To Protest or Not To Protest

In response to recent events concerning protests and acts of civil disobedience, UC President Mark G. Yudof sent General Counsel Charles F. Robinson and UC Berkeley Law Dean Christopher F. Edley, Jr. to all the UC campuses to review campus policies and create a series of recommendations to help clarify the role of students, administration and police in participating in and responding to protests.


Robinson and his staff held an open forum in February to discuss these issues with the Irvine campus community, promising to consider everything in the Robinson-Edley Report to the president. Although it is still open for comment and review, the report of their findings has been released, and it contians 50 recommendations in order to guide campuses towards the best response to future demonstrations.


Cameron Koichi Joe, an economics major and recent graduate who attended the forum with Robinson in February, said he was curious of the different aspects the report would cover.“My main concern was the uneven and bias ways in which campus policies are forced on particular students and particular bodies,” Joe said.


“In some regards the report is a commentary on common sense, things that institutions should be doing anyway,” Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas A. Parham said. “To collaborate, to communicate, to do some pre-planning, and to have very clear lines of authority about how they navigate and manage certain situations and circumstances.”


The report attempts to define and communicate more clearly the rights and guidelines regarding free speech within the university community. It calls for strong relationship-building between protestors, administration and police, hoping that using existing communication channels and building new ones will minimize police response to protests and limit the use of force against protestors.


“We set up clear boundaries of interaction so that the first people on the front line are never police,” Parham said. “The police for the most part—unless we have an incident that we feel is about to happen—are more in the background and our student affairs team are really on the foreground.”


Regarding the hiring and training of police officers and University administrators, the Robinson-Edley Report suggests that these officials be trained and educated in various approaches for de-escalating protest situations. The report makes specific suggestions towards setting up regular training for these officials to have a better understanding of police policies and practices.


“Not every officer who gets considered by UC for employment, while they might be an officer in another agency, would be right for a college campus because the mentalities are different,”  Parham said.  “It takes a special kind of officer to be able to do that.”


He said the officers hired by UCI have a different perspective than most police officers in that they understand the need for civil disobedience on a vibrant college campus. Furthermore, the report recommends several strategies for law enforcement to use in order to reach a peaceful resolution with protestors that does not involve force.


One of the recommendations under debate within the report is the implementation of neutral observers and a policy of videotaping activity during demonstrations. The report even suggests a system-wide structure to be located outside of the police department and campus administration that is responsible for reviewing responses to civil disobedience.


“It’s very complicated because, in theory, it would be very egalitarian if there’s a third party but, I mean, there’s also concerns of surveillance,” Joe said. “There’s also concerns about documentation. Student activists have used that tactic to hold police and administration accountable. I know it has been effective in the past. At the same time there’s the question of where that information goes. The police have access to all of that. That is a real concern that I have, personally, is being so visibly marked by police officers and by administration.”


A major part of the report focuses on building strong communication channels with protestors before and during their demonstrations. Parham explained that UCI already has a strong cooperation with their students and staff through the system of constructive engagement.


“It is much easier to build relationships with student groups, faculty groups and staff groups that you have access to,” Parham said. “It is much more difficult to do it with people who are off campus who come in with no intent of wanting to communicate with anybody, but simply their intent is to disrupt and that becomes much more difficult.”


Parham also said he was pleased to see a strong correlation between the policies and practices already in place at UCI and those suggested in the report.


“Irvine in some respects is a model for what other campuses ought to be doing,” Parham said.


Comments or suggestions about the Robinson-Edley report can be submitted up until May 25, 2012