Bill will require CSU and urge UC to designate high-level liaisons during major protests

Eugene W. Lau/File
Police barricade protesters during the November 9, 2011 protests on Sproul. A state legislative measure to reduce police confrontation with students is currently being discussed.

A bill passed by the state Legislature last month will request California’s public universities to designate a high-level administrator to act as a liaison between campus security and administrators and student demonstrators during large protests.

AB 1955 — which was authored by State Assemblymember Marty Block, D-San Diego — was influenced by recommendations for changes to protest protocol generated after last fall’s Occupy protests at UC and CSU campuses, according to Maria Lopez, Block’s press secretary.

The bill requires all CSU campuses to appoint a liaison to ensure safety and an appropriate police response and requests that the UC do the same. Though the bill’s recommendations for UC campuses are nonbinding due to the university’s legislative independence from the state, the UC Office of the President has released a statement in support of the bill’s concept.

In a March letter expressing the UC’s position on the bill, officials said the university would withhold full support of AB 1955 until the completion of a report by UC General Counsel Charles Robinson and Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law Christopher Edley Jr. that conducted a systemwide review of policies governing demonstrations and protests on UC campuses.

A draft of the report released May 4 found that senior campus administrators with decision-making authority should be available during significant protests.

“There must be an established system for coordination between police and administrators, with well-defined roles and a shared understanding that ultimate responsibility for the campus’ response rests with the Chancellor,” the report reads.

The campus established a Protest Response Team in January, which UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said is made up of senior campus leaders who fulfill liaison roles similar to what the bill specifies.

California State University has not come out with an official opinion on the bill, according to Mike Uhlenkamp, director of media relations and new media at the CSU.

The state Assembly passed the bill with concurrence on Senate amendments Aug. 22 with 76 members in support. Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, and Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, were the only Assembly members to vote against the bill, and two others did not have votes recorded. In a statement, Donnelly said the bill would not have prevented last fall’s incidents at UC Davis, where seated students were pepper-sprayed by campus police.

“The bill is too vague to be effective,” Donnelly said. “There is nothing preventing an individual campus or student group from appointing a student or petitioning a faculty member to play that role if they deem it beneficial.”

Alex Kim, who camped out in front of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s campus home last November in association with Occupy demonstrators, said the idea of a liaison was good in theory, but the effectiveness of any liaison would depend on his or her relationship with the student body.

“Administrators are people too, with their own patience and tone,” Kim said.  “The person who is the liaison should be someone who is friendly and familiar.”

Contact Chloe Hunt at [email protected]. Contact Jacob Brown at [email protected]