Rebel with a cause

Image: Rebel with a cause:Jeff Lustig stands near a row of picket signs and balloons last February prior to a California Faculty Association demonstration at the Sutter Club. Lustig is stepping down as CFA president later this month. Photo by Barrett Lyon/State Hornet:

Image: Rebel with a cause:Jeff Lustig stands near a row of picket signs and balloons last February prior to a California Faculty Association demonstration at the Sutter Club. Lustig is stepping down as CFA president later this month. Photo by Barrett Lyon/State Hornet:

Greg Kane

Berkeley, 1964: Jeff Lustig, a 21-year-old political science student, sits in Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkeley, playing chess with Coke bottles and other assorted junk on the stone floor. All around him, what will become the largest student protest of the university?s Free Speech Movement is beginning to take shape.

A photographer from some magazine (Look or Life, he can?t remember) approaches him and begins taking pictures. Lustig, not a high-profile figure in the movement, becomes curious and asks why. It turns out his name was given by professors who were impressed with his balance of academic achievements and student activism.

“The reason they were taking my picture is because I was an activist and a student,” says Lustig, now a government professor and faculty union activist at Sacramento State. “That?s kind of the same way I am today.”

Lustig, 58, announced April 3 that he would step down next month from his post as president of the California Faculty Association Sacramento chapter to concentrate on scholarly activities. Though to some it may seem like the end of an era, to Lustig it?s just another curve on a road that?s taken him from revolutionary Cuba to the Free Speech and Anti-War Movements of the ?60s and ?70s to prison, where he served a short stint as a result of that day of chess and protest in Berkeley.

“I?ve always tried to balance activism and scholarship, but you can?t do it all at the same time,” Lustig says.

Growing up in San Diego during the age of McCarthyism, Lustig says he sensed early on that something was amiss in American society. This became even more apparent after enrolling at UC Berkeley in 1961, where he saw the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement being stifled by area businesses that wouldn?t allow activists to set up informational booths on campus.

Students felt a First Amendment right was being violated.

Administration refused to budge. The Free Speech Movement was born ? and Lustig was happy to join the fight.

“Something about being in the Bay Area and the spirit of dissent spoke to me,” Lustig says.

Sac State Government Professor William Dorman, who has known Lustig for nearly 15 years, was also a student at UC Berkeley during the early ?60s. He says the political activism that Lustig honed during the Free Speech Movement hasn?t dissipated in his career as a professor and union activist.

“I see him continuing to be concerned about social and economic justice,” Dorman said.

In 1964, Lustig took a six-week trip to Cuba, violating a U.S. ban on traveling to the country. Though seeing the infancy of communism in that country didn?t convert him to its cause, he says the experience opened his eyes to how the conflict was misrepresented by the American government.

“I was profoundly impressed by how much the American people were being lied to,” Lustig says.

The lessons he learned in Cuba led to an increased involvement in the Free Speech Movement, and in December 1964 he joined nearly 1,000 students to protest a university ban on setting up informational tables on campus. He was also arrested along with 810 other students, and was sentenced to a month at the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center in Pleasanton after he refused to pay the fine.

“I thought that rather than paying the state money, the state should pay for my support for a month,” Lustig says.

Free speech advocates eventually claimed victory in Berkeley, and soon Lustig became a leader in the movement against the Vietnam War. By this time he was working toward his master?s degree in Political Science, though he says conflicts between students and professors made studying difficult.

“There were professors working with the CIA,” Lustig says. “But many of the graduate students and a few professors were anti-war, so there was really a conflict.”

He completed his coursework in 1970, taught classes at UC Riverside and worked various jobs like house painting until completing his dissertation, “Corporate Liberalism: The Origins of Modern American Political Theory, 1890-1920,” in 1975. During this time he also married and divorced, and before he knew it he was teaching at universities all over California while raising his son, Jacob.

In 1987, Lustig began teaching at Sac State?s Center for California Studies, serving as director until 1993. The following year, he assumed his current position in the Government Department.

Though he remained active in political issues outside the university, Lustig says he concentrated more on academics during his early years at Sac State. In the mid-?90s, however, he began to notice that the California State University was hiring more administrative than faculty positions, and says the CFA wasn?t doing anything about it. He became an active participant at union meetings, and quickly found he wasn?t alone in his suspicions.

“I guess you would say I got active as a dissident in the CFA, and it turned out there were lots of dissidents,” Lustig says. “The dissidents wound up taking over.”

The CFA rejected the CSU?s offer for a new contract in June 2001, and the two sides wrangled over issues such as merit pay, course overloads and benefits for part-time lecturers for nearly a year.

Last week, CFA members approved a new contract that most observers agree largely benefits the faculty.

CFA Vice President Jim Chopyak, who is expected to be elected Lustig?s successor later this month, says Lustig helped bring faculty members together to fight for what they felt they deserved.

“I don?t think he would see it as a single-handed effort of any kind, but Jeff has been part of a revitalization of the CFA on this campus,” Chopyak says.

Though he plans to remain active in the CFA, Lustig says he will concentrate more on writing and other academic interests once he vacates the presidency in May.

Dorman says he can identify with Lustig?s desire to focus more on scholastic activities.

“There comes a time when you sort of get tired of watching your best ideas evaporate all the time, and that means writing and research,” Dorman says. “He?s just changing seasons.”

Lustig says that his experiences as an activist in the ?60s were just as important as his academic studies in college. Both have helped to shape the person he is today, he says.

“I got a first-class university education because I was involved in the movement,” Lustig says. “The only reason I was active in the faculty union was because of that background.”

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