UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s announcement Tuesday that he will step down at the end of the calendar year came after months of protests, criticism of his administration and calls for his resignation.
Yvette Felarca, a national organizer for the activist group BAMN, said in a press conference for the group Tuesday afternoon that Birgeneau’s decision to step down is a clear victory for those who have called for his resignation in the past.
Felarca, one of several protesters recently charged in relation to the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protests, said she feels that Birgeneau’s announcement comes as a direct result of pressure from the Occupy movement.
“After the actions that Birgeneau knew about, authorized and reauthorized … one of the main demands of the movement has been for Chancellor Birgeneau’s resignation,” Felarca said. “It really shows that our movement has power, that we have strength and that as long as we’re continuing to fight we can win the demands that we’ve been fighting for.”
However, Birgeneau said in a media conference call Tuesday that his decision to step down was made more than a year ago, saying that he felt he “already had a long run as a major university leader” and that it was time to transition back to being a “regular professor.”
And campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof denied any connection between Birgeneau’s decision to step down and previous calls for his resignation.
“This decision was made based on his own personal evaluation on what he wants to be doing at this point in his career … it’s a tough job,” Mogulof said.
The announcement comes in the wake of heavy criticism over the past few months directed toward Birgeneau for his handling of the Nov. 9 protests, which involved police officers using batons against protesters. Emails released last month show that Birgeneau did not object to initial reports of police use of batons on Nov. 9.
In the days following Nov. 9, a petition was circulated calling for the resignation of Birgeneau and other administrators. Later that same month, the campus Division of the Academic Senate endorsed four resolutions criticizing the administration’s handling of the Occupy Cal protest.
Birgeneau’s resignation was again called for when a speech he was giving to the ASUC Senate on Dec. 7 was cut short after being interrupted by protesters.
The announcement that Birgeneau will step down came a day after an ASUC Senate committee rejected a bill that would have put a referendum before students asking if it should be the official policy of the ASUC to call for his resignation.
Scrutiny has also been directed toward Birgeneau in regard to other past protests, including a protest in November 2009 when demonstrators occupied Wheeler Hall for more than 12 hours.
In a June 2010 report, the campus Police Review Board criticized campus administration and police for lack of organization and communication during that protest.
Birgeneau also experienced an attack on his home in December 2009 that resulted in damaged windows and eight arrests.
“Berkeley has a culture of protests,” Birgeneau said in the conference call. “If you’re not comfortable with dealing with protests, you shouldn’t be a chancellor of Berkeley.”
UC Berkeley senior Emerson Sosa, who was arrested during the Nov. 9 protest, said that while he felt Birgeneau may have played a role in condoning police use of force that day, he felt the chancellor had also contributed a lot to the campus community.
Sosa cited the Berkeley Middle Class Access Plan, a financial aid opportunity unveiled by Birgeneau and other top administrators in December that caps parent contribution toward undergraduate student education at no more than 15 percent of family income.
“For a lot of protesters who were out there, they’ll be helped by that program,” Sosa said. “Now, we have to look for someone else and they might not be sympathetic toward the same people Birgeneau was.”
Staff writers Afsana Afzal, Sara Khan, J.D. Morris and Oksana Yurovsky contributed to this report.
Jamie Applegate covers higher education.