Friday, February 11, 2011

Open Letter to Student Conduct

The following letter was written by a UC Berkeley graduate student facing conduct charges for participating in the action at the A&E building on November 18, 2009. Having seen first-hand the arbitrary nature of the student conduct procedure in general and the conduct hearings in particular, the student opted at the last minute to agree to an "administrative disposition" -- a plea bargain of sorts. In accepting the disposition, however, the student also sent this letter to the Office of Student Conduct (OSC):
Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards
2536 Channing Way, Building E
Berkeley, California 94720-2432

February 9, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:

I have decided to sign the attached Administrative Disposition. However, with a nod to the so-called “educational process” that this document represents, as well as the very real (albeit unacknowledged) set of legal constraints to which this “process” is required to attend, I would like to outline the sequence of events that has led to my decision.

In the fall of 2009, I was one of many dedicated students who were joined by workers and faculty in a series of uprisings against what we saw to be a fundamental change in the university. Sparked by the unfathomable 32-percent fee hike for undergraduates, these protests and actions fought against the financialization and privatization of public services more generally, as well as the foreclosure of public space and the effective exclusion of the “public” from public education. These actions were widely supported in California and beyond, and they were undertaken in concert with similar student uprisings across the globe.

I would like to say on the record that I wholeheartedly support occupations such as the occupation of Wheeler Hall, other occupations undertaken by workers and students across California and the globe, and currently, the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo. I would like to say that on the record because so many students and dedicated activists have been precluded from saying just that, because in the show trials that pass for an “educational process” at this university, it has become clear that you at the Center for Student Conduct are interesting in prosecuting not their actions, but their state of mind.

I regret nothing about my involvement in political activism since I came to UC Berkeley. If I were to regret something, perhaps it would be that I have not participated in a building occupation. Because to say that the mess of a sit-in that occurred on November 18 was an occupation is not only an absurd legal or academic charge; it also does injustice to the extraordinary strength, determination, and (one may imagine) planning demonstrated by the occupiers of Wheeler Hall and other spaces worldwide.

What I did on November 18, 2009, was no more illegal or unethical than it was brave or risky. I walked into a building that was open to the public, and when the police told me leave, I left voluntarily. This is corroborated by the official police report.

However, the university administration has treated this event in a manner that has betrayed a dedication to its own self-preservation at the expense of the educational and public mission of the university, and further, at the expense of free speech. Employees of the Center for Student Conduct have demonstrated brazen, unprofessional, and personally vindictive behavior, at every step of the way violating both the law as well as terms of the Code of Student Conduct they claim to enforce.

For over one year, I have waited for my hearing, and during that time, I and others like me who also face charges, have been told at every stage that it was not yet the moment to discuss our concerns over a lack of due process, a denial of our right to representation, and so on. We have been told that the juridical proceedings of the university are not subject to state or federal laws, that they are an “educational process” and as such, we as students are not rightsholders, even if the result is that we are denied our continued student status—and our degrees.

In my personal experience, I have watched as my hearing gets pushed further and further back for well over a year. I have consistently asked questions of the employees of the Center for Student Conduct, which never get answered. Although the Code of Student Conduct has changed since the date in question, I still do not know to which version of the code I’m being held accountable. When I asked for an explanation of my charges, I was told that they should be self-evident, despite their inflammatory nature. When I asked to see my personal file that was prepared specifically for me, the employee who had it in her possession, Laura Bennett, told me that I could not have it. When I asked why, she told me, “No reason.”

That was on the first date I was supposed to have a pre-hearing conference, September 16. On that date, I missed class in order to attend my appointment, seeing as it was the vital moment at which I could finally get questions answered, as well as the time to set final details for my hearing, which was scheduled for September 16. I waited in the hall for my conference to begin for over five and hours—into the evening and nearly missing a family engagement—before Associate Dean Gonzales indicated that I should leave.

When my pre-hearing conference was finally rescheduled for November 18 (exactly one year after the spontaneous sit-in), it again clashed with the same class. As opposed to the September date, I did not have a hearing scheduled at this time, and so I questioned the appropriateness of missing class so close to finals in order to have what appeared to be a superfluous pre-hearing conference. Additionally, one is allowed to miss class only a limited number of times without a grade penalty. Since I had already missed class for the previous appointment that never happened, I informed Susan Trageser that I would be unable to attend this appointment, and requested that we exchange evidence packets at a later date. Ms. Trageser sent me the following short response: “Thank you for your email. If there are questions you have for the faculty chair conducting your pre-hearing conference, please let me know and I will be glad to share them with the faculty chair. Your hearing packet will be available in the Center for you to pick up following the pre-hearing conference.” She and my hearing chair, Prof. [Lynn] Huntsinger, went on to have my pre-hearing conference without me, making decisions regarding the nature of the hearing and discussing my case in my absence.

The current circumstances preclude the possibility of a fair hearing. I have spent hours and days over the last year attempting to navigate this “educational process,” to the detriment of my actual education. Although I have become well-versed with the intricacies of the Code of Student Conduct, it matters little when those who claim to enforce it treat it merely as a set of guidelines and an effective tool for stifling student activism, which they may wield as they choose. I have come to believe that despite the code’s imperative that the student speaks, I will not be heard. And based on my experiences and what I have witnessed of other students’ hearings, I believe that to move on to hearing would only punish me further for my exercise of the freedom of speech.

For that reason, I have decided to sign the attached informal resolution of my charges.



1 comment:

  1. great letter. although the end doesn't have to be so defeatist even if the person signed the informal resolution.