Friday, December 11, 2009

Catherine Cole: Questions for the Administration on The Wheeler Hall Protest Arrests

Dear George,

Thank you for your prompt reply. I can fully understand the concerns about a large dance party, for that's the sort of event that requires careful management and planning for logistical, security and liability reasons. As someone in the performing arts I can fully appreciate that. I also understand the concern that if such an event went all night, this would have interfered with finals, which I agree would have been unacceptable. I have had no formal connection with the organizers of this Open University, but I have been following their activities over the last few days with interest. The nature and terms of the Open University as expressed on their website and what I saw in person this week seemed entirely peaceful and reasonable, very much in the spirit of what a university is and should be. It is for that reason that I volunteered to give a talk yesterday. If the administration was carefully monitoring Live Week on the web, it was no doubt apparent that both Prof. Schwartz and I gave talks yesterday, as did other faculty. I (and I suspect my colleagues) would have been happy to confer with the administration if there were concerns that the occupation was going to spiral out of control. I would certainly have been willing to lend my assistance to see that such a scenario didn't happen. There was no evidence of that concern yesterday during my time at Wheeler.


Dear Catherine,

I'm sorry, but they forced our hand. We were tolerant and patient for four days. We were prepared to let them stay until Friday evening, after which we had to ensure that the auditorium was ready for final exams on Saturday morning at 9am. Our Campus Life and Leadership staff, led by Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard, engaged the occupiers in a continuous dialogue. Our patience, and their intermediation, led to a peaceful situation for four days. But then, the radicals within the group took over and announced an all-night rock concert in Wheeler Aud, to end at 8am. They ignored our requests that they not do so. Their blogs also indicated a determination on the part of some of them to stay thereafter "until the cops kick the doors down."

I appreciate your communitarian and humanitarian instincts, but we could not let this happen. The concert would likely have filled Wheeler with a lot of members of the community. As is, 24 of the 60-66 arrested (I've seen conflicting numbers) were non-students, many of these from People's Park. Wheeler could well have been trashed, and still occupied, by Saturday morning. The occupiers abused our tolerance.

We have responsibilities to the 35,000 other students on campus, and, in this case, to the thousands of students scheduled to take their final exams in Wheeler Aud on Saturday. We could not leave this to chance. Critics really should take responsibility for defining the strategy that would have fulfilled the obligation to the 99.9% of the student body that was not occupying Wheeler.

My understanding is that the occupiers will be cited and released for trespassing, but that if they had prior warrants for the same offense, they will be booked. My understanding is that the large majority fall in the first category.


George W. Breslauer
Professor of Political Science
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
University of California at Berkeley
200 California Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500
Tel: (510) 642-1961
Fax: (510) 643-5499

Dear Chancellor Birgeneau and EVCP Breslauer,

I am writing with this urgent request regarding today's arrest of students at Wheeler Hall. I don't know why these arrests have happened when it had appeared earlier this week that the organizers of this "soft" occupation/open university had worked so carefully with the administration and police to have this event sanctioned through Friday. I understand from the news report in the SF Chronicle today that the administration was worried about a public event scheduled for tonight. I hope that all efforts for a rational and civil negotiation with students about those concerns were not only attempted but exhausted before armed police invaded the building this morning and conducted mass arrests of our students who were at the time either sleeping, studying, or writing papers, and then carted off to jail.

Urgently, I am asking that those arrested be cited and released. The administration and UCB will gain no ground by overreacting and holding them in jail, but will rather add fuel to the fire of those who feel the administration does not care about and respect our students, and does not perceive the way in which our students--the best and brightest of their generation, the future leaders of our state and nation--can be enlisted as critical and necessary collaborators in the fight to save public higher education. The UC will not benefit by garnering more stories in the national media like this article from December 4 Newsweek: "Whether you're an oppressive foreign dictatorship or an American state in the process of committing fiscal suicide, you know you're losing the public relations battle when encounters between armor-clad riot police with truncheons and college students are broadcast on TV. That's the sad situation California found itself in last week."

The UCB administration keeps repeating the line that we should be "shooting outward, not inward." If I'm not mistaken, the only entity in the crises of the last few months that has done any actual shooting has been the police who aimed significant weaponry at unarmed student protesters in November, which presumably they did with the sanction of our administration. Those involved in this week's Wheeler event, the Open University, had very different aims than shooting. They were seeking to build a sense of community and ownership about our university among students, staff and faculty. They transformed unoccupied spaces (those not being used for scheduled classes, study sessions and events) into alternate learning spaces for lectures, planning sessions, film screenings, etc. Their manifesto: "This university is yours! We shift competition to cooperation. We replace stress and anxiety with compassion and joy. We transform the traditional balance of power of this institution to create an education that includes the interests, concerns, and passions of all of us, and embodies the true ideal of democracy. It's time to reinvent public education together, So come one, come all to your university!" Organizers of the Open University created a labor rotation among them for custodial duties, for they planned to leave the building cleaner than when they found it, a plan no doubt thwarted by this morning's sudden arrests. For a perspective from a scholar of student activism on how the Wheeler Open University was being perceived nationally and internationally see this blog.

I attended and participated in two events at the Open University this week, including yesterday's talk by Prof. Charlie Schwartz which had an unusual attendance of both students and faculty who were there as active, engaged co-learners. I also presented yesterday on the ways in which protest in the early years of the anti-apartheid struggle was always perceived as a negotiation, one that addressed all participants (from radical leftists to the most extreme supporters of apartheid) as capable of change and rational discourse. "We believed that all men, even prison warders, were capable of change, and we did our utmost to sway them," says Mandela in his autobiography.

If the administration takes this higher ground, you will be more likely to harness the formidable energies of the over 3.5 million students (most of whom are California voters) enrolled in public higher education in our state (UC=220K, CSU=440K, CC's=2.8+ million). If I'm not mistaken, that's roughly 10% of our state's electorate. This constituency is a formidable--and necessary--ally in the fight to save our university. Treat them that way. Please.


Catherine Cole
Professor, UC Berkeley


My information on what is going on with the Wheeler arrests is gleaned from these sources. If there are important errors of fact, I and many other faculty would appreciate hearing your corrections:

> UC Berkeley protest ends in arrests

> Wheeler Hall Police Raid

------ Forwarded Message


We really need your help. Tons of students were arrested at 5:00am this morning in Wheeler Hall, many of whom were studying for Final Exams or finishing papers that are due tomorrow or the next day. The administration chose not to simply cite and release people after removing them from Wheeler, but these people are actually being arrested and booked right now.

The police came in at 5:00am and blocked the doors, arresting students for crimes such as finishing a final paper, reviewing O-chem, cleaning the bathroom floor, and of course, TRESPASSING ON PRIVATE PROPERTY!

We must pressure the administration to allow everyone to be cited and released; otherwise students who cannot afford bail money will be forced to sit in jail until their court date on Monday. And, as a back up plan, we might need to start a bail fund. Students cannot afford to miss three days of studying at this time of the semester.

We are asking that faculty send as many emails as possible to the administration, at the very least asking that everyone be cited and released so that they can continue to study for finals. Faculty are also free to comment on the fact that police came in with weapons and locked the doors and mass arrested everyone on the inside the day before final exams begin.

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