Berkeley Faculty: No Confidence in Chancellor Over Campus Police Violence

Historians in the News

Jon Wiener teaches history at UC Irvine and writes for the Nation magazine.

Berkeley is not only a school with an honored history of campus protest; it’s also our greatest public university, and its faculty include some of the country’s most brilliant and accomplished people. So when those faculty members meet to debate police violence against the “Occupy” movement on their campus, it’s big news.

On Monday, the Berkeley Academic Senate will vote on a resolution expressing “no confidence” in their chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, because of police violence against Occupy Cal campus activists there on November 9. The chancellor’s defense of police conduct was particularly outrageous: “It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms,” he declared the day after the police confrontation. “This is not non-violent civil disobedience.”

Linking arms is “not non-violent”?...

But the chancellor does have defenders, most notably history professor David Hollinger, who wrote at a university website that the police were enforcing a ban on overnight camping on campus, which “has some reasonable justifications” and “does not impede political advocacy.” Fighting with the police, and the chancellor, over the tents is “an unfortunate diversion” from the real issue, he argued—declining funding of public education, and growing economic inequality in the US at large.

This protest, Hollinger says, is not like the Free Speech Movement of 1964, which challenged university rules that did prevent political advocacy. Focusing the campus Occupy Wall Street movement on the Berkeley chancellor “implies that the UC Berkeley itself is integral to the economic inequality against which Occupy Wall Street is directed,” which “grossly underestimates the role of UC Berkeley in advancing egalitarian goals.” Thus, Hollinger concludes, “It will not do to blame this on Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.”

It’s true that fighting over the tents is a distraction from the real issues. But who made the tents an issue? It wasn’t the kids—it was the chancellor. UC Berkeley Police Capt. Margo Bennett told the LA Times that the cops attacked and clubbed protesters because “the administration said no tents.”...

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