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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Guest Opinion: Embracing student activism

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.


Chancellor, UC Davis


  1. @ucdgradstudent1

    You really believe that the UC system was operating as a successful public university? I can agree with you only in the case of research and teaching. In the case of budget and finances, no. In a capitalistic society, a huge public entity that is piggybacked by all taxpayers is like walking a tightrope across skyscrapers with no safety line. Oh and you’ve never done it before and you have inner-ear syndrome. It’s just a matter of time before you fall.

    And what is wrong with soliciting some private help? It’s not as if they want to change the entire university to the Private University of California. They need financial help and the taxpayers of California refuse to support them. That means they have two choices: solicit private donations or make drastic cuts. But apparently you students :coughdemocratscough: hate the idea of injecting private capital into a public entity. For shame, as it would greatly help this wonderful university.

  2. @Gaylord: The point is that the underlying cause was the apparent attempt to privatize a successful public university. If some protesters almost went too far in response, then the responsibility lies with those who attempted the former, for initiating the state of affairs that led to the latter eventuality.

  3. I for one salute Chancellor Katehi’s commendable commitment to transparency, and her willingness to “post the Student Activism Team Protocol as soon as possible on the Center for Student Involvement website” — very much as a student caught plagiarizing suddenly declares the urge, as noble as it is newfound, to post their footnotes and works cited on their website. Many thanks.

    But I do have a clarifying question for the Chancellor: will you also be posting the names of the students and/or staff who are participating in this totally above-board program, along with pictures and titles? That would be most useful, and given your commitment to transparency and good faith in this and all matters, I am sure you would have no reason to decline.

    When might we be expecting this, Chancellor?

    More to come,

    Joshua Clover

  4. Dear Chancellor Katehi,

    These remarks are, in fact, addressed to you. I am hoping you can perhaps further elucidate a few of your points for the benefit of all involved. Thus this is a direct request for clarification:

    In particular, I wonder whether you could speak a bit more to the mission you cite of Student Affairs to “educate the campus on free speech policy and assist in preventing disruption of normal campus activities.” Insofar as this does, in fact, set limits to permissible forms of protest on campus–protest may not infringe upon business as usual of “normal campus activities”–this policy itself is, it seems to me, a de facto limitation of students’ rights to free speech. At a minimum, it defines as impermissible student protest whose message is the interruption of campus business as usual in order to point up how ever more frequent and precipitate fee hikes, not to mention the periodic militarization of campus with riot cops by administrative fiat, do just that:

    They–and those administrators who back the hikes and call the cops–far more than student protest, interfere with the educational mission of the University and routine business of the campus community.

    Choosing to express this state of affairs politically is precisely what the policy of Student Affairs prohibits. Moreover, it seems to me irrefutable that once the administration enters into a formal liaison with police, this de facto limitation of protest sets de jure limits to free speech: Any form of political protest that seeks to interrupt business as usual will be met with, at a minimum, summary arrest.

    And indeed, this has been the consistent result of official policy: “Our Student Affairs staff and campus police department have worked collaboratively for many years to monitor…student activist groups.” I believe the 60 some-odd students arrested on campus in the last year would not dispute this in the least; nor would they dispute that, whether we call this activity “monitoring” or “infiltration,” its direct effect, whether or not its intent is “safety,” has been summary arrest, detainment, and a juridical chilling.

    Frankly, it seems unacceptable to me that the administration would claim to side with students in this situation. It is, after all, precisely the administrate glut that much of student protest over the past 18 months has targeted: We want to defund your pension inflated by the inflation of class enrollment and wholesale defunding of departments; and stop the proliferation of bureaucratic appointments leveraged against mounting student debt.

    This is all the more case when you charitably elide “protests, demonstrations and *emergencies*” beneath a single rubric of police response. The elision between human welfare and administrative protocol here is transparent, as is the elision when, in a letter meant to insist upon administrative commitment to student safety, the observation of “increased threats to life and property” equates threats to windows and walls with the well being of students.

    In saying all this I want to be clear, however, that this is not personal. I take you at your word when you demonstrate, by candidly admitting that there was no communication to the campus community concerning the creation of the Student Activism Team prior to the public information request made by students; and publicly promising to investigate the refusal by campus police officers to identify themselves as such; that you are performing your job in good faith. I believe you are, in fact, performing your job in good faith; but I also believe that a good faith performance of bad faith *is* the job.

