Remembering Jeff Lustig
On June 14 my friend and colleague Jeff Lustig died of cancer at his home in Berkeley. He had been ill since last fall, but during much of the past several months he was feeling alright, and I was able to visit him a few times for a little more of the lively conversation that was one of the privileges of knowing him. Jeff retired from my department at Sacramento State two years ago, and I had already missed seeing him in the hallway, but now of course the loss feels much greater.
I’ve been reluctant to write about him, in part because nothing I write could possibly capture everything I’d like to say. But Jeff often took risks when he wrote, and I can’t seem to write anything else until I write at least something about Jeff. Maybe that’s because my inspiration for starting this blog on university politics owes much to his exemplary efforts to promote the theory and practice of public education.
This fall I’ll be teaching American Political Thought, which is one of the courses Jeff often taught. The last time I did it, I devoted a week to discussing three perspectives on higher education: Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University (liberal or, as Jeff might say, corporate liberal), Allan Bloom’s “The Democratization of the University” (conservative), and Jeff Lustig’s “The FSM and the Vision of a New Left” and “The University Revisioned” (radical). I was careful to give each perspective its due, and we had one of the liveliest discussions of the semester. I’ll assign those readings again this fall.
Jeff talked often about his experiences during the Free Speech Movement (FSM), the extraordinary student campaign in the fall of 1964 at UC Berkeley to defend the campus as a site of political activity. In addition to promoting free speech, many of the students were also protesting the privatization and corporatization of the university — threats we still face today. Jeff participated in the movement as an undergraduate, and eight years later I moved to Berkeley as a three year old.
I grew up a few blocks south of campus and often heard people talk about Berkeley in the sixties. I regularly walked past the mural on Haste Street that depicts various scenes from the Free Speech Movement and People’s Park. “Look,” I would tell visitors from less illustrious towns, “there’s Mario Savio on top of the police car, with dollars and bombs flowing from Sproul Hall, and students in the window waving the American flag.” Talking with Jeff abut the sixties enriched the tales I’d heard as a kid, giving added resonance to stories that were somehow mine despite not having been there.
In his essay “The FSM and the Vision of a New Left,” Jeff discusses Savio’s famous speech in which he says that eventually “the operation of the machine becomes so odious” that you feel compelled to “put your bodies upon the gears” and “make it stop.” Jeff notes how Savio’s rhetoric, echoing Thoreau, departs from the traditional assurances of leftist politics, offering no promise of inevitable victory. “The effect of bodies on gears is obvious, but so, unfortunately, is that of gears on bodies.” That’s Jeff’s realism: serious politics ain’t easy or predictable. FSM leaders were “skillful strategists sensitive to the demands of practical politics.” Promoting real change requires taking action without the solace of certain outcomes. It requires patient organization, strategic alliance building, and long-term popular mobilization.
Jeff also knew that such realism means nothing without a worthwhile purpose. During the FSM, Jeff writes, “We began to insist that the original and still primary purpose of public higher education was political, in the broadest sense, not economic. . . . We urged that the public in ‘public education’ referred to more than a funding source, and we identified the overarching purpose of the whole enterprise: to prepare people to be members of democratic publics.” Campus political activity is not a distraction from university life but central to it.
Jeff pursued these ideas and commitments throughout his career in teaching, scholarship, and politics. In addition to being a professor of government at California State University, Sacramento, Jeff Lustig was, among other things, the founding chair of the California Studies Association (1989-1998), director of Sacramento State’s Center for California Studies (1989-94), president of the Sacramento chapter of the California Faculty Association (1997-2003), and secretary of the statewide CFA (1999-2001). In 2010 he gave the Livingston Annual Faculty Lecture at Sacramento State, later published as “The University Besieged.”
During his last few months, Jeff was hard at work on a major new book on the past and future of democracy in California. Pia Lopez discusses it in a thoughtful piece published in the Sacramento Bee.
Jeff loved to play with words, and he liked to remark that the German word lustig translates as funny or cheerful. He also had a taste for gallows humor, and I think he would have laughed if I’d told him that the common expression Schluss mit lustig, which means something like “time to stop messing around,” translates literally as “done with lustig.” When it comes to the politics of higher education, it’s certainly time to stop messing around. But even if Jeff is done with me, I’m not done with him.
I hope people will long remember both his cheerfulness and his seriousness, his lively wit and his disdain for bullshit. Jeff understood better than most that public education and democratic politics require both good humor and hard work. I plan on reading and recommending his books and essays, retelling his jokes and stories, and recycling his ideas and arguments for many years to come.
In that spirit . . .
Here’s the introductory lecture to a course that Jeff taught last year at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Berkeley:
And here are citations and links to a small selection of Jeff Lustig’s publications:
Lustig, R Jeffrey. Corporate Liberalism: The Origins of Modern American Political Theory, 1890-1920. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
Lustig, R Jeffrey, ed. Remaking California: Reclaiming the Public Good. Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2010.
“Treadmill to Oblivion: The Coming Conflict over Academic Workload,” Thought & Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal 18(Fall 2002): 115-128.
“The FSM and the Vision of a New Left,” in The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s, ed. Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik, 215-226. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
“The Mixed Legacy of Clark Kerr: A Personal View,” Academe (July-August 2004).
“The War at Home: California’s Struggle to Stop the Vietnam War,” in What’s Going On? California and the Vietnam Era, ed. Marcia A Eymann. and Charles Wollenberg, 59-67. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
“The University Revisioned: The Alternative to Corporate Mis-education,” The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 27 (2005): 17–52.
“From Art to Alienated Labor: The Degradation of Academic Work,” Thought & Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal 22 (Fall 2006): 143-158.
“Thank You, Mr. Horowitz,” review of The Academic Bill of Rights Debate: A Handbook, edited by Stephen H. Aby (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2007), in Academe (May-June 2008).
“The Fiscal Crisis of the Campus: The View from California,” Journal of Collective Bargaining in the Academy 1:6 (2009).
“The University Besieged,” Thought & Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal (Fall 2010).
“Private Rights and Public Purposes: California’s Second Constitution Reconsidered,” California History 87, no. 3 (2010): 46–70.