Lili Loofbourow put up an amazing post yesterday about the way administrators in the University of California system have presented themselves in public statements about campus activism. It’s great and long and filled with important insights, and you should go read the whole thing. Here’s a taste, from somewhere in the middle:
Word choice seems trivial much of the time. “We” or “I,” “distress” or “regret.” But this use of “we” is not to be taken lightly. It is not a mistake to be cosmetically airbrushed out of the record. It is a persistent, unapologetic use of that pronoun “we” to drive home that he was in full control of what had gone on, and that he approved of it. It’s a rhetorical choice, the utter baselessness of which is revealed, in that second letter, through the admission that he had exactly none of the information he claimed to have carefully considered when making his first assessment of campus events.
This is a dead horse worth beating: the Chancellor of UC Berkeley unapologetically authorized the police action against faculty and students and unapologetically supported that decision, claiming both responsibility for the action and knowledge of the circumstances: he represents himself as part of the “we” that “encountered” a situation that forced police to use inexcusable violence.
You don’t get to walk away from that particular kind of mendacity, no matter how many letters you issue. Here’s why: it’s symptomatic of an institution whose checks and balances are sick, whose appeals processes are broken, and whose administrators appear to speak only in terms of what makes good or bad press.
It’s likely that the Chancellor wrote that letter, not maliciously, but carelessly. That does not make it better; it makes it worse. It reveals that this is a practice that isn’t limited to one Chancellor or to one day—it’s a pattern, a habit, a system.
Not long after that post went up, Loofbourow came across some more information about exactly how these statements are composed — a paper trail showing that a long, detailed statement about one 2009 UC Berkeley mass arrest was composed some twelve hours before those arrests took place. Berkeley’s chancellor even directed that a quote from him be added “expressing my admiration for the very professional way in which the police managed to apprehend and remove the illegal occupiers” — again, before those arrests took place. Check it out.
The chancellors of UC Davis and UC Berkeley have in recent days been forced to distance themselves from episodes of police violence that they embraced with warm enthusiasm (tempered by hand-clasping “sadness”) in their immediate aftermath. Now we know why.
Physical violence against, and improper arrest of, student activists in the University of California system has become so routinized that administrators write their defenses of those actions before they even occur.