Monday, November 21, 2011

UC Davis

Two years ago I was hosted at UC Davis by Dr. Josh Viers. I gave two lectures, cruised about the open campus, attended some drinks, touched base with the Indigenous Studies department (Roger Maaka was visiting the week following my time there). Lovely place, lovely time.


Imagine my surprise and concern at breaking news on the provocative use of pepper to clear students from a seemingly peaceful sit-in...

Disturbing footage on the ubiquitous YouTube (Did the coppers not notice all the tech-ware filming and broadcasting their every move? Worse, did they notice and not care?!)

Is this the tipping point? Plenty of clever people joining the dots (queue Kent State and Civil Rights marches). I can't get NZ once-was-radical Tim Shadbolt's tired response to the Occupy Dunedin movement....'We use to be organised, you'd have a committee, a treasurer...' Yadda yadda yadda as they say (though I acknowledge his support of Orakei protests it seems many years ago now).

A number of UC Davis academic staff have released statements:

From Art Shapiro (EVE and GGE): 

Chancellor Katehi:
The image of the University of California, Davis has been damaged locally, nationally and internationally in a way that will be very difficult to repair. That was made clear to me when an old friend who is a member of the national media called me at home last night to talk about this. We talked for 20 minutes. He said --and I quote -- "This could be a game-changer, like Kent State, only thank God no one was killed!" Whatever decisions led to Friday's debacle and whoever made them, the time for mere "damage control" passed as soon as the video went viral. The video renders ludicrous the claim that the police felt threatened--by demonstrators sitting, arms linked, on the sidewalk!  I have no doubt that a resolution of censure will be introduced and will pass, probably by acclamation, at an emergency meeting of the Representative Assembly of the Academic Senate.

You must assume personal responsibility and apologize on behalf of the University to the entire University community, sincerely and in plain language, without any bureaucratese or references to the task force and its mandate. If you do, there is at least a chance that escalation of the situation can be averted. If you do not...

I am in my 40th year at this institution. I was at Penn and Cornell in the 60s and know campus crisis from the inside. I have seen crises at Davis before, but never anything like this. Not an hour before the police moved onto the Quad, I was observing to a friend that Davis is not Berkeley, and "vive la difference!" Before this incident, that was a fair statement. Now the shock and the fury are all too palpable, and the fundamental dynamic has changed -- and a replay of Berkeley in the 60s looms.

Please make the right decision, and do so at once. Time is an ally only of the forces of unreason now.
                                               Arthur M. Shapiro
                                               Distinguished Professor, Evolution & Ecology

From Artyom Kopp (EVE):

Dear Chancellor Katehi,
I live such a sheltered life that I was not even aware of Friday’s events until yesterday, when messages started piling up in my mailbox from students, faculty colleagues, and friends and colleagues at other universities.  I did not support the student protests because I believed them to be misdirected and therefore ineffective.  When I first saw references to “police brutality” at UC-Berkeley, I assumed in my cynical fashion that it was the usual attention-grabbing ploy by the protesters.  I was wrong.  I finally watched the videos last night and what I saw can only be described as outrageous and disgusting.  Quite aside from being morally indefensible, cold-blooded use of excessive force against peaceful and essentially orderly protesters has done enormous damage to our university’s reputation and will undermine the trust between the administration, faculty, and students for a long time. 
During your short tenure at UC – Davis, you have done much to start turning this university around.  You earned a lot of respect among the faculty for speaking plainly, facing up to our problems, and making hard decisions – something that the previous administration seemed incapable of doing.  All that is now in jeopardy because of one ill-judged decision.  I am aware that many faculty members are calling for your resignation.  I am not ready yet for such a drastic step, as I have a deep appreciation for your accomplishments as well as your interaction style.  However, the fact remains that this outrage was committed by the university police acting under your direction. Whoever gave the order to use force, ultimately this is your responsibility.  What matters now is your response, and I need hardly tell you that your actions in the next couple of days will shape not only your legacy but also the spirit of our university. 
An error does not become a mistake until one refuses to correct it.  In this case, we are long past damage control or task forces, and the 30-day timeline for addressing a rapidly developing situation is unacceptable.  I urge you to apologize, in person, to the victims of police brutality, to identify the failures in the decision-making process that led to the use of force, and to take all necessary steps to make sure this is never repeated.  I am sure you understand by now that this is not “an incident”, but one of the defining moments in our history.  It will not die down or be swept under the rug; neither the students nor the faculty will let it go.  Our future depends on how, and how quickly, you respond.  I am afraid you have only the briefest window of time before the damage becomes irreparable.  One small part of that damage will be my own confidence in your ability to lead our university.
Artyom Kopp

