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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The UC Davis Pepper Spray Report 

UPDATE: I forgot to mention, in a classic instance of battered liberal syndrome, Reynoso supports the retention of Chancellor Katehi to carry out the reforms mentioned in the Task Force report:
She should not resign. The balance is that she has done a lot of good despite this drastic poor judgment.
INITIAL POST: No doubt some of you have noticed that I haven't posted anything for almost two weeks. The reasons for it are fairly mundane, the ones usually associated with life, work and family. I anticipate, however, posting some new entries in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the Reynoso report about the UC Davis pepper spray incident was released last week. It is called the Reynoso report because former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso chaired the Task Force that carried out the purported investigation at the direction of the university. How credible is it? Based upon media coverage, you might think that the investigation was pretty rigorous, after all, Reynoso and the other members of the Task Force were pretty critical of the administrative culture associated with the incident.

Well, think again. Nathan Brown, a UC Davis English professor, nails it:

The Reynoso Report is based on the fact-finding of Kroll Securities, and the manifest conflicts of interest inherent in the appointment of Kroll have been well documented. Thus we might reasonably expect Kroll’s report to offer something like a best-case assessment of the administration’s involvement in the pepper-spray affair. And indeed, the fact-finding upon which the report is based is often middling and ineffectual. On the key issue of the Chancellor’s actual orders on and prior to November 18, it has very little to say. Rather, it relies primarily upon an interview with the Chancellor conducted after the fact, on December 20, to gauge her position. Given the international condemnation the Chancellor was facing at that time, no one should be surprised to find her remarks composed of efforts at self-serving revisionism. The report states openly that Kroll relied upon UC Davis in the area of document production; it was deemed infeasible for budgetary, timing, and other reasons for Kroll to conduct an independent, systemic forensic review and analysis of UC Davis servers, hard drives, and electronic devices. In other words, only those documents (such as administrative emails) that UC Davis itself offered for inspection were reviewed. In short, on the key matters of concern we might expect the report to address, Kroll’s fact finding leaves serious omissions.

So, if you believe UC administrators were forthcoming in producing records, you will find the Kroll, and, by extension, Reynoso Task Force investigations more credible, to the extent that you don't, you won't. At this point, it might be worthwhile to recall why the selection of Kroll to conduct the investigation was so contentious, as explained by The Council of UC Faculty Associations:

By deepening UC's links to Kroll, you would be illustrating the kinds of connection between public higher education and Wall Street that the Occupy UC movement is protesting. Kroll's parent company, Altegrity, provides data-mining, intelligence and on-the-ground security to financial institutions and governments seeking to head off and defeat both private sabotage and public protest. In addition, Altegrity's parent company, Providence Private Equity, is a major global investor in for-profit higher education companies that benefit from the decline of publicly funded higher education.

We already know that Kroll has provided security services to at least three UC campuses for the past several years. This in itself would disqualify Mr. Bratton from participating in the investigation you propose, even if the role of Kroll and its affiliated companies in defending the financial sector against OWS did not raise further questions about its pro-Wall Street and pro-privatization bias.

A truly independent investigation that would allow UC to provide a credible response to the events at Davis (and the other campuses) needs to address several questions that would not be seriously considered if you hire Kroll.

•What was your role and that of UC General Counsel in the events at Davis? Did you, as a distinguished first amendment scholar, tell chancellors and campus police chiefs that protests (especially protests against UC's own policies) are part of the DNA of this University that should not be addressed using the same techniques that UC has developed (likely with the help of Kroll) to deal with terrorists, shooters, and cyber-saboteurs? (Even if you have been a zealous defender of the rising student movement to restore public higher education, such a conclusion would not be credible coming from an investigation tainted by Kroll's conflicts of interest outlined above.)

•What was and is the role of Kroll in helping banks and public institutions (including UC) investigate and defeat movements such as OWS and their campus counterparts? Is Kroll now acting as a liaison between universities, city governments and the Department of Homeland Security in defending the financial sector against protests occurring on what used to be considered public spaces? Are protests against Wall Street in such spaces now considered a threat to the security of the nation, the city and the public university? (The growing securitization of public space has been a major obstacle to first amendment activity since 9-11.)

•How much money has UC and its individual campuses paid to Kroll for security services? Were these contracts issued as sole source contracts or was there open bidding? Were Kroll's services confined to protecting, for example, the privacy and integrity of data systems and faculty and staff conducting animal research or did they extended to what Kroll's website calls "organizational threats" arising from the dynamic and sometimes conflicting needs of the entire campus population? (This could be a description of the student protests that you rightly regard as central to our history as a university.)

•What led to the issuance of false and misleading statements by University of California officials (Chancellors and their assistants, spokespeople, and police chiefs) in the aftermath of police violence at Berkeley and Davis? Did you encourage these efforts at spin control? (Dishonest statements seriously damage the university as an institution devoted to truth and protect only the individuals whose decisions are in question.)

The broader issue is how protest can be part of what you characterized as our university's DNA when the right to protest is not formally recognized within the university's own codes of student and faculty conduct.

About halfway through, you probably figured out that Kroll is just a fox that investigated what the other foxes did at the henhouse. Sadly, people like former Chief Justice Reynoso, and one of my former law professors, Alan Brownstein, provided a fig leaf of respectability to it. Don't be confused by the highly critical autopsy of administrative practices exposed by the Task Force's investigation of the incident. While embarrassing for the criticized administrative figures, like Chancellor Katehi, Vice Chancellor Meyer and others, it is the price of their survival, a form of public flagellation that enables them to remain in their roles, retaining their autocratic, neoliberal control over UC Davis while temporarily disguised as reformers of the campus police department. Typical of liberals of their era, Reynoso, Brownstein and the others who served on the Task Force were all too willing to accept the ground rules that no one should be punished for their malfeasance and ineptitude in the misguided hope that the substance of their report might lead to some positive change. In this respect, the release of the report is an allegorical episode that exposes the naivete of those who believe that powerful institutions can be persuaded to change their abusive practices by an appeal to reason.

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