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Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

Embracing student activism

3.14.11

(Chancellor Katehi wrote this op-ed for The California Aggie in response to an opinion article that appeared on March 10, 2011.)

An opinion column expresses a point of view that deserves consideration on its own merit. However, when it is based on inaccurate or incomplete information, a response is warranted to address those errors and create a better framework for debate. It is in this vein that I am responding to the March 10 guest opinion in The California Aggie about student activism.

Fred Wood, our vice chancellor for Student Affairs, told UC Davis Magazine last summer in the article, "Rebels with a Cause," that our university expects students to express themselves on the issues of the day.

"We don't consider student activism 'bad,'" Wood said at the time. "In fact, we generally see it as good."

I agreed with Fred then, and I agree with him today.

That is why I was so troubled by last week's guest opinion. It misrepresented some important facts and misconstrued UC Davis' commitment to the free and open exchange of ideas on our campus. It also questioned my personal commitment to operating in a transparent, candid and open manner. This pains me, for the column's message could not be further from the truth.

I am proud of our efforts to establish a team of university administrators that, in coordination with campus law enforcement, is focused on ensuring the safety and protection of our entire campus community during protests, demonstrations and emergencies. In all cases, we seek to ensure the safety of all involved, and to protect everyone's constitutional rights of freedom of speech and assembly.

Our Student Affairs staff and campus police department have worked collaboratively for many years to monitor - but absolutely not to "infiltrate" - student activist groups. We do so to ensure everyone's safety and to better identify and address issues of concern. We accompany demonstrators to ensure their safety and the safety of those in their path.

Our own concerns about safety grew after the March 4, 2010, demonstrations, when a crowd of about 300 students and their supporters threatened to march onto Interstate 80. We saw the potential for increased threats to life and property and, at that point, formalized our efforts into the Student Activism Team.

There is absolutely nothing nefarious or under-handed about this team's organization or objectives. Indeed, in the very documents referenced in the Aggie guest opinion, the mission of Student Affairs is clearly laid out as it relates to responding to student activism: "to support freedom of expression, promote student safety, educate the campus on free speech policy and assist in preventing disruption of normal campus activities."

The guest opinion acknowledges "that these programs are not totalitarian attempts to stomp out student activism" and that the many pages of reviewed documents "reveal a heart-felt desire to protect first amendment rights…"

Agreed. In fact, it would be fair to say that our Student Affairs staff and UC Davis police officers are among the most recognized, respected and responsive on campus.

Could we have done a better job of educating the campus community about the formation and mission of the Student Activism Team? Absolutely. That is why I have asked Vice Chancellor Wood to post the Student Activism Team Protocol as soon as possible on the Center for Student Involvement website (http://csi.ucdavis.edu/forms/).

The guest opinion also claims that one of our UC Davis police officers was not truthful about her identity or affiliation when students questioned her during protests earlier this month. I need to learn more about this alleged incident, and so I have asked Vice Chancellor John Meyer, who has authority over the police department, to look into this matter and report back to me within the next month.

I vow that transparency, candor, honesty, integrity and openness will be the hallmark of my administration at UC Davis, however difficult or painful the issues. In my first 20 months at UC Davis, our campus has already been through so much - severe budget cuts, the elimination of programs and staff positions, tuition increases, demonstrations and protests, and acts of hate and intolerance. But so long as we remain honest, respectful and direct with each other, abide by our campus' values and principles, and continue to work with each other, there is so much that we can accomplish together.

LINDA P.B. KATEHI

Chancellor, UC Davis