Sunday, March 06, 2011

Philip K. Dick at U.C. Berkeley

One of the most enduring stories surrounding Philip K. Dick involves his time at U.C. Berkeley. Most versions center on Dick as a German or philosophy major who was forced to take ROTC training, and when Dick found ROTC objectionable, he then dropped out of school as a form of protest. For example, Tessa Dick, Dick's fifth ex-wife, said in an interview, "Phil studied philosophy for one semester, and then he dropped out because, at the time, they had mandatory ROTC since Korea was going on."

Anne Dick, the third ex-wife, takes a more measured approach, and states in her memoir that Dick's claustrophobia kept him out of the classroom, and he also disliked ROTC ("The Search for Phillip K. Dick," p. 244).

So which ex-wife is correct? A quick view of Dick's timeline would not support Tessa Dick's version. By looking at Dick's transcript, one can see that he was enrolled in U.C. Berkeley from September until November 11, 1949. The Korean War started June 25, 1950.
So what does Dick's university transcript reveal? Not much: Dick did not have a declared major and briefly took classes in military science, history, philosophy, and zoology. There is no recorded grade, a consequence, no doubt, of his abrupt withdrawal. His transcript, publicly available since his death, also shows the college prep courses he took at Berkeley High School, which included three units of German and one unit of Latin. U.C. Berkeley required fifteen high school entrance units, and Dick had seventeen and a half, with two units of math and one and a half in science.

Dick graduated high school at 18 and enrolled at U.C. Berkeley when he was 20, was that unusual at the time? Dick would not have been alone, because of the veterans using their G.I. Bill benefits. Still, the question remains unanswered as to Dick's exact reason for delaying his college  enrollment.
Since the draft had been reinstated in 1948, could Dick have been looking at a student deferment? It is possible, though, given Dick's mental and physical health, it is doubtful the military would have wanted him. Eventually, Dick was deferred because of his high blood pressure.

Perhaps a previous health problem flared back up. According to Anne, Dick had suffered a nervous breakdown causing him to drop out in his senior year in high school and undergo therapy sessions at a psychiatric institute. Anne states that Dick did not even take his entrance exam until 1949.
Could Dick have been lacking the money to pay for school? In the public universities and college in California tuition was practically non-existent until the 1960s, so Dick's reason for delaying his enrollment was probably not related to financial issues.

The transcript raises other questions, one being why his father, J. Edgar, is listed as his guardian? Dick's parents had divorced around 1933, and Dick had lived with his mother, Dorothy. Also, the transcript shows Dick living in El Cerrito and not Berkeley, so who was Dick living with? These questions cannot be answered from the transcript, and truth to tell, neither can the central question surrounding Dick's all too brief stay at U.C. Berkeley: did he really drop out to protest ROTC? Or could Dick have been suffering from one of his anxiety attacks?

At the same time period, Dick was capable of holding a job at University Radio, and his claustrophobia and other psychological problems did not exert enough power to prevent him from losing his virginity to Jeannette Marlin in the store's basement storage area. Dick married Marlin when he was 19 and divorced six months later. His marriage perhaps provided a distraction to his goal of pursuing higher education.

In a time when about half of Americans did not graduate from high school, Dick had received a very good education. As to why it took him so long to enroll in university, perhaps Dick had simply decided to savor Berkeley's golden era of the 1940s, and while he tried higher studies, perhaps he found it not as interesting or fun as the exciting intellectual life off campus. Dick also enjoyed the additional benefits of socializing with Berkeley students without having to attend classes: he dated a graduate student and eventually married an undergraduate, Kleo Apostolides.

In the end, Dick's ROTC story became part of his personal myth, one by most accounts he enjoyed repeating, and the truth is that his ROTC protest story is how Dick chose to define himself.


tuffy777 said...

Phil claimed that he specifically, as an individual student, was required to take ROTC because he received a scholarship based on his father's military service. That is what Phil said, so don't accuse me of being wrong. I am simply quoting my husband.

tuffy777 said...

Now that I have checked the facts, which you did not, I know that ROTC was compulsory up until 1962

Diligent Blogger said...

Thank you for your comment! It is indeed an honor. Thank you for the information about the scholarship. Perhaps this could account for why his father was listed as guardian of record. "Correct" as mentioned in the blog refers only to historical validity, and certainly no offense was intended or meant towards you or Anne. The assumption of the blog entry was that you were relaying your former's husband's self narrative.

You are entirely correct: ROTC was compulsory at the University of California, but only for an "able bodied male." (For example, see page 35 of the UCLA 1949 Catalog Because Dick had a draft deferral because of health problems, it seems within the realm of reason that he could have also sought an exemption from ROTC attendance, if he had wanted to remain in school.