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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November's Steps toward Democracy

The many UC crises this November have prompted challenges to longstanding prerogatives of unilateral governance among UC's senior managers. In the aftermath of both cases of police violence last month, members of the UC community identified the real problem as a chronic governance failure and then directly inserted themselves into the governance process.

On the police front, UC officials have long affirmed the generic value of peaceful protest while carefully protecting UC managers from its effects. In the contemporary protest period that began in September 2009, campus officials have allowed most temporary protests while blocking occupations, and have gone to great lengths to insulate officials from direct contact with protesters.
The police arrive for the UCLA section of the Regents meeting on November 28th.

UC police protocols vary by campus, but at least some, like UCLA's, authorize the use of pain compliance techniques even against passive resisters (at 300.3.3). In my reading, they appear to offer police officers and their administrative supervisors wide discretion in the use of force even when protestors pose no threat to police. We will be hearing much more about this during the upcoming investigations.

At the Berkeley campus on November 9th, the police were met with a line of protesters on which one of them led a baton assault.  Some of the victims wrote statements that not only rejected the violence of the moment but the top-down command structure that had allowed it to happen (e.g. Nicole LindahlCeleste Langan).  At another point, the police struck the wife of renowned poet and Berkeley faculty member Robert Hass. In Hass's account,
My wife was speaking to the young deputies about the importance of nonviolence and explaining why they should be at home reading to their children, when one of the deputies reached out, shoved my wife in the chest and knocked her down.
 Moments later, the police, "using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students."

When his wife fell, Hass had shouted at the police that they had knocked down his wife, for chrissake, and is seen around the same time in another tape trying to head off a police attack by talking to them.  (The tape, which looks like it was shot by the ghost of Orson Wells, starts about 3:50).   Hass was shouting
Use your head! Use your head! There’s no reason to hurt these people. There is no reason to hurt these people. Use your head! Nobody there wants to hurt you. They’re not going to hurt you.
Mr and Mrs. Hass were in effect attempting spontaneous shared governance with police over whom the UC community normally has zero control.  Their efforts were not well received by their police audience.

In the wake of these incidents, the UC Berkeley Academic Senate moved in the same direction as the Hass, seeking a renewed shared governance over police conduct in a resolution that "Condemns the UC Berkeley administration’s authorization of violent responses to non- violent protests over the past two years."  The resolution further "Demands that Chancellor Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor Breslauer, and Vice Chancellor LeGrande take responsibility for and repudiate such policing as it occurred over the past two years." The measure passed on November 28th by a vote of 336 to 34.

Another resolution, starting from recitals that include that "Police violence against non-violent demonstrators has been consistently and repeatedly perpetrated over the last two years in at least five separate incidents on the Berkeley campus," spelled out a series of measures the administration should follow to correct the problem it had perpetuated.  It passed by the same vote, and sent the same message about the right of the UC community to set the rules by which it should be governed.

The right of officials to use force to decide when, where, and how protest will occur was challenged with equal profundity in the wake of the polnt-blank pepper-spraying of seated, passive protesters at UC Davis on November 18th.  Lead sprayer Lt John Pike's unhurried contempt for his targets sparked an artistic renaissance  in which he became an emblem of the enforcement function waltzing through world history blasting whatever it feels like.

More literal responses included a massive call for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi (110,000 signatures as of this writing), as well as resignation calls from individuals and at least two academic departments on campus. It has  forced two high-level inquiries into the Davis incident in particular and into UC use-of-force policies in general. More on this in another post.

The hallmark of the opposition to unilaterally imposed policing was renewed assertions of co-governance, accompanied by negations of the right of administrators to simultaneously preside and do nothing to prevent problems.  One of Nathan Brown's paragraphs is a case in point:
I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.
More remarkable than the call for resignation -- which in itself is not a solution -- was Brown's assertion of his own authority as a regular member of the UC community to set standards for how that community will function.  This involved a negation of administrative autocracy: "You may not order police to X or Y" is a reversal of the top-down command-and-control to which we have become accustomed. Obviously rule-setting would be a collaborative and not a unilateral act of this or that faculty member in replication of a similar move from a senior manager.  The value here lay in the directness of the refusal of our standard managerial sovereignty as a first step in the creation of collaborative governance.

In an open letter to her students,  UC Davis professor Cynthia Carter Ching noted that policing and other decisions had become unilateral because the faculty had withdrawn from governance:
We thought it would be fine, better even.  We’d handle the teaching and the research, and we’d have administrators in charge of administrative things.  But it’s not fine.  It’s so completely not fine.  There’s a sickening sort of clarity that comes from seeing, on the chemically burned faces of our students, how obviously it’s not fine.
So, to all of you, my students, I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry we didn’t protect you.  And I’m sorry we left the wrong people in charge.
Ching followed the apology for not governing with a call to the faculty overall:
And to my colleagues, I ask you, no, I implore you, to join with me in rolling up our sleeves, gritting our teeth, and getting back to the business of running this place the way it ought to be run.  Because while our students have been bravely chanting for a while now that it’s their university (and they’re right), it’s also ours.  It’s our university.
Running the university collaboratively and democratically is a long way off, and the exact forms that will take are obscure. But in November a good chunk of the UC community felt the desire and expressed the demand for full participation in the decisions that have in recent years forced the university way up the creek.

These poor decisions have marked budget policy as much as they have police policy.  I'll turn to this issue in my next post.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Significant change at UC will only be possible if the structure and operation of the UC Board of Regents is changed.

For more info, see:
www.ucdemocracy.org

Chris Newfield said...

This is generally true. The question is where to start. No one will bother with the enormous job of rewriting the status of the UC Regents in relation to the State of California unless they experience as a problem some specific negative effects of the absence of democratic governance. I don't think the overall faculty or staff are there yet.

people should definitely read your report http://ucdemocracy.org/RegentsReformProposal_Main.pdf

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