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Davis, California

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Guest Opinion: Boycott Katehi’s town halls

If there’s one thing we can say about Chancellor Katehi since the pepper spray incident of Nov. 18, 2011, it’s that her public relations campaign has been extremely effective at quelling calls for her resignation. Excessive pandering to student concerns with town hall forums reached absurd, almost pathetic levels before winter break, not to mention her duplicitous e-mails that sought to rationalize her judgment in calling on riot police to handle non-violent student protests. Katehi should have known full well that when riot police wield hammers, everything to them looks like a nail.

Which takes us to her first public appearance after the incident. At the subsequent General Assembly, Katehi spoke to an angry but open-minded audience of students who sought answers. Her voice began to quiver as she apologized, and for just that moment, I felt compassion and clemency for her. Who would want this sort of international embarrassment and ridicule anyway, from Jon Stewart to Icelandic TV? But my sympathy was a profound reminder of how easy it is for powerful and personable technocrats like Katehi to slip somas to upset but forgiving students and watch while our anger melts away.

After she had finished speaking, the crowd was almost unsure of what to do. We felt angry but couldn’t remember why. We are humans after all, and we like to give people second chances because we would want the same. However, this principle of “the golden rule” undermines our fervor in ending Katehi’s tenure at UC Davis. Katehi’s power and sphere of influence — including her access to the media and ability to control the narrative using her massive 30,000 student e-mail list — practically negate any accountability that she might be subject to at the university level, which ought to make her unworthy of sympathy from those who are subject to disciplinary measures. Ultimately, Katehi’s diplomatic but empty gestures mask her sincere lack of culpability, but considering her level of wealth and position within the university, who else but her should be held accountable for this miscarriage of justice?

So I say this to all students in the strongest terms possible: boycott Katehi’s town hall meetings! Legitimate answers to student concerns are clearly secondary to Katehi, who is seeking to pacify us until the momentum for her resignation dies out. Katehi’s fabricated solidarity with students over fee hikes and her collapsing of complex issues of state violence against student dissent into canned arguments about “health and safety” is revolting and unworthy of our diplomacy. Let our silence be our power!

It is clear that the only hope we have as students is to send this message to anybody in power, including the chancellor: “If you fuck with us or do anything to endanger our safety or raise our fees, your job is finished.” Isolating Katehi, unfortunately, seems to me to be our only way forward if we wish to produce her exodus. We’ll worry about who’s installed next by the regents and the university’s internal corporate structure when we get to that bridge. Remember, Katehi’s resignation and structural change of the UC system are not mutually exclusive; the former is simply the first step.

So in the end, just like with every other movement for systemic change, the burden falls on us,  the people. The question is, are we angry enough to make the change, or will this be our dream deferred? The fierce urgency of now is upon us. May we not wait for another Lt. Pike to inspire us to act again, only this time after something far worse than pepper spray.

Game Over, Katehi: Jan. 27, 2012.

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