Davis, Protests, Pepper Spray, and Letters from the Chancellor

Posted on Posted in UC Davis

Below are two letters (original versions here and here) from UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi regarding the pepper spraying of student occupants/protestors on the UC Davis campus last week. It is quite striking that the “health and safety” of students seems to play such a prominent role in the letters.

Even more, there is silly language about creating positive dialogues and processes to make sure that voices are heard in solidarity with other groups around the country.  Take a quote from the second letter: “If our policies do not allow our students enough flexibility to express themselves, then we need to find a way to improve these policies and make them more effective and appropriate.” The time for these collaborative processes and policy reviews would have been before pepper spraying.

Letter 1:

To UC Davis Campus Community,

I am writing to tell you about events that occurred Friday afternoon at UC Davis relating to a group of protestors who chose to set up an encampment on the quad Thursday as part of a week of peaceful demonstrations on our campus that coincided with many other occupy movements at universities throughout the country.

The group did not respond to requests from administration and campus police to comply with campus rules that exist to protect the health and safety of our campus community.  The group was informed in writing this morning that the encampment violated regulations designed to protect the health and safety of students, staff and faculty.  The group was further informed that if they did not dismantle the encampment, it would have to be removed.

Following our requests, several of the group chose to dismantle their tents this afternoon and we are grateful for their actions.  However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.  We are saddened to report that during this activity, 10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used.  We will be reviewing the details of the incident.

We appreciate and strongly defend the rights of all our students, faculty and staff to robust and respectful dialogue as a fundamental tenet of our great academic institution.  At the same time, we have a responsibility to our entire campus community, including the parents who have entrusted their students to us, to ensure that all can live, learn and work in a safe and secure environment.  We were aware that some of those involved in the recent demonstrations on campus were not members of the UC Davis community and this required us to be even more vigilant about the safety of our students, faculty and staff.  We take this responsibility very seriously.

While we have appreciated the peaceful and respectful tone of the demonstrations during the week, the encampment raised serious health and safety concerns, and the resources required to supervise this encampment could not be sustained, especially in these very tight economic times when our resources must support our core academic mission.

We deeply regret that many of the protestors today chose not to work with our campus staff and police to remove the encampment as requested.  We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal.

We appreciate the substantive dialogue the students have begun here on campus as part of this week.s activities, and we want to offer appropriate opportunities to express opinions, advance the discussion and suggest solutions as part of the time-honored university tradition.  We invite our entire campus community to consider the topics related to the occupy movement you would like to discuss and we pledge to work with you to develop a series of discussion forums throughout our campus.

I ask all members of the campus community for their support in ensuring a safe environment for all members of our campus community.  We hope you will actively support us in accomplishing this objective.

Linda P.B. Katehi
Chancellor

Letter 2:

Dear Member of the UC Davis Community:

Yesterday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud; indeed the events of the day need to guide us forward as we try to make our campus a better place of inquiry, debate, and even dissent. As I described in my previous letter to the community, this past week our campus was a site of week-long peaceful demonstrations during which students were able to express their concerns about many issues facing higher education, the University of California, our campus, our nation, and the world as a whole. Those events involved multiple rallies in the Quad and an occupation of Mrak Hall which ended peacefully a day later.

However, the events on Friday were a major deviation from that trend. In the aftermath of the troubling events we experienced, I will attempt to provide a summary of the incident with the information now available to me.

After a week of peaceful exchange and debate, on Thursday a group of protestors including UC Davis students and other non-UC Davis affiliated individuals established an encampment of about 25 tents on the Quad. The group was reminded that while the university provides an environment for students to participate in rallies and express their concerns and frustrations through different forums, university policy does not allow such encampments on university grounds.

On Thursday, the group stayed overnight despite repeated reminders by university staff that their encampment violated university policies and they were requested to disperse. On Friday morning, the protestors were provided with a letter explaining university policies and reminding them of the opportunities the university provides for expression. Driven by our concern for the safety and health of the students involved in the protest, as well as other students on our campus, I made the decision not to allow encampments on the Quad during the weekend, when the general campus facilities are locked and the university staff is not widely available to provide support.

During the early afternoon hours and because of the request to take down the tents, many students decided to dismantle their tents, a decision for which we are very thankful. However, a group of students and non-campus affiliates decided to stay. The university police then came to dismantle the encampment. The events of this intervention have been videotaped and widely distributed. As indicated in various videos, the police used pepper spray against the students who were blocking the way. The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.

To this effect, I am forming a task force made of faculty, students and staff to review the events and provide to me a thorough report within 90 days. As part of this, a process will be designed that allows members of the community to express their views on this matter. This report will help inform our policies and processes within the university administration and the Police Department to help us avoid similar outcomes in the future. While the university is trying to ensure the safety and health of all members of our community, we must ensure our strategies to gain compliance are fair and reasonable and do not lead to mistreatment.

Furthermore, I am asking the office of Administrative and Resource Management and the office of Student Affairs to review our policies in relation to encampments of this nature and consider whether our existing policies reflect the needs of the students at this point in time. If our policies do not allow our students enough flexibility to express themselves, then we need to find a way to improve these policies and make them more effective and appropriate.

Our campus is committed to providing a safe environment for all to learn freely and practice their civil rights of freedom of speech and expression. At the same time, our campus has the responsibility to ensure the safety of all others who use the same spaces and rely on the same facilities, tools, environments and processes to practice their freedoms to work and study. While the university has the responsibility to develop the appropriate environments that ensure the practice of these freedoms, by no means should we allow a repeated violation of these rules as an expression of personal freedom.

Through this letter, I express my sadness for the events of past Friday and my commitment to redouble our efforts to improve our campus and the environment for our students.

Sincerely,

Linda P.B. Katehi
Chancellor

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