    Here, then, is where I agree with okinological above, and ask for the benefit of a public response: Until the administration clarifies how a de facto policing of permissible forms of peaceful student protest, formalized by a task force with local law enforcement offices, is not a de jure limitation of free speech, I simply don’t see how it can be maintained in good faith that we are, as you maintain, all on the same side. So long as official University policy remains the monitoring of student political activity; so long as your office accrues a pension paid at the expense of student welfare; so long as cops are called to close down building and arrest students for being inside them, and the administration stands on their side of the barricades, behind the pepper spray, batons, drug dogs, and guns; we are precisely not on the same side.

    In good faith,

    Tim Kreiner

  5. It would be nice if Chancellor Katehi would stop lying, stop obfuscating and start telling the truth about why the university is engaging in undercover surveillance of student protesters and why it is asking people associated with UCD services like Financial Aid, ASUCD and Student Housing to report information about protests. Instead of insulting our intelligence by asserting that she is concerned about the safety of UCD students, which shouldn’t require such covert activity, concealed from the campus community until revealed through a public records act request, she should explain what was really done and why.

    For example, did Student Housing share information with the UCD Police Department about where student protesters lived, and whether they received housing assistance, with the possible future intention of taking it away from them as a form of disciplinary action? Was there a similar sharing of information about students receiving financial aid? If so, such release a release of information may have violated privacy laws, and there should be an outside investigation to determine if it happened.

    As for current students of UCD, I would be careful about anything that I said around any UCD employees, because it is now a matter of record that the chancellor, whenever it strikes her interest, will seek to encourage those employees to tell her about it. The less that you share with them, the less likely you are to find yourself gratifying the chancellor’s voyeurism.

    Richard Estes

    UCD Class of 1983

    UCD School of Law 1986

  6. @okinogical –

    If you really hate the administration, their practices, and the UCPD so much and believe you are the ultimate victim then please, transfer somewhere else. Specifically a place where you think it is OK to attack police officers or overtake the busiest interstate in the nation (I-80). Because dangerous manipulations of sane ideas such as peaceful protesting do not belong anywhere in a peaceful democracy.

  7. ^The above is actually directed less at Katehi, than it is at students. I don’t and never did expect anything else from the administration. But as students, let’s see through their rhetoric of “safety” and look directly at their actions. In every dialogue and negotiation in which the administration have the upper hand, we lose. I don’t want to stay in this abusive relationship: every time they show how clearly they are not on our side they say “but we care about you!” We must stop asking for meetings with these people. Students, there are so many of us and so few of them. We don’t need their permission, they need ours.

  8. Chancellor Linda Katehi on how they embrace student activism by calling the cops who lovingly placed protesters in free speech cells, surrounded buildings for our safety, and of course, repeatedly slammed a girl onto the hood of a cop car because they wanted to show her how much they cared.


    Dear Linda,

    Quoting a puff piece put out by UC Davis’s PR machine, and SAT’s own documents hardly serves as “evidence” that your main concern is for student’s right to free speech and safety. At best, it might prove the delusional nature of how the word “safety” is being bandied about. SAT is in clear collaboration with the police, as this opinion piece repeats several times. The only times that students have come under physical threats or harm during a protest is due to the actions of the police. Whether it was slamming bodies onto police vehicles or onto the pavement, lines of police pushing on protesters with batons, nearly crushing them, or simply the presence of armed gunmen on our campus. Did we feel safer when police officers arrested students from a peaceful protest at Mrak? Did students at UCLA feel safer because UCPD repeatedly tased a student for his failure to show an ID card? Do we feel safer now knowing that there is a secretly organized team known as SAT that reports on our whereabouts and collaborates with UCPD? Hardly. SAT was not created by students, and until these documents were leaked, I am pretty sure there was no intention of revealing this information. So what is this “togetherness” you speak of? Is it when the top floors of Mrak are under lock down to prevent students from entering? Listen the message has been made clear to students: a building’s hours of business are far more important to the administration than the bodies and expressions of students. We got it. Please stop trying to spin it into some paternalistic “we just care about you” bullshit.


    a student concerned about the dishonest rhetoric of this opinion piece


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