Speak Up, Speak Out
Students, faculty and staff had a chance to converse with University of California officials about balancing campus safety and security with rights to assemble, demonstrate and engage in civil disobedience at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28. This meeting was a part of a listening tour requested by the UC President, Mark Yudof, after the recent events at UC Berkeley and Davis.
Held in the Pacific Ballroom C from 4-6 p.m., the meeting was facilitated by Charles F. Robinson, the General Counsel for Legal Affairs for the University of California, and his staff. In the meeting hall, the chairs were situated in a circle to encourage active participation from the attendees. Students and administrators were then free to ask questions and voice their concerns about specific policies and their execution.
“I don’t get as many opportunities as I would like to come out and speak to students and I’m always impressed with how intelligent, how responsible our students are,” Robinson said.
Robinson made it clear that the University understands and encourages the need for students to protest and engage in civil disobedience, but at the same time, he wants them to understand the consequences of such actions. The university retains the right to determine time, place and manner while maintaining health, safety and security.
“In the absence of immediate harm, why is force even an option that is being presented?” Greg Richardson, a fourth-year political science major said.
In response to similar questions, Robinson explained that there is a need for administrators and law enforcement to exercise good judgment and discretion. Robinson stated that policies do not have to be hard and fast rules but can be suited to match each specific situation according to the discretion of the officials. This idea, however, brought up another issue.
“It seems like selective enforcement lends itself to the appearance of bias by the administration of one group over another, and I know that is very damaging to the community,” AGS National Legislative Liaison, Chris Dunckle, a fifth-year graduate student of Physics and Astronomy, said.
Robinson, in return, commented that there needs to be a balance in keeping policies and their enforcement flexible without discriminating against any particular groups. He continued that there should be a process for how to interpret campus policies, again directing the discussion back to the issue of discretion among administrators and officials, while also bringing up the need for student involvement.
“I think it would be much easier for us students if hopefully we review these policies, that we’re involved with them, and we understand them, because when I self govern myself I’m more comfortable with the implications of the actions that follow,” Dunckle said.
A conversation then began about alternative ways in which students can address their ideas and concerns with campus administration and UC officials besides protesting. Some ideas included taking issues to the student government and setting up regular meetings with the administration, and even the police force.
“The administration and the police shouldn’t lose sight of what might be the underlying causes of student protests,” Dunckle said.
Throughout the meeting, students voiced their frustrations concerning the inconsistencies of certain policies. The issue of chalking was brought up as one example in which law enforcement has intervened when there was no direct policy against it. Robinson agreed that policies on specific issues such as that one should be made clear to both the students and the police.
“The lack of clarity is something we’ve heard loud and clear from students,” Robinson said.
He addressed the need to communicate policies with students and establish a place for them to go when they feel like the policies are a violation of their rights. Many students agreed that they would like having clarity and transparency of policies and regulations as well as a means for these policies to be reviewed on a regular basis.
After two hours of conversing with students and administrators, Charles F. Robinson and his staff gathered their notes and promised to report the discussed issues back to the UC President Mark Yudof.
“From my viewpoint, the meeting went really well,” Robinson said. “I felt as though people were engaged. I felt as though people were candid in the questions they raised and the comments they made and I learned a lot of useful information that I think will be reflected in the report that we ultimately give to the president.
“Hopefully it will influence the policies that we develop going forward for how we respond to protest situations on campus.”