UC Davis administrators and top officials from the University of California have launched rigorous damage control initiatives and investigative reports in response to the use of pepper spray on peaceful protesters. The incident has thus far resulted in the suspension of three police officials, a public apology by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, a town hall meeting held at the UC Davis campus and the creation of an investigative task force. Last Monday, UC President Mark Yudof held a teleconference with the 10 UC chancellors during which the administrators resolved to re-examine police protocol and take steps to provide for the safety of students. “Free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and non-violent protest has long been central to our history. It is a value we must protect with vigilance. I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion. I expect campus authorities to honor that right,” stated Yudof in a press release. UC Board of Regents Chairwoman Sherry Lansing also spoke out by releasing a video in which she expressed her sympathy and support for students. “We regents share your passion and your conviction for the University of California. We want all of you to know that we fully and unequivocally support your right to protest peacefully,” stated Lansing.
On Friday, Nov. 18, UC Davis police officers pepper-sprayed a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters who had refused orders to clear a path. The conditions surrounding the incident, most notably the fact that the students were sitting down and were not actively engaged in belligerent conduct, have been a source for massive backlash. Police officials, however, have defended their actions by stating that the protesters had encircled the many police officers. UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza and two officers who had reportedly used pepper spray on the crowd were subsequently placed on administrative leave. The incident occurred in the midst of protests that had lasted for an entire week. The nature of university and police response towards the protesters, however, had shifted once students began to set up tents and stay overnight. Prompted by this violation of campus policy, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi authorized police intervention to remove the encampments. Reports indicate that most of the tents were taken down by the protesters themselves but that some students—including those who were pepper-sprayed—had refused to disperse. Video footage of the pepper-spray incident has become an online spectacle which has garnered millions of views.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi’s authorization of police intervention has been the subject of much criticism, with some individuals even calling for Katehi’s resignation. In direct response to allegations that she authorized the use of violent force on an otherwise peaceful protest, Katehi has insisted that the police defied orders by resorting to pepper spray. “We told them very specifically to [remove the encampments] peacefully, and if there were too many of them, not to do it, if the students were aggressive, not to do it. And then we told them we also do not want to have another Berkeley,” stated Katehi in an interview with the Sacramento Bee. Katehi reiterated this point during a town hall meeting last Tuesday when she explained to students, “My instructions were for no arrests and no police force.”
Among the most prominent groups advocating the resignation of the chancellor are members of the Davis Faculty Association (DFA). “The Chancellor’s authorization of the use of police force to suppress the protests by students and community members speaking out on behalf of our university and public higher education generally represents a gross failure of leadership,” stated an open letter on the DFA’s website. Meanwhile, an online petition began by “David Buscho, one of the UC Davis students pepper sprayed by police” has gained over 90,000 electronic signatures within the week following the event. On Nov. 20, an open letter by UC Academic Council Chairman Robert Anderson acknowledged the crucial role of chancellors, noting, “It is essential that there be a clear chain of command, with the Chancellor accepting ultimate responsibility for actions of the police, who must be trained appropriately to protests.”
Chancellor Katehi, however, has insisted that she will not resign. On Nov. 21, the chancellor appeared on Good Morning America and stated, “I really feel confident at this point the university needs me.” Katehi explained to students in an open letter than she will be forming a task force “made of faculty, students and staff” to create a timely report on the incident. An additional initiative authorized by the chancellor was an administrative review of the current campus policies related to student protests, including protocol regarding the removal of encampments. The aforementioned actions will be supplemented by an independent report made by former Los Angeles police chief William J. Bratton. The due dates for Katehi’s task force report and Bratton’s report are in 90 and 30 days, respectively. After each panel and organization completes their report, the task force will make recommendations to Chancellor Katehi. The final stage of the process would end with Katehi presenting a formal plan to Yudof.
Katehi publicly apologized to hundreds of protesters on the Monday during a rally that was organized in response to the incident. “I feel horrible for what happened on Friday…Our university has to be better than it is and we need all of the community to come together to do that. We need to work together,” stated Katehi, who later conceded that she would have to regain the trust of students. According to an article by the Los Angeles Times, some students chanted “Not enough! Not enough!” and continued to call for Katehi’s resignation once the speech had ended.
UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy White recently addressed the UC Davis and UC Berkeley protests in an email sent out to the entire UC Riverside student body. White lamented on the violence that had marred the protests and expressed gratitude for the peaceful manner in which the UC Riverside community has conducted itself during its own protests.