November 29, 2011

“Yesterday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud.”

Filed under: occupyucdavis, POV — dhi @ 9:09 am

by Nathan Brown, Assistant Professor of English

This is how the Chancellor began an email to the UC Davis community the day after non-violent student protesters were pepper-sprayed and arrested by the police.

Among the many reasons it is imperative that the Chancellor resign immediately, this sentence is indicative of the most important. Though it intends a posture commiseration with student protesters, what it demonstrates is a damning incapacity to recognize their strength, their courage, or the legitimacy of the principles for which they stand. Friday Nov. 18 is in fact a day that has made thousands of people on our campus proud, along with hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people around the world. That pride does not stem from the shameful actions of the Chancellor or the UCPD. It stems from the heroism of the students they assaulted. Under a violent police attack, these extraordinary people stood their ground, they asserted their political conviction, they stood in solidarity with their peers at Berkeley and across the country. They cared for one another, and in doing so they cared for the community of which they are a part. Not only did they do this: after being pepper-sprayed while they writhed on the ground in agony, they stood back up. They stood up and they told the riot cops to leave. In a remarkable act of collective integrity and collective will, they walked slowly toward the police as the cops retreated with teargas guns aimed at the crowd, calmly driving them off the quad and the campus with admirable determination. In an powerful gesture of rhetorical intelligence they stood before armed and agitated police officers chanting “you can go.”

I have never been more proud to be a member of our campus than I have been since Friday Nov. 18. The Chancellor’s inability to share in this pride is indicative of two things which now compromise the legitimacy of her leadership irreversibly.

First, the Chancellor must resign because her actions on Nov. 18 have indeed become a mark of shame which tarnishes the international reputation of our university and will continue to do so. The Chancellor’s decision to send riot police onto our campus against a peaceful protest, and the script of backpedaling and obfuscation she has followed since, surely do not make anyone on our campus proud. More than 100,000 people have now signed a petition demanding the Chancellor’s immediate resignation. The Board of the UC Davis Faculty Association has demanded the Chancellor’s immediate resignation. The largest department in the Humanities, the Department of English, now carries a statement on the front page of its website demanding the Chancellor’s immediate resignation. The majority of faculty in the Physics department have signed a letter calling for the Chancellor’s prompt resignation. A number of professors in the History department have issued a statement calling for the Chancellor’s resignation. The student General Assembly has demanded the Chancellor’s immediate resignation, on the strength of a nearly unanimous vote. The Chair of the UCD Graduate Student Association has called for the Chancellor’s resignation. At a rally of thousands and thousands of students on Monday Nov. 21, deafening roars met any and all demands for the Chancellor’s immediate resignation. Statements of international condemnation are multiplying rapidly, one scheduled keynote speaker at a UC Davis conference has already cancelled his appearance, and calls for an international boycott of UC Davis have begun to circulate, demanding the Chancellor’s resignation as a condition of association with our university.

In this context, the Chancellor’s decision to cling to her post is a stain upon the reputation of UC Davis. It is not “yesterday” (Friday Nov. 18) which is shameful; it was the decision of the Chancellor herself that was shameful. Her refusal to resign is just as much so. Her refusal to resign at this point is just as authoritarian as her actions on Nov. 18 and as her defense of the police following their attack on peaceful protesters. And this does not bode well for her actions in the future. The Chancellor continues to call for “dialogue” with the students. For their part, the mass of students continue to call for her immediate resignation. The fact is: the Chancellor does not listen to students. She has not in the past and she does not now. That is why she cannot understand that Friday Nov. 18 is a day that does indeed make many on our campus proud. That day can only be a source of pride for those of us who listen to the students, who hear their grievances, who see their determination, and who share those grievances and that determination. The Chancellor is not among us.

Second, by refusing to heed mass calls for her resignation, the Chancellor continues to make herself the focus of the student movement. And the student movement has better things to do. For example: end tuition increases and continue to struggle in solidarity with the national occupation movement. Demanding and forcing the Chancellor’s resignation is necessary, but it is hardly sufficient. It is an important step toward securing new conditions of possibility for the student struggle on our campus—conditions under which administrators understand that there are consequences for forcibly dispersing student protests. But these are only conditions of possibility for the struggle against privatization in which we have been engaged for two years.

By insisting on “dialogue” and scheduling interminable forums with students and faculty, by appearing at student General Assemblies, the Chancellor only succeeds in insisting upon her own centrality. And the fact is, she is not particularly important. She is not an ally in the student struggle against tuition hikes. She in no way contributes to the “health and safety” of the university. Her presence on campus, or at student meetings, does not advance the struggle against privatization. By continuing to make the student struggle about her, despite demands from students and faculty for a fresh start in her absence, the Chancellor impedes that struggle. This is no surprise: the Chancellor has been doing so since ordering dozens of riot police and a canine unit to arrest 52 students and faculty occupying Mrak Hall in 2009.

These two reasons that the Chancellor must resign are connected. The Chancellor is no longer in a position to advocate for or represent our campus because she is a mark of shame upon our campus. The Chancellor is in no position to feign solidarity with the student movement since she has ordered police forces to suppress that movement since its inception. What it is crucial to recognize is that the Chancellor’s incapacity to stand in solidarity with the student movement is also an incapacity to represent our campus. The student movement at UC Davis is currently the single distinction of our campus for which it is most famous, with which it is now most indelibly associated. And rightly so: the collective political intelligence of that movement on our campus has inspired millions of people over the past four days. It has been more of an inspiration to me than anything I had previously encountered in my life.

The Chancellor should be ashamed of herself, as so many on our campus are ashamed of her. And that is why she has to go. She cannot share in our pride.

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