Looking Back: Socialist Ideals

In the ’70s, some new student project, destined to change the world, got fired up almost every week. A peer crisis center opened in the Muir apartments (Crisis K2) and a student-run coffeehouse was launched in the Muir Commons (the Muir Five-and-Dime) where cheap movies and hot cider were also on offer. We started a Student Print Co-op with cast-off equipment gladly provided by the Campus Reprographics Department (to keep pesky students off their backs).

Two of those projects, however, have miraculously endured to this day—Groundwork Books and the Course and Professor Evaluations (CAPE).

Groundwork Books began as a radical community bookstore in Solana Beach but quickly split into two political factions. The portion composed primarily of college students decided that the UCSD campus was a reasonable place to set up shop.

From the beginning, we students saw the selling of books as merely a means to an end. Our true goal was to transform society, one bit at a time, through self-criticism and study. And self-criticize we did, endlessly, rigorously and long into the night. No bourgeois tendency was left untouched, no liberal value unexamined. We strove to behave as new socialist men and women. It may sound pretty strange now, but at the time it was a baptism by fire that made us examine ourselves in new ways.

In between these ethical exercises we actually managed to run a bookstore. At first, we dragged books across campus on a wheeled metal rack. Then we got a student center space and were able to offer students an environment where they could buy textbooks as well as browse other related texts.

Classroom orders became our bread-and-butter, so much so that the official bookstore tried unsuccessfully to close us down. We broadened our selection, published a newsletter of recent arrivals, sponsored study groups, and hosted May Day celebrations. It was always challenging to keep the collective spirit alive with the steady turnover characteristic of student groups, but Groundwork is still going strong 31 years later.

The Student Educational Change and Development Center (SECDC) was also seeded at that time and embarked on an ambitious program to transform UCSD’s pedagogical foundation. I was the first director of CAPE and we saw it as a tool to gain more control over our academic lives, by providing data for selecting electives and by offering structured feedback to faculty about their teaching. We endured numerous technical challenges, including burning out a good many electric pencil sharpeners and spilling a box of punched cards used to run our program on the Burroughs B-6700 mainframe. We outraged faculty and baffled students. But eventually the idea began to take hold, after students started to see—and use—our published reports. Remarkably, the administration supported our efforts, and by 1974 CAPE was the most heavily funded student organization, with a $16,800 budget coming from a special systemwide grant supporting undergraduate teaching evaluation.

The fact that these two institutions survive today is a testament to the spirit of students who actively seek control over their own environment. I can think of no more rewarding a legacy than their endurance.

—Lincoln Cushing is a librarian at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.


Pictured: Student Educational Change Center in Lower Muir Commons, 1973. L to R, Jeff Unsicker, ’80, Ian Boase, ’73 (seated), Howard Fortenberry, ’71, Ann Vinickas, ’75, [unknown], [unknown], Lincoln Cushing (standing), Michele Peltier, ’81, Cheryl Delores Mc Grue, ’75, Stephanie Harris, ’72. (If you are unknown and unidentified, write and tell us.)