Chancellor calls for removal of Occupy tents

UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy White has called for the removal of the Occupy Movement’s on-campus tent encampment. “The encampment on our campus is not sustainable, for reasons of public safety, health, practicality, and law,” stated White in a campus-wide email sent out on Wednesday, Jan. 8. The campsite, which was set up prior to last month’s UC regents meeting, was permitted by UC Riverside campus administrators despite the UC regents’ ban on overnight camping.“I want to be clear – we support the right to peaceful and lawful assembly on our campus, and we support the voicing of a cacophony of viewpoints.  But it is inappropriate to allow a small group to receive a privilege that we would not offer to other groups,” stated White, who noted that the encampment members bypassed the fee and reservation agreements that other campus groups must obtain to use campus space. Other reasons for the removal of the tent encampment included concerns regarding the lack of electricity and running water, a ban on cooking equipment, damages to the grass lawn and safety concerns arising from escalated “friction over differences of view about the encampment.”

The members of the encampment, however, have opposed White’s orders and have yet to remove the tents.  “We at Occupy UCR understand your concerns about the encampment, though we feel it is our right to continue to camp at the University…” stated the Occupy members in a letter addressed to Chancellor White. The letter countered every point made by White and emphasized a desire by the Occupy members to alleviate any problems perceived by the administration. “We are willing to move the grill to the distance that other student organizations are required to keep their barbeques away from canopies…We would also agree to clean the restroom we use in order to insure no extra costs need to be paid in order to maintain a clean and sanitary restroom,” stated the letter, which also expressed members’ willingness to move the camp in order to allow the lawn to be watered. “We hope to come to some kind of agreement so we all may continue to express ourselves freely and peacefully,” concluded the letter.

This message was somewhat supported by White, who stated that the university’s administration would seek to work with the Occupy members in the interest of “placing a tent under certain time, place and manner considerations on campus.” Time, place and manner regulations have been recognized by the Supreme Court as a valid method of restricting freedom of speech, as noted in the 1941 case Cox v. New Hampshire.

White specifically pointed out that a priority of the regulations would be a ban on overnight camping—which continues to be violated by the Occupy members.  “The tents are just symbolism, it’s not about camping…[it’s about] freedom of speech,” stated one of the encampment members in an interview with the Highlander. The individuals noted that they would find a way to maintain their presence on campus even if their overnight stays were to be discontinued. “We’re going to be here anyway,” concluded one of the encampment members.

The refusal of the individuals to disband their encampment was likely anticipated by White, who explained that those refusing to leave would be informed that they are in violation of applicable laws. “I seek for all who choose to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion. And when that is not the case, there are consequences for individuals, which can involve student conduct procedures and/or law enforcement,” said White, who then stated that “security measures” would be increased until the tents were removed.A point of particular contention (although not addressed in Occupy’s letter) dealt with the identity of the individuals in the encampment; although White’s letter points out that “most of the individuals who live overnight…have no relation to UCR as a student, faculty or staff member, or alumnus,” individuals in the encampment stated that at least 8 UC Riverside students stay overnight. In an interview with the Highlander, several Occupy members—who preferred to remain anonymous—denounced the move as an effort to undermine the Occupy Movement by labeling them as “outsiders.”

White’s weekly Friday email offered words of praise for those who have exercised their free speech by means of non-violent and legal protest—a point which protesters (including those affiliated with the Occupy movement) fiercely claimed to have upheld during the UC regents meeting. “But I am concerned that so much of the energy and discussion on campus is on differences of opinion over events and violence, rather than being organized and strategically focused on California’s elected officials.  We simply must bring the power of many voices together on the issue of sustaining the greatness of the UC…” concluded White’s weekly Friday letter.

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