Last month, campus police at UCSF Mission Bay denied Ric Chavez entry to a public meeting of the Board of Regents in an incident that has flared tension from critics of the UC administration’s alleged lack of transparency.
Chavez, a 35-year-old independent filmmaker, was at the meeting filming a documentary on low-wage UC workers facing poverty when he was instructed by university officials that only “credentialed media” were allowed access and asked to leave the premises.
However, government code 11124.1 of California state law specifically permits any member of the public to record proceedings of an open and public meeting with either an audio or video recorder as long as the individual is not presenting a persistent disruption to the meeting’s proceedings.
In 1967, the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act implemented this provision of the California Constitution, mandating public access by any citizen to meetings of state agencies, boards and commissions.
Many have spoken out against the apparent violation, including State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who has authored several laws to ensure greater transparency of the UC.
“You just hope that this will not happen again,” said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff. “But you can never know. Unfortunately it usually takes a lawsuit to make the UC change its policy. I’m just glad that it didn’t have to go that far this particular time.”
Nevertheless, one stance of UC officials is that it was the sole decision of the police, tasked with security at the meeting, to eject Chavez.
Steve Montiel, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President (UCOP), explained that Chavez had been filming in an area patrolled by campus police prior to the meeting and, as a result, officers became suspicious that he may be recording their security positions.
“Campus police just didn’t feel comfortable because of what he had been doing earlier,” said Montiel. “He was allowed to attend the meeting, just not with his camera.”
Police then purportedly told Chavez he needed the permission of Lynn Tierney, UC vice president of communications, to access the news media room. Tierney initially gave permission but then later withdrew it.
Tierney insists that her judgment was based on a blanket policy that the UC has operated under for years, which is to disallow any non-credentialed media from recording meetings. Yet this view differs.
Others fail to understand the apparent discrepancy between the dueling rationales of the three UC officials who have since commented on the incident in a July 16 article for the San Francisco Chronicle.
“It’s not confusing, it’s clear,” said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “This incident was in every way a violation of the statute.”
In response to the situation, representatives from the UCOP have apologized and pledged to tailor the institution’s policies in accordance with the law.
“We’ve taken a long hard look at our current policies,” said Montiel. “In the future, things like this won’t happen again.”
In what seemed like an attempt at resolution, Chavez met with Peter King, media relations director, last Friday at the UCOP main office. He interviewed King about the impact of state budget problems on the healthy functioning of the UC. After answering Chavez’s his questions, King apologized for the “miscommunication and misunderstanding” that occurred at the regents meeting.
“It’s not often that UC admits to making a mistake,” said Keigwin. “They should have known better and it still doesn’t erase the fact that there is a culture of secrecy among the UC executives. Every effort for greater transparency has been fought.”
Keigwin urges students to continue to push for greater transparency and accountability from the UC regents and assures that his office will help to hold the administration responsible for any future violations.
The next Board of Regents meeting will be held on Sept. 14 at the UCSF Mission Bay campus.
EHSUN FORGHANY and KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at email@example.com.