UC holds town hall meeting to discuss response to future protests

Benny Grush/Staff
UC General Counsel Charles Robinson and UC Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley Jr. converse with students and community members during a townhall held in Pauley Ballroom.

As police use of force during November protests still faces criticism and Occupy Cal continues into its second semester, University of California officials, Occupy Cal protesters and members of the campus community met Tuesday for a town hall meeting to discuss the university’s response to future protests.

The forum, entitled “How would you respond to the next ‘Occupy’?,” was the first in a series sponsored by the UC Office of the President to examine current police policies and allow the community to give input on future practices.

However, the particular unfolding of events on Nov. 9 at UC Berkeley and on Nov. 18 at UC Davis would not be discussed, said Christopher Edley, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.

“This forum is not an attempt to look back at events that have occurred on our campuses,” Edley said. “Instead, we’re trying to look forward for future events.”

The town hall, which was held in Pauley Ballroom, also featured UC General Counsel Charles Robinson, while ASUC President Vishalli Loomba and campus Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab served as facilitators for the event.

At the beginning of the event, entering members of the audience began to move the rows of chairs into a large circle, and soon the administrators decided to leave the stage at the head of the room and join the circle.

“I thought it was really interesting how the forum was physically remade,” said campus performance studies professor Catherine Cole.

As the forum began in the new format, the administration stressed its good intentions.

“What I’ve learned is that all of the administration is seen as a conspiratorial cabal that has different aims – and that’s just not true,” said Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri. “Are there no circumstances in which students are doing something the administration has to step into, like closing down educational buildings during the semester?”

Throughout the forum, concerns over the lack of accountability in the administration and misgivings over the response to future protests continued to crop up.

“Everyone could agree that the melee on Nov. 9 was not supposed to happen, so why does it keep happening?” said ASUC Student Advocate Samar Shah. “I think that the lack of chain-of-command is no longer an excuse and can no longer be tolerated. After Wheeler ’09, we wanted to have a crisis command center — that completely failed on Nov. 9.”

The series of forums are taking place as part of an effort to create a report to be released around March 1 about current police practices and recommendations for changes with input from the UC campus communities.

Over the course of a more-than-four-hour-long joint legislative hearing in Sacramento Dec. 14, state legislators questioned UC President Mark Yudof about how the UC would improve its systemwide police protocol and policies in the aftermath of the protests. Yudof said the report’s recommendations  will ensure accountability for the incidents and inevitably lead to a centralization of policies after Robinson and Edley interview a wide variety of people with varying perspectives.

“We’re not going to be able to make everyone happy,” Robinson said. “Perhaps not everything in the report will be how they wanted it, but we at least want to make everyone heard.”

Others were not so optimistic.

“After seeing how little effect the Brazil Report had, I’m not holding out much hope,” Cole said.