When the Alameda County Sheriff’s cops suited up in their riot armor and, AFAIK with our campus officers , beat a bunch of our students and faculty with batons, my chancellor was in Shanghai setting up a branch campus; I don’t know who was nominally in charge and forgot to be in charge. When the chancellor got back, he sent a remarkably tone-deaf and misinformed letter to everyone, regretting the injuries to police as though there were any. The similarly ham-handed episode at Wheeler Hall last spring, and its devastating PR impact, obviously had faded from everyone’s memory, so no-one bothered to give the police appropriate orders or plan an operation with a lick of sense or humanity.

I am not inclined to lambaste the police excessively, as they are blue-collar workers as scared of layoffs and cutbacks as everyone else and properly in the business of controlling behavior by force when necessary. Someone on the ground completely misread the mood of the students, but cops do confront dangerous people and sometimes get hurt or dead doing it. The violence at Berkeley was mainly a major fail at high administrative levels.

What’s genuinely astounding, however, is this, at Davis more than a week later. Notice how aggressively the students are sitting; that is one tough crowd! Pepper spray is no joke, especially if you’re asthmatic; at least one student went to the hospital. What mystifies me is that the chancellor at Davis, and the police chief (who are having a very bad couple of days since), didn’t issue the following memo within two days of the Berkeley incident:

Occupation protests by students can be expected at Davis in the coming days and weeks. Under no circumstances will police use weapons, including chemical weapons, against students not presenting an immediate threat of violence. Anyone responsible for an episode such as occurred at Berkeley last week will be summarily suspended without pay, and probably dismissed permanently. Responsible for includes failing to prevent; I will not have Davis known as a place where the police abuse non-violent members of our community.

And check to be sure she got signed copies back from everyone from her #2 to the lowliest recruit on the force. And the City of Davis police chief, just for good measure.

The LA Times reports “the chancellor initially didn’t criticize police but later said seeing the images ‘left me with a very bad feeling.’” Uh, huh. What is the matter with these people? What have they trained their subordinates to be? She has furthermore responded by appointing a task force to report back to her in 90 days. Chancellor, if you need a task force to tell you what went wrong here, let alone three months of investigation, you either have a screw loose or a piece missing.

The latest, extraordinary, piece of video from Davis is here, putting a cherry and whipped cream on top of the humiliation of Katehi as she walked from a meeting past a line of her students (here’s the escort’s report), but also possibly beginning her rehabilitation. I hope some Aggies come to Cal and infiltrate our protestors to teach their incredibly effective, dignified, disciplined tactics. And I hope our own chancellor gets out among his students and faculty, on his feet. A couple of spam emails don’t cut it, and neither does his bizarre public demand that legislators from Sacramento come to Berkeley to debate education funding. I don’t doubt his commitment to education for everyone, but his leadership style is a riddle to me, and it’s sure not doing him any good.

The president of the system has finally taken notice. For some reason the chancellors have his “full trust and confidence” . But he’s “appalled”, and…calling a meeting with “full and unfettered discussion” – woah! His board, the regents, are really out front; they cancelled their meeting last week fearing protest. Way to keep in touch with the customers, boys.

Dammit, I work hard and earn my pay, and I deserve better leadership. I wish I could have more respect for the higherups in my company.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Michael O'Hare

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.