Campus builds escape hatch for Dirks’ office in California Hall

tuitionhikeprotest_MDrummond(second-dirks)
Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Update 8/01/16: This story has been updated to reflect an interview with ASUC Senator-elect Chris Yamas

Last weekend, an emergency exit was built near Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ office as a security measure against potential protesters.

The door, which cost $9,000, is located outside a short hallway between his conference room and his office in California Hall.

Campus spokesperson Claire Holmes said in an email that the exit in California Hall was installed as a security measure to “provide egress to leave the building.”

Construction of the door was requested about a year ago in response to a protest in April 2015 when protesters stormed the chancellor’s suite.

During the protest, students staged a sit-in outside Dirks’ office where they banged on desks and chanted loudly. They were eventually escorted out of the building, some in handcuffs, by UCPD officers.

Later that day, protesters marched from Sproul Hall to the area in front of University House, the chancellor’s residence.

ASUC Senator-elect Chris Yamas said there have been many protests on campus throughout the tenure of several different chancellors, but no instances when a chancellor was physically harmed.

“There has to be other ways to handle student concerns and protests than simply building ways to avoid them,” Yamas said. “The chancellor seems elitist and out of touch and inaccessible to the students.”

The funding for the exit was approved by the UC Office of the President under Be Smart About Safety — a UC-wide pool of money that provides funding for risk prevention.

According to Holmes, the door was built over the weekend to be less disruptive to people working inside California Hall. She said that all workers were provided overtime pay.

Holmes added that the building manager had spoken to the then-acting campus fire marshal who gave a “verbal OK” to construct the exit and planned on seeking approval and making amendments as needed. Current campus fire marshal Curt Itson, however, said he was unaware of any project inside California Hall.

This news comes after recent developments showed the campus spent nearly $700,000 to build a fence around University House. The fence was built because of an increase in the number of incidents of vandalism and trespassing.

Yamas said these constructions often have the opposite effect from their intended purpose, however, by increasing community backlash against Dirks and instigating more intense protests, thus putting the chancellor in more danger.

He added that protests have long been a part of campus tradition and serve as a way for students to have their voices heard and hold the campus administration accountable.

Haruka Senju is an assistant news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @haruka_senju.