In a week that usually involves plenty of rivalry, from Big Sing to Gaieties to the various Band rallies and, of course, Big Game, we would like to take a moment to urge Stanford students to stand in solidarity with Cal students in recognition of some of their recent struggles.
Many students will have seen the videos of police action against non-violent protesters in Sproul Plaza on Nov. 9, 2011. The students were members of the “Occupy Cal” movement, one of many similar movements across the country, but with a more explicit focus on issues facing UC-Berkeley and the UC system. These concerns include the significant fee hikes of the past few years as well as the issue of layoffs and reduced benefits for unionized Cal workers, among others. The students chose to protest in Sproul Plaza, holding rallies but also setting up a makeshift camp to maintain a round-the-clock presence in keeping with the spirit of the Occupy movement. The University deemed this encampment illegal and sent in police to dismantle the encampment. Protestors met the police and formed a human chain around the tents in the tradition of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest. The police’s use of batons to forcibly break through the chain was the subject of the video that soon went viral.
We recognize that the administration and police’s decision to dismantle the encampment on Nov. 9 and again on Nov. 17 was not a malicious one. Indeed, many of the concerns that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau raised regarding the “hygiene, safety, space and conflict issues” are valid. Any police force, be it the one at Cal or the New York City Policy Department, must make a decision regarding the best use of its resources, and monitoring a protest encampment may well detract from secure policing elsewhere in the community.
What is unacceptable, however, was the police’s use of violence in the face of civil disobedience. In that situation, the appropriate response is citation and/or arrest in accordance with the University’s regulations. Indeed, this is what the police did on Nov. 17, issuing citations for illegal lodging and failure to disperse when given a dispersal order.
Ultimately, the UC-Berkeley Police Review Board will assess last week’s actions by the UCPD. It is telling, however, that the recommendations made by the Police Review Board in June 2010 in the wake of the 2009 Wheeler Hall protests have still not been fully implemented. In this context, the University must take more substantive action, perhaps by first implementing the 2010 recommendations, to prove that it is committed to the right of students to protest peaceably.
The issues of disinvestment in higher education are not unique to Cal, of course, and not even to the UC system. To this end, we applaud those Cal students voicing their concerns, both on campus and in Sacramento, where a number of students and faculty went to lobby legislators and hold a press conference on the issue of disinvestment in higher education in the state. While Stanford is fortunate that it has benefited from considerable recent investment and has not faced cuts in education or programming of the type that the UC system has undergone, Cal’s concerns are, fundamentally, Stanford’s concerns. Reduced funding for public higher education means that Stanford students’ peers in the UC system may not have the resources or opportunities to further their work — work which could ultimately benefit and influence the work of the wider academic community at Stanford and elsewhere — while the fee hikes and reductions to financial aid limit the size of that community of scholars.
As Big Game Week comes to a close, there is no doubt that Stanford students want, and expect, the Cardinal to prevail on the football field. Off the field though, what unites us is far greater than what divides us. Both in response to the police actions against protesters on Nov. 9 and with regard to some of the core complaints of those protesters regarding the state of public higher education in California, we urge Stanford students to recognize and support the efforts of their colleagues at Cal to stand up to the threats facing their education.