I just finished reading through the 313 pages of e-mails a records request about internal UCB administration communications regarding the occupations this semester yielded. Since they’re e-mails with a lot of repeats, there’s probably only about 100 pages of real content. It’s worth a read, partly because it feels like you’re going through private e-mails and partly for the star-power (writings from Boots Riley! Judith Butler!). But mostly they’re worth reading to see inside the minds of administrators. Clearly this document does not contain all communications between administrators regarding the occupations. After the first police confrontation at Wheeler Hall, it was made clear in an e-mail that the police were not to move forward in the future without expressed administration approval. This means that the 5 a.m. raid on sleeping Live Week students was signed off on by administrators. Since there’s no record of any discussion about the raid in the documents, I think it’s fair to assume there are a number of important communications that aren’t here for any number of reasons. It’s important to remember when reading through that this is only a few threads of conversation over one particular medium.
That said, there are some interesting conclusions to be drawn from what we do have. I must confess, it is hilarious reading accounts of administrators trying to figure out what the hell an occupation was and what they should do about it.
“If they take over an administrative building: do we let them be or try to induce their departure? If the latter, by what means – police action or discussion?
Is there a crucial difference between an occupation (take over the building) and a sit-in? How do the tactics differ if it’s just a sit-in? Can we just ‘let it be’ as long as the classrooms and office work are not disrupted?”
– George Breslauer, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, UC Berkeley (p. 119)
This question of what they can and can’t “let be” is intriguing. Breslauer can pretty much let happen anything he wants, but the question he’s asking here is whether or not an open occupation poses a threat. What exactly, he wonders, are we trying to stop? In these e-mails, the administrators never come to a decision as to whether or not open occupations mandate intervention. When the decision was made to end Live Week Friday morning before the concert scheduled for that evening, the administrators framed it around the finals on Saturday morning and the unpermitted concert. As UC spokeswoman Janet Gilmore put it, “A peaceful protest to draw attention to a cause is one thing, but an unauthorized all-night concert in an academic building is another matter.” (p.234) This enabled administrators to never rhetorically draw a strong line against open occupations.
It’s clear over the body of this document that Berkeley administrators were most worried about disorder. At one point there’s discussion about the possibility of acquiring permits for the occupiers’concert in order to make sure it didn’t break rules. They are largely unconcerned with any actions that don’t directly confront their authority through a violation of unambiguous regulations. It seems they would be fine if protesters burned them each in effigy, as long as they got permission first. Here’s Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s response to a multi-page e-mail about balancing the rights of protesters with those of the rest of the community from rhetoric professor and critical theory superstar Judith Butler,
Thank you for providing further documentation on some of the horrific events which occurred last Friday and thank you for your advice. The issue of what consitutes a legitimate exercise of free speech in the current circumstances is an interesting and complex one. Clearly the community must be free to agree or disagree publically with actions of the administration. However, disaffected individuals are not free to pull false fire alarms. I would welcome your insights on this subject and specifically what you think should and should not be allowed. The issue of public safety is not complex.
Bob Birgeneau” (p.131)
Until now, I assumed the attempts by administrations at individual UC’s to shift blame toward Sacramento were based in a desire to change the demands narrative and make the occupations about state funding and nothing else. I think this is still partly the case, but it becomes clear reading through these e-mails that Berkeley administrators were strongly motivated by their sincere desire not to have to deal with anything that was happening. Breslauer at one point suggests that they consult the division council of the academic senate – made up of faculty – on police procedures:
“I also realize we may have a certain amount of administrative authority and discretion to protect. But this would be a call for recommendations and we could see what they come up with. If we follow their advice and it backfires, they will share the responsibility. Some diffusion of responsibility for the rules of thumb we employ might be wise at this point.” (p. 135)
“Hey Amanda,Your e-mail is very politely worded, thank you.It is just the kind of threat that I hate. You are probably just doing what your job duties entail, but right now your duties have you trying to undermine a student demonstration about fee hikes by threatening a performer at their rally. This is low. Let’s all try to forget that you sent this.76 student arrested? Wow. For an “occupation” that didn’t even take usage of the building away from students, faculty, or staff. Actually, the action didn’t even have the pwer to make anyone in power consider doing anything differently. There was business as usual, with the addition of students voicing their conerns over fee hikes and cutbacks.76 arrests, with bail as high at $25,000. Then you come along with this threat.May I suggest a career in union busting?If you’re concerned with students safety, negotiate with the students. Meet their demands. At least act like you want to compromise. Join the right side of the struggle, although it may affect your livelihood. Seems you have no problem threatening mine.Love,Boots” (p. 286-287)