Home > Recent News, UC Davis > Distinguished UCD Emeritus Professor’s letter to Katehi

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

Categories: Recent News, UC Davis
  1. MaSh
    November 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    You had me up until the words “illegitimate elite” and “possibly evil.” Those are the kind of nonsensical buzzwords I’d expect on a post by a conspiracy theorist, a schizophrenic conservative Christian blogger, or a Linguistics professor. You completely lost me when you asked for donations. And I’m pretty sure Godwin’s Law applies to citing Myanmar, not just the Nazis.

    Try not to overstep your bounds next time or people won’t take you or the movements you support seriously.

  2. November 21, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Relax dude, he’s speaking in a much larger context than UC Davis. The “we are the 99%” is a buzzworthy slogan that’s gained traction, and I doubt even the majority of the top 1% are evil, people like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are among the 1% because of their hard work and success and they often discuss this movement in their programming. The actual 1% (or maybe even the 0.01%) I think he’s referring are people like the Koch brothers. If you don’t know who they are, everyone should really watch this documentary series called People and Power produced by Al-Jazeera, one of the few major media outlets left that I think can be trusted – here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOCHAv25uTw.

    In regards to the donations speak – it doesn’t really seem like you’ve been following the Occupy movement too much. He’s stating that if Chancellor Katehi donates $1000 to go towards medical supplies for protestors, port-o-pottys for sanitation this will be the first major public demonstration of a leader supporting protesters with international attention and there’s a reason for that.

    Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland and Michael Bloomberg of NYC both dispersed occupiers on grounds of sanitation (the two major movements with national attention) at Frank Ogawa Plaza (renamed to Oscar Grant Plaza to more passionate protestors) and Zucotti Park, respectively. Here are two sources: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/occupy-police-clear-park-ca-action-14946478 (Oakland) and http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/sanitation-crews-clean-zuccotti-park/2011/11/15/gIQAaclLON_video.html (NYC). I think those are copout/poltical reasons, however still legal. Anyone’s who’s been to Ogawa Plaza on more than one occasion can spot dealers and the homeless no problem, which is why I think is a copout answer for Quan. If Katehi were to donate money to the aforementioned, it’s a significant statement that she supports peaceful protests and isn’t looking for a bullshit reason to get students off the Quad for actually giving a shit about what they are representing peacefully.

  3. November 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    A great letter. Thank you.

    Other Links on the Internet regarding the Pepper Spray incident

    Davis Faculty Association Board Calls for Katehi’s Resignation

    “The Wrong People Are In Charge”
    Cynthia Carter Ching, Associate Professor of Learning and Mind Sciences
    Director of Undergraduate Programs, School of Education

    Jonathan Brown, UCD Professor
    Asking Katehi To Resign

    UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident, Four Perspectives

    Katehi reportedly said the police officers were technically following protocol (on videos). However a cop blogged otherwise on SFgate (link below): “…I see no reason why these protesters were sprayed when it appears you could have just ignored them. Let them have their say ….they have that right.” So what is this? Did Katehi imply they were technically following her orders? or she was ignorant of police work? Either way it’s incompetence, dangerous, and harmful.

    How incompetence is Katehi? …. Sen. Leland Yee issued a letter to UC president Mark Yudof Nov. 21, calling for an independent investigation into the pepper spray incident rather than a task force handpicked by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. — “She gave 30 days to report back,” noted Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff. “It takes about 30 seconds to realize there’s been wrongdoing.” Read more:

    “…brutalized by the dogs of the elites”

    ‘The UC Davis Policeman’s Actions Are a Huge Gift to the Chinese Government’

    Pictures and blog

  4. Lyra Halprin
    November 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Nice job, Peter.
    Lyra Halprin & Alan Jackson

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