SACRAMENTO — Four reports have been written about the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying of unarmed Occupy UC Davis protesters or the UC system’s policing of protests.
Now, the hard work begins.
“It’s time to move forward,” state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said Tuesday during a three-hour joint legislative hearing on police use of force at UC and California State University campuses.
“What my concern, right now, is that there needs to be a shared understanding on the campus — and I mean faculty, students, administration, staff — of the rights and responsibilities that all of us have.”
She asked UCD Chancellor Linda Katehi, UCD Academic Senate Chair Linda Bisson and former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, who chaired a task force on the pepper-spraying, about balancing the right to protest and the rest of campus life.
“I don’t have a magical answer for you,” Reynoso said. “The difficult part is that we have laid out what the issues are I think sufficiently well so probably good procedures and regulations will come out of our report. At the same time, though, folk have to use good judgment — and good judgment can’t be regulated.”
Added Reynoso: “One of our task force members said, ‘The expectations will always be more important than the rules and regulations.’ … We have to have a mutual expectation on the campus in terms of what we expect from one another. It takes time to establish that tradition.”
The Academic Senate plans to form a freedom-of-expression group with representatives from across campus. That’s just one step, Bisson said.
“It’s not going to be something where a week later you’ve got a plan,” she said. “You have to get buy-in from all the constituencies on campus.”
Katehi said the town hall meetings or other forums will provide a way to engage students, faculty and staff.
The discussion should go beyond free speech and civil disobedience to social justice, she said, because some students have long believed that police treat them differently.
Wolk had high praise for Katehi, saying the chancellor “has responded strongly and unequivocally” to protests.
Cops as scapegoats?
However, Assemblymen Marty Block, D-San Diego, and Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, asked pointed questions about UCD’s administration.
Two police officers remain on paid administrative leave, as of Tuesday, pending the result of an internal affairs investigation into the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying.
New UCD Police Chief Matt Carmichael — who replaced Annette Spicuzza, who opted to retire while under investigation — has brought in outside consultants to review the department.
The chancellor has shifted oversight of the Police Department from John Meyer, vice chancellor for administrative and resource management, to Provost Ralph Hexter.
Otherwise, discussions about administrators have largely focused more on changes in organization and decision-making practices.
Block said he worried “that the police have now become a scapegoat for the administration.”
Katehi responded that procedures that had been in place for years — like talking through crisis responses by phone and administrators not signing off on police operational plans — “failed us, totally.”
Said Block, “What I’m hearing is, despite the damning statements in the Reynoso report and the other reports, your conclusion is that everyone in your administration, but police officers, is doing a good job, given the process they had in place.”
“I think they tried to do the best they could, given the processes,” Katehi said, adding, “I have tremendous confidence in John Meyer. He is an excellent person. It’s just that the organization we had was not the one that would make him successful, or anybody else for that matter.”
Fong asked Bisson why the Academic Senate’s Executive Council voted to censure Katehi instead of call for her resignation.
Censure was seen as sending a message that mistakes were made — but that the council believed Katehi capable of correcting them, Bisson said.
The faculty voted down a no-confidence measure in February by a 2-to-1 margin.
“While things have changed, because of this (task force) report, most people felt that they had not changed enough, versus what they knew on Nov. 18, to make them lose confidence in the chancellor,” Bisson said.
Hexter now holds twice weekly meetings to discuss protests and other matters of concern. Rebecca Sterling, president of the Associated Students of UC Davis, said students have been kept informed about the meetings but are not invited to attend.
Sterling credited Katehi and Carmichael with taking positive steps, but she said students want to see more done.
“We need to know that our administrators are willing to redefine what a transparent process looks like, what collaborative efforts look like, and how they will go about building the student body’s trust,” she said.
Katehi said she believes the no-confidence vote was about more than what happened on Nov. 18.
And here, like others who testified, she took the opportunity to press legislators to defend higher education from further budget cuts.
“Because of the major cuts that we have instituted, our campus has been divided into haves and have-nots,” Katehi said.
“The faculty in the sciences and engineering, they can get funding from the federal agencies and state agencies for the research. But the faculty in the humanities and social sciences (who rely on state general funds) have been in poverty for a long time.”
Continued Katehi, “Those who voted against me are expressing a concern (about) the privatization of the university. They see themselves in poverty with very little ability to teach. Some of them have no phones in their offices, and they have to spend their own money for pencils and paper.
“They see the directions we are taking as really contrary to their ability to teach and do their scholarship. That is a true divide on campus. I truly believe that this needs to be addressed.”
Bisson said professors are worried about the accessibility of higher education and the rising tuition and debt facing their students.
UC will ask the Board of Regents to consider another 6 percent tuition increase in July to address a $139 million budget shortfall. If voters reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase plan, UC funds will again get the ax.
Claudia Magana, president of the University of California Student Association, said because of that, she hoped changes will be made swiftly to better react to protests.
“Tension will rise again on campuses. Students will fight those fee increases. That means more protests,” she said.
To read the full reports on the pepper-spray incident and UC protest policy, see http://demonstrationreviews.ucdavis.edu.
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden