A recent Public Records Act request revealed a formalized Student Activism Team (SAT), a group of UC Davis administrators in charge of monitoring campus protests.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything inherently wrong with this. An official group with the task of ensuring student safety during protests actually seems beneficial. Given the attempt to block Interstate 80 last spring, it’s understandable that the administration wants to keep a closer eye on campus action.
What is puzzling, however, is the group organizers failed to acknowledge the existence of the team, that is, until students requested documents bringing it to light. Team organizer Griselda Castro, assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs, said that the reason members of the administration didn’t go public is because the team’s protocol and name weren’t finalized yet.
This is shady and the excuse doesn’t make it any less so. Regardless of the finalized protocol and name, the team was already present at protests all year. If they had just been open from the beginning, such a vehement reaction would have been less justified.
Then there was the problem with UC Davis police officer Joanne Zekany. Dressed in plain clothes, Zekany joined a group of protesters on the March 2 Day of Action and lied about her identity. Vice Chancellor of Administrative and Resource Management John Meyer, who is in charge of communicating with the police, called Zekany’s actions a misjudgment and regretted that it happened – as he should. Police should be adequately trained on SAT’s protocol before getting involved in protests. To Meyer’s credit, he said that it won’t happen again and that police and team members will wear nametags in the future.
Regardless of the team’s poor implementation, the public outrage is not entirely merited. It’s understandable that one’s spirit would be dampened with the knowledge that they are being monitored, but any public action is just that – public. When you paper the campus or post an event on Facebook, anybody can access it, including administrators. You can’t have an expectation of privacy in public. You can’t exclude people from action. That goes against the message of a public university.
Also, the point of a protest is to garner attention and if nobody shows up, the protest is pointless. Along the same lines, it would be more disconcerting if administrators didn’t show up because it would seem as if they don’t even care.
The situation would be different if we learned administrators were trying to infiltrate private meetings or if they were hacking into student e-mail accounts. This would be a direct violation of students’ rights to privacy and free speech and should not be tolerated. However, this invasion doesn’t seem to be happening, and we need to acknowledge the difference between private and public spaces.
It seems like a lot of these problems could have been solved easily – the administration could have trained the police, the team could have worn nametags and they could have publicized their existence. Unfortunately, their failure to do so led to student concern and outrage.