Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Open Letter to the Administration of the University of California Berkeley

An Open Letter to the Administration of the University of California Berkeley

Dear Chancellor Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor Breslauer, and Vice Chancellor LeGrande,

You should all resign—now.

On Tuesday, you sent a message to students informing us that we would not be allowed to set up encampments or occupy campus buildings. You quoted a passage from the student code of conduct that prohibits “[a]ny activities such as pulling fire alarms, occupying buildings, setting up encampments, graffiti, or other destructive actions that disrupt or interfere with anyone's ability to conduct regular activities—go to class, study, carry out their research etc.” In this same message, you claimed that UC Berkeley shares “many of the highest principles associated with the OWS movement” and aims to provide “a model of the right to free speech, assembly and activism.”

We could not agree with you more: UC Berkeley does share the principles of the OWS movement. In fact, we were instrumental in sparking the wave of occupations—yes, occupations—that is now sweeping the globe. Recall November 20th, 2009: the students who occupied Wheeler Hall that day were not fringe radicals or outsiders, they were students who cared so deeply about the university that they were willing to be dragged away in handcuffs for it. They spoke for all of us, and now we are answering back. The model of activism you refer to: it’s us. We're all occupiers now. Don’t patronize us, then, by telling us how we ought to behave. Time and again, our protests have been met with batons and guns and admin-speak about “protecting us” and obeying the “limits of protest.” After three years of brutality, we now know exactly who is being protected, and from what.

Yesterday, the police force you sent to disperse us beat and maimed several dozen students, faculty, and staff. When UCPD requested reciprocal aid, they were reinforced by OPD and the Alameda County Sheriffs Department—the same officers who shot a young Iraq veteran in the head with a tear-gas canister last week at Occupy Oakland, in violation of their own rules of engagement. He still has not regained the ability to speak. This is how you would protect us: with blood and fear. We are appalled, but not surprised, that your police beat an English Department graduate student so badly yesterday that he was rushed into urgent care. This is how you would uphold the legacy of the free speech movement. Let us remind you: we are the free speech movement. We are speaking, and you are beating us to the ground.

About the “regular activities” of students at UC Berkeley: we do not agree that these activities can be limited to going to class, studying, and doing research. First, because this school is the center of our lives, which are richer and more meaningful than is allowed for by the student code of conduct. Second, because there can be no “regular activity” in a time of crisis. We are not blind to the world; we know that it is falling apart, torn to shreds by the profit-hungry elite of the the 1%. We know that you have been tasked with operating the university in crisis mode; we know this means ensuring that the 1% do not lose their financial stake in the university and its affiliate industries—the student loan racket, for example. We see right through you. It is you, on the other hand, who mistake our purposes: when we occupy buildings and set up encampments, these are our regular activities. The only people interfering with the business of the university are the police; for that, they should be banned from campus permanently and immediately.

You describe UC Berkeley as “a place where the best and brightest youth, staff and faculty from all socioeconomic backgrounds work collectively to solve world problems.” We wholeheartedly agree. However, by this definition, it is you who have violated the code of conduct; you are the ones who should be driven out of Sproul Plaza, not us. Make no mistake: there can be no “regular activity” when a militarized police force is allowed to brutalize students with impunity, nor can there be any peace so long as you remain at the helm of the university. Take a lesson from history (Egypt, for example) and step down now.


Students in the University of California Berkeley


  1. I am not a student, but a resident of Berkeley. I am however close friends with a number of current and alumni faculty and students. This behavior by UCPD is appalling, but sadly not surprising given the behavior of their fellow police department's, OPD and Alameda Sheriff's. I was heartened momentarily yesterday when I read about Berkeley PD refusing to approve their mutual aid agreement with UCPD and OPD. Though that sense of hope was only fleeting. I see now that UC Berkeley really is a sovereign jurisdiction not beholden to the mostly reasonable standards of Berkeley's Police Department. I find this disturbing given that the university ought to be the sight of the most rational, level-headed use of police authority in the city. Instead, it has become the site of authoritarian brutality. My utmost respect goes out to the students who remained nonviolent/nonresistent in the face of such cowardice.

  2. College Senior form CA (with a job)November 12, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    If you are so against the "the student loan racket" why do you/your peers accept them? No one threatened to put a (plastic?) bullet in your head if you didn't partake. While Cal and the rest of the UC's are great institutions, by no means are they the most affordable. The state system might not have offered the academic stimulation or the prestige that that you desired, but it is a lot cheaper.

    Additional, this is hardly a time of crisis, universities still operated all through out the second world war and during the attacks of 9/11. I personally remember the guards posted at the Golden Gate bridge and the fear that SF might be the next city attacked. No, this is a "personal crisis." A realization that you or your peers have over-leveraged themselves and may not be able to pay back your debt. If this does not give you a passing deja vu to the final days of Lehman Brothers, then take a hard look at your self and your protest. Yes, there are fewer jobs available then you though there would be, but that is the risk you took when you signed the student loan.

    Finally, before you blame the "1%" (of which I am not), ask your parents if they could have afforded their home on the 13% interest rate mortgage loans that were standard before the creation of the CDS's. If you have to look up "CDS" to know what I'm talking about, get back to your books and stop protesting if you still have any home of getting a job next year.

  3. UC San Diego is in solidarity with our brothers and sisters at UC Berkeley!!!

  4. Kudos to the excellent reporting and videos from nonviolent protestors! Although mainstream media remains baffled, you are informing a concerned world of people who value free speech and hope for a restored American Dream.

    Thank you!