Academic Senate passes resolutions criticizing response to Occupy Cal

UC Berkeley professor Judith Butler addresses a crowd gathered at International House for the Academic Senate meeting.
Ashley Chen/Staff
UC Berkeley professor Judith Butler addresses a crowd gathered at International House for the Academic Senate meeting.

After walking through a silent protest of about 50 students holding signs expressing “no confidence” in senior administrators Monday, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau gave his account of the administration’s response to the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protests in front of about 300 faculty members.

“I apologize again, and as chancellor take full responsibility for what occurred,” he said. “I do have to say that there’s a level of confusion even among ourselves about what actually happened on Wednesday, Nov. 9.”

About an hour later, attendees of the special meeting of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate — which was called to discuss a resolution that originally called for a vote of “no confidence” in senior administrators’ ability to handle police response to protests — voted to endorse four resolutions criticizing the administration’s handling of the Occupy Cal protest.

The senate voted 336 to 34 in favor of passing all four resolutions, which suggested ways the administration could minimize police use of force against student protesters.

The proposal that triggered the meeting — authored by professor of political science Wendy Brown, professor of rhetoric and comparative literature Judith Butler and professor of gender and women’s studies Barrie Thorne — was altered prior to the meeting to exclude the “no confidence” clause.

According to Brown, the “no confidence” clause was originally included to express a lack of confidence in administrators’ ability to handle protests but was misconstrued by faculty.

“The no confidence clause was being misread as an across-the-board vote of no confidence that would have called for the resignation and deflected attention from the issue of police violence,” she said.

Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Harry Le Grande addressed the audience at the beginning of the meeting, along with Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab and Julia Joung, academic affairs vice president of the ASUC.

Birgeneau said the administration had “limited communications back and forth” while he was traveling in Asia during the protests, and he regretted the first message he sent out to the campus community immediately after the protests that called linking arms “not non-violent.”

The campus administration planned to enforce the no encampment policy in order to prevent a situation similar to People’s Park, according to Breslauer. He said in retrospect it would have been better to wait until night to remove the tents because fewer protesters would have been present.

Campus English professor Celeste Langan, who was arrested Nov. 9, said that the administration was chiefly responsible for the police use of force.

“Instead of cutting off the arm that offended us, we should ask, ‘Who has weaponized that arm?’” she said. “I want to state firmly that I can have no confidence in a chancellor who asserts that linking arms is not nonviolent civil disobedience.”

After a period of public comment and a vote to endorse the proposals, campus Academic Senate Chair Bob Jacobsen asked the assembly to vote on whether to send out the proposals in a mail ballot to other faculty members not present at the meeting, but the vote was defeated.

Jacobsen said the meeting’s turnout was one of the largest he had seen in 18 years.

Alisha Azevedo and Amruta Trivedi cover academics and administration.

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