Faculty Senate criticizes response to Occupy Cal protest

In a packed room of more than 500 people, the Berkeley Academic Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to approve a package of four resolutions condemning the administration and police response to the Nov. 9 campus Occupy Cal protest.

Chancellor Birgeneau

Following presentations by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande — and a series of sometimes-impassioned statements from faculty members — the Senate voted 336 to 34 in favor of the measures, which ranged from a call for special training for campus police to a condemnation of “the UC Berkeley administration’s authorization of violent responses to nonviolent protests over the past two years.”

“The Faculty Senate feels very, very strongly that a statement was necessary, and these four resolutions were the ones that were used to express that,” said Senate chair Bob Jacobsen, who presided over the standing-room-only meeting in the Chevron Auditorium of International House.

Forty-seven Berkeley faculty members initially asked for Monday’s special meeting to vote on a resolution of no-confidence in Birgeneau, Breslauer and Le Grande. On Saturday, the authors of that resolution — political science professor Wendy Brown, gender and women’s studies professor Barrie Thorne and rhetoric and comparative literature professor Judith Butler — said it had been “misconstrued,” and that their intention was mainly to bring violent police responses “to an immediate end.”

Judith Butler

Declaring himself “extremely disturbed that these events happened,” Birgeneau accepted “full responsibility” for the force exerted by police on Nov. 9. The chancellor noted that he was in Asia on campus business at the time, and cited communications difficulties as a factor in how the events of that day unfolded.

Before leaving the country, Birgeneau said, he directed Police Chief Mitch Celaya not to use tear gas or pepper spray on demonstrators — who had vowed to erect tents on campus in defiance of campus policy — but did not explicitly rule out the use of batons. He added that “it’s extremely important, as a matter of fairness, that we hear the police side of the story,” and urged his listeners to reserve final judgment until the campus Police Review Board completes its investigation.

Earlier yesterday, an open letter by the UC Berkeley Police Officers’ Association asserted that a widely seen video of the Nov. 9 clash “does not depict the full story or the facts leading up to an actual incident,” and asked the campus community “for the opportunity to move forward together, peacefully and without further incident — in better understanding of one another.”

“Moving forward together” was a theme heard during the Senate meeting as well.

Bahar Navab, president of the Berkeley Graduate Assembly, urged faculty to focus on the “problems of disinvestment in public higher education,” declaring that “the time to band together and collaborate for real change is now.”

“We have the momentum right now to make bigger change,” she said. “Imagine how much more powerful a message we could send if our faculty and staff were standing with us in Sacramento.”

A series of faculty speakers, echoing the language of the resolutions, targeted the use of police force to suppress students’ rights to free speech. Kevin Padian, a professor of integrative biology who said he had worked on committees dealing with campus regulations, said the policy against encampments had a pragmatic intent, and was never meant to restrain freedom of expression.

Some, including Ananya Roy, a professor of urban and regional planning, and George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive linguistics, called for a more visible presence by campus administrators during protests like those of Nov. 9 and a 2009 takeover of Wheeler Hall. One of the resolutions passed on Monday calls on the administration “to implement the recommendations of the June 14, 2010, report of the Police Review Board,” which looked at the campus’s handling of the Wheeler protest.

Breslauer proposed “that we initiate campuswide conversations about the underlying issues that have generated the Occupation movement, and have generated the police confrontation of November 9th.” The campus should examine whether it wants to maintain its policies against encampments, occupation of buildings, disruption of classes and other so-called “time, place and manner” rules regarding the exercise of free speech, he suggested. But it should also look for ways to address the growing socioeconomic disparities that sparked the nationwide Occupy protests.

Breslauer said he would ask that “a balanced commission of faculty, staff, students and senior administrators be convened to work intensively for the next three months” to produce “actionable ideas” for the campus, and offered to meet “regularly and frequently” with student and faculty groups.

The complete texts of all four resolutions are available on the Academic Senate website.