Friday, November 25, 2011

Berkeley Faculty: No Confidence in Chancellor Over Campus Police Violence

Berkeley Faculty: No Confidence in Chancellor Over Campus Police Violence


Jon Wiener

November 25, 2011


Berkeley is not only a school with an honored history of

campus protest; it's also our greatest public

university, and its faculty include some of the

country's most brilliant and accomplished people. So

when those faculty members meet to debate police

violence against the "Occupy" movement on their campus,

it's big news.


On Monday, the Berkeley Academic Senate will vote on a

resolution expressing "no confidence" in their

chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, because of police violence

against Occupy Cal campus activists there on November 9.

The chancellor's defense of police conduct was

particularly outrageous: "It is unfortunate that some

protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking

arms," he declared the day after the police

confrontation. "This is not non-violent civil disobedience."


Linking arms is "not non-violent"? Former poet laureate

Robert Hass, who teaches at Berkeley, was one of the

demonstrators; he described what happened in an op-ed

for the New York Times: Alameda County sheriffs in full

riot gear, "using their clubs as battering rams, began

to hammer at the bodies of the line of students" who had

linked arms. The sheriffs "swung hard into their chests

and bellies.. If the students turned away, they pounded

their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they

hit them on their spines." Afterwards fellow poet

Geoffrey O'Brien had a broken rib. "Another colleague,

Celeste Langan, a Wordsworth scholar, got dragged across

the grass by her hair."


A million people have seen the YouTube video of peaceful

demonstrators with linked arms being jabbed by cops with

batons. Many more saw the video on TV-Stephen Colbert

featured it on his show, commenting "Look at these

vicious students attacking these billy clubs with their

soft, jab-able bellies!"


In response to the chancellor's statement that linking

arms "is not non-violent," students covered the campus

with pictures of Martin Luther King linking arms with

other civil rights leaders at the 1963 March on

Washington. And some faculty members responded by

proposing a vote of "no confidence" in the chancellor.


But what exactly does "no confidence" mean? Some say

they will vote against the resolution because they don't

want to get rid of the chancellor, who, they say, has

been good at other tasks. But Wendy Brown, professor of

political science, one of the authors of the resolution,

says "we're not calling for his resignation. We're

trying to effect a dramatic change in policy."


Indeed, the resolution, co-authored by Judith Butler,

professor of rhetoric and comparative literature, and

Barrie Thorne, professor of sociology and of gender and

women's studies, concludes that the faculty has lost

confidence in the ability of the chancellor "to respond

appropriately to non-violent campus protests, to secure

student welfare amidst these protests, to minimize the

deployment of force and to respect freedom of speech and

assembly on the Berkeley campus." It doesn't say

anything about calling for his resignation.


But the chancellor does have defenders, most notably

history professor David Hollinger, who wrote at a

university website that the police were enforcing a ban

on overnight camping on campus, which "has some

reasonable justifications" and "does not impede

political advocacy." Fighting with the police, and the

chancellor, over the tents is "an unfortunate diversion"

from the real issue, he argued-declining funding of

public education, and growing economic inequality in the

US at large.


This protest, Hollinger says, is not like the Free

Speech Movement of 1964, which challenged university

rules that did prevent political advocacy. Focusing the

campus Occupy Wall Street movement on the Berkeley

chancellor "implies that the UC Berkeley itself is

integral to the economic inequality against which Occupy

Wall Street is directed," which "grossly underestimates

the role of UC Berkeley in advancing egalitarian goals."

Thus, Hollinger concludes, "It will not do to blame this

on Chancellor Robert Birgeneau."


It's true that fighting over the tents is a distraction

from the real issues. But who made the tents an issue?

It wasn't the kids-it was the chancellor. UC Berkeley

Police Capt. Margo Bennett told the LA Times that the

cops attacked and clubbed protesters because "the

administration said no tents."


The signs carried by the demonstrators at Berkeley

didn't say anything about a right to sleep in tents. The

signs said, "Re-Fund Education" and "Education shouldn't

be a debt sentence" and "81% fee hikes = death of public

education" and, of course, "we are the 99%." I found

only one sign about the tents: "We are not camping. We

are assembling peaceably to petition the government for

a redress of grievances."


Even if the chancellor has a "reasonable justification"

for banning the tents, why not grant an exception in

this case? Let the tents stay, and then everybody can

focus on the real issues. University administrators

everywhere say they have to take down the tents because

of their concern for the "health and safety of

students." But of course being clubbed by the cops, or

pepper-sprayed, is a lot worse for your health than

sleeping in a tent.


I didn't find anyone among the faculty supporters of the

"no confidence" resolution who thought they were

fighting for the right to overnight camping on campus.

Julia Bryan-Wilson, associate professor of art history,

was one of the authors of the first faculty petition

expressing "no confidence" in the chancellor-co-authored

by Gregory Levine, associate professor of history of

art, and Peter Glazer, associate professor of theater,

dance and performance studies. Bryan-Wilson says "of

course" the key issue is public funding for higher

education. "I hear people saying, Why are these

privileged kids complaining? That sickens my heart. The

students I teach are not privileged. They are

immigrants, first-generation college students,

struggling to make ends meet, under a tremendous student

debt burden. These students have worked so hard to get

here. It's heartbreaking to see what is happening to

them. After tuition jumped, Berkeley's Latino student

population went down 16 percent in one year. An 81

percent tuition increase over four years will completely

change the face of that population."


A different argument made by defenders of the chancellor

points to his apology on Tuesday. Just before

Thanksgiving break, the chancellor declared, "I

sincerely apologize for the events of November 9 at UC

Berkeley and express my sympathies to any of you who

suffered an injury during these protests. As chancellor,

I take full responsibility for these events and will do

my very best to ensure that this does not happen again."

That, his defenders say, should suffice; his critics

should declare "mission accomplished" and move on.


Paul Rabinow, professor of anthropology, and a supporter

of the "no confidence" resolution, disagrees. "No one in

his administration or the highly paid police has been

fired or really sanctioned," he says. "Nothing has

changed in the administration. This is like Wall Street-

protesters are arrested, but no one else.. Of course the

core problem is the lack of budget support from the

state. But strong leadership from the administration.not

press releases and e-mail letters-would be appreciated."


At the faculty meeting on Monday Wendy Brown expects

"significant opposition" to the no-confidence motion

from the sciences and the professional schools. It's

possible that some on the left may argue for a stronger

resolution, calling for the chancellor's resignation.

Students have made such a call, but I couldn't find any

faculty members planning to introduce that proposal.


On Wednesday, the last day of school before Thanksgiving

break, the Daily Cal reported that two alternative

proposals will be offered. One, to be presented by

Hollinger and history professor Tom Laqueur, is

"essentially a watered-down version" of the no-

confidence resolution. It condemns the police actions on

November 9, but instead of "no confidence" in the

chancellor, it expresses "greatly diminished"



Another proposal, authored by professor of electrical

engineering and computer sciences Brian Barsky and

professor of law Jonathan Simon, offers nine policies

that would regulate more strictly the police use of

force on protesters. It concludes that, "following any

incident in which forcible methods were used, the

Chancellor should convene a public explain

the rationale of the decision to employ them."


Wendy Brown concluded, "We need the Senate meeting to

get at questions like chain of command-who ordered the

violent policing? And policy-why has violent policing

against nonviolent protests occurred three times in the

last two years? Why do investigations and reports of

each incident never add up to anything?. We've got a

pattern here."



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