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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Column: U.S. Bank got punked

It is old news now about the events transpiring around the barricade and eventual closure of the U.S. bank in the Memorial Union. In brief, 10 to 15 students began forming a human blockade in front of the bank’s doors starting early January. After two months of waiting for the UC Davis administration to take tangible action to remove the barricaders, the bank – tired of having its employees virtually trapped inside and daily having to leave their jobs to go elsewhere – said enough is enough and closed the branch.
Given the circumstances, it is not surprising that there was tension behind the scenes between the bank and the university administration. What is surprising is the incompetent nature of the administration’s response and the extent university officials went to shift the blame off their own shoulders and onto the bank’s.

On March 19, The Aggie published an article noting that U.S. Bank officials were “upset with the university’s handling of the situation.” Officials called the blockade “intolerable” and argued out that the administration hadn’t been afraid to take action to remove protesters before — a pointed reference to the pepper spray incident of last fall. The end result? The Aggie article goes on to say that “U.S. Bank would seek damages for business losses and the initial cost of outfitting the branch.”

More startling than the vitriol flying behind the scenes is the university’s response to the bank’s decision to close. The Aggie quotes Stephen Downs, chief counsel for the university, saying, “Our position is that the termination is not effective; they didn’t follow the requirements.”

That’s all good and well — he’s merely stating a disagreement between the two parties that won’t carry into tangible action, right? Wrong. It turns out that recently the administration is considering taking legal action against the bank in response to its closure. In other words, the university could sue the bank.

Specifically, in a letter that has not been publicly disclosed, the university wrote to U.S. Bank headquarters, placing blame on the bank for the mess. The administration accuses the bank of violating contractual agreements and not reaching out to school officials. Also, in an effort to remove any obligation of responsibility, the administration charged that the bank is responsible for its own security, thereby shifting the task of handling the protesters from the university to the bank.
These allegations are simply ridiculous. First of all, the bank lost the ability to conduct business due to the barricade. This clearly is a violation of any contractual agreement between the two parties. Charges that there was not enough dialogue between the bank and the administration might be valid, yet it’s worth remembering that the barricaders were UC Davis students, sitting in a UC Davis building and violating the rights of other members of the UC Davis community who were trying to use their bank. Clearly, the school holds some level of responsibility given these facts. And the notion that the bank was in charge of its own security becomes laughable when, after the bank hired private security, the school intervened and said that was not acceptable, as reported in The Aggie.
It is also worth pointing out that the situation was quite unsafe. One customer had her wrist smashed in the door due to an overeager barricader, while the employees often had to have a police escort to leave the bank. Not to mention, the barricade was probably a fire hazard. Finally, there’s the simple fact that being trapped inside the bank each day was humiliating for the employees, akin to animals in a cage — a situation that shouldn’t be tolerable given the importance the campus officials presumably place on our “principles of community.”

Yet none of these points apparently bothered Downs, Katehi or the other top officials who signed the letter. All this leads me to wonder: what planet is our administration leadership currently on? Does it have logic on this strange planet?

Between the shocking lack of foresight exhibited by the administration with regards to the pepper spray incident last fall – did no one think to place any restrictions at all on what the police could and could not do? – and the complete incompetence of its handling of the bank barricade, I have to wonder why we’re paying the leaders of this school so much money.

If I kept batting zeros at my job, I would be fired. Shouldn’t the same rules apply to Katehi and Co.?

Miss the bank? Ready to siege Mrak Hall? Send your thoughts, ideas, rants and raves to jdnelson@ucdavis.edu.

1 COMMENT

  1. Jonathon, Congrats on the excellent column regarding the US Bank fiasco. The administration is frozen, immobilized and unable to exercise basic functions such as providing the bank, employees and customers a safe place to do business. Not only have the students lost out on the funds from the contract. We will soon be reading about the expensive lawsuit and more expensive settlement UC Davis will be paying to the bank–and perhaps employees who lost their jobs as a result. The FRINGE group that barricaded the bank should have been arrested and prosecuted sooner, or restraining orders could have been obtained.

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