'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Surveillance of Student Protest at the University of California, Davis 

I graduated from the University of California, Davis undergraduate program in 1983, and the campus law school in 1986. The intensity of student protests against substantial registration fee increases while the salaries of high level administrators skyrocket has prompted this response from Chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi:

Students are questioning their rights to free speech after a Public Records Act request revealed the existence of a group of UC Davis administrators and staff charged with monitoring campus protests.

While members of the group, the Student Activism Team, view it as a way of ensuring student safety and promoting free speech, others deem it a breach of trust as well as an infringement of first amendment rights.

Students have a right to know the entire story here, said Cres Vellucci, a member of Sacramento County's American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) board of directors, in an e-mail interview. Who was monitoring them, and why, and if any files have been created relating to student organizers and participants. Students have the right to organically organize and conduct free speech-protected activities, free from interference and surveillance.

Having a presence at student protests isn't anything new, said Griselda Castro, assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs and team organizer. Realizing that the budget crisis would likely stir more action this year, administrators recruited volunteers and formalized the team in August of 2010.

But, the funny thing is, UCD didn't tell anyone about it until it was exposed as a consequence of records recently released in response to a Public Records Act request. You'd think that the university would have publicly announced it upon its creation so as to inform the campus community about it, so as to facilitate the attainment of its alleged innocuous objective of preventing the escalation of conflict between protesting students and their own police. Furthermore, there is the additional troubling fact that an undercover UCD police attended the most recent March 2nd rally and lied about their identity when challenged, as also described in the California Aggie article linked hereinabove. Not to worry, though, the cops will be honest in the future. After all, UCD says so.

Such conduct is consistent with what has happened at other UC campuses. For example, the University of California, Santa Cruz spent $6,000 to hire a private investigator to photograph and videotape student protests on March 18 and 19, 2010. Meanwhile, at the University of California, Berkeley, Amanda Carlton, an administrator in the Student Leadership office, joined a student organization involved in the protests and passed along information that she learned from it to the UCB Police Department and Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande. Another UCB employee, spokesperson Claire Holmes, used her Facebook account to join a student Facebook group and obligingly passed along information about planned protest activities to the UCB Police Department as well. But, at UCD, students should believe that the the Student Activism Team was created, according to Chancellor Katehi, to embrace student activism.

UC Davis English Literature professor Joshua Clover was not convinced:

The program purports to ensure [demonstrators'] safety and the safety of those in their path. We should therefore ask: have demonstrators at UCD harmed anyone, in or out of their path? No. Not a soul. We might add, with some confusion, that no one has been in their path.

But this is not quite true. The administration has repeatedly placed the police in this path, has effectively stood there with them. Yet only protesters have been thereby placed in harm's way. Across the UC system, as students and workers have organized against the unequal devolution of austerity, all incidents of bodily injury have been meted out by the police, none by protesters. The feverish fantasy of dangerous protesters is just that. Contrarily, the police have exercised their monopoly on violence, threatened and real, at the administration's behest. Last fall a UCI police officer leveled a loaded pistol at an unarmed protester. Naturally he claimed to have been threatened. The video shows otherwise.

Along these lines, UCD student Brienna Holmes has filed a lawsuit against the UCD Police Department for unreasonable seizure, excessive force, malicious abuse of process and battery. She alleges that she was violently thrown upon the hood of a police car and painfully jerked and grabbed while her arm was stuck in the strap of her bag.

As a consequence of the Public Records Act request and subsequent California Aggie news coverage, UCD has been compelled to release the names of the people associated with the Student Activism Team:

The Student Activism Team is comprised of five organizers - [Griselda] Castro, [assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and team leader], Associate Vice Chancellors of Student Affairs Lora Jo Bossio and Emily Galindo, Director of Campus Unions Brett Burns and Anne Myler, associate director of the Center for Student Involvement.

The volunteers are Wells, Kristee Haggins, training director with Counseling and Psychological Services, Ayesha Alcala, graduate Financial Aid assistant, Jeff Austin, programmer with Financial Aid, Joyce Cleaver, Financial Aid data analyst, Katy Maloney, director of Financial Aid, Don Dudley, associate director of Student Judicial Affairs, Sara Hawkes, math skills specialist with the Student Academic Success Center, Kelly Cole, academic coordinator of Student Housing, Chuck Huneke, assistant director of Student Housing, Nathan Moses, leadership coordinator of Student Housing, Josh O'Conner, conduct coordinator of Student Housing, Lisa Papagni, assistant director of Student Housing, Branden Petitt, associate director of Student Housing, Amanda Seguin, conduct coordinator of Student Housing and Anthony Volkar, orientation coordinator of Student Housing.

The team also has additional resource staff. They are Atkinson, Steven Baissa, director of the Cross-Cultural Center, Peg Swain, director of the Women's Resources and Research Center, John Ortiz-Hutson, Student Affairs coordinator of African American and African Studies, My Diem Nguyen, Student Affairs coordinator of Asian American Studies, Alma Martinez, Student Affairs coordinator of Chicana/o studies and Judith LaDeaux, Student Affairs coordinator of Native American studies. There are also six community advising network counselors - Carolyn Bordeaux, Roxana Borrego, Jezzie Fulmen, Paul Kim, Renee Lopez and Romana Norton.

As one peruses these names, interesting questions come to mind. Why are so many people who work for Financial Aid and Student Housing involved in this effort? Are UCD administrators accessing the private information of people who receive financial aid and/or live in Student Housing for the benefit of those who monitor the protests, including UCD police officers? Are UCD administrators considering building files on particular protesters for the purpose of rescinding their financial aid and/or evicting them from student housing in response to alleged misconduct at protests? Perhaps, as suggested by Vellucci, they have already done so.

The participation of UCD employees associated with the Cross Cultural Studies Center, the Women's Resource and Research Center and various ethnic studies programs is especially disheartening. They have appparently embraced a new mission of monitoring student protest for Chancellor Katehi. UCD students went on a hunger strike in the early 1990s to save the Cross Cultural Studies Center, but I doubt that they anticipated that its employees would subsequently engage in these activities. It is, I believe, another cautionary tale about how institutions with purported progressive purposes are now acting to preserve the privileges of entrenched authority, as addressed earlier this week in relation to those allied with the Obama administration.

As for politically active students at UCD, they are best advised to be circumspect in their communication with anyone associated with Student Activities Team. The safest course of action is for them refuse to cooperate with this effort in any way. Pro-Palestinian students at UC Irvine are currently facing criminal prosecution for conspiracy for involvement in a raucous protest at UCI against Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. Responses to inquiries about political activity that appear innocuous could provide an evidentiary basis for a similar sort of prosecution in the event of this sort of protest at UCD. Facts about one's conduct that are, by themselves, legal, can still establish the overt act necessary for a conspiracy prosecution. Furthermore, such information could find its way into actions by UCD to sanction or expel students. And, oh, by the way, anyone on this list of organizers and volunteers should disassociate themselves from the effort, immediately.

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