Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s statement to UC Berkeley students involved in the hunger strike

Although I am out of the country this week, I have been kept apprised of events on the Berkeley campus.

We appreciate how passionately you feel about the many issues affecting our Chicano/Latino community and students of color on campus and support your right to peaceful protest. Our first and foremost concern is for your health and safety as you engage in a hunger strike. I am assured that medical professionals from student health services at the Tang Center have been coming by regularly to talk to you. While you continue the hunger strike we want to be sure that you are aware of any risks to your health so that you can conduct your hunger strike in a safe manner.

During my absence, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost (EVCP) George Breslauer is acting on my behalf. We received your letter yesterday evening and EVCP Breslauer reached out and met with you early this morning. Vice Chancellor-Student Affairs Harry Le Grande also met this afternoon with key Chicano/Latino student leaders on multiple issues and concerns, including the hunger strike. EVCP Breslauer and Vice Chancellor Le Grande then offered to meet this evening with student representatives of the hunger strike. The meeting did not take place because students were unable to agree upon a student-only meeting. I would like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts in response to your letter and to encourage you to end your hunger strike.

As many of you know, equity and inclusion has been one of the pillars of my vision for the campus. I have been outspoken in support of our under-represented minority students, including our undocumented students. The issues that you raise in this regard are ones that are critically important to me and to the campus.

  1. SB 1070
    I am horrified by the passage of a law by the State of Arizona that appears motivated by deep racial divides and that has the potential for human and civil rights abuses, particularly against Chicano/Latinos. Immigration is a highly complex and difficult matter for our country and it is regrettable that the State of Arizona has chosen to deal with the issue by enacting this law. I am personally prepared to speak out against this law and add my voice to those of other citizens urging President Obama to work with the State to find a way to repeal Arizona SB 1070 by repairing a clearly broken federal immigration law system. I have always been a strong advocate of the Dream Act and for finding pathways to citizenship for undocumented students who, through no fault of their own, find themselves facing a discouraging future.
  2. Make UCB a Sanctuary Campus and provide extensive protection for undocumented students
    We share your concern for the safety of our undocumented students. At the request of La Raza, I recently spoke to our Chief of Police and was assured that our undocumented students would in no way be put at risk if they contacted our police to report crimes or threats. However, a declaration of our campus as a sanctuary campus almost certainly would have the unintended consequence of putting undocumented students and other community members at risk for heightened scrutiny.
  3. Drop all student conduct charges related to protest actions that occurred during the 2009-10 academic year
    As was announced to the campus community this week, we are not pursuing student conduct actions against students involved in activities during Live Week on the morning of December 11, 2009 given the genuine confusion on the part of some students regarding dispersal orders. However, we are not dropping other charges. On November 20th, 3800 students were prevented from attending classes by the actions of the protesters who occupied Wheeler Hall and a number of our buildings were disrupted by falsely pulled fire alarms. We have an obligation to all members of our community to ensure that our normal campus activities are not disrupted and our Time, Place and Manner rules are upheld.
  4. Stop cuts to low-wage workers on campus and stop attacks against union activists; rehire all AFSCME service workers and UPTE union activists and Cal performance employees
    The campus is undergoing severe budget cuts necessitated by the withdrawal of State support for the university. Staff at all levels have been affected. Salary reductions and lay-offs are an unfortunate consequence of the people of California’s disinvestment in public higher education.We have hired back staff in a few instances. For example, 8 custodians of 33 who were laid off have been rehired into positions that were held by custodians who have since retired and we plan to continue this rehiring as positions open up. The current unemployment rate in California is over 12% and none of us like to see our staff lose jobs. We are committed to treating individuals who find themselves in these difficult circumstances as fairly and as compassionately as possible.
  5. Suspend the Student Code of Conduct and initiate a democratic student-led process to review the code
    We have already modified some processes to improve the implementation of the Student Code of Conduct. A Task Force will be appointed by Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost George Breslauer to review our Code. We will seek input, including from students, to ensure that multiple viewpoints are included as we reevaluate the Code.For the past two years, the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards, in collaboration with the ASUC Student Advocate’s Office, has been working on changes to the Student Code of Conduct. This work will continue over the course of next year in conjunction with the work of the Task Force.
  6. Accept responsibility for the violence and escalation of the confrontation surrounding Wheeler Hall on Nov. 20th and Dec. 11th 2009 . . . Additionally, commit to using non-violent means of ensuring safety at student demonstrations in the future
    As I said publicly after the November 20th protests, we truly regret the incidents that brought physical and emotional injury to members of our community. We are committed to fashioning policies and procedures that honor the University’s commitments to freedom of inquiry and expression, and to maintaining the kind of secure and safe environment without which free inquiry and expression would not be possible. We immediately committed to an investigation of the events of that day and asked Professor Wayne Brazil, Chair of the Police Review Board to begin an independent and public review in January. He will be submitting his report to me before the end of this month.Since November 20th we have taken various measures to help educate our community, including ads in the Daily Cal, e-mail messages to students and faculty, and meetings with a number of student groups to help us ensure the safety of students at demonstrations. Unfortunately, after Nov. 20th in spite of our best efforts, University House and Durant Hall have been targets of vandalism.

I sincerely hope that you will end your hunger strike, and that we can continue to work together as a campus community to ensure that our campus is a welcoming and safe environment for every member of this campus to pursue our mission of teaching, research and public service.

Robert J. Birgeneau
Chancellor, UC Berkeley