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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Letter to the editor: Reynoso report

If only the Chancellor had let the police stage the tent removal operation at 3 a.m. instead of 3 p.m., the result would not have involved pepper spray (nor international publicity, nor the need for a four-month-long study, nor costly legal battles yet uncounted). This is all very likely true. But is that the main problem with which we, the (infamous) campus community, ought to be most concerned?

The background provided in the report makes one thing perfectly clear: The leadership team that was involved in the decision-making about the protest was specifically created because campus protests on this same issue had become frequent and repeated over several years.  The issue was something directly involving campus priorities. But the objectives of the team were to mitigate the impacts of the protests without apparently addressing the cause for the protest, the failure of the university to keep tuition from skyrocketing.

1) The main question not asked by the commission: Did the decision to remove the tents, per se, involve a violation of the free speech rights of the students attempting to protest tuition hikes and the privatization of the UC system?

2) If the rationale for the removal of the tents was in fact the fear that so-called non-affiliates were present, but there was a) a report from a key, appropriate university official that this was not the case and b) there were no further efforts made to ascertain if in fact non-affiliates were really present, then it is entirely reasonable to suggest that this rationale was a pretext for other motivations for the removal of the tents — i.e.,  lowering the visibility (suppression) of the protest.

What needs to be made clear is that the protest message the university wanted suppressed was not that students were outraged about tuition hikes. The students’ message went beyond that. The students setting up the tents were saying – in a very publicly effective way – that the university administration was no longer worthy of its authority, that its repeated failure to keep public higher education affordable was tantamount to betrayal of its mission. This kind of message can be quite damaging to a public institution which claims it has a very high-minded mission. So the tents needed to come down.

How important is it that taking down the tents might have been accomplished without the public relations fiasco that did take place? It is certainly not a trivial issue. But is that the one the public should focus upon?

Of course, if your principal concern is the branding of UC Davis in the eyes of potential donors and wealthy families with children seeking a college education, then this may be the only issue that matters. How, in the future, can the administration more competently protect the image of the university?

And not, how well does this university serve the interests of its students?

Richard Seyman
UC Davis Alumnus


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