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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Column: All bark and no bite

I tried to avoid it. Really, I did – for as long as I could muster. There’s been a lot of melodrama and narcissism about this “Student Activism Team” that so fiendishly infringes on our First Amendment rights. I really wanted to keep my hat out of that particular ring, I did. I didn’t think many people are as self-deprecating as I can be and see that we’re hardly worth “iIinfiltrating,” but this morning I simply could hold my tongue no longer. This morning it’s not the administration’s narcissism I’m having trouble with. It’s ours.

When an organization like UC Davis pacifies a protest, peaceful or otherwise, with a secret task force or otherwise, it’s probably going to be for one of two reasons: either it recognizes the protest’s ambitions as salient and fears its people rising up against it, or it realizes the futility of the protest’s ambitions and instead has legitimate concerns about the safety of the protestors and those they’re protesting against. The first could be malevolent. The latter is actually sort of generous.

As a student body, we need to consider this distinction with respect to our own protest effort. We need to decide whether the university actually thinks we’re dangerous. Does it recognize the salience of our ambitions and seriously fear our potential as protesters and therefore feel it must infiltrate and undo us? Or is it just trying to protect the physical safety of both its staff and its students in the face of a misguided campaign?

Now, because our protest effort against the UC has been ongoing for a few years now, I suggest that in order to make this assessment in earnest and determine whether we’re a legitimate threat or simply a liability, we need to look at our measurable successes as an opposition movement. Have we kept tuition from increasing multiple times to the tune of over 32 percent? No. Have we ensured that UC campuses will accept Californians at the same rate they have for the past decade? No. Have our sit-ins and walk-arounds and microphones-on-the-quad protected the employment of any of our beloved professors and staff? No. Is it even possible to pin the fiscal irresponsibility of the UC system on a group of individuals small enough to hold accountable this late in the game? I argue probably not.

I’d go so far as to say we’ve achieved zero of our objectives as student protesters so far.

Successful protest movements can be defined by their ability to incite change. In this capacity, we’ve come up remarkably short. I know Girl Scouts who’ve done more for their cause by selling a few boxes of cookies than we have “Pprotesting.” In our defense, samoas are bomb.

So if we’ve been a demonstrative failure by almost every metric of success, what does our administration need to pacify so badly that it must turn to secrecy and infiltration?

I’d like to propose an alternate but equally plausible reality about why our administration found an initially secret Student Activism Team necessary: they think we’re a joke. They don’t think we’re even capable of managing a peaceful protest without forgetting our stated objectives and doing something rash either to UC Davis personnel or to each other. They think we’re all bark and no bite, like a blind dog. In this vein, there is no motive to infiltrate, only motive to make sure our efforts don’t go so awry that someone gets hurt, and if I’m not mistaken, that’s what our public funds are meant for. They even tried to be nice about it and keep it to themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather they fear our unity, because I feel the worst part of all this is that we made the Student Activism Team so. We protested so poorly, achieved so little, that our administration decided it had to babysit us instead.

So stop being so melodramatic. This whole thing is self-indulgent. I’m sorry, but we have failed to make our protest important enough to provoke a secret task force to take us over from the inside. We could have, and I would’ve been there with bells on. I believe our cause is one of the most important policy reform concepts in California. I believe it deserves either a protest force that will stop at nothing that would provoke such an insidious plot, or it needs students forging meaningful relationships with our administration and becoming instrumental in the real decision -making on this campus. Because if we can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Does the Student Activism Team seem like a shady method of handling our protest efforts on campus? Sure. Is there clearly an incompatible public and private vision for our university as Professor Clover argues? Without doubt. Are our campus protests really so effective that they incite administrative conspiracy? Check out your tuition bills or for faculty, your salary checks, and ask yourself if we’ve accomplished enough for all that trouble.

No, JOSH ROTTMAN is not Spartacus. However, immediately upon standing up, he became the real Slim Shady, and can therefore be reached at jjrottman@ucdavis.edu.


  1. I don’t care if it’s frightened malevolence or patriarchal benevolence, I need none of it either way.

    I’d like to know though what violence has been perpetuated on the part of student protesters that the administration feels they need to protect themselves, staff and other students from?

    In fact, it would seem that the only violence that has occurred has been officially sanctioned by our campus administration and the UC Office of the President, and has been perpetuated by UC and local law enforcement agencies against students.

    What is all the more disturbing about this in retrospect, is that this violence was perpetuated against students WHILE members of their covert team were on the ground and in the crowd.

    In short, they infiltrated peaceful gatherings, reported back to their superiors, and sanctioned the use of violence against students.

    So how generous does that seem?


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