From Jim Griesemer (Philosophy):

Various groups of faculty are organizing no-confidence in Chancellor Katehi petitions to the Academic Senate. Faculty and staff in my department (Philosophy) sent a letter Chancellor Katehi and to the editor of the Davis Enterprise, which was published in today's paper and online.

Also, I sent the following letter to Chancellor Katehi, to the Provost, and variety of her "cabinet" and senior staff members today. Since I included my CPB, STS, and CSIS affiliations in my signature, I thought you should know what I am saying.

Dear Chancellor Katehi,

With all due respect, you must take responsibility and apologize for the police actions against students on Friday. It doesn't matter if you made the order or those under your command did. What campus police did is so obviously wrong, that only by apologizing on behalf of the entire administration can you even begin to put things right. You must do this on Monday or it will be too late.

Even if you reach out to the campus community in a thoughtful way, you will not be credible in anyone's eyes unless you take responsibility for these reprehensible acts, promise to reform the campus police department personnel, training, and policies, and embrace the student protests by engaging directly and visibly with students on campus without any police presence. You must show that business as usual has been suspended by personally appearing in public to listen to students, faculty and staff. You only have until Wednesday to do this, as Thursday and Friday are campus holidays.

Convening a task force, whether it has a 90-day or a 30-day mandate to report, by itself, will be and is being viewed as a way of deflecting responsibility rather than as a credible means of addressing immediate concerns and a way of evading direct personal engagement with students, faculty and staff about the larger issues that prompted the student protests in the first place. Email, blog and web site pronouncements just will not do. You must face the community, admit to the mistakes, and get on with reform. 

If campus counsel advises against such an apology and admission of mistakes, well, there are times when you just have to go with your gut feeling about what is the right thing to do and risk the consequences. If you do not feel that the advice I am offering is the right thing to do, then I am afraid I will lose confidence in your ability to lead the campus, as many others already have. I am giving you the benefit of my doubt, but I believe you really have only three days, not thirty days, to put things on the right road.

I have been a faculty member at UCD since 1983. This is certainly the most critical moment politically and morally in the entire time I have been at Davis and maybe in the entire history of the campus. I think you have one chance left to lead. I urge you to take the chance and do the right thing.

