The Chancellor’s Statement On How “Professionally” Police Dealt With Protesters Was Written The Day Before the Protest

I have to preface this by saying I feel like an idiot for spending all that time “detecting” duplicity in the Chancellor’s and the President’s letters to us, when they were gleefully admitting to it all along in their e-mails. Then again, I guess it’s good to have proof.

Via reclaimuc comes this selection from a California Public Records Request which revealed a 300+ page pdf of email correspondence between UC Berkeley deans, chancellors, public relations officers, cops on how to stop the building occupations in Fall 2009.

What follows appears on p. 243. It’s an account of that Friday’s arrests, written in its entirety on Thursday, the day before anything had happened. With a note: “We will need UCPD to fill in the blanks asap Friday morning.”

Chancellor Birgeneau replies, asking that the protesters not be referred to as “activists” because that gives them “gravitas,” and requests that a quote from him be added expressing his admiration for the professional way in which the police removed the illegal protesters.


This says everything we need to know about the good faith with which the administration has been operating.

From: Janet Gilmore []
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 6:45
To: Claire Holmes
Cc:,,, Margo Bennett
Subject: Draft Wheeler brief for web

Take a look, change as needed and please get to California Hall OK, as needed. We will need UCPD to fill in the blanks asap Friday morning.


University of California, Berkeley, police arrested xxx trespassing student activists and other protesters this morning (Friday, Dec. 11), hours before the group was set to hold an unauthorized concert inside a classroom building.

According to UC police, xxx individuals were arrested and cited for XXXXXX at XXX {time} this morning {XXX and taken to XXXX jail/Or cited and released!}. The group included xxx students and xxx individuals not affiliated with UC Berkeley.

The activists, who have been protesting against student fee increases and other issues, had maintained an illegal though largely nondisruptive 24-hour presence inside Wheeler Hall since Monday.

However, by week’s end the group began announcing plans for an unauthorized concert featuring guest artists and a DJ — an event that threatened to disrupt final examinations scheduled to take place in that same building on Saturday.

Campus staff spoke with the organizers about the issue, but the activists vowed to go forward. Their publicity materials stated that the concert would begin Friday night and would end “8 a.m. Saturday” and until “the cops kick in the doors.” Final examinations are set to begin inside Wheeler Hall at 9 a.m. Saturday.

“Once the activists refused to reconsider plans to hold an unauthorized all-night concert in an academic building we had to take steps to ensure that finals could go forward,” said Dan Mogulof, campus spokesman. “Our primary responsibility is to the campus’s core academic mission and the 35,000 students who are not participating in the activists’ efforts.”

Campus police are currently monitoring access to Wheeler Hall to ensure that only authorized faculty and staff are allowed in. Classroom review sessions that were scheduled to take place inside Wheeler today will instead take place in XXXXX and as indicated on fliers posted outside of XXXX.

Wheeler Hall is one of the campus’s largest classroom buildings and is open for campus business daily until 10 p.m. The trespassing group, which ranged from a dozen to several dozen at any given time this week, were not authorized to hold events inside the building; nor to sleep in the building overnight. Police cautioned activists every night this week — including Thursday night — that they were subject to arrest and student conduct code sanctions for their actions.

The activists entered Wheeler Hall on Monday and since then had set up information tables inside the building, stashed food and refreshments, posted banners, strummed guitars, played late-night music and declared the building an “open university.” Early in the week they appeared to be taking steps to ensure that their activities would not conflict with classroom review sessions underway inside the building.

p. 245

From: Robert J. Birgeneau
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 8:59 PM
To: ‘Claire Holmes’; Beata Fitzpatrick’; George Breslauer’; ‘Phyllis Hoffman’
Cc: ‘Janet Gilmore’
Subject: RE: DRAFT text for Wheeler story

Hi Claire,
I agree with the basic message. However, we need to find a new word other than “activists” to describe the protesters; that descriptor gives them too much gravitas. I prefer: intruders, occupiers, and/or protesters. Also, assuming that everything goes according to plan, I would like a quote expressing my admiration for the very professional way in which the police managed to apprehend and remove the illegal occupiers.


UPDATE: And again thanks to reclaimuc, here is how the statement actually appeared the next day. Some differences between the draft above and the statement as it ran are as follows, as noted by reclaimuc (who you should really follow—reclaimuc—because they broke this story over a year ago):

  1. the word “activist” is completely removed as per birgeneau’s request;
  2. they added a quote for birgeneau in which he praises the police;
  3. they removed the only sentence talking about what the “activists” were protesting about (tuition increases, etc);
  4. I’m struck by how they manufacture quotes. e.g. mogulof’s quote had the word “activist” and they changed it to “group.”

16 thoughts on “The Chancellor’s Statement On How “Professionally” Police Dealt With Protesters Was Written The Day Before the Protest

  1. Oh, now, that’s just fucking charming. Do they think we have no access to documents? no ability to read?

    Also: I’m chuckling about the terms Birgeneau wants to use in place of “activists.” Why would I be offended by being called a protester? That’s what I do when other, less-exhausting modes of speech have been, well, exhausted. Can I honestly intrude on a public space that employs me, and that I pay to attend? Does it matter than when my colleagues and I asked campus security for a key to the building so we could get in on weekends, security told us that they wouldn’t give out keys but pointed out just which window is always open? Can we get “Bob” a “no person is illegal t-shirt”?

    Also also: I really want to know what Birgeneau means by “gravitas”; I suspect that we differ on that word approximately as we do on “not non-violent,” “protect,” and “public safety.”

