The Chancellor’s Latest Letter: In Which He Resorts to All-Caps

[This is a letter from the Chancellor sent today, in the wake of thousands of people marching on his campus, many of whom are calling for his resignation. It has not, as of yet, gone out to all students (I haven’t received it, and neither have friends in the English department) but it has gone to the “other members of the campus community” to whom this panicked e-mail is addressed. Thank you to the kind person who passed this onto me.]

From: Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor
To: Academic Senate Faculty, Staff, All Academic Titles, Other Members of the Campus Community,
Subject: Important Message from the Chancellor
Sent: Nov 15, 2011 5:09 PM

To the Campus Community:

We all share the distress and anger at the State of California’s disinvestment in public higher education.


The issues require bold action and time is short. I will inform you of the time and place as soon as possible.

Robert J. Birgeneau,

[Please note that a version of this letter is now up at the UC Berkeley News Center and has been edited so as to lose the all-caps.]

How University Administrators Play Good Cop to UCPD’s “Bad Cop”

Here, via SF Gate, is a telling example of how the administration tries to play good cop to the UCPD’s bad cop:

“We’re extremely disturbed by the images on the video and will work very hard to not repeat the violence on Tuesday,” said Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor of public affairs.”

That’s immediately preceded by this:

“Campus police say they are investigating their response and considering whether pepper spray and tear gas might be used in future protests.”

To sum up: the VC of “public affairs” does her job and expresses a concern about the “images” (and one hopes, implicitly, the people) while her boss (who works closely with the UCPD) plans to escalate the violence. To put it another way, the UCPD is investigating their excessive use of force, unprovoked, and have concluded that the beatings by baton weren’t enough–tear gas will be helpful in “avoiding similar aggression”.

Reading the Chancellor’s Two Letters: The Facebook Update I Wrote For Weary Friends

Dear friends and family, I’m really sorry to keep talking about UC Berkeley, but my friends and students and professors have been beaten or arrested or both, so it’s hard to think about much else. Since I have a little insider info, I feel like I should do what I can to let others know what’s happening. Feel free to “Hide” me if these are getting annoying. I totally understand.

Anyway, here’s the latest: Our Chancellor just sent us, the campus community, a second letter. Chancellor Birgeneau, who condemned students linking arms as “not nonviolent” and approved of police beating faculty and students, has just issued a second statement in which he admits that he was traveling last week, and was only just now “able” to watch the videos of his students and faculty being beaten. (There is evidently no internet in Asia, or in airports.)

Faced with footage of his directer of the Townsend Center for the Humanities being yanked forward by her hair onto the ground and cuffed (or of a 70-year old Pulitzer-Prize winning poet being “nudged” by police batons), he has the grace to admit that these incidents are indeed “disturbing.”

In that first letter (which is becoming legendary for its wrongheadedness), he not only condemned the students and faculty whose beatings he authorized, but also had the audacity to lecture them on “nonviolence” without so much as bothering to watch the footage that was shocking Americans at home. I can’t understand this as anything other than criminally negligent.

This second letter, coming hard on the heels of the first, and quite different in tone, is pretty clear evidence of two things:

1) His office has been flooded with phone calls and letters from shocked onlookers, many of whom are calling for his resignation.

2) He’s lying. He claims UCPD Chief of Police Celaya is “investigating” his officers for misconduct; in fact, Celaya has openly admitted (in SFGate!) his tentative plans to escalate violence against protesters, adding tear gas and pepper spray to batons. (I’ve posted a link to that article on my profile, if you’re interested.)

I want to emphasize that the UCPD reports to the Chancellor. The Chancellor is absolutely aware of these plans (unless he neglects to read the newspaper too), which will go into effect tomorrow, and approves of them. This second letter, with its admission of ignorance, is a repugnant display of duplicity and bad faith.

There’s nothing for it. Tomorrow, for the first time in my sheltered life, I have to face the possibility that I might be tear-gassed or arrested on my Chancellor’s orders, along with lots and lots of of my faculty, my students and my friends. I hope he rethinks this. I don’t want any of those things to happen. I’m scared. But if the day takes that turn, I’d like for anyone who bothered to read this far in this ridiculously long status update to understand why. It won’t be because the police acted on their own, it won’t be a case of crazy cops gone wild, and I promise it won’t be because I was violent or even disrespectful. It won’t be a “mistake” that everyone can calmly investigate later. It will be because my Chancellor decided it was the right thing to do and told the police to do it.

Chancellor Birgeneau’s Second Try: In Which He Pleads Ignorance And Keeps Saying the Word “Community” Hoping That Repeating It Will Make it True

Dear Cal Campus Community:

I returned to Berkeley yesterday after a week-long trip to Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai where we successfully advanced some important new partnerships that will benefit our campus.

While away, I remained in intermittent contact with Provost George Breslauer and other members of our leadership team and was kept informed, as much as possible, about the Occupy Cal activities on campus. However, it was only yesterday that I was able to look at a number of the videos that were made of the protests on November 9. These videos are very disturbing. [Note: For comparison, please see what he said in response to those events in his first letter.] The events of last Wednesday are unworthy of us as a university community. Sadly, they point to the dilemma that we face in trying to prevent encampments and thereby mitigate long-term risks to the health and safety of our entire community.

Most certainly, we cannot condone any excessive use of force against any members of our community. I have asked Professor Jesse Choper, our former Dean of Law, and current Chair of the Police Review Board (PRB) to launch immediately a review of the police actions of last Wednesday and Thursday morning. As is normal process, University Police Chief Mitch Celaya is concurrently undertaking an operational review of last week’s events. He has requested that it be conducted by a senior member of the command staff at one of our sister UC campuses. This report will be provided to the PRB. I am confident that Professor Choper will provide a fair and balanced judgment as speedily as possible.

We believe that we can best move forward by granting amnesty from action under the Student Code of Conduct to all Berkeley students who were arrested and cited solely for attempting to block the police in removing the Occupy Cal encampment on Wednesday, November 9. We will do so immediately.

I believe that as a campus community, we can and must join together and focus on our common goals – inducing the state to reinvest in public education, working to repeal Prop. 13, finding a way to reverse Prop. 209, and instituting reforms that will help California regain its status as the door to the American Dream through public higher education. Thanks to the efforts of our students who worked effectively with Assemblyman Cedillo, myself and other members of our campus community, we were able to ensure that the legislature in Sacramento passed AB 130 and AB 131 which Gov. Brown ultimately signed. This example of successful and peaceful activism with students and campus leaders working together can guide us in how we can collaborate to effect real change that will benefit us all. We share the aspirations of the Occupy movement for a better America. I am confident that as a campus community we will find a peaceful and productive way forward.

Robert J. Birgeneau
Chancellor, UC Berkeley