Lawmakers Grill UC Officials Over Protest Clashes
SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) – The University of California, Davis, chancellor said Wednesday that she never ordered campus police to use force or pepper spray on students last month, as lawmakers began a broader inquiry over of how colleges have responded to non-violent Occupy protests.
Chancellor Linda Katehi reasserted that she played no direct role in officers pepper-spraying students on Nov. 18. However, she accepted responsibility for what happened but said she would feel uncomfortable providing tactical orders to police.
Katehi did not answer when she was asked if a vice chancellor authorized the pepper-spraying. Instead, she asked lawmakers to wait until the investigation is completed to make that determination.
“Did I direct police to use pepper spray? The answer is no. Did I direct police to use force? The answer is no,” Katehi said.
Assemblyman Marty Block, a San Diego Democrat and chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, asked Katehi what she would have done differently that day.
Katehi responded, “If I knew the police could not remove the tents peacefully, we would not have removed them.”
Video footage of officers spraying an orange cloud of pepper spray as student protesters sat on the ground, and images of officers jabbing protesters with batons on the University of California, Berkeley campus have sparked outrage and prompted investigations.
“These images were very disturbing, disappointing and, as we all know, shocking not only to us in California but to the nation,” said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. “Something is wrong with these systems when our children struggling peacefully to have their voices heard are answered by the spray of chemical weapons and the sting of batons.”
Block said budget cuts and tuition increases are to blame for much of the upheaval and support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. He said universities have a responsibility to provide a safe environment and foster a climate for free expression.
“Budget cuts have been horrible and frankly we are only dealing with the resources that the taxpayers of California give us,” Block said.
Katehi was among several top officials from California’s university systems who testified at the hearing about recent campus violence. Lawmakers also asked about the incident at UC Berkeley on Nov. 9 and protests at other UC and California State University campuses.
The panel heard from police oversight experts who stressed the need for officers to be trained on crowd control, and urged police and university leadership to assess the size of the protest crowd before moving in.
Barbara Attard, a police practices consultant, said officers at UC Davis should not have allowed students to form a circle around them knowing they were outnumbered.
Katehi had directed police to take down tents that had been set up on a campus park by Occupy protesters. A crowd of people, many students, sat in a circle with arms linked to protest the arrest of fellow students before police used pepper spray on the demonstrators.
“It appeared clear that there were not enough officers to take action that day,” Attard said.
UC Davis police Chief Annette Spicuzza and two officers remain on administrative leave after the incident. Katehi has asked prosecutors to drop charges against nine students who were arrested.
UC President Mark Yudof has appointed former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton to conduct an independent investigation. He also appointed Charles Robinson, the university’s general counsel and the UC Berkeley law school dean, to examine police protocols and policies at all 10 UC campuses and to have discussions with students, faculty and staff.
Yudof told lawmakers that he did not want to micromanage chancellors or campus police.
“Nonetheless, the recent incidents make clear that the time has come to take strong action to recommit to the ideal of peaceful protest,” Yudof said.
Robinson told lawmakers that students who locked arms to block police from leaving committed active resistance, and that the policy on campus protests might need to be changed in response to recent events.
Student representatives said the students were expressing their frustration with the rising cost of higher education.
“The week of protests brought into open the intense frustration and anger felt by students, workers, parents and teachers,” said Charlie Eaton, a graduate student in sociology at UC Berkeley and a leader of the UC Student-Workers Union.
This year, University of California tuition for in-state undergrads and graduate students rose $1,890 to $12,192 a year, which doesn’t include room, board and roughly $1,000 in campus fees.
Without a boost in state funding, the 10-campus system will likely raise tuition again next year.
Tuition at California State University has risen more than 22 percent to $5,472, not including room, board or campus fees. In November, the CSU Board of Trustees voted to raise tuition by another 9 percent, or $498, to $5,970 for next year.
One student, 23-year-old Jerika Heinze, approached Katehi outside the committee hearing to ask the chancellor why she has not reached out to students who were pepper-sprayed.
Aides stood between Katehi and Heinze, telling the UC Davis student the university would respond, before she was brushed aside and the chancellor moved along.
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