Volume 29 · Number 2 · Winter 2012
Campus protests: continuing the dialogue
It is a time for listening and healing at UC Davis. And the conversation has begun.
Since the events of Nov. 18 — when police used pepper spray on demonstrators and arrested 10 people, nine of them students — the campus community has engaged in a deep dialogue among faculty, students and staff: How does the campus balance the rights of students to protest with the broader mission of higher education? What is the role of nonviolent protests in the university community? And how do we address the crisis in funding for higher education, at UC Davis and beyond?
UC Davis is not the only institution grappling with these questions — but it aims to learn and grow from the answers it seeks, especially with the help of students, who are clearly the most affected by the escalating costs of college.
As Adam Thongsavat, president of the Associated Students of UC Davis, put it during a Capitol Public Radio interview on Nov. 16: "We understand the state has a revenue problem. What we're saying is let us help you find a solution."
from the chancellor
Readers of this magazine are devoted Aggies accustomed to leafing through its colorful pages and learning more about our accomplished students, groundbreaking researchers and brilliant faculty who have helped establish UC Davis as one of the top public research universities in the nation.
This edition is no exception, with features that include our historic grand opening of UC Davis West Village, the largest planned zero net energy community in the nation.
Unfortunately, we had an incident on campus this fall that did not serve us well or reflect positively on our university. I am referring to the highly regrettable use of pepper spray on Nov. 18 by UC Davis police attempting to remove an encampment on the Quad.
As chronicled in the media, UC Davis experienced student protests during mid-November over tuition increases and budget cuts that led to a tent encampment Nov. 18 on the Quad, in violation of campus policy. The university required that the tents be removed. Some did comply, and police removed the rest who did not, making 10 arrests and using pepper spray in the process. Footage of the event went viral on the Web, drawing worldwide attention. The police chief and two officers involved were put on administrative leave.
Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi has described the event as "chilling" and "horrible." She took full responsibility for the police actions, immediately ordering an investigation into what happened that day on the Quad between police and demonstrators, how it happened and why.
At press time, the campus had asked that all charges against the demonstrators be dropped and committed to paying medical and emergency expenses for the students who were pepper-sprayed. The incident is now the subject of five pending fact-finding investigations and reviews, including an independent task force that will report directly to UC President Mark Yudof and Chancellor Katehi. Yudof has also ordered a review of all police procedures, protocols and training on UC campuses.
If safety and security policies need to be changed at UC Davis, campus leaders say, they will be changed.
Thongsavat, the student body president, urged that campus policies be reviewed and reformed so students have a more positive relationship with campus police. The student government also passed a resolution calling for sensitivity training for campus police and a review of policies on student protests.
A call for dialogue
For her part, the chancellor, in the wake of calls for her resignation, vowed to participate in year-round talks with the faculty and students to discuss how to balance protest rights with the institution's educational goals, as well as budgetary challenges facing the UC system in the 21st century.
At a Nov. 22 student forum, student comments ranged from criticism of how the campus administration handled the pepper spray incident to expressions of support for campus leaders in handling a difficult situation in balancing safety concerns with the desire to protest.
Jason Hsu, a third-year computer science major, welcomed the idea of the chancellor meeting more frequently with students.
"There's a silent majority out there, and I'm one of them," said Hsu.
Higher education funding
The roots of the student protests that led to the Nov. 18 incident also underscore the urgency of a much larger debate needed in California about adequate funding for higher education.
Miles Prince, a first-year law student, said at a Dec. 1 town hall meeting sponsored by the Chancellor's Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Board that the UC is having a hard time living up to its public-school promise of accessible education.
"These are the issues that brought students to the Quad on the 18th," said Prince, who added, "If our goal is to make a professional education accessible to the public, one would think our tuition would be at least on level with private peer institutions."
Chase DeCoite, a senior in animal science, spoke at the student town hall gathering and thanked the chancellor for the campus's response to the student protests: "She has weathered this storm here this week in a manner that I believe is extremely professional."
Also speaking at the same forum, another student said the university must move forward in a "very transparent manner."
In response to the pepper spray incident and to address the broader issues relative to the support for education, UC Davis will hold more student forums and undertake the following actions in the near future (with additional reforms possible as well):
Review policies and practices regarding law enforcement — This initiative will include recommendations and responses from the other reviews and investigations of the pepper-spraying incident.
Establish a Conflict Resolution Council — This proposal will identify the tools needed to help UC Davis resolve conflicts in accordance with the campus's Principles of Community (see principles.ucdavis.edu).
Conduct a major outreach effort to alumni and donors — This program will re-emphasize the need to support UC Davis so it can provide support to students, faculty and programs.
Connect with parents — UC Davis Tomorrow, a major outreach initiative to parents, will reaffirm the values of UC Davis and its strong commitment to education, and include local visits, online dialogues and social media efforts.
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter said that UC Davis underscored the importance of bringing all campus stakeholders to the table.
"As a community, we will learn and grow from our experiences by engaging in a productive dialogue as our university moves forward," Hexter said.