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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

By
From page A1 | December 15, 2011 |

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.

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

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