Published in the Daily Nexus, January 22, 2012
Several members of the UC administration held a joint legislative hearing last month in response to last quarter’s incidents of police violence at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, which prompted several systemwide investigations into campus safety and police policy.
The meeting included testimonies from administrators including UC President Mark G. Yudof and UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. Speakers discussed various factors leading to the incidents and offered potential solutions for avoiding similar situations in the future.
Assembly Committee on Higher Education Chair Marty Block, who requested the hearing in November, said the incidents are unacceptable and require further preventive measures.
“It was clear that things got out of hand,” Block said. “The goal of the hearing was to determine what went wrong and how it can be fixed.”
The solutions presented during the hearing included an additional student affairs position to mediate between police and protesters, increased leadership training for chancellors, a more consistent systemwide policy regarding police action and research into pepper spray’s long-term health effects.
According to Block, the reaction of UC Davis’ administration to protests on campus exposed the officials’ lack of sufficient training for handling such circumstances.
“As a chancellor, [Katehi] is no longer just an engineer and an educator — she is the CEO of the campus,” Block said. “An incident like this shows that chancellors may need more leadership training in things like demonstration and crowd control in order to work effectively in situations where crowd control is an issue.”
In November, Yudof appointed former New York Police Chief William Bratton and his consulting company Kroll Security Group to conduct a thorough investigation into police protocol at all UC campuses. Kroll will report to a UC Davis taskforce led by former California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso sometime this month.
Block said the initiative is a positive step toward addressing the UC’s administrative concerns.
“It’s good to see that Yudof and the UC are taking on a much more proactive role,” Block said. “I think Yudof’s plan is a step in the right direction but we can’t really know until the investigation is complete.”
Critics of the investigation claim that a conflict of interest exists due to Kroll’s official stance against public protests.
In an open letter to Yudof on Nov. 27, UC Faculty Associations President Robert Meister said the association opposes Yudof’s decision to hire Kroll Security on the grounds that the company has a vested interest in private education.
“[Kroll] protects many global financial institutions and other multinationals against threats to ‘operations’ that may come from public criticism and direct political action,” Meister said in the letter. “Kroll’s parent company, Altegrity, provides data mining, intelligence and on-the-ground security to financial institutions and governments seeking to head off and defeat both private sabotage and public protest. In addition, Altegrity’s parent company, Providence Private Equity, is a major global investor in for-profit higher education companies that benefit from the decline of publicly funded higher education.”
In a separate investigation, UC General Counsel Charles Robinson, UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Christopher Edley Jr. and a team of law enforcement experts are reviewing UC police regulations relating to demonstrations and will submit recommendations to unify the policies. The results are expected to be released in March.
Yudof also assigned UC Senior Vice President of Health Sciences and Services John Stobo to form a panel to deliberate on the potentially detrimental effects of pepper spray.
Block said the state legislature could enact regulations about the issue if the UC fails to make changes on its own.
“Our role is to review the results of the investigations,” Block said. “You might see some legislation or the system might decide to fix the problems on their own.”
UC Associate Vice President of Communications Lynn Tierney said the UC aims to gain a better understanding of how to foster a safe environment for protesters.
“I think the ultimate goal of these investigations is to ensure that you can achieve the proper balance of students demonstrating and exercising their First Amendment right in a nonviolent way, while at the same time ensuring the safety of everyone else on campus,” Tierney said. “It is a fine balancing act. We want to make sure police know what to expect and that they have clear directions for actions to take.”