The Berkeley Academic Senate voted 336 to 34 on Monday afternoon to “condemn” Chancellor Robert Birgeneau for his administration’s “authorization of violent responses to nonviolent protests over the past two years,” culminating in the police attack on nonviolent Occupy Cal demonstrators on November 9. A million people have seen the YouTube video of that attack.
The faculty also declared that it “opposes all violent police responses to non-violent protest, whether that protest is lawful or not.” And they demanded that the chancellor and his top staff “develop, follow and enforce university policy to respond non-violently to non-violent protests, to secure student welfare amidst these protests, and to minimize the deployment of force and foster free expression and assembly on campus.”
The resolution, co-authored by Wendy Brown, professor of political science, Judith Butler, professor of rhetoric and comparative literature, and Barrie Thorne, professor of sociology and of gender and women’s studies, originally had expressed “no confidence” in the chancellor, but some faculty members took that as a call for the chancellor’s resignation, which the authors did not seek. As a result, they deleted the call for “no confidence” and substituted the phrase about condemning the chancellor for the police attacks.
Before the vote, the chancellor explained that he had been in China when the police attack took place, but that before he left, he had met with UC Police Chief Mitch Celaya and “explicitly” told the chief not to use pepper spray or tear gas on students. “Unfortunately, we didn’t at the same time discuss the use of batons,” Birgeneau said, adding, “I was—possibly, probably because I’m the chancellor—more disturbed than anybody in the room” about the incident. He added that he regretted the message to the campus he issued after the protest, where he declared that “linking arms” was “not non-violent.”
Wendy Brown commented, “”the chancellor offered a long narrative of planning meetings, contingency plans, plans gone awry, encampment policies and his own whereabouts in the second week of November, a narrative which never centrally addressed the matter the Senate had gathered to address: routine episodes of violent policing of non-violent protests over the past two years.”
By the same 10-1 vote, the faculty also approved three other resolutions introduced originally as alternatives to the “no confidence” resolution. All criticized the Chancellor, but in different language. One, submitted by history professors David Hollinger and Tom Laqueur, expressed “greatly diminished confidence” in the chancellor; another, by Brian Barsky of computer sciences and Jonathan Simon of the law school, laid out guidelines for campus police use of force.
Richard Walker, professor of geography and vice-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, commented afterward: “Regrettably, administrative foolishness has kept the focus on campus policing, when the students’ real purpose was to call attention to the link between disinvestment by the state in public education and the Occupy Movement’s denunciations of the 1%, Wall Street gone wild, and massive debt. … With the Faculty Senate vote today, the campus has turned a corner and we can get back to work on the real problems of the state and the country—what the students want us all to do something about, and soon.”