Notwithstanding the sea of empty chairs, Pauley Ballroom yesterday was the scene of some genuine dialogue between Berkeley students and university administrators on the subject of the campus’s response to November’s Occupy Cal protests.
Billed as an “open forum” by the UC Office of the President, the two-hour session was mostly as advertised — informal, conversational and largely civil. Before the event kicked off, the four speakers with designated spots on the dais — School of Law Dean Christopher Edley, OP Chief Counsel Charles Robinson, ASUC President Vishalli Loomba and Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab — had joined most of those in attendance in a rearranged circle of chairs near the front of the sprawling ballroom.
Before long, 75 or so students, along with a smattering of staff, faculty and campus officials, broke into groups of 10 or 12 to talk about November’s protests, engaging in low-key discussions that ranged from pleas for increased communication between students and administrators to questions about the need for campuses to have armed police. Robinson and Edley, a special adviser to UC President Mark Yudof, promised to incorporate what they heard into the first draft of a report they hope to make public in mid-February. Following a public-comment period, they will revise the report and make recommendations to Yudof on possible reforms to the UC system’s approach to dealing with protests.
While November was clearly top-of-mind for many, yesterday’s town hall, Edley explained, was “not an attempt to look back” at what went wrong at either Berkeley or UC Davis, where protesters were pepper-sprayed by campus police. Billed as part of OP’s “Looking Forward” project, the forum was officially titled “How Would You Respond to the Next Occupy?”
Most in attendance, however, wanted to discuss the last Occupy, when protesters attempting to set up tents outside Sproul Hall were met by police in riot gear, who made 39 arrests in the course of a violent confrontation. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has charged Berkeley’s Police Review Board with examining police conduct during that clash. PRB chair Jesse Choper, a professor in the School of Law, has said in a letter to the chancellor that he hopes, “perhaps optimistically, to have the hearing process completed before the end of February and the report produced shortly thereafter.”
Those findings, too, will be considered in their own report to Yudof, said Robinson and Edley.