1964 demo. Photo: San Francisco Chronicle.

In the 128-page document released Wednesday by UC Berkeley’s independent Police Review Board is an interesting reference to something called “The Berkeley Experience.”

It may have played a significant role in the demonstrations against budget cuts last fall.

“The Berkeley Experience,” according to the report, is every student’s desire to do something that is very Berkeley: participate in a demonstration.

Students come to Berkeley not only to study, according to the report. Since the university has a tradition of massive protests dating back to the days of the Free Speech Movement, students often come to Cal with the expectation that they, too, will hold placards, shout slogans, denounce a policy, and perhaps even occupy a building.

Police arresting student in 1964 protest. Photo: SF Chronicle.

“Outlets for emotional intensity have become prominent features of Berkeley’s history,” according to the report. “In the minds of some students and faculty, these facts are an essential component of what it means to attend Berkeley. As some students have told us, one reason they joined the rally outside Wheeler on the 20th was their desire to have what they considered “the Berkeley experience.” That inchoate desire can be expected to enlarge demonstrations and protests on campus – independent of their specific agendas.”

The chair of the review board, law professor Wayne Brazil, said the report is not suggesting that the thousands of people who gathered inside and outside Wheeler Hall on November 20 were only there because it was fashionable, although some may have been there for that reason.

“We were told by some students that they came down to the rally in the mid-afternoon or late afternoon because they didn’t want to go through four years of Berkeley without going to a demonstration,” said Brazil. “Most people were demonstrating out of a deep conviction and concern that the university was being privatized, … and some were protesting to have it on their resume.”

Noah Stern, the president of the Associated Students of UC Berkeley, agreed with Brazil’s assessment. He said many students come to Cal and want to demonstrate because it is such a rich part of the university’s history.

In fact, the university itself seems to honor and even promote the Free Speech movement and protests over the Vietnam war and People’s Park.

A glossy history panel on the first floor of Sproul Hall – right near the office of Undergraduate Admissions — has pictures of past demonstrations.

And any prospective student can’t miss it.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...