Note: This is a leaked draft-form of a letter that SAO plans to release soon. The final version could potentially be quite different from this draft. As such the language in this document does not represent the views of the SAO
The Student Advocate’s Office (SAO), a non-partisan and executive office of the ASUC, is deeply concerned with the circumstances surrounding the university arrests of 66 individuals, including approximately 40 students, from Wheeler Hall on December 11, 2009.
While we do not condone conduct that threatens the safety of the campus community and recognize that the planned unauthorized concert lacked the necessary safety precautions, we believe the administration did not adhere to procedures that were in the best interest of students. The following is a statement that addresses our concerns:
Following the arrests of students involved in the week-long “Open University” protests, UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof stated in a university press release that “there had been an understanding of access to certain areas and [the protestors] began to violate those understandings.” He continued by stating that the arrests were made “once the group refused to reconsider plans to hold an unauthorized all-night concert in an academic building.” However, when members of the SAO met with Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard out of concern for the arrested students, he provided reasons for the arrest that were not in line with the university’s public statements. Dean Poullard acknowledged that the university’s call for police intervention was not initially linked to the concert, but rather had been discussed earlier that week before the concert had even been planned. His statements indicated that the arrests were intended for the last day of the “Open University” protest to prevent students from mobilizing and moving their activities to a different building on campus, which would further increase costs to the university. Considering that the arrests were premeditated and not solely for the purpose of preventing a disruptive and illegal concert as the university has alleged, the SAO firmly believes that the method and mode of police intervention were misleading and misguided.
The premeditation of police intervention calls into question the validity of the administration’s attempts to communicate with student organizers.
Throughout the duration of the “Open University” protests, spokespeople from the administration met with student organizers. At the same time, university officials were engaged in dialogue to plan the arrests of the protestors. Dean Poullard stated that the arrests in Wheeler would have taken place the first night of the protests had police action been strategically and economically feasible. The intentions of the administration must be called into question. The efforts to negotiate with the protestors were conducted in bad faith, leading students to believe that there was room for collaboration and two-way communication when the administration had intended to move forward with pre-planned unilateral actions from the beginning.
The lack of an immediate dispersal warning was unfair and could have seriously jeopardized particularly vulnerable groups of students.
The university had warned individuals in Wheeler Hall of legal and student code of conduct violations for four nights without taking any measures to enforce those warnings until the arrests that Friday. The routine nature of those warnings gave many students the false impression that their actions were an acceptable form of protest that was tolerated by the administration. This tacit agreement led many students to participate in the events who would otherwise have avoided Wheeler Hall had they anticipated the risk of severe punishment. The routine warning was administered at roughly 10 p.m. Thursday with a 6-7 hour gap before the arrests were made at 4:30 A.M. the following morning.
This large span of time between the last warning and the arrests ignores the possibility that some of the students present at 4:30 a.m. had not heard the warning. While the university states that its primary concern was preventing any disruption that could have been caused by the concert, it is unreasonable to insist that students present in Wheeler Hall at 4:30 A.M. would be the same attendees at the concert that was scheduled for 8 P.M. or involved in its planning.
A significant number of students came to Wheeler Hall primarily to study and most were asleep at the time of the arrests. The drastic shift from treating students as peaceful protestors for four days to hostile occupiers on the fifth was unnecessary and showed callous disregard for student well-being. Beyond creating a criminal record for these students, the university’s actions will also result in the creation of conduct records that will have negative implications on the students’ academic careers.
Further, by not giving an immediate dispersal warning, the university failed to assess the extreme safety hazard that their actions posed to any AB540 or international students on site. Legal charges against any student under either category could have put the students at serious risk of deportation. Administrators did not take into account these potentially dire consequences.
The response to the “Open University” protests demonstrates the administration’s adversarial attitude towards student protestors.
The jarring discrepancy between university press releases and actual administrative plans to end the protest shows great irresponsibility on the administration’s part. This failure to correct inaccurate information released to the public has misrepresented the indicted students’ behavior. It avoids any formal recognition that there was a distinct level of premeditation and an egregious lack of sincere communication between student protestors and the administration leading up to the arrests. The SAO believes that the administration must uphold responsible procedure to address student conduct and take clear steps towards creating safe and respectful spaces for dialogue with the student body.