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Legislators demand campus change

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi answers questions at a joint hearing Wednesday of the Senate Committee on  Education and the Assembly Committee on Higher Education at the state Capitol in Sacramento. At left is John Welty, president of Cal State Fresno. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | December 15, 2011 | 5 Comments

SACRAMENTO — State lawmakers on Wednesday grilled UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi on chain of command and urged university leaders to rewrite rules for policing protests and use of force.

Last month, officers jabbed protesters with batons at UC Berkeley, struck and pepper-sprayed protesters outside a California State University trustees meeting and doused seated UCD protesters with pepper spray.

“Something is wrong with the system when our children, our students, struggling peacefully to have their voices heard, are answered by the spray of chemical weapons and the sting of a baton,” said Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach.

Questioning Katehi during a joint legislative hearing that ran 4 1/2 hours, Lowenthal tried to pin down where the buck stopped at UCD.

“You said you’re accountable, (that) you didn’t order (the use of force), and yet this is what occurred. How do we deal with this conundrum?” he asked.

Responded Katehi, “Should I be the one to provide tactical directions unless I know, as a person, of the specifics of law enforcement? I would never think that a chancellor would be in the right position to describe tactically what should happen.”

Katehi declined to discuss the incident in detail or to say whether Vice Chancellor John Meyer, who has authority over campus police, authorized force.

Police operational decisions at UCD traditionally have been made by the chief of police and the incident commander, Katehi said. UCD police Chief Annette Spicuzza, Lt. John Pike and one other unidentified officer have been placed on leave pending the outcome of ongoing investigations into what happened Nov. 18.

“I would feel quite inadequate with my background — I’m an engineer; I’m an educator, as a matter of fact — to tell anyone in the police department what to wear or what not to wear, what to use or what not to use, and under what conditions to take (action),” Katehi said.

UC President Mark Yudof said that chancellors don’t guide police in the field, but can provide guidance and perhaps should be more involved. Katehi has said she was among a group of administrators who in teleconferences urged Spicuzza to avoid confrontation.

Said Yudof, “Sometimes the best thing to do is wave the rules for a while. Or you may want to say, ‘I don’t want you to carry batons.’ That happened at UCLA — no police officer actually carried a baton when the Occupy (camp) was moved out — so I think some (decisions) can be made at the top.”

About a half-dozen investigations are underway into the UCD incident.

A 12-member task force chaired by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso should complete its work around the end of January, Katehi said.

A systemwide review of policies related to nonviolent protests should be done by March 1. Yudof said uniform policies were a likely outcome.

Lawmakers raised concern about the uniformity between protocols for campus and community police, who may be called upon for help during a protest, and whether codes of conduct, which vary by campus, were in sync with police guidelines.

“Student codes of conduct are sometimes used as a way to repress (dissent). Whether the administration intends that, it often becomes that,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

Mark Risher, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told lawmakers that police use of force may intimidate students who wish to speak out.

He and Barbara Attard, former president of the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, stressed the importance of strict, clear guidelines for officers handling protests.

Former UCD police Chief Calvin Handy said he was “open” to their recommendation that UC and CSU add police oversight boards. Handy defended campus police on the whole, however, saying they were well-trained in crowd control.

“What I’ve seen (in videos), it’s an absolute and clear aberration, to me, from what would normally happen…,” he said. “Law enforcement on college campuses see ourselves as absolutely required to protect the rights of individuals who wish to exercise their freedom to dissent, their freedom to assemble.”

Lawmakers also urged transparency in UC’s reform efforts and expediency.

Yudof, who said that he “read the riot act” to his chancellors after the UCD incident, asked lawmakers for “a little bit of patience.”

“We can’t just say, ‘Guilty, guilty, guilty,’ we need to know what exactly happened, who did what wrong, how far up the line the responsibility goes; so it’s going to take a little time,” he said.

Asked by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, how the campus will proceed until any new policies are in place, Katehi said she was assembling a team of counselors that will act as a go-between with protesters.

“We don’t want to place our police and our students in a similar situation,” she said.

Olsen said that she hoped the chancellor would not be “reactionary” and take needed tools and resources away from the department.

In contrast, Claudia Magaña, president of the UC Student Association, said she was concerned about the “increasing militarization” of campus police.

She cited a 2009 incident during which UCLA students were shocked with stun guns and pepper-sprayed, then another, in 2010, during which an officer drew a gun on protesters outside a UC Board of Regents meeting.

“Unfortunately, the recent incidents at the UC Berkeley and UC Davis campuses, though absolutely appalling, are not unprecedented. The main difference with these incidents is that social media allowed them to be viewed widely,” Magaña said.

Other students said more protests will surely follow because of the growing anger over tuition hikes.

