Protesters descend voluntarily after occupying Wheeler Hall ledge

(9:45 p.m.) Eight protesters who occupied a fourth-floor ledge of Wheeler Hall for more than seven hours today came down voluntariy this evening after talks with campus leaders designed to safely resolve the situation. All eight were cited and released for trespassing, according to the University of California, Berkeley’s Police Department. They left the building just before 9:30 p.m.

The eight protesters — six of them seemingly chained to one another — were protesting state budget cuts to the University of California.

Letter from the chancellor

Dear Students:
Yesterday was a Day of Action for Public Education in which you and many others made your voices heard in support of public higher education. Like all of you, I am dismayed at the staggering size of a $1.4 billion cut to all sectors of public higher education. I am fully sympathetic with your concerns about the State’s disinvestment in public higher education and have been working hard in Sacramento to address this issue.
However, you have chosen a method of protest that I cannot support. I am very concerned about your health and safety and urge you to end this unsafe action. In the interest of your safety and that of others, we have closed Wheeler Hall. Please consider your fellow-students’ right to attend classes.

I meet regularly with students and will be pleased to schedule a meeting with you on the condition that you immediately end this unsafe protest.

Yours sincerely,
Robert J. Birgeneau

Police were alerted to the protest shortly before 2 p.m. today (Thursday, March 3), when nine protesters stepped out onto the ledge through classroom windows. Six of them linked arms through plastic tubes as if chained together. Police officers were able to reach one protester through the window and arrested him. Two additional unchained protesters remained on the ledge.

University police urged the protesters to come back into the building for safety reasons, but they initially refused. UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau ordered Wheeler Hall closed at 4 p.m., and police evacuated students, faculty and staff. Police urged people to avoid the area.

University officials said that 26 classes were canceled, impacting more than 1,000 students. Another 27 student groups have had their Wheeler Hall meetings canceled.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry LeGrande, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Jeff Prince and Associate Chancellor for Government, Community and Campus Liaison Linda Williams joined the police on the fourth floor to appeal to the protesters to reenter the building, and to discuss the protesters’ concerns. These were relayed to the Chancellor, who responded in a letter that was read to the crowd by LeGrande.

By that time, about 5 p.m., a crowd of approximately 200 people had gathered outside the south entrance of Wheeler Hall.