The University of California shouldn’t need to pay about $1 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from mismanagement of campus protests.
If UC Davis set better policy prior to November 2011, when police pepper-sprayed a group of peaceful protesters, a lawsuit wouldn’t be necessary. But the university failed to avoid a preventable disaster, and almost one year later, the inevitable outcome of a terrible mistake finally played out.
According to the terms of a settlement made public on Wednesday, the 21 students who filed a lawsuit via the American Civil Liberties Union will each receive a $30,000 payment as well as a written letter of apology from UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. Additional protesters who were pepper-sprayed may also receive payments of up to $20,000, while the university will pay the ACLU $250,000 in addition to allowing the ACLU to scrutinize protest-related policies at the Davis campus. The settlement should make it painfully clear that the university’s mistakes have real negative consequences — this situation should never happen again.
The university should have learned its lesson before the Davis incident. In 2009, when protesters occupied and protested around Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley, the police’s use of force against demonstrators, which included striking them with batons, was widely criticized. Heated outcry also followed police baton use on demonstrators on the Berkeley campus in November 2011 — about a week prior to the pepper-spraying in Davis.
Though these incidents were isolated to singular campuses, university officials could have used the backlash as an opportunity to rethink systemwide protest policies. The whole UC system should learn from such large blunders so that officials do not repeat the same mistakes on other campuses, as was arguably the case in the Davis pepper-spraying.
Now, with years of public embarrassments and an expensive lawsuit settled, the university once again has the opportunity to listen. Earlier this year, a UC-commissioned report on systemwide protest policies was completed — it is of the utmost importance that the university listen to and implement its recommendations, as well as those that the ACLU will make under the terms of the settlement.
Protests are bound to occur as long as budget cuts and tuition increases plague students during this economically tumultuous period. Hopefully, the university is finally ready to prove that it can respond appropriately.
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