Fresno Free College Foundation


[Note: The following is from the report of the Fresno Free College Foundation for the period March, 1968 through August, 1972.]


The Fresno Free College Foundation was created in the spring of 1968 by a group of professors at the California State University, Fresno to raise legal funds to defend the academic freedom of their colleague, the poet Robert Mezey, who was fired from his teaching position because of his exercise of his right to free speech. In its formation, the Foundation also adopted broader purposes to include the encouragement and promotion of intellectual and cultural growth in institutions of higher education and in the wider community.

The first act of the foundation was to absorb the "Mezey Defense Fund" which was initiated by students at CSUF responding to the firing of Mezey. The Foundation was able to provide a writing fellowship of $600.00 per month for Mezey from August, 1968 through August, 1969. Some of this money was raised from individual contributions and through the sales of "Favors", a book of poetry authored by Mezey. The fellowship was necessary to sustain Mezey and his family during the time the ACLU tried his case in court. The case is not yet resolved and individuals have continued to contribute to the Mezey fund, including a recent donation of $3,000.00.

The Foundation's obligation to Mezey had not been completed when another case involving many similar issues arose on the state university campus. In the fall of 1969 Marvin X (Jackmon), a young Black playwright, was offered a position in the CSUF Ethnic Studies Department. The issuing of his letter of appointment was delayed by the administration until well after Marvin X began his teaching assignment. At this point the Chancellor of the California State University and Colleges ordered Marvin X off the campus. One of the reasons given by the Chancellor for refusing to approve the letter of appointment was that Marvin X was a member of the Black Muslim faith. The Foundation was also concerned that the Ethnic Studies Department was being denied the right to its own staff and the right to create an appropriate balance within that staff—a right not denied to other departments of the state university.

The case was taken to court with the Black Student Union providing funds for legal defense. During a five month period the Foundation provided Marvin X with a $200.00 fellowship grant each month. The purpose of the grant was to provide him with financial support until the court case was resolved. The Superior Court in Fresno ruled against Marvin X claiming that Marvin X was never hired since his letter of appointment was never sent and, therefore a contract was not completed. The decision of the Superior Court was not appealed by Marvin X.

CSUF now seemed to move from crisis to crisis. The Black Student Union, being aware of rumors that the administration was moving against the Ethnic Studies program, began to press for equitable treatment of minorities. Some 50 students and a professor met with a Dean to question him about the rumors. The meeting resulted in the Dean's filing charges against the students and the professor, both on campus and with the District Attorney. A hearing was held on campus for the students and the Foundation provided financial support. The hearing panel ruled that the students did not hold the Dean captive and subsequently a Municipal Court Jury found the students innocent of this charge. The faculty member, black chemistry professor Dr. Joe Toney, was suspended from his classroom for 30 days by Acting President Karl Falk of the State University. Several months after the incident, the Municipal Court requested that the District Attorney dismiss all charges against Toney on grounds of lack of evidence and in the interest of justice.

At the Fall 1970 registration at the State University, a group of Chicanos demonstrated against cancellation of the La Raza Studies courses by the administration. Upon request for assistance the Board of Directors reaffirmed its deep commitment to both the concept and reality of the La Raza Studies program at the State University, and committed $200.00 to a legal fund for legal cases connected with the registration demonstration.

The Second Phase

In December, 1970 six members of the faculty at the California State University, Fresno were fired by the administration after being recommended for retention at lower levels. There was strong evidence that the firings were politically motivated. All six were outspoken critics of the CSUF administration, all were vocally opposed to the war in Vietnam, and all championed the cause of minority rights. A class action suit was filed in federal court by the six professors seeking reinstatement, and a permanent injunction against the Chancellor's grievance procedures which denied due process to some 10,000 faculty members in the California State University and Colleges system. In cooperation with the Fresno Local of the United Professors of California, the Foundation established a legal fund to carry the financial burden of the legal case. The suit met with immediate success as the U.S. Court in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order in the firings.

As of this writing, four of the six faculty have been reinstated; one left California, and the status of the remaining faculty member, Professor Rendall Mabey, is still pending. One of the four reinstated is Dr. Joe Toney whose firing can be traced to the incident described earlier. After the District Attorney dismissed the charges against him, Toney filed a damage suit against the University. When he was fired in December, 1970, the Fair Employment Practices Commission and the Civil Rights Division of H.E.W. conducted independent investigations of the firing. Both agencies concluded that the State University administration racially discriminated against Toney [1]. Furthermore, after Toney was fired the administration prevented him from securing a teaching position at Atlanta University. Because of this interference, Toney filed another suit against certain members of the administration. The Foundation has supported Toney in both these court actions which have not reached the trial stage.

Four days after the six professors were fired, the Fresno community was confronted with the following front page story:


"The Fresno State College English Department Chairman was fired late yesterday and campus police immediately rushed in and bolted shut doors of the department. The unusual method used in firing Dr. Eugene Zumwalt, 46, also included stationing campus policemen on the roof of the building, the entrance landing and inside the main offices."

The Fresno Bee

December 5, 1970

Dr. Zumwalt requested financial assistance from the Foundation in order to take his case to court. The Board supported this request and used the resources of the FSC Legal Fund. The Fund has provided about $800.00 for this case and more will be required if, as expected, the case goes to the California Supreme Court. The Superior Court in Sacramento ordered Zumwalt reinstated as chairman of the English Department but the Chancellor has chosen to appeal the decision.

The Foundation engaged the San Francisco law firm of Penrod, Himelstein, Savinar, and Sims for the Federal Court action and the Zumwalt case. The experience gained in these litigations made it possible for the Foundation to assist in two other cases involving faculty members in the California State University and Colleges.

