By Rebecca Spence / J Weekly
As UC Berkeley celebrates the 50th anniversary of the free speech movement this month, a long-simmering feud over funding for the Emma Goldman Papers — an archival project dedicated to the life and work of the iconic Jewish radical and free speech advocate — is coming to a head.
After 34 years of UC Berkeley affiliation, and more than $1.2 million of funding spread across the decades, the project could be reaching the end of the line.
The university has informed the project’s editor and director, Candace Falk, that her employment will terminate at the end of October due to lack of funding. That decision, which the university’s chancellor has deemed final, could effectively shut down the Emma Goldman Papers Project, which has been housed on or near the UC Berkeley campus since its inception.
“It feels like the rug is being pulled out from under us,” said Falk, who founded the project in 1980 with a grant from the National Archives. “Just as we are within a year of finishing the last volume of our series on Goldman’s American years, we’re in danger of shutting down.”
Falk, 67, has dedicated the better part of her adult life to collecting, organizing and publishing Goldman’s letters and writings, as well as trial transcripts and surveillance reports from when the Russian-born anarchist was imprisoned in 1917 for speaking out against the U.S. entry into World War I. In some ways, Falk has come to embody Goldman’s anti-authoritarian spirit, wrangling for decades with university officials over funding for the project.
But despite Falk’s insistence that the project has been given short shrift, university officials argue that its funding has, in fact, been generous over the years. It’s Falk’s repeated delays in publishing her four-volume series that has stymied her, they say, not a shortage of funds on the part of the university.
“It has been a major effort and we’ve generously funded it,” said Nils Gilman, associate chancellor and the chancellor’s chief of staff. “You give people a certain amount of time to get their projects done, and then you make choices. To continue to fund this is to not fund something else.”
Robert Price, the university’s associate vice chancellor for research, pointed to a 2003 status report prepared for then-chancellor Robert M. Berdahl, outlining the numerous delays in Falk’s publication schedule. “The Emma Goldman Papers Project has had difficulty meeting the publication deadlines to which it has committed itself in grant applications, publisher’s contracts and communications with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research,” the report read.
Falk attributed those delays to the detailed and painstaking nature of archival work, a revolving door of staff owing to funding difficulties, as well as two bouts with breast cancer. She noted that it took 15 years just to gather the trove of documents on Goldman — about 40,000 items, more than half of which have been put on microfilm.
Falk’s goal now, she said, is to complete the fourth and final volume of her series on Goldman’s American years (1885-1919) in time for the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. That would be 2017. She also hopes to digitize the archive in order to make it accessible to scholars and students; to that end, the project has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the New York–based Lucius N. Littauer Foundation.
Until two years ago, the project received funding from the National Archives to the tune of about $100,000 annually. UC Berkeley funding began in 1988 and ended in 2003, after being extended under a previous vice chancellor. The project has also received intermittent funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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Rebecca Spence is a freelance writer currently at work on her first novel.
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