Chancellor’s statement to ASUC Senate cut short by calls for resignation

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau speaks to the ASUC Senate in Stanley Hall. Over 90 students and members of the public attended the meeting.
Kevin Foote/Senior Staff
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau speaks to the ASUC Senate in Stanley Hall. Over 90 students and members of the public attended the meeting.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s address to the ASUC Senate was cut short Wednesday night after an interruption from protesters demanding his resignation.

Birgeneau spoke for about 10 minutes in front of an audience of around 90 people before being interrupted. In that time, he said state budget cuts have forced the UC Board of Regents to increase student tuition multiple times over the last few years, and began to explain how the campus has started to compensate for the declining state funding.

“In many ways, every single one of us is committed to excellence and increasing access. People should be able to attend Berkeley no matter what their family income is,” Birgeneau said.

But as he started talking about the campus’ efforts to increase its number of out-of-state and international students to compensate for decreased state funding, Yvette Felarca — a local teacher and national organizer for the activist group BAMN — abruptly called for Birgeneau to resign through a human mic check characteristic of the Occupy Cal movement.

“Chancellor Birgeneau, you need to resign,” she said through the mic check.

Subsequent efforts by ASUC President Vishalli Loomba and Executive Vice President Chris Alabastro to quell the commotion in the room and resume Birgeneau’s address were unsuccessful, as protesters began chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Chancellor Birgeneau has got to go.”

The chancellor left the meeting immediately without finishing his statement. The senate then decided to move the meeting — which was being held in Stanley Hall — back to the senate chambers in Eshleman Hall.

“That statement was nothing but an insult,” Felarca said in regard to Birgeneau’s speech.  “The best thing for him was to stop talking.”

Cooperative Movement Senator Elliot Goldstein said the disruption prevented a larger dialogue about a growing divide between students, UCPD and the administration.

“Personally, I am very upset that some people chose to disrupt a dialogue that could have happened,” Goldstein said. “But I am also upset that the chancellor chose to leave after a relatively small interruption.”

Senators had planned to ask Birgeneau a set of questions after his speech that members of the campus community had submitted through an online forum, but Birgeneau left the meeting before the scheduled question and answer session could be held.

After his departure, the senate modified a bill that was originally written to thank Birgeneau for attending and address concerns the senate has with certain policies of the chancellor and campus administration.

The modified bill asks Birgeneau to answer the set of questions developed for his appearance and to express the senate’s regret for the manner in which his speech was interrupted.

Though it was made clear that Birgeneau would not address the Occupy Cal events of Nov. 9 due to the lawsuit against the campus, a few of those questions address the faculty and police response to the administration’s handling of the events. Other question topics range from decreased state funding of public education to student participation in the campus cost-cutting Operational Excellence initiative.

The senate also planned to ask Birgeneau to hold regular town-hall style meetings for the campus community to voice their concerns directly to him. Goldstein said this would help “bridge the gulf” between students and administrators.

“I think the vast majority of students are upset with the chancellor and his lack of leadership surrounding the events of Occupy Cal,” Goldstein said. “They want to hold him accountable, but students need to see a face. That the chancellor retreated tonight just reinforces an image of a bunker mentality.”

Chloe Hunt of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

Amruta Trivedi covers academics and administration.