“Students aren’t going to just lay down and let this happen,” said Sean Richards, vice president of the California State Student Association. “They’re going to rise up. They’re going to occupy. This is what we have — we have numbers.

“We’ve tried lobbying for the last 10 years, but our tuition has gone up over 200 percent since I’ve been a student, since 2008. We don’t know what else to do at this point.”

Jerika Heinze, a UCD student who said she was among those pepper-sprayed, said she and others “really feel that we’re going to be the last generation of low-income students transcending the ladder and making something better for ourselves.”

Lawmakers acknowledged what Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, called “the elephant in the room” — that budget cuts in Sacramento have led to tuition increases.

Counting midyear reductions announced Tuesday, UC and CSU have seen their funding sliced by $750 million each this year, community colleges by $502 million.

“Higher education should be a higher priority of the state Legislature,” said Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena. “Frankly, We should be working in concert to find dedicated revenue streams to make sure that we provide the same opportunity for students that we did 20 or 30 years ago.”

Lowenthal, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, said that he intended to call a second hearing when results are in from the investigations.

He also urged the Legislature to investigate the health effects of pepper spray. Yudof promised UC researchers would assist, if needed.

Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, expressed optimism that “something positive will come out of this.”

“It is a volatile time, it’s far from over. And, as we continue to struggle over the next several months with this very daunting budget situation, I hope that we will take some lessons from all of this,” she said.

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net. Follow him at http://twitter.com/cory_golden.

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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Discussion | 5 comments

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  • Ron SmithDecember 15, 2011 - 11:24 am

    Another incredibly inept and naive comment by the Chancellor that her background as an educator and engineer precludes her giving directions to the police as to how to deal with the students she is responsible for. She can't do both -- say she is fully responsible and then claim not to know what to do. If you examine her explanation of what happened in her previous position with admissions at the University of Illinois you can see a pattern of denying responsibility for things she should know about. Can we not find a more suitable public servant to lead UC Davis? Her family income is $550,000 (Her husband is a faculty assistant to a Vice Chancellor and makes $150,000). That means with salaries combined that the Tseregounis family grosses a little over $10,500 a week, almost enough to pay annual tuition for one UC Davis student. (They could be grossing more depending if they are paid on academic 9 month year or for 12 months). And they get complimentary housing too. All this and she says she feels inadequate to explain to the police about what kind of actions to take on her campus?

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  • JohnDecember 15, 2011 - 12:25 pm

    I can only hope that she was either misquoted; or that the quotes were reported out of context - that is an incredible statement for a leader to make. Maybe it's time for her to pursue an engineering career.

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  • Greg KuperbergDecember 15, 2011 - 8:39 pm

    I have to say that I don't like and didn't expect the sensationalist tone that has developed at the Davis Enterprise with some of its stories. There is nothing wrong with reporting this hearing --- in fact I wanted to read about it --- and as far as I know there is nothing all that wrong with the facts as reported. What is not so good is that when I went to the web site, it said "LEGISLATORS DEMAND CAMPUS CHANGE" in giant letters, followed by "State lawmakers on Wednesday grilled UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi on chain of command and urged university leaders to rewrite rules for policing protests and use of force." That's not the way that the Daily Californian put it. Their headline is, "State legislators question university officials about November protests" and the lead sentence is, "Over the course of a more than four hour joint legislative hearing in Sacramento Wednesday, state legislators sought answers from UC and CSU officials regarding police use of force against nonviolent protesters in recent weeks." Why did you the Enterprise verbs like "demand" and "grill" to describe what must have been a fairly standard hearing, or at worst fairly standard theatrics, in Sacramento? For a number of reasons, state legislators aren't actually in a position to "demand" much from UC Davis or Chancellor Katehi. One reason is that they can hardly threaten to cut funding more than they already have cut funding and probably will cut funding no matter what. Another reason is that legislatures don't run universities and can't run universities. A third reason is that, even though the pepper spray incident was entirely out of place for Davis, it's not on the same scale as some of the injustices with police and prisons elsewhere in the state. It's not like the Rodney King beating, the BART police shooting, the riots in badly overcrowded California prisons, etc. I wonder if the Davis Enterprise has something to learn from the Berkeley student paper. Namely, that when a news organization sensationalizes stories, it wins attention and loses respect. I just didn't expect to see it in our traditional city paper.

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  • why hasn't she been firedDecember 22, 2011 - 9:00 pm

    UCD deserves better than Katehi. Her employment needs to be terminated, since she doesn't have the strength of character to step down.

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  • Police, Student Protesters, and Pepper Spray | LA ProgressiveApril 18, 2012 - 9:01 am

    [...] was a 2009 UC Davis graduate.The use of pepper spray will remain a contentious issue since UC president Mark Yudof testified in Sacramento on December 14, in response to evidence provided by this writer, that the University would fund an independent [...]

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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