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Thursday, June 15, 2017


Here is Jerry's account of the time his university's Chancellor ran over him with a car.  This is way, way braver than anything I have ever done.  I stand in awe.

Righteous, Upstanding, Honorable Self-serving Cowards With a Bit of Revenge Tossed In

Okay, okay, so inquiring minds want to know how it happened that within weeks of my very first full time teaching gig at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Chancellor of the university drove over me with his car. Here’s the story, as best as I can recall.

First, some background: I arrived at UMass, Amherst in 1974 as a grad student in political science. My undergraduate degree was in engineering and I was then able to snag an MA degree in poly sci from Purdue University before I had to deal with my military “obligations.” Given the various ways of avoiding combat back then, I chose volunteering for a desk job in the Air Force, a four year commitment. As an intelligence officer, I spent two years in Korea and two at the Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Omaha. I mention this because it was my military experience that moved me from someone who knocked on doors for McGovern in ’72 to someone who secretly identified, while in uniform, more with the people on the ground in Vietnam resisting the US invasion than I did with the American pilots dropping bombs. What I saw and learned as an intel officer forever altered my sense of – well, shall we say – America’s best and brightest.

As the Professor has referenced, the UMass campus in the mid-70s was brimming with a slew of brilliant left (many of them Marxist) professors. The conceptual framework that I encountered completely transformed my way of understanding my own life as the son of factory workers and the grandson of illiterate immigrants. The Amherst campus wasn’t exactly Paris 1871 but for me it might as well have been. I felt alive, young, and powerful. The revolution just couldn’t come soon enough.

I received my degree in 1982 and throughout my grad school period I became very active within various groups, mostly around anti-intervention causes (Central America), some labor activity, and in solidarity with the gay and lesbian alliance that was becoming quite the powerhouse in nearby Northampton. I always felt that my activist experiences – working with and/or against city officials, speaking at group meetings and, at times, publicly, developing arguments, and watching powerful types simply betray various members of the community, principally our gay and lesbian friends - even the machinations of getting arrested, going to court, and so on – contributed as much to my education as did academic life. And so it was that when I got my first full time position (temporary) at UCSB, a professor friend advised me, “Whatever you do, do not embarrass the administration or your department.”

As I mentioned in the comment section, within a few weeks of my arrival (January 1986), Desmond Tutu came to UCSB to give an address. It was open to the public but I couldn’t get near the place so I listened in on my radio at home. After Tutu completed his impassioned plea for UC divestment, Chancellor Huttenback responded to Tutu’s remarks by saying, “I don’t know what to say.” What? You don’t know what to say? What an upstanding, honorable, cowardly asshole! I’M EMBARASSED!

I left my apartment, went on campus and found about 100 students protesting outside of the administration building. Someone asked me if I would say something to the assembled protesters so I went through my embarrassment-is-a-two-way-street story and that was that. But then minutes afterwards, the students began running toward the parking lot, shouting, “There he is, there he is!!” Apparently, Huttenback’s office had told the students who had wanted to meet with him, that he was out of town.

Huttenback very quickly walked to his car. I said to the students, “Block his exit.” And then I sat down on the road in front of the exit. One student joined me. The rest of the students were surrounding the exit, yelling and shouting.

Huttenback’s car approached at a slow speed (it was one of those 1986 GM models that looked like a tank). It turned a corner and then came directly at me. I remember that my brain was giving me two simultaneous and conflicting messages: one was “large, heavy metal object approaching, you have seconds to move to safety – GET UP, GET UP, GET UP.” The other message was “do not move, stay put, resist, resist, RESIST.” My comrade, the student next to me, sprang up in the nick of time and dashed off. The bumper of Huttenback’s car slammed into my chest, knocking me flat to the ground and then I felt the tire running over my foot. I remember thinking how the pressure on my foot was enormous and then it occurred to me that the tire was split seconds away from my pelvis. By this time, the protesters were screaming for Huttenback to stop. He did. And then he proceeded to back up over my foot. And with protesters banging on the car, he grove up over a curb, onto the grass and through a hedge and then onto the nearby road and sped away.

I wasn’t injured. My chest was bruised and my foot sore, but that was it. I reported the incident to the police and because there were “no injuries” there wasn’t really an incident. Talk about norms.

Weeks later, at the Reagan “western White House” press conference (remember Larry Speaks?), I, with a few other citizens, poured fake blood over ourselves and began yelling “Stop the Lies.” The nice thing about that action was that it had been picked up by the Nicaraguan press. So someone in that terrorized nation, I’m sure, understood that Americans were standing with them, as best they could, side by side.


s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

I admire your courage!

Jerry Fresia said...

S. courage involved, more like just rooting for the good guys and some revenge, even maybe anger mixed in and you know how it is; when you're young, sometimes feelings of invincibility get the best of you. Anyway, it was all a good deal of fun and excitement too. "Adventure" is a good word.

Tom Cathcart said...

Wow, Jerry! I don't know what to say!

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

Maybe, in spite of what Plato says, courage in the real world is simply that feeling of invincibility which kids feel, which I once felt too, that heroic blindness to the fact that if a car runs over my foot I might spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, so I do admire your courage.

Unknown said...

I doubt anyone who read Jerry's abbreviated history here knows him the way I do...since he was a superstar athlete in high school baseball and also as an academic high achiever, very "straight" person growing up in the same town as me. He seems to play down his educational achievements when he writes... "My undergraduate degree was in engineering and I was then able to snag an MA degree in poly sci from Purdue..." He has continued to live a life as a Renascence man who went from his courageous protest activities to a well known and successful artist. And he has never wavered from his core dedication and activities to progressive causes - I'm sure he'd lay down in the street and be run over again to protest injustice.

Danny said...

Robert Huttenback, right? I mean, the Chancellor of UC Santa Barbara that you encountered. This guy died like five years ago, but also, had been convicted of embezzling more than $100,000 in university funds and of five counts of income tax evasion in connection with money that was spent on improvements to his home. Wife also found guilty of embezzlement. I believe he (and she) was spared a prison sentence -- they they repaid the university much of the money they had taken, or such. Looking this up, it's a controversy from over thirty years ago, there's a point that the Huttenbacks also frequently used university employees to work on their home. According to court records, 23 university employees worked more than 4,000 hours on the home!!

LFC said...

What Tom Cathcart said.

Btw, that a univ. chancellor would run over someone (in this case a member of his faculty) w/ his car and then speed away is amazing. Even w/ the demonstrators there, any ordinary person following norms [!] and conscience wd probably have stopped and gotten out of the car, I would think.