Jim Griesemer

From Pete Richerson (ESP and GGE):
Dear Chancellor Katehi,
I am away from campus at a conference but have been watching the news of the very widely reported pepper spray event. I have watched the available videos and reviewed the reporting that is on the web.
 It would appear to me that this is the most botched reaction to the Occupy movement in the nation yet. All reportage is sympathetic to the protesters. Not surprising given the damning video.
 Chief Spicuzza's remark to the Bee that "There was no way out of that circle. They were cutting the officers off from their support. It's a very volatile situation" is utterly belied by the completely non-violent behavior of the demonstrators and the casualness of the officer that pepper-sprayed the seated demonstrators. Other officers stood about for some time in a loose group that seemed to have little if any fear of the demonstrators. They arrested some (all?) of the pepper-sprayed demonstrators with no obvious interference except for shouts of "shame on you". Many never bothered to pull down their face shields. No threatening student nor threatening "non-campus affiliates" of your email seems to have thrown a punch, a rock, or anything that required the police to defend themselves. The health and safety of no one seemed under any threat except possibly for the victims of the pepper spraying. The hearts of Martin Luther King and Gandhi must be beating in their graves; textbook nonviolent tactics.
 The objective of a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience is to demonstrate to the citizenry at large that the authorities are an illegitimate elite that maintains power ultimately by force. The selfish, possibly evil 1% of the occupy movement. The tactical response on authorities determined to win the battle for hearts and minds should be to grant the legitimate rights of the protesters and bend over backwards to tolerate nonviolent disruptive tactics. Respond to whatever legitimate grievances the protesters have, to the extent that the university has the power to do so. If some peaceful protesters want to spend all winter camped on the quad, what harm can they do? Any health threats can be solved with a few chemical toilets and a dumpster. Or if you wanted to lay it on thick, you could set up a medical tent with a nurse to treat any sick Occupiers. You could make a personal donation to help fund all this and ask the rest of the university community to chip in. I would, say $1000.
 If the Occupiers are truly non-violent they'll monitor themselves and liaise with the police to control "non-campus affiliates" or others who threaten the peace.
  At this juncture, you'd have a moral standoff. The university has tolerated non-violent protest and accepted some costs by bending over backwards to accommodate the protest.
  The university in fact has little power over most of the Occupy folks grievances. At the point of standoff, the Occupiers could accept a minor victory and gradually drift home. The university could brag about its tolerance and reasonableness.  Or the Occupiers can escalate out of frustration at the small scale of their victory. If they are smart they'll move on to targets with more power and less legitimacy than the University. If they are dumb they'll become either violent or truly dangerously disruptive. Then they will have blown their legitimacy, and the you will have plenty of support for arrests and eviction. You'd win the battle for hearts and minds, save for some die-hard ideologues.
 They might use the campus as a base to disrupt I-80 or the BNSF rail line. But then other police agencies will have to do the dirty work. Once the their legitimacy has evaporated, you can gently police up the remainder. If they happen to win, you are on the side of the angels!
 Today's incident and your maladroit email make you sound more like a Myanmar colonel than a UC Chancellor. "Non-campus affiliates!" Redolent of the 1960s infamous canard "outside agitators!"
 Sorry to presume to give tactical advice, but I was a student here during the last big wave of student protests in the 1960s and 70s. Emil Mrak, our Chancellor then, was, I believe, somewhat to right of Attila. He is said to have very roughly bullied Prof Robert Rudd, an early anti DDT scientist-activist. But he was a masterful tactician. He kept close ties to activist student leaders, for example student body President and protest leader Bob Black. In one incident I recall there was a Regents' meeting at Davis in which UCD students pressed a controversial question. The Regents tabled the issue with a promise to consider it at the next meeting in Santa Barbara. Mrak sprang for a couple of buses to transport Davis activists to Santa Barbara to make sure the Regents fulfilled their promise. We heard that he took some heat from the Regents and President's office but the upshot was that that the campus was spared large-scale disruptive demonstrations.
 I believe that your attempt to mollify protesters with a committee to report in 90 days will fail. The Occupiers will be back tomorrow and a great deal of significance is liable to happen in the next few days. You need to **lead now**, not deal with the recommendations of a committee 90 days from now.
 At minimum, you ought to suspend or fire Chief Spicuzza, the pepper spray cop, and anyone in the chain of command between them pending the outcome of an investigation you conduct yourself or entrust to someone who reports to you. You ought to establish a personal connection with the Occupy folks, perhaps by giving a mea culpa speech at their encampment. I'd spring for donuts and coffee for the campers every  morning at 7:30 as long as their protest stays peaceful. I'd assign your most sympatico police officer to meet daily with the Occupier's security committee. If they don't have one, I'd have the officer tell them that if they form a responsible one, there will be no police presence at the camp unless requested by the security committee or unless violent incidents are reported by other parties. If the Occupiers want to conduct civil disobedience actions, the liaison officer should try to negotiate a procedure for safe and non-violent arrest. If the Occupiers will not negotiate such procedures, at least you've won a moral point. You may have only 24 hours to save your job and, more important, save UCD from months of turmoil.
 Frankly, I'm highly ambivalent about giving you this advice. I'm deeply sympathetic to the Occupy movement. If UCD goes down in history as a famous incident in the Occupy phenomenon I would tell my grandkids the story with pride. If you're destined to be the villain in that drama so be it. On the other hand, from what I hear you are doing a splendid job as Chancellor. I love what you are doing for a campus that has been in my heart since I came as and undergrad student in 1962. I hope that you can find a way to continue your good work.
 Best luck, you'll need a lot of that,
Peter J. Richerson
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Department of Environmental Science and Policy One Shields Avenue University of California Davis Davis, CA 95616

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