Howard Besser

Profile Updated: May 21, 2010
Howard Besser
Residing In: Berkeley, CA USA
Occupation: Professor
Yes! Attending Reunion

After graduation I moved to the town that appeared to be the center of the social protest movement, and in many ways that has been my home ever since (even if it's not longer the center of protest movements). I had relatively enjoyable jobs on the UC Berkeley campus that provided resources for my political activities (photocopy machines for leaflets, film projectors for radical film series). But in order to keep some of these jobs, I had to continue being a student, and eventually I amassed several advanced degrees.

In 1989 I left Berkeley for the first time, and since then have taken jobs mainly in cities where I have political contacts -- head of information for an architecture museum in Montreal, and professor in Ann Arbor, at UCLA, and at New York University. But all the while I have maintained a flat in Berkeley, and try to spend a few months a year based there. I've been able to make my jobs fit with my political and personal needs, much as I was able to make my experience at Paly do the same (courses reading counterculture and black panther writings, using the English Dept's ditto machine to run off leaflets). I travel a lot, am able to teach and write about how media reinforces not-so-desireable ways of seeing the world, don't really have a boss, and can continue my political activities.

Academics and professionals think I'm a professor of Cinema Studies, the Director of an MA Program on Moving Image Archiving, or an expert in information technology for museums and libraries. I think I'm still just the anarchist and dadaist agitator that I was in high school (though much grayer, out in the streets less, and possibly just a tad less strident). After all, my BA degree says that I majored in 'Pataphysics (which was a satire of science created by the "father" of french avant-garde drama).

School Story:

-The well-attended ongoing teach-in on the lawn in front of Paly after the US invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State Shootings.

-Tom Schellenberg's junior english class where we got to read The Crucible, Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice, and books by Herman Hesse. And his class senior year where we met in a temporary building, and one day horses and other animals showed up on the lawn just outside the classroom.

-Daily lunch on the lawn with the other political and cultural radicals and other non-mainstream students, "misfits", and "oddballs".

-Writing satiric columns for the Paly arts paper about the mythical town of Alo Palto, and how the powerful there maintained their control. (inspired by Art Hoppe) Then getting summoned to meet with the founder of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic who insisted that he was not purposely destroying affordable downtown housing like the character in my satire was. (it was just an incidental by-product of the good he was doing)

-Performing Tristan Tzara's "The Gas Heart" as an important Paly weekend evening play, and having a dada riot break out.

-Leafletting and urging students not to vote in student president and council elections, and later finding out that we won! (a majority of students did not vote)

-Helping run the Free Peoples Free Music Company's free rock concerts in downtown Palo Alto Saturday nites (and once in the park in Baylands). Having frequent confrontations with the police over these (and getting arrested).

-Working long hard hours on our underground papers, The Radical Rag and The Pack Rat. The various Moratoriums and other large-scale demonstrations in SF. Handing out leaflets for many different types of injustices at Paly, downtown, and in front of Safeways (grape boycott). Biking to Stanford to see Civil Rights figure Julian Bond, participate in the first Earth Day, sit-ins against the war, etc.

-My severe political arguments with the ultra-conservative Paly math teachers, and me shouting "take your award and shove it" or "give it to a Vietnamese Orphan" at the Amphitheater awards ceremony when I got the award for best junior in math and science. (we had been protesting the awards ceremony)

-Being "indefinitely suspended" for dressing as Hitler (calling myself "Adolph Millar"), and handing out our underground student newspaper, then having principal Millar's office call my mother two days later to ask why I wasn't in school. (I had gone to demonstrations in Berkeley for a few days.)

-Acting as a "student lawyer" defending students who had been caught smoking. (I'd feel better about this now if they had been smoking something better for their health than tobacco.)

-Demonstrations and confrontations with the School Board and the City Council over issues of academic freedom, police surveillance, etc.

-Appearing in our yearbook as a sophomore under one of my underground newspaper aliases "Dick Tater".

Elementary Schools Attended:

Green Gables

Junior High School


Colleges Attended

UC Berkeley