By Ralph Hexter
(Editor’s note, this was a letter to the community dated Friday, April 8 from Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter) –
In response to numerous questions and comments submitted to the Office of the Chancellor and the Office of the Provost, I write to provide the community with an update of the situation in Mrak Hall, and also to clarify the concerns of university administration and impacted staff with respect to the manner in which this protest is being carried out.
At the outset, let me make it clear that the issue is not and has never been about protest. The university has a Freedom of Expression policy that is very clear on the right to protest. The most recent version of the policy is the product of a great deal of collaborative work, involving representatives of the Academic Senate and the ASUCD. Not insignificantly, it was reviewed favorably by the ACLU. I urge all who are interested to consult the policy at http://manuals.ucdavis.edu/ppm/400/400-01.pdf
Let me now move on to respond to some of the questions and comments we’ve received, and to clarify the administration and staff concerns I mentioned above.
At any one time, a small number of protesters continues to occupy the reception area and a hallway on the 5th floor of Mrak Hall. While Chancellor Katehi, Vice Provost – Academic Affairs Maureen Stanton, and I, along with our colleagues, operate more or less normally in our offices and receive visitors, with minimal inconvenience, access to the Office of Research is effectively blocked, so Vice Chancellor – Research Harris Lewin and his immediate staff must work from a remote location.
The fact that the protestors refuse to vacate Mrak Hall during non-business hours presents a number of further challenges. Because Mrak Hall is not a residence hall, it has been necessary to assign additional staff to monitor the building throughout nights and over the weekend in order to ensure safety. The protesters’ remaining in Mrak Hall when it is closed is but one of the violations of campus regulations about which the occupiers have been repeatedly informed but which they continue to ignore.
A significant number of correspondents have challenged our restrained response to a significant ongoing disruption and violations of campus regulations and policies. To them and to all let me say
that we do not condone and have never condoned such disruptions or violations. We have, quite deliberately, so far elected not to initiate disciplinary proceedings in the hope that the students will yet choose to enter into dialogue with the chancellor, an option she has repeatedly offered.
Let me address next the disruption and unease that the occupation is causing our staff, for this is a matter of grave concern. Staff are not merely inconvenienced. Many no longer feel comfortable using the restrooms in Mrak Hall. Many complain about the odors emanating from the protesters’ food and the garbage they leave behind, which is also an additional burden on the custodial staff. For their patience and forbearance, we thank them; it is a great deal to ask of them.
Some protesters, however, have even gone so far as to confront individual staff members, posting videos of these interactions on their social media channels. As if being held up for public ridicule were not enough, some staff have experienced outright intimidation. At least one staff member has filed a grievance. Others perhaps have refrained out of fear of further intimidation.
In addition, there have been acts of intimidation directed at faculty members for their personal views and associations.
As I close, let me affirm once again that UC Davis honors the right to protest and to engage in vigorous debate, including criticism of the administration. It is lamentable, however, that the manner in which a number of the Mrak occupiers have chosen to conduct their protest falls, in many respects, outside of official campus regulations and policies, and certainly far short of the aspirations embodied in our Principles of Community.
It is especially lamentable that the conduct of some has extended to intimidation, which has no place on our campus. Those who engage in it abuse the freedoms we all enjoy at our great university.