These are perilous times for government officials forced to wrestle with the protests roiling the Bay Area and beyond. Mayor Jean Quan's approval rating, for instance, headed toward Gov. Rod Blagojevich levels after her ambivalent handling of the Occupy Oakland protests.
The recent Occupy-goes-to-school events have fueled even more outrage over police tactics than that engendered by cops aggressively sparring with protesters in cities. Videos of UC Berkeley and Alameda County Sheriff officers thrusting batons into students and dragging them by the hair prompted Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to issue a statement of regret and launch an investigation into excessive force by police. Today, he released an audio message in which he apologized and took full responsibility for what occurred.
But the video of UC Davis officers non-chalantly pepper-spraying seated student protesters in the face as if applying a second coat of paint has provided a particularly disturbing image of what, on the surface at least, appears to be gratuitious and callous confrontation of young people by law enforcement.
The university put Campus Police Chief Annette Spicuzza on administrative leave pending an investigation into the incident, and also suspended two officers involved, one of whom has become a humiliating-if-clever meme on the web, not to mention a target online.
But the controversy has also swept up Chancellor Linda Katehi, who is under mounting pressure from students and faculty members to resign.
Yesterday, on KQED Radio's Forum program, Katehi said about the incident: "It happened and it was unacceptable. In fact, what I saw on the video has been horrific, and it’s really not representative of our campus...It was completely unacceptable what happened." (Audio and transcript of that show here.)
At a student rally later in the day, Katehi apologized for the incident in front of thousands of students.
In a surreal scene, Katehi waded into the massive crowd and stood silently for about an hour listening as students – including several who were pepper-sprayed – denounced her for sending in the police last week.
"I was blinded for about 30 minutes," 19-year-old Evka Whaley-Mayda told the crowd. "I was in excruciating pain. … I should not feel unsafe at my own university."
Katehi looked forlorn at times as she heard students describe the incident. Then, with students chanting, "Let her speak," she made her way through the crowd, only to be delayed briefly because others were ahead of her in line.
Finally, with some students booing and others shouting, "Be respectful," Katehi walked up the stairs to a makeshift stage and told them she was sorry. Full article
The student newspaper, The California Aggie, continues...
“I am here to apologize. I feel horrible for what happened on Friday. If you think you don’t want to be students in a university like we had on Friday, I am just telling you, I don’t want to be the chancellor of the university we had on Friday,” Katehi said, fighting back tears.
“Our university has to be better than it is, and it needs all of the communities to come together to do that. We need to work together,” Katehi said. “And I know that you may not believe anything that I am telling you today and you don’t have to. It is my responsibility to earn your trust.”
The Sacramento Bee has video from yesterday's event, including Katehi's remarks and some students' hostile response.
Here is a video of her full address, in which she also says the following:
"I know you may not believe anything that I'm telling you today, and you don't have to. It is my responsibility to earn your trust. I only have to say one thing. There is a plaque out there, that speaks about 17 of November, of 1973. And I was there. And I don't forget that. So I hope I will have a better opportunity to work with you, to meet you, to get to know you, and there will be many opportunities in the next few weeks to do that. Thank you."
Nov 17, 1973
"There is a plaque out there, that speaks about 17 of November, of 1973...I don't forget that," the chancellor said.
What happened on that day?
The Athens Polytechnic Uprising, when the Greek government sent a tank onto a university campus to confront a mass protest of students and workers against the military junta. At least 24 civilians were killed.
KQED's Cy Musiker today asked Lynn Tierney, the associate vice president of communications for the UC system, what Chancellor Kathehi's connection to the incident was.
"She's from Greece," Tierney said. "She was a student at Athens Polytechnic university when police came through the doors in a tank. She experienced that and she's not going to let anything like that happen on her campus."
(Update 2:40 p.m. A UC Davis spokesperson tells me that when Katehi pointed and said "there is a plaque out there," she was pointing, at least metaphorically, toward Greece, not to anywhere on the campus.)
In another development today, the university's English Department faculty has posted a call for Katehi's "immediate resignation" on its home page.