Following criticism, UC Berkeley creates new protest response guidelines

Sean Goebel/File
Thousands of students came out on November 15th, 2011 to listen to Robert Reich speak and to participate in the Occupy Cal general assembly. (Sean Goebel/File)

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In reaction to the tumultuous protests of last semester, the UC Berkeley administration adopted a new approach to protest response, which it has already implemented in dealing with recent occupations on campus.

In a campuswide email sent Tuesday, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance John Wilton — co-chairs of the  campus’s newly formed Protest Response Team — announced an “evolving approach to responding when protests occur that violate campus policies.”

The response team was formed in early January at the beginning of an occupation of the campus anthropology library and is comprised of about 14 people including UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya and Bob Jacobsen, chair of the campus division of the Academic Senate, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

The Tuesday email listed several points as guidelines for dealing with future protests, citing context-specific issues and the level of disruption to campus operations as factors to be taken into account. Additionally, according to the email, campus leaders will respond to unlawful protests in a way that will “minimize the prospect of physical harm.”

Other points stressed that the campus should encourage effective communication between protesters and faculty members and that any decision to authorize police engagement will be made only by a fully briefed, on-site senior administrator.

Protests in the last several months have been at the center of national media attention, with the events of Nov. 9 leading to allegations of police brutality, followed by student lawsuits and wide-ranging criticism.

“I think the interest and the desire to have a better understanding of everything that happened on Nov. 9 is completely understandable,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, adding that recent protests have been “notable for the lack of any kind of violent confrontations.”

According to Breslauer and Wilton, the new guidelines have “proved helpful in reaching peaceful resolutions” in both the library occupation and the more recent encampments in front of Sproul Hall and Doe Library.

However, UC Berkeley senior and Occupy Cal protester Navid Shaghaghi said he has not seen the new approach have much of an impact.

“It doesn’t matter what the policy is — the administration’s response is always to send cops in with riot gear first, ask questions second,” Shaghaghi said. He added that he believes the lack of violence in the recent responses to be a result of faculty involvement and smaller protest size, rather than any significant administrative effort.

With regard to the protests planned for the first week of March, Shaghaghi said he does not expect the campus to interfere significantly, because the upcoming protest “takes the attention off of administration” and instead focuses on the issue of higher education funding in Sacramento.

Jacobsen called the new response approach a “significant step forward” and said he believes it is “good that the campus community has been told.”

“I’d encourage the administration to keep thinking about the best ways to engage with protests on the campus, continuing on from this positive step,” Jacobsen said in an email.

Senior staff writer J.D. Morris contributed to this report.
Amy Wang covers academics and administration.