Distinguished UCD Emeritus Professor’s letter to Katehi
Written by Professor Peter J. Richerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus Department of Environmental Science and Policy
Dear Chancellor Katehi,
I am away from campus at a conference but have been watching the news of the very widely reported pepper spray event. I have watched the available videos and reviewed the reporting that is on the web.
It would appear to me that this is the most botched reaction to the Occupy movement in the nation yet. All reportage is sympathetic to the protesters. Not surprising given the damning video.
Chief Spicuzza’s remark to the Bee that “There was no way out of that circle. They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation” is utterly belied by the completely non-violent behavior of the demonstrators and the casualness of the officer that pepper-sprayed the seated demonstrators. Other officers stood about for some time in a loose group that seemed to have little if any fear of the demonstrators. They arrested some (all?) of the pepper-sprayed demonstrators with no obvious interference except for shouts of “shame on you”. Many never bothered to pull down their face shields. No threatening student nor threatening “non-campus affiliates” of your email seems to have thrown a punch, a rock, or anything that required the police to defend themselves. The health and safety of no one seemed under any threat except possibly for the victims of the pepper spraying. The hearts of Martin Luther King and Gandhi must be beating in their graves; textbook nonviolent tactics.
The objective of a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience is to demonstrate to the citizenry at large that the authorities are an illegitimate elite that maintains power ultimately by force. The selfish, possibly evil 1% of the occupy movement. The tactical response on authorities determined to win the battle for hearts and minds should be to grant the legitimate rights of the protesters and bend over backwards to tolerate nonviolent disruptive tactics. Respond to whatever legitimate grievances the protesters have, to the extent that the university has the power to do so. If some peaceful protesters want to spend all winter camped on the quad, what harm can they do? Any health threats can be solved with a few chemical toilets and a dumpster. Or if you wanted to lay it on thick, you could set up a medical tent with a nurse to treat any sick Occupiers. You could make a personal donation to help fund all this and ask the rest of the university community to chip in. I would, say $1000.
If the Occupiers are truly non-violent they’ll monitor themselves and liaise with the police to control “non-campus affiliates” or others who threaten the peace.
At this juncture, you’d have a moral standoff. The university has tolerated non-violent protest and accepted some costs by bending over backwards to accommodate the protest.
The university in fact has little power over most of the Occupy folks grievances. At the point of standoff, the Occupiers could accept a minor victory and gradually drift home. The university could brag about its tolerance and reasonableness. Or the Occupiers can escalate out of frustration at the small scale of their victory. If they are smart they’ll move on to targets with more power and less legitimacy than the University. If they are dumb they’ll become either violent or truly dangerously disruptive. Then they will have blown their legitimacy, and the you will have plenty of support for arrests and eviction. You’d win the battle for hearts and minds, save for some die-hard ideologues.
They might use the campus as a base to disrupt I-80 or the BNSF rail line. But then other police agencies will have to do the dirty work. Once the their legitimacy has evaporated, you can gently police up the remainder. If they happen to win, you are on the side of the angels!
Today’s incident and your maladroit email make you sound more like a Myanmar colonel than a UC Chancellor. “Non-campus affiliates!” Redolent of the 1960s infamous canard “outside agitators!”
Sorry to presume to give tactical advice, but I was a student here during the last big wave of student protests in the 1960s and 70s. Emil Mrak, our Chancellor then, was, I believe, somewhat to right of Attila. He is said to have very roughly bullied Prof Robert Rudd, an early anti DDT scientist-activist. But he was a masterful tactician. He kept close ties to activist student leaders, for example student body President and protest leader Bob Black. In one incident I recall there was a Regents’ meeting at Davis in which UCD students pressed a controversial question. The Regents tabled the issue with a promise to consider it at the next meeting in Santa Barbara. Mrak sprang for a couple of buses to transport Davis activists to Santa Barbara to make sure the Regents fulfilled their promise. We heard that he took some heat from the Regents and President’s office but the upshot was that that the campus was spared large-scale disruptive demonstrations.
I believe that your attempt to mollify protesters with a committee to report in 90 days will fail. The Occupiers will be back tomorrow and a great deal of significance is liable to happen in the next few days. You need to **lead now**, not deal with the recommendations of a committee 90 days from now.
At minimum, you ought to suspend or fire Chief Spicuzza, the pepper spray cop, and anyone in the chain of command between them pending the outcome of an investigation you conduct yourself or entrust to someone who reports to you. You ought to establish a personal connection with the Occupy folks, perhaps by giving a mea culpa speech at their encampment. I’d spring for donuts and coffee for the campers every morning at 7:30 as long as their protest stays peaceful. I’d assign your most sympatico police officer to meet daily with the Occupier’s security committee. If they don’t have one, I’d have the officer tell them that if they form a responsible one, there will be no police presence at the camp unless requested by the security committee or unless violent incidents are reported by other parties. If the Occupiers want to conduct civil disobedience actions, the liaison officer should try to negotiate a procedure for safe and non-violent arrest. If the Occupiers will not negotiate such procedures, at least you’ve won a moral point. You may have only 24 hours to save your job and, more important, save UCD from months of turmoil.
Frankly, I’m highly ambivalent about giving you this advice. I’m deeply sympathetic to the Occupy movement. If UCD goes down in history as a famous incident in the Occupy phenomenonI would tell my grandkids of that with pride. If you’re destined to be the villain in that drama so be it. On the other hand, from what I hear you are doing a splendid job as Chancellor. I love what you are doing for a campus that has been in my heart since I came as and undergrad student in 1962. I hope that you can find a way to continue your good work.
Best luck, you’ll need a lot of that,
Peter J. Richerson Distinguished Professor Emeritus Department of Environmental Science and Policy