A New Quarter Begins at UC Davis

A New Quarter Begins at UC Davis

Drew Halfmann & Sarah Augusto: A New Quarter Begins at UC Davis

The Occupy UC Davis encampment, which closed down over the holidays, raised a few tents on the Quad last week and held its first General Assembly (GA) on Thursday, January 12.

After the pepper spray incident on November 18, the media reported that more than 100,000 people and the UC Davis faculty association had called for the resignation of Chancellor Linda B. Katehi. Her days at UC Davis seemed numbered. But things were not quite as they appeared. Although the Board of the UC Davis Faculty Association called for Katehi?s resignation, most of the national media failed to note that this left-leaning association has only 112 members (including one of us, Drew Halfmann)?less than 10 percent of the 1,400 members of the faculty at UC Davis?or that the Board acted without consulting its members and found that most (including Drew) disapproved when it polled them afterward. The 100,000 signatures on a Change.org petition demanding Katehi?s resignation were impressive, but most came from people who had been offered only one way to express their outrage and knew little about the chancellor, UC Davis, or alternative solutions to the crisis.

So far, only two departments out of eighty-six have demanded that the chancellor resign (English and comparative literature), along with a majority of the professors in the physics department. Only a quarter of the faculty have signed letters supporting or opposing the chancellor (most are taking a wait-and-see attitude), and among those, the chancellor?s supporters lead by almost two-to-one. The faculty will take an online vote on separate motions of confidence and no-confidence on February 9. Supporters of the no-confidence motion are divided over whether it entails a call for the chancellor?s resignation (or removal). In any case, it is unlikely to lead to that outcome since the decision rests with Katehi herself, the president of the University of California, Mark Yudof, and the UC Regents?none of whom appear particularly unhappy with the chancellor.

The case for resignation has been made most prominently by English professor Nathan Brown, who argues that police violence against student protestors was not ?a mistake? but a deliberate, and repeated, tactic for suppressing the political content of the protests?opposition to the privatization of the University of California. He notes that that the chancellor has accepted ?full responsibility? for the events of November 18 and argues that this requires her to step down. The physics department letter argues that sending the police should have been a last resort in light of police violence at other Occupy protests, that sending the police after a single day of encampment violated the civility language in the UC Davis ?principles of community,? and that the chancellor?s actions after November 18 have not restored trust in her leadership. A letter signed by approximately 140 faculty members argues that the chancellor ?displayed a dangerous ignorance or disregard for the potential for violence,? claimed to take responsibility while shifting it to her subordinates, and has lost the credibility required to advocate for students concerned about affordable education and economic opportunities after graduation.

On the pro-chancellor side, a letter organized by entomology professor Walter Leal, and signed by approximately 270 faculty members, argues that the chancellor is ?well-qualified? to lead the university through a ?difficult healing process? and that calls for her resignation are premature. Law School Dean Kevin Johnson argues that due process requires that the faculty suspend judgment until five separate ongoing investigations have run their course. Many faculty members are appalled by the chancellor?s decisions on November 18 and her performance afterward, but believe that the anti-privatization movement will be more successful against a contrite and compliant chancellor than against the next Yudof appointee. Of course, a no-confidence vote probably won?t lead to the chancellor?s removal or resignation anyway, but it may help promote contrition.

The student movement has also debated how to respond to the chancellor. The GA called for her resignation last quarter, but some movement activists argue that the push for her resignation is a low priority, and that the focus on Katehi is a distraction from larger issues. Others argue that Yudof and the regents would undoubtedly appoint a new chancellor who, like Katehi, shares his privatization agenda. Others counter that after Katehi resigns, the students and faculty, rather than Yudof and the regents, should be empowered to select and remove chancellors.

The movement has also debated how to respond to Katehi?s attempts to interact with it. At one of the first GAs after the incident, the chancellor arrived halfway through the meeting with a large group of aides and journalists. The students debated whether she should be allowed to address the group. Many viewed her attempts to join the GA as a public-relations stunt rather than a sincere effort to communicate with students and found her media entourage disruptive. Some students argued that the chancellor has many other ways to communicate with them, including numerous town hall meetings and frequent mass emails, but that the GA is ?ours? and should not be yielded to the chancellor. Others argued that Katehi should be allowed to speak so long as she followed the rules–adding her name to the ?stack,? waiting her turn to speak, and abiding by a two-minute limit. Still others argued that the chancellor should be exempt from such rules. After fifteen or twenty minutes of heated debate, Katehi left before the GA could make a decision.

While the issue of Katehi?s resignation is very much alive for the faculty, it may have receded for the students. At the first GA of the quarter there was absolutely no mention of the chancellor. Instead, the discussion focused on the next steps for the movement and goals for the rest of the school year.

Photo taken in Davis in November by Myron Lam, via Flickr creative commons