Occupy leaders are claiming another victory, as they have apparently successfully shut down U.S. Bank’s UC Davis branch office.
According to a release from the university on Friday, US Bank told UC officials that it is terminating its agreements with the campus. In a March 1 letter to the Board of Regents, the bank stated its reason as the interference by protesters who intermittently blocked the door to the bank branch in the Memorial Union since January.
The bank chose to close during many of the protests, and, now, in a letter to account holders, the branch says it is “officially closed” (as of Feb. 28). The letter refers the approximately 2,500 account holders to U.S. Bank branches in Davis and Woodland.
However, UC officials said they believe the termination letter is premature, noting that the university had been in discussions with bank representatives about the future of the branch office. The university had hoped to resolve the situation in a manner that would enable the bank to resume operations while at the same time making allowance for law enforcement to prosecute proven violations of the California Penal Code and also allowing for peaceful protests.
U.S. Bank employees “were effectively imprisoned in the branch,” bank Senior Vice President Daniel Hoke said in his March 1 letter. He noted that employees felt they needed to call campus police to escort them from the branch.
Other protests on campus during this academic year have included an overnight occupation of Mrak Hall, tent encampments on the Quad, a two-week-long occupation of Dutton Hall and a four-day occupation of the former Cross Cultural Center.
“We’re disappointed that U.S. Bank has indicated that it wants to leave after UC Davis worked with students to find creative financial solutions during these difficult budget times,” said Associate Vice Chancellor Emily Galindo of Student Affairs.
In January and February, demonstrators had blocked the doors to the US Bank branch in the UC Davis Memorial Union. The blockades resulted in closure of the bank at times and involvement of the campus police.
According to an article in the Aggie back in January, “Occupy protesters assert that the presence of U.S. Bank on campus is uniquely harmful because students may opt for the convenience of obtaining a high-interest loan there, rather than shop elsewhere. Ultimately, the protesters say that they want the bank closed.”
However, others disagreed.
ASUCD Senator Justin Goss told the Aggie, “The occupiers claim they are working for students, but they are actually disrupting funding for the same services they want to be improved.”
“Opened in 2010, the branch was part of a broad partnership between UC Davis and U.S. Bank, which the university hoped would bring needed funds for student activities,” the Aggie reported in January.
“The university received a total of $167,500 from U.S. Bank last year. That is in addition to the $8,333 we receive every month in rent,” said UC Davis spokesperson Claudia Morain. Moreover the University gets a cut of money depending on the number of bank accounts opened by UC Davis students.
Last month, UC Davis had set up an “engagement team” that was made up of a police negotiator, professional mediator and Student Affairs representative, and they had visited the protest site regularly, warning protesters of the potential for criminal prosecution.
The Vanguard asked specific questions about the engagement team, but was instead given stock information.
“The members of the engagement team serve as communicators between student protesters and administration. We convey and solicit questions, information and responses to questions between those involved in the particular protest event. Our main function is to serve as conduits for information exchange. We engage in dialogue as a means to determine interests and facilitate greater understanding of perspectives in support of resolution,” the university told the Vanguard last week.
To date, the engagement team has provided the following information to protesters, the university spokesperson continued, “Memorandum of Understanding and Lease Agreement with US Bank, FAQ for the UC Davis – US Bank Partnership, Information on Rights & Responsibilities concerning peaceful protest at UC Davis (summary),Information on Rights & Responsibilities concerning peaceful protest at UC Davis (full notice), Student Judicial Affairs notification.”
“The Engagement Team has provided bank occupiers with verbal and written information explaining that violations of student conduct standards may be referred to the Student Judicial Affairs office. Such cases may be resolved informally or through a formal hearing process, with potential penalties ranging from counseling to dismissal,” a February 24 release from the university stated.
Donald Dudley, the Director of Student Judicial Affairs, declined to respond to questions about how protesters would be treated as opposed to other disciplinary issues.