  2. Rache,
    What’s being underestimated, I think, is not our reading ability so much as our ability to object to it. Our powerlessness is assumed to be a matter of fact. As if we’re all supposed to accept that hypocrisy and illogical thinking is the norm, a social rule, even. To imagine an administration that would not engineer a disingenuous public face or speak in straightforward and honest language! What brave new world in which to open an email wherein B says, “I messed up. Sorry.”

    Also interesting for me is the language around “illegal though largely nondisruptive” activity, the way it fabriates the value of rightness and wrongness. How far does a student have a right to conduct a nondisruptive activity, and how does it become a matter of legality in the first place?
    How does an “unanuthorized” event like a concert “threaten” the final exams? Does the circle of Taiko drummers in the evenings or the makeshift hiphop dancers around campus all need authorization to get together? Why do college students need a ‘hall pass’ to do things, and what’s behind this policing– the fear of loitering (unregulated time), or the fear of crowds (unregulated numbers)? It seems the sheer lack of control on the part of the administration makes something illegal.

    Lastly, I think we need to think about the construction of futurity here. B’s not so much responding to an event or even to the possibility of an event as he is creating a scenario to which he can attach the police action he is determined sanction. It’s telling not only that it is written the day before the event, as you aptly point out, but also that the narrative is constructed in the present tense in order to be implemented.

    One last thought: B is, in my mind, a gate keeper. An awfully responsible and prominant one, but a fund-raising gatekeeper nonetheless, one who answers to the regents. Can we hold this corporate body responsible? It cuts everyone’s checks, and everyone writes their checks to it. Is it so impossible to imagine changing the structure of ye old archaic Calif. Article IX 9 with a proposition?

    That’s it for late-night ramblings. Thanks always for your hermeneutic labor, L! Looking forward to an actual conversation with you both after the break!

  3. This doesn’t surprise me. Letters don’t get written in a day, once they know what they’re planning they want to get as much done as possible beforehand so they can get the release out to the press, who is often waiting for edits and printing deadlines. Do you always do your homework 1 hour before it’s due? Of course not. Same thing.

    Was what he said despicable? Yes. But otherwise it’s pretty standard PR practice, from the advance copy to the careful wording and pre-prepared quotes.

    It’s more important to get on him for what he said and did than for the fact that he knew he was going to do it in advance. Of course he knew. Might as well get a head start on the writeup.

    1. The comparison to homework is apt: when I assign homework to my students, it’s work that can, by definition, be done before it’s due. This is not—unless you’ve decided to overlook all the facts because it’s just easier to make them up ahead of time, thereby obviating the need to supervise what’s happening on your own campus.

      While I don’t disagree with you that this is standard PR practice (of course it’s pragmatic), that’s exactly the problem. The fact that a university administration is calling the police in on its students (resulting in some serious injuries, by the way) and treating *that* as a PR issue is something we should all object to in the strongest possible terms. An actual, extremely serious problem is being treated like a public relations one, with the only pressure the administration recognizes being the need to “get the release out to the press.” Once again, the image matters more than the substance.

      When you say “of course he knew,” you’re right. He “knew” that the students (or, to use his term, “intruders”) would misbehave. Just as he “knew” the police handled it all with the greatest possible professionalism. The point is, that’s not knowledge; it’s substituting a script for reality. It’s refusing to actually look outside your office window to see what’s going on on the campus you manage. And the fact that it has gone on for so long, and that it can seem normal to us because it’s just “standard PR practice,” is something we should all think harder about.

      (By the way, I posted an update with the actual text of the statement as it ran the next day.)

      1. to be fair:
        While Birgeneau did make that request for quotation praising the police – and did so before the event took place – he did it with the qualifier “assuming that everything goes according to plan”.
        So yes, the draft statement as a whole is scripting reality before it happens. But no, this statement is not really true: “Just as he ‘knew’ the police handled it all with the greatest possible professionalism”.
        He allows that things might not go down according to the script. Although I will allow that maybe he doesn’t really care either way, but is smart enough to anticipate the possibility of a records request.

    2. I have to second your lack of surprise in the fact that Birgeneau has PR folks churning out rough drafts of emails before he sends them out. If I was planning to address 30,000 people, I’d probably have a draft sitting on my computer for a few days, as well.

      Here’s the terrifying thing, though: in order to even follow “standard PR practice” of drafting an email, the administration would have to frame *and accept* the entire spectrum of possible police and administrative responses to the event itself. Because the rough draft isn’t substantially different from the actual email our academic community received after police used excessive force on unarmed student observers, I have to assume that the police response was, in fact, *within* the bounds of possible actions that the administration thought out and articulated in the pre-circulated rough draft. In other words, the “standard PR practice” doesn’t just clue us in to language the Chancellor is planning to use. It also shows us the chilling ways that the administration framed the event itself *prior* to its occurrence.

      Prof. Celeste Langan, who was arrested last Wednesday, wrote a beautiful and insightful piece on the problems which follow when the administration prioritizes speedy action (getting the tents down, STAT!) over deliberation. You can find it here:
      After reading the Chancellor’s rough drafts from two years ago, though, I’m beginning to wonder if we haven’t been overly generous in assuming that administrative and police responses are errors committed in haste.

      To be clear, I’m not saying that the administration planned to have the UCPD brutally beat non-violent student protestors last Wednesday. I am concerned, though, that the presence of “PR” rough drafts suggest a strange gray zone between deliberation and ignorance, one which envisions and then explains away all manner of violence *before* it occurs.

      Oh, and while I’m on a roll — Birgeneau’s delightful suggestions of alternate language for describing student activists says quite a bit about his conception of UC-Berkeley students. We’re not, as Rachel Beck so thoughtfully put it, employees and students who pay to att
      end UC-Berkeley. Nope. We’re “intruders.” Good to know, eh?

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