UC Davis chancellor Katehi issues statement on police pepper-spraying of student protesters

After police cracked down with shocking force on UC Davis student demonstrators, and those students in turn confronted the university's Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi in an unusual and dramatic way, the Chancellor announced that two police officers would be put on administrative leave pending an investigation, and then issued this statement today.


November 20, 2011

Dear Alumni and Friends,

Friday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud; indeed the events of the day need to guide us forward as we try to make our campus a better place of inquiry, debate, and even dissent. This past week our campus was a site of week-long peaceful demonstrations during which students were able to express their concerns about many issues facing higher education, the University of California, our campus, our nation, and the world as a whole. Those events involved multiple rallies in the Quad and an occupation of Mrak Hall which ended peacefully a day later.

However, the events on Friday were a major deviation from that trend. In the aftermath of the troubling events we experienced, I will attempt to provide a summary of the incident with the information now available to me and the steps we will follow going forward. After a week of peaceful exchange and debate, on Thursday a group of protestors including UC Davis students and other non-UC Davis affiliated individuals established an encampment of about 25 tents on the Quad. The group was reminded that while the university provides an environment for students to participate in rallies and express their concerns and frustrations through different forums, university policy does not allow such encampments on university grounds.

On Thursday, the group stayed overnight despite repeated reminders by university staff that their encampment violated university policies and they were requested to disperse. On Friday morning, the protestors were provided with a letter explaining university policies and reminding them of the opportunities the university provides for expression. Driven by our concern for the safety and health of the students involved in the protest, as well as other students on our campus, I made the decision not to allow encampments on the Quad during the weekend, when the general campus facilities are locked and the university staff is not widely available to provide support.

During the early afternoon hours and because of the request to take down the tents, many students decided to dismantle their tents, a decision for which we are very thankful. However, a group of students and non-campus affiliates decided to stay. The university police then came to dismantle the encampment. The events of this intervention have been videotaped and widely distributed. As indicated in various videos, the police used pepper spray against the students who were blocking the way. The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.

To this effect, I am forming a task force comprised of faculty, students and staff to review the events and provide to me a thorough report within 30 days. The task force will be chosen this week and convene immediately to begin their work. As part of this, a process will be designed that allows members of the community to express their views on this matter. In addition, I will hold a series of meetings and forums with students, faculty and staff to listen to their concerns and hear their ideas for restoring civil discourse to the campus. In the interim, two UC Davis police officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave following their use of pepper spray.

Related to current policies, I am asking the office of Administrative and Resource Management and the office of Student Affairs to review our policies in relation to encampments of this nature and consider whether our existing policies reflect the needs of the students at this point in time. If our policies do not allow our students enough flexibility to express themselves, then we need to find a way to improve these policies and make them more effective and appropriate.

Our campus is committed to providing a safe environment for all to learn freely and practice their civil rights of freedom of speech and expression. At the same time, our campus has the responsibility to ensure the safety of all others who use the same spaces and rely on the same facilities, tools, environments and processes to practice their freedoms to work and study.

I spoke with students this weekend and I feel their outrage. I am deeply saddened that this happened on our campus, and as chancellor, I take full responsibility for the incident. I pledge to take the actions needed to ensure this does not happen again. I feel sorry for the harm our students were subjected to and I vow to work tirelessly to make the campus a more welcoming and safe place.

Sincerely,

Linda P.B. Katehi

Chancellor


(Thanks, Arthur Gies and Patrick Williams; image by Paul Meyers)

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