While students could face expulsion, Mr. Dudley said that is a last resort and only used for repeated offenses.
Most often, students agree to take part of a process which results in some sort of formal or informal hearing.
“The choice of a disciplinary sanction depends on several factors such as does the student have prior violations, how serious is the violation, to what extent has the violation harmed others, and the level of intent,” Mr. Dudley told the Vanguard. He added, “Even serious disciplinary sanctions can be educational and provide an opportunity for personal growth.”
Student groups informed the Vanguard that they prefer to deal with Judicial Affairs rather than law enforcement.
However, the release on Friday indicates that UC Davis police had forwarded six cases to the Yolo County District Attorney’s office, recommending prosecution for violating Penal Code sections that make it a misdemeanor to “willfully and maliciously” obstruct the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk or other public place, or to intentionally interfere with any lawful business.
Mike Cabral, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney, said on March 15 that the district attorney’s office had not yet completed its review of the case files – and that a decision on whether to prosecute is likely to come Monday or Tuesday (March 19 or 20). If the decision is made to go forward, the district attorney’s office will notify the suspects by mail, ordering them to appear in court, the university release continued.
UC Davis has referred the matter to outside counsel to evaluate the legal consequences of the bank’s termination of its agreements with the university.
Several banks maintain automated teller machines on campus, but U.S. Bank was the only one with an on-campus branch – one of 21 U.S. Bank branches on college campuses in 10 states.
In addition to operating the UC Davis branch office, U.S. Bank installed seven ATMs around the campus, supplied campus ID cards, offered a financial management seminar for incoming students and parents, and contributed financial support to student programs.
The agreements last year generated $167,000 for student programs. The bank had guaranteed annual payments of $130,000 to $780,000, based on the number of accounts activated, which could have meant nearly $3 million for student services over 10 years.
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.”
“The Regents have refused to remove or arrest the persons participating in the illegal gathering even though the Regents have used available laws to disperse protestors who have congregated elsewhere on the University’s campuses,” he continued adding, “Instead of trying to disperse the illegal gathering, the Regents allowed the blockade to continue. It has become clear that the Regents will not disperse the protestors and are content to allow the blockade of the Branch to continue. U.S. Bank, however, cannot permit the risk of physical injury to continue, and it cannot continue to suffer economic loss.”
Mr. Hoke writes, “In light of the above, there is no doubt that U.S. Bank has been constructively evicted from the Branch due to the repeated and unabated breach of the covenant of quiet possession. The Regents have been given notice of their default and have failed to cure it.”
The University, however, fired back in a letter from Greg Haworth, who noted that there are eight years remaining on the lease and, “The Bank’s position and its conduct over the past several weeks are contrary to both the letter and spirit of the Financial Services Partnership Agreement and the Lease.”
It is mainly a breach of contract argument, in that the bank has not fulfilled its obligations under the lease for termination of contract.
They write, “The Bank has chosen not to send a written notice with respect to the acts of protesters outside the Branch, and is attempting to treat the January 13 letter as a notice of default with respect to conduct that had not yet occurred.”
More notably, “The Bank has not conducted itself in the spirit of the Financial Services Partnership Agreement. The Regents asked repeatedly for the Bank’s assistance and collaboration in addressing the problems created by the protesters, and the Bank has either outright refused to provide such assistance or has delayed responding in a manner that has caused reasonable suspicion that the Bank was not genuinely interested in maintaining a long-term presence at the Davis campus.”
“We hope to be able to resolve this issue without conflict,” said Fred Wood, vice chancellor for student affairs, in February. “We encourage and support expressions of free speech on this campus, and make every effort to ensure that students’ voices can be heard on a range of issues.”
He added, “At the same time, we have an obligation to honor our contract with U.S. Bank and a responsibility to ensure that members of the campus community who have business to conduct at the bank, or have jobs at the bank, can safely enter and exit the branch.”
The university told the Vanguard that it will not have further comment on the bank closure in the near future.
—David M. Greenwald reporting