Last night students at UC Davis went back to Mrak Hall, where 52 people were arrested last Thursday, and launched the week’s eighth UC building occupation.

This takeover was shorter than several of its predecessors, but dramatic — it was the first in this wave of occupations to end with a written commitment by the administration to honor a set of protest demands.

The students began the occupation with a lengthy list of demands, but negotiated a suspension of the occupation on the basis of five: the university committed to conducting a review of one previous campus arrest, to urging the district attorney to “strongly consider … not filing charges” against the 52 Thursday arrestees, to dropping any disciplinary action against those students, to pursuing “further discussion” about co-op housing on campus based on “a mutual desire to promote sustainable, affordable cooperative living facilities,” and to holding “further discussions on all other demands with a representative group, as early as Monday, November 30.”

There’s nothing earth-shattering here, of course, but it’s still significant in at least three ways.

First, it gives students throughout the UC system a precedent for negotiated settlement of an occupation. There has been some resistance to that approach from both sides in the last week — from students who conducted “demandless” occupations, and from administrators who refused to enter into dialogue. Last night’s agreement affirms that negotiation is a live option in this series of actions.

Second, it provides a template for such negotiations. The Davis administration’s biggest concession was its agreement to forego disciplinary action against the Thursday demonstrators (and, implicitly, against last night’s demonstrators as well). That concession sets up amnesty as an achievable demand in future occupations.

Third, it opens up ongoing negotiations on local campus issues. A single university’s administrators have no direct power to roll back fees or reform the UC board of regents — such demands are aimed at off campus targets, and winning full victories on them is not a project for a single day. But local concessions can be won in a single action, and ongoing negotiations are a mechanism for refining and sharpening such demands to the point that more substantive victories become more likely.

In the NYU and New School occupations of 2008-09, those universities’ administrations shifted away from negotiation and toward punitive legal action as the students’ campaigns developed. The resolution of yesterday’s Mrak Hall occupation is the strongest evidence yet that the University of California is now moving in the opposite direction.

Update | Here is the UC Davis administration’s official statement on the occupation. Note that it describes the takeover as beginning with a study-in at eight o’clock yesterday morning, that it says that 150 demonstrators were present in Mrak at the end of the night, and that it strikes a conciliatory, respectful tone throughout. Note also that it binds the university to a new commitment beyond the five agreed to last night — the presence of Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi at a meeting with students next Monday.

Second Update | Commenter Cynthia D. notes that the Monday student meeting with the chancellor is actually a long-planned, regularly scheduled event. She also has a perspective on the administration’s behavior during the occupation that’s worth reading, so click through and read it.

Third Update | The Yolo County District Attorney announced on Friday that charges against 51 of the 52 Mrak Hall demonstrators have been dropped, with the only exception being the student charged with assault and resisting arrest. This is obviously a further victory for the second occupation.

Fourth Update | The third update above, based on a report from a local news station’s website, is inaccurate. Charges against the Mrak 51 have not been dropped, they’ve just been set aside, and they can be re-instated at any time in the next year.