24 November 2009
I have been meaning to comment on the way the UC administration has chosen to respond to student protest these past few days at Berkeley (as well as at UCLA and Davis), but I have found such events too deeply disturbing to do so in a timely manner. Especially at Berkeley, police over-reacted to students peacefully protesting the recent fee hike decided by the Regents. Students (and in at least one occasion, faculty) were beaten and tasered in a show of force that was totally disproportionate and unwarranted. At UCB, the university police requested support from the Oakland Police and Alameda County Sheriff Departments, a decision that could only have come from Chancellor Birgeneau and that certainly contributed to the escalation of violence. All the more disappointing as Birgeneau had been, until now, one of the more rational voices in the crisis at UC. And especially incomprehensible at a campus that, like Berkeley, has such a strong free speech tradition. The events were widely covered by the national and international press, and condemned in a growing tide of protest letters and eyewitness accounts. But few have pointed out how incredibly stupid it was, on the part of the administration, to decide to escalate the violence on campus. What on earth made these people think that this was the most effective way to respond to the students? Is this the best way to handle the financial and political crisis at UC? If there was any lingering doubt it is now painfully clear that the crisis at UC is not just financial and political, it is also, and perhaps foremost, a crisis of leadership.