UCR Task Force Update

Taken by Bryan Tuttle

On June 4, the UCR Task Force on Speech and Assembly convened for their second meeting of the year to discuss the draft of the UC Protest Guidelines and statements from accompanying UC campuses. Another document that circulated throughout the room was the Academic Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) letter entitled “Establishing Principles to Guide University Responses to Protest,” which called for further specifications in the means of addressing protest. The main focus of the meeting was the need to create centralized principles for constructive protest guidelines, in the cases of civil disobedience and moral dilemmas.

Dissenting opinions arose over the recommendations, calling into question their practicality and clarity. Chancellor White emphasized the need to “create value and principle-based documents that leads to specific protocols and practice in improving transparency and accountability for administration, law enforcement, faculty, staff, students and non-affiliates,” during his town hall meeting on June 5.

The UC Protest Guidelines, which were produced by UC General Counsel Charles Robinson and Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley, present a list of 50 recommendations within nine themes. The possibility of a system-wide set of guidelines for protest was the motivating factor behind the scheduled meeting, which had been open to the public. As the task force meeting commenced, Coalition of Unions Representative Stephanie Kay requested that the panel discuss the ACLU resolution, which was written by Linda Lye, staff attorney of ACLU, in response to the Jan. 19 protest and to the recent draft of the UC Protest Guidelines. The resolution called for the acknowledgment of peaceful protest, along with greater transparency and accountability in crowd control policies and policing.

Various other documents were passed throughout the room, which included protest statements by UC Berkeley on “How to Protest Safely” and “Principles of Community” from the UC Santa Barbara student senate, ASUCSB. Many panelists responded positively to the UC Santa Barbara model because it held both students and administrators liable, while affirming a level of commitment to specific principles among each level of authority. Others expressed support for the UC Berkeley guidelines, which promoted safer means of protest, as being more “action-oriented,” yet presented feasible consequences that may be administered.

Discussion surrounded the topic of civil disobedience and selective enforcement, which can vary depending on the circumstances. A few task force members emphasized the need for students to know the potential consequences in pursuing certain forms of protest. Consensus was built among the members when it came to informing students of potential boundaries, which may lead to the possibility of arrest. The guidelines would ultimately “define the college as a certain kind of community,” as stated by a member of the audience.

Kay stated that the topics of transparency and accountability were lacking in the overall draft to the UC Protest Guidelines. “Democracy of speech and right to assembly is really critical to this….we can’t always expect everyone speaking out in advance and we need to print out guidelines because of that reason,” remarked Kay, who desired greater transparency to be further integrated into future protest guidelines.

“If the moral underpinnings of civil disobedience are at its core of what’s most important…does that depend on the moral righteousness or impingement?” stated a member of the audience, in reference to the 25-foot-high abortion banners which were displayed at the Bell Tower lawn toward the end of Spring quarter. Audience members questioned whether the legality of such an action would receive differential treatment, in parallel to those who pursued acts of civil disobedience on campus. Professor of Political Science Farah Godrej stated that the panels were “confrontational and disruptive; but the thing is, we don’t criminalize that kind of behavior.”

In an interview with the Highlander, Professor Godrej expressed that a transparent discussion was needed to hold those accountable, especially in the Jan. 19 protest, a topic which was not fully discussed during the meeting. The disproportionate assembly of administrators, students, and police officers also remained a critical factor in the creation of inclusive protest guidelines. A few faculty members expressed disappointment due to the lack of dialogue on the ACLU resolution, which conveys similar points.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jim Sandoval spoke of the need to find a reasonable position in the case of student protestors when allowing them to express their message. He referred to the occupation of the UCLA Admissions Office on June 1, where advocates for affirmative action came to voice their opinions for students who were rejected from affiliated campuses.

Other interpretations of the civil disobedience cases involved the differentiation between consequences and punishments. Vice Chancellor of University Advancement Peter Hayashida expressed concerns over how consequences in cases of civil disobedience have become synonymous with punishment in this current decade. “This is a very special place and we behave differently from the rest of society…but I fear that students will be treated differently by police and that culture,” stated Hayashida.

When addressing the extent of police militarization during the Jan. 19 protest, Chancellor White stated that preventative means are taken in any large outing, which tends to draw large surpluses of law enforcement from within the Riverside jurisdiction. Difficulty arises in dealing with a populated and expansive area which may potentially pose risks. “The less that is known about what’s taking place, the greater risk of it going south and that’s the primary reason what we’re looking to engage in this situation,” stated UC Police Chief Mike Lane, who expressed interest in the notions that civil disobedience is a result of police culture and remains a historical attribute in state-wide movements.

Director of the CHASS First Program Geoff Cohen spoke about the need to break through the barriers of racial profiling in creating a more suitable learning environment for students. Cohen went on to describe an incident where an African American student had been removed from his classroom because of an accusation that he had previously stolen a skateboard. At the same time, Cohen expressed that UC protest guidelines would be a good stepping stone in creating better ways of policing in the community.

Chancellor White concluded that wholesale changes to the guidelines were not anticipated, but comments for enacting major omissions were collected until June 8. “Democracy is as messy as making sausage rolls…but the discussion itself will be healthy to us and in guiding our campus,” stated Chancellor White. The chancellor also expressed the desire to create a set of expectations specifically for the UCR campus, in which he will write an analysis of the overall meeting. Once established, the UC Protest Guidelines are likely to be used in application of more personalized guidelines for each individual campus. The task force will re-adjourn in the fall of 2012.

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