Reagan’s 1966 campaign focused on lowering the cost of higher education, welfare, restore order on the college campuses in California, and tax reform. Reagan focused some of his campaign on the University of California at Berkeley. He warned his supporters of “sexual orgies so vile that I cannot describe them to you.” Perlstein notes that the orgy line got wild applause. No proof was ever offered.
During Ronald Reagan’s first term as Governor, Reagan went hard after abuses in social welfare programs. One of the more famous ones was his crusade against the abuses in Aid to Dependent Children. The Los Angeles Times conducted their own investigation finding as Perlstein writes, “abuses in four-tenths of 1 percent of relief cases and editorialized that for the sins of these 180 families and $31,960 lost from the state treasury, innocent children whose birthright was poverty were being put at risk of starvation.” Reagan was merely capitalizing on an issue that he brought up consistently and a thought that was fairly widespread. A White House study conducted by the Lyndon Johnson administration found that nearly 75% of white Bostonians thought most welfare cases were fraudulent.
The 1960 Donahoe Act, also known as the Master Plan for Higher Education, helped establish tuition free college for all California students who wanted a higher education. The plan was drawn up by UC president Clark Kerr. The University of California would provide education tuition free to the top 12.5% of high school graduates. The top 33.3% of high school students could go to one of the California State Universities, tuition-free. Everyone else could go to one of the community colleges throughout California. Community college graduates could then transfer to the University of California system or California State University’s system and finish their bachelor’s degree, tuition free.
Reagan upon his inauguration was able to get control of the Board of Regents for the University of California system. He was able to fire Kerr. He also proposed cutting the University of California system by 10% across the board. He also proposed that the University of California system charge tuition and wanted the Berkeley to sell off collections of rare books.
The cost of higher education, therefore, was not the cost on the individual but rather the cost of higher education on the government. He later said, as Perlstein notes, that “it was not the business of the state to subsidize intellectual curiosity.” Reagan offered no sympathy to student protesters. After a student was shot observing a protest, Reagan said,”the police didn’t kill the young man. He was killed by the first college administrator who said some time ago it was all right to break the laws in the name of dissent.”