This could have been a story about the brilliance of the University of California. The police officer’s union has played right into the hands of the university, attempting to block the release of the pepper spray report. This has allowed the university to take the public stance for release, and allowed them to be on the side of moral indignation.
Now all UC has to do is cut a deal for the release of the information, insulate themselves at the top levels from blame, and the crisis has been managed.
Just as it appeared that UC had gotten their act together, the issue of U.S. Bank has exploded. The issue of the bank is a policy failure at a number of different levels, for the university and UC in general.
Back in November of 2009, UC Davis thought they had pulled off a coup, landing a 10-year agreement with U.S. Bank that would provide nearly $3 million to support student services and bring the campus its first bank branch.
However, the deal came with gross miscalculations. In order to sweeten the pot for U.S. Bank, the university issued a new campus identification card — with a bank logo on the back and optional ATM access — to help generate new customers.
Simply put, this generated a huge amount of resentment by students at the time and made the bank an easy target for student protests when the Occupy Movement was looking for a secondary victory following the pepper spray fiasco.
One needs to go back to November 18 to understand what happened here. The university, far from nipping things in the bud through a heavy use of force, actually rendered themselves impotent to solving future problems which require actions that, even potentially, could be seen as a heavy hand.
The reluctance to respond actually served the university well when it came to efforts to occupy various buildings on campus. The protesters eventually grew bored at the lack of response and moved on. That is what should have happened when they occupied the Quad.
But blockading a business is very different, and required UC to come up with a new response. Simply put, the university could not simply have allowed the protesters to shut down U.S. Bank on multiple days.
Yes, they put forth a banking policy, but it was too little and too late. Simply put, interfering with a business’s ability to conducts its business is a crime. UC Davis should have warned students that they would be arrested if they did not move and allow customers to use the bank, and then arrested them if they failed to comply.
It is here where people fail to understand the purpose of civil disobedience. All you have to do to understand it is look at the civil rights movement and the actions of Bull Connor in Birmingham, Alabama.
The civil rights movement began to gain headway when protesters who engaged in passive resistance were attacked with fire hoses and attack dogs and the images were shown on the nightly news, resonating with a public that was perhaps indifferent previously.
One of the more interesting things that we have learned is that authorities in the South quickly recognized that if they simply toned down their response, the spectacle would not occur and the civil rights protesters would not get the attention they desired.
Unfortunately for them, Bull Connor ignored the advice and couldn’t resist turning his police forces on the protesters.
Simply put, UC Davis erred when they decided they needed to clear the Quad, even though the presence of protesters did not interfere with the normal conducting of business. Protesters have come and gone from the Quad since, with little to no problem.
They exacerbated that by escalating the situation with the use of pepper spray.
However, they have underreacted to a true threat to business, with the blocking of the US Bank in the Memorial Union. The protesters should have been arrested and released.
People who engage in civil disobedience ought to expect to be arrested. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison…the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.”
Philosopher Hannah Arendt commented in her essay “On Civil Disobedience,” “disobedience to the law can be justified only if the law breaker is willing and even eager to accept punishment for the act.”
The system does not work if there is no consequence for breaking even an unjust law such as we saw in the South. The idea that there should be an exception for civil disobedience misses the point of civil disobedience.
But what we have at UC Davis and across UC is a failure to figure out how to properly deal with protest. The response is invariably too strong or too weak.
Over the last five years, UC Davis, and the University of California in general, has not figured out the delicate balance they must play.
An example of a properly-executed scenario comes on May 1, 2007 from the City of Davis police. Protesters blocked the middle of Anderson and Russell intersection. The police gave their warning. Those protesters not wanting to be arrested were allowed to move, those who wanted to be arrested were calmly and methodically arrested and placed into a bus.
A few weeks later, students occupied Mrak Hall during business hours, and a panicked UC Davis police force illegally arrested the protesters during business hours in a public building.
While we put blame on UC Davis officials for mishandling the U.S. Bank protest, we also have to put blame on U.S. Bank.
It begins, as we noted, with unmitigated greed. Back in 2009, UC Davis was doing chest bumps at their clever deal with U.S. Bank.
“By forging public-private partnerships,” said Fred Wood, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, “the university has embraced a much-needed entrepreneurial spirit, one that balances the unique needs of our community with opportunities to generate new revenue.”
U.S. Bank was guaranteeing the university annual payments of $130,000 to $780,000 a year, based on the number of banking accounts activated; the partners estimated an average annual payment of $280,000.
Fred Wood said he recognized that there were concerns about corporate partnerships at a public university. In developing the bank partnership, Student Affairs adopted a set of guiding principles that required “a process that is open, fair and competitive, consultative, and readily available for scrutiny and discussion.”
But it ultimately failed. Had it merely been a deal for U.S. Bank to have an office in the Memorial Union, that might have been one thing.
But, at the same time, the university announced it would “roll out a new card for employee and student identification. The card will offer optional access to U.S. Bank’s debit and ATM services and display a small bank logo on the back.”
As one Vanguard commentator noted yesterday, “Where things start to fall apart is with their marketing. Student IDs now have a U.S. Bank logo on the back so it begins to seem as if the University is not just providing U.S. Bank a space, it seems like they are delivering their students to U.S. Bank. Personally, I would resent that level of commercialization of my personal identification.”
But the bottom line kicker is that, rather than working with the university for some kind of workable arrangement in an effort to save a ten-year deal that they thought just two years before would be quite lucrative, U.S. Bank left.
In the March 1 letter to the Regents, US Bank Senior Vice President Daniel Hoke wrote, “U.S. Bank advised the Regents of their default resulting from the faculty and student protest at the Branch.”
Most provocatively, he called the employees virtual prisoners, writing, “The employees of U.S. Bank who, at times, arrived prior to the protesters, were effectively imprisoned in the Branch.”
Protesters vehemently deny the claim, arguing that the employees were allowed access both in and out of the building.
Mr. Hoke continued, “For well over a month now, U.S. Bank has been deprived of the use of the Branch because of the human barricade formed by the students and faculty in front of the door to the Branch. Notwithstanding the repeated demands of U.S. Bank, the Regents have not provided access to the Branch.”
Whether you believe the students or not, there no doubt was an intimidation factor, but I have never seen a case where a major U.S. business has abandoned ship in the face of non-violent protesters.
The protesters are the ones doing chest bumps now.
The usual suspects have issued apologies here, suggesting that the student body is victimized. Only a tiny fraction of the university utilized the services of US Bank. The money it brought the university was a drop in the bucket compared to expenses. And many students were resentful of the contract with the bank and their logo on their card.
So if it means that students can only use ATM’s on campus and have to walk a bit further to do transactions that cannot be completed remotely, I think it is but a small inconvenience to regaining the integrity of the university and a reminder that this is an educational endeavor, not a capitalistic enterprise.
Lines have been crossed. It is difficult to assess how this impacts the average student, more than 90 percent of whom did not open an account at U.S. Bank and none will even notice the $130,000 or so in money that the university will not get.
The bigger issue is that UC Davis needs to come up with a coherent policy for policing protests, and needs to avoid escalating to the kind of use of force that will cause the reaction of the pepper spray incident. At the same time, they need to avoid making their policy impotent.
It is a difficult balance, to be sure. But somehow, most law enforcement agencies are able to handle things correctly most of the time.
—David M. Greenwald reporting