  1. In January, 1972, the Foundation assisted Professor Peter Bohmer, Department of Economics, California State University, San Diego, who was charged with unprofessional conduct by the administration of that institution. Dr. Dale Bush, Chairman of the Foundation's Legal Committee, prepared a 13 page memorandum for Bohmer's attorney Penrod, Himelstein, Savinar, and Sims, provided telephone consultation and legal documents at the request of the Foundation. Bohmer won his case with a campus hearing panel and the president reversed himself. The Chancellor, who has final authority in the system, then fired Bohmer even though the institution honored Bohmer with a teaching award.
  2. Dr. Dale Bush assisted in the case of Raymond Kappe, Chairman of the Architecture Department at California State Polytechnic College, Pomona. The legal defense in that case followed the pattern established in the Zumwalt case, and the fired chairman won his case in Superior Court.

Up to this time in its history the Foundation was almost completely engrossed in legal cases. Three educational projects were undertaken, however:

  1. The publication of a booklet called "The Slow Death of Fresno State College" which chronologically documented the various events from the Mezey case to the firing of the six faculty members in December, 1970. The purpose of the publication was to enlighten the wider community about the arbitrary exercise of legal authority by the Administration at CSUF. The booklet was sent to individuals in Fresno and it was also distributed throughout California and the nation.
  2. An anonymous gift made it possible for the Foundation to produce a 10 minute film on these same events for archival purposes.

A third project which was primarily educational was the Foundation's decision to supple the President Pro-Tempore of the student body at FSC with legal counsel to advise him in his unfortunately, unsuccessful efforts to secure approval by the Student Senate and the FSC Association for the establishment of a $5,000.00 legal fund to test the constitutionality of the College president's authority to suspend students on the basis of Penal Code 626.4. This section also included a testing of the Chancellor's student disciplinary procedures which denied students due process.

The Third Phase

The Foundation continues its support of the federal court action initiated by the six fired professors, and also of Zumwalt's efforts to win reinstatement. The Foundation is committed also to the two Toney suits. In pursuit, though, of broader educational objectives, the Board has supported the following activities:

  1. The Foundation established a Merit Scholarship Fund and individual contributions to this Fund enabled the Foundation to provide Miss Carol Bishop, the first recipient, with $200.00 per month for the Spring semester, 1972. This enabled her to complete graduation requirements.
  2. During the spring of 1972, 450 books and 300 magazines were collected and sent to the Tulare Correctional Center for a newly formed library as gifts from the Foundation.
  3. The Foundation signed an agreement with Dr. Kenneth Seib, Professor of English, California State University, Fresno, for the rewriting and updating of "The Slow Death of Fresno State College." It is hoped that a book will result from this collaboration with Seib, and that a major publishing house will publish and distribute it [2].
  4. Dr. Heyward Moore, Jr., a member of the Fresno Planning Commission, was fired from his position by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors because he made statements charging that the majority of the Board had not acted in the public interest in planning matters and that the majority of the Board was controlled by a prominent developer. Moore filed a suit and legal expenses were paid through contributions to a citizens group called the Committee for Responsible Government. The Foundation supported Moore by paying telephone expenses and assisting in the preparation of affidavits required for the trial. The Superior Court in Fresno has ordered Moore reinstated.
  5. An amicus brief was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of five foreign students who were seeking to enjoin the California State University and Colleges system from increasing fees for foreign students. J.V. Henry, a Fresno attorney, wrote the brief for the Foundation. The students have appealed the decision of the Superior Court and the Foundation's brief will be used in the appeal process.
  6. The Foundation presented the Universidad de Aztlan in Fresno, California with a gift of about 160 text books which were solicited from faculty members at CSUF.

Prospects for the Future

It is the intention of the present Board of Directors to continue to commit the resources of the Foundation to projects consonant with those purposes outlined in its recently published brochure:

  1. a genuinely open forum in the class room, public lectures, cultural events, and publications in which all ideas, opinions, and research findings, however controversial, may be expressed;
  2. the development of new curricula, for all ages and intellectual levels, designed to encourage academic excellence and the exercise of intellectual freedom in the arts and sciences;
  3. support for research, educational and community action projects to discover and preserve those humane values which sustain men in their efforts to prevail in the face of adversity;
  4. the development of means by which the mass media can enhance the intellectual development of the community; and
  5. the legal protection of those individuals and groups who seek to serve their fellow men through the exercise of free inquiry, free speech, and social action.

The Board will continue to channel contributions to the following established funds as requested by the contributor:

  1. FSC Legal Fund,
  2. General Fund,
  3. Toney Fund,
  4. Merit Scholarship Fund,
  5. Mabey Fund, and
  6. Mezey Fund.

The Board may establish other funds as it deems appropriate.

At the present time the Board is considering and exploring the following projects as a means of carrying out the purposes of the Foundation:

  1. bringing into the Fresno area the radio signal of KPFA-FM. This Berkeley station is a Pacifica radio station and operates through subscriptions. There is no advertising and the programming includes the best in art, music, readings, and social and political commentary. No such programming now exists in Fresno [3];
  2. publishing a journal of art and literature. The publication would focus on the creative talent of individuals in the San Joaquin Valley;
  3. sponsoring films, plays, and lectures that would otherwise not be shown in the Fresno area.


[1] In October 1973, a Superior Court jury awarded Dr. Joe David Toney $10,000 in damages in a civil suit against the Board of Trustees of the California State University and Colleges. The State's appeal to a higher court was denied. Toney received the $10,000 including interest and court costs.

[2] The book was published by Ramparts Press in 1979 with the Fresno Free College Foundation as copyright owner.

[3] The Foundation's radio station, KFCF-FM, began broadcasting on June 9, 1975 and continues today.