Chancellor White’s statement on next steps for Occupy UCR

Courtesy of newsroom.ucr.edu

The core values and academic mission of UCR are to provide a safe, nurturing and enabling environment for faculty, students, and staff to freely pursue their interests in teaching and learning, research and creative activity, and engagement with the broader community through outreach and service.  Of similar importance are the core business and operational activities that enable the academic mission to be executed.

UCR embraces a diversity of people, programs, and ideas, and we have established Principles of Community (http://diversity.ucr.edu/toolkit/community.pdf) and I annually issue the Chancellor’s Statement on UCR as a Campus of Respect (http://chancellor.ucr.edu/messages/scottmail_11102009.html).  These documents affirm our commitment to the open exchange of ideas.

In addition to activities in our classrooms, laboratories, studios, and fields, many such activities take the form of events.  UCR has procedures regarding speech and assembly for events that require advance planning and for which coordination can optimize the success of the event.

When assemblies and protests arise that do not lend themselves to advance planning, these activities are guided by the applicable laws and policies, including those governing time, place and manner of assembly.  I seek for all who choose to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion.  And when that is not the case, there are consequences for individuals, which can involve student conduct procedures and/or law enforcement.

I applaud the fact that free speech is part of the rich fabric of the University of California.  We have been at the forefront of change on many issues over our history because of our commitment to non-violent protest, and I am personally – and we are as a campus – fully committed to protecting and nourishing these values.

As a matter of practice and common sense, when such spontaneous events occur every effort is made to establish communication with the assembly to determine how best to enable a successful event for the participants, while being mindful of UCR’s core values and mission, and the overall guiding documents, laws and policies summarized above.

As Chancellor, I have the responsibility to assess whether any given assembly poses any risk to the university or its core values, including the rights and activities of other members of the campus community.  If there is substantial risk to personal safety, and/or defacing or damaging university or personal property, unauthorized use of facilities, we will engage, as needed, student affairs, senior administration, law enforcement, and faculty, staff, and student leadership, as well as the protestors themselves.

It is in this context that I write today to update you on how our campus is moving forward in approaching the tent encampment created by students and others affiliated with the “Occupy Movement.”  It is noteworthy that most of the individuals who live overnight in the encampment have no relation to UCR as a student, faculty or staff member, or alumnus.

As you may recall, in late November, the Occupy organization gathered at UCR to denounce violence associated with protests on other UC campuses.  I spoke to the group, voiced my own sadness and shock at the violence, listened to the concerns of students, faculty, staff and others — and asked that we create an ongoing dialogue to ensure that such scenes would be avoided at UCR.

Subsequent to that November 22nd gathering, leaders from our Student Affairs, Police Department and other essential student support organizations met with the Occupy group, and continued that dialogue.  There were many casual interactions and a few formal meetings among members of the campus community and the Occupy group throughout December and into January, and from time to time I have personally had the opportunity to engage in direct conversations with small groups of interested individuals.

In the course of these discussions Occupy members expressed the view that placing a tent encampment on our campus was important in order to express solidarity with other UC campuses, and to focus attention on the meeting of the UC Regents on our campus that was held in mid-January.

In support of free speech, we offered in November to let the Occupy movement erect an encampment for a short period of time near our Bell Tower for that limited purpose. However we made it clear at that time that such an encampment was not sustainable in the long run and would be only temporary.

However, tents were not erected until a few days before the January Regents’ meeting.  The tents have remained on the lawn near the Bell Tower since. This past weekend, in response to information that other student groups had previously reserved the encampment site for activities, the Occupy group moved the encampment to a lawn further west of the Bell Tower.

Now, as we approach mid-February, it has been almost a month since the Regents meeting.  The encampment on our campus is not sustainable, for reasons of public safety, health, practicality, and law.  Therefore, today we informed those in the Occupy encampment that the tents are to be removed.

I want to be clear – we support the right to peaceful and lawful assembly on our campus, and we support the voicing of a cacophony of viewpoints.  But it is inappropriate to allow a small group to receive a privilege that we would not offer to other groups.  It is a growing tension that the encampment is causing some students and other campus members to change their patterns of travel to avoid the encampment, as well as adding cost to a campus that would prefer to invest its resources in the core educational and research mission rather than unnecessary costs.

Here are some of the facts and related issues:

·         There are thousands of events on our campus every year – most of them run by and with UCR students.  Our students have agreed on baseline rules and fees for reserving locations on campus by students and by non-affiliated persons/groups.

·         The Regents of the University of California have prohibited overnight camping on our campuses.  It is not legal to camp at UCR overnight.

·         For obvious reasons of personal and collective safety, laws and statutes prohibit campfires, use of stoves, and use of gas heaters in the encampment.    These same laws are meant to ensure the safety of everyone – not just the campers.

·         The encampment does not have in situ running water, toilets, and sinks.  The encampment does not, and cannot have, electricity.  The encampment is underneath large trees that have regularly dropped branches during past windstorms.  The encampment rests on a lawn that, if not watered, will die and need to be repaired. ( n.b., we have, as a courtesy, suspended the watering temporarily).

·         Moreover, as UCR students and others have entered into debates on social network sites, it has become clear that friction over differences of view about the encampment is beginning to escalate.  These developments have increased our safety concern for campers, as well as students, faculty, staff and visitors.

Now, as to the specific actions we are undertaking:

1)      Until the encampment is removed from campus, we will increase security measures for the protection of all concerned.

2)      Today we asked the Occupy members to end the encampment.

3)      If necessary, we will inform those who chose to remain that they are in violation of applicable laws.

4)      Because we understand the importance of symbolism and the underlying concern and anger about the state’s disinvestment in public higher education, we will seek to engage with our protestors their interest in placing a tent under certain time, place and manner considerations on campus (albeit no overnight camping).

As Chancellor, I seek to equitably and fairly balance the multitude of variables and inputs into matters such as these.  But at the end of the day, I am often responsible to make a binomial decision.  In full consideration of all the variables I am aware, I am confident that this decision is in the best interest of the University of California, Riverside, and our core values and mission.

There will be some who disagree with me, and that is certainly their right and privilege.  I just want to be clear to all of the rationale and process I have engaged in to reach this decision.

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