steven F. Hayward, p. 64, chapter 2, footnote #25; since the actual footnote is not shown in Google Books, I made a trip to U.C. Berkeley’s main library stacks and found that Hayward got it from Terry H. Anderson’s The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in America from Greensboro to Wounded Knee, 1995, p.39.
But the Anderson book provides no citation
either. When I spoke with Professor Anderson about this, he confirmed
that he’d used the quote without any specific reference, saying that it
was used in “every book on sixties student unrest” and was confident it
must be authentic.
It seemed that nobody ever cited the actual full quotation and context. Perhaps it’s human nature to be lulled into a sense of complacency about “facts” when they appear repeatedly in other publications, especially when they offer a provocative comment that supports the point you are making. But I wasn’t satisfied, and felt that there must be more to this.
I followed up on the most promising lead, the mention in Jessica Mitford’s article about the document being produced by the American Council on Education. Their website lists a “Library and Information Service” with an e-mail contact. My query drew an immediate response from L&IS Director Jill Bogard. Over the course of two days she actively pursued her leads, searched databases, sent me the finding aid to the ACE archives at Stanford, and dragged up documents from deep storage. Finally, she found the source document and mailed a copy to me. As she put it,
A careful reading of the document reveals that the commonly circulated version of the quotation is severely edited. What is more disturbing is that it clearly mischaracterized the point that Kerr was making. Gone is the apparent smugness of a reactionary university administrator revealing his true feelings in a document “buried” (?) far from public scrutiny; instead, we see the conflicted thoughts of someone concerned about the consequences of modern industrialized higher education and the sort of students it turns out.
However, this admission was not nearly as juicy, and didn’t fit the goal of pigeonholing Kerr as a corporate apologist. As Mark Twain is (probably incorrectly) quoted as wryly commenting, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” 
Below is the actual text.  Readers may judge for themselves what Kerr really thought of the complex new world that students of the 1960s generation were entering. They can also be reminded to produce citations before putting them in the public record. And finally, they can thank librarians for continuing to serve as the caretakers of documents.
on campus,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 9, 2002;
7. Cited in Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time, by Dr. Laurence J. Peter, Bantam Books, 1977. However, according to www.Twainquotes.com, “This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but it has never been verified as originating with Twain. This quote may have originated with Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92) who attributed it to an old proverb in a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, April 1, 1855. Spurgeon was a celebrated English fundamentalist Baptist preacher. His words were: "A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on."”
8. Spotlight on the college student; a discussion by the Problems and Policies Committee of the American Council on Education; led by David Riesman, Philip E. Jacob [and] Nevitt Sanford. Edited by Margaret L. Habein. American Council on Education. Washington. [c1959], pages 40-41. Scanned, OCR’d, and cleaned up by author; commonly cited quotation is highlighted.
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