Agreeing or disagreeing with the reaction of UC Berkeley’s administration to the budget crisis is a matter of political opinion. But after Wednesday night’s events, one thing is beyond doubt: The current administration is acting irresponsibly and can no longer lead our university.
On Wednesday, the campus called on the Alameda County Sheriff’s office to help disperse a student protest on campus. This time, the reason was a small encampment on the lawn near Sproul Hall. Mayors from all over the country, including rather conservative figures such as Michael Bloomberg, had allowed much larger encampments to stay. But the current administration insisted on enforcing one of the most insignificant and unimportant sections of our campus code, using dozens of cops in riot gear, who marched into Sproul Plaza, to beat students with batons and arrest many protesters. Finally, around 9:30 p.m., their mission was accomplished: The cops removed some seven tents and tore two banners off the front of Sproul Hall.
The administration’s decision to order an aggressive dispersal of the encampment put the lives of hundreds of people at risk. It was a miserably irrational and irresponsible decision, not unlike a similarly violent intervention they ordered during the Wheeler Hall events two years ago. The circumstances did not require any such intervention — the encampment was peaceful and did not interfere with any of the campus activities.
Had the administration bothered to listen to the protesters, they would have seen it themselves. However, just like two years ago, UC Berkeley’s powers that be did not show any intention to listen to anyone but themselves. Just like in the 2009 Wheeler Hall occupation, Chancellor Birgeneau was not present: he was on a trip to Asia. On Wednesday around 6:30 p.m., a group of administrators led by Vice Chancellor Harry Le Grande demanded that the tents be removed and left without listening to the protesters or trying to engage in a conversation.
The administration’s inability to communicate with the campus community turned a peaceful protest into an emergency. The students, staff and faculty of this university must hold them accountable for what could have very well ended in a horrible tragedy. It is time to demand that the administrators responsible for the decision to call the Alameda County Sheriff’s office resign.
Roi Livne is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley.