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,

“Hi Judith,
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)

Of course the issue of public safety is complex – are not, for example, the students beat by police also members of the public who need to be kept safe? – what he means is that the law is not complex. It is illegal to pull fire-alarms under false pretenses, and as far as the administrators are concerned, as soon as you’ve unambiguously broken a law, you have asked for whatever you get. There’s no real discussion of what civil disobedience (nevermind uncivil) means, no acknowledgement that students were acting intentionally, not in regard to culpability, but in terms of their tactics and strategies. Sometimes breaking the law is the point.
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)

At issue here is not the rule itself, but responsibility for the rule. There’s no suggestion here that any administrator felt strongly about any part of the response, as long as they would not be held personally liable for any fall-out. When students get beat, they want to be able to point somewhere else. It seems to be the ultimate sin of university administration to have nowhere else to point.
When administrators want to calm occupiers down, they send in professors. These teachers are not there as a demonstration of good faith, but are simply the most utile tools for the administration. This prompted a number of professors to write in one co-signed e-mail, “Faculty have a role to play in advising senior administrators, and in reaching out to groups of students. And we have a substantial role to play in mobilizing support for public education and sponsoring debate about the future of the UC system. However, crowd control and police line management is not what we should have to do on this campus.” (p. 120) We will not do your dirty work, they say, but it is all the time clear for whom they work. From what I read in these e-mails, faculty is brought in to calm things down, which is goal one-through-five of the administration. Intermediary is not always a neutral role.
Lastly, like I said, there are definitely moments that make the document worth reading. When administrators found out that Boots Riley of The Coup was set to perform in the unpermitted concert at the end of Live Week, they contacted his booking agency with a threat. Here was his response,
“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)
When they told Boots Riley not to show up, he told them the students were being insufficiently militant and urged an administrator to switch sides. That is badass. Thanks to whoever made this request, I’ve made my share under public information laws and it’s not easy to get anything useful.
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