The faculty of the University of California at Davis has condemned the use of police in response to non-violent student protests, but overwhelmingly rejected a resolution expressing no confidence in the chancellor whose deployment of police in such circumstances led to the use of pepper spray against campus activists last November.
About a thousand of the university’s 2,700 eligible faculty members voted online on three resolutions addressing the question of their confidence in Chancellor Linda Katehi’s leadership. They rejected a no-confidence resolution by a 697-312 margin, while approving two — one more critical than the other — that endorsed her continued leadership of the university.
The resolution which garnered the most votes among the faculty condemned “both the dispatch of police in response to non-violent protests and the use of excessive force that led to the deplorable pepper-spraying” and opposed “all violent police responses to non-violent protests on campus.” The deployment of police against student protesters, it said should only be “considered” after other “efforts to bridge differences” had been “exhausted,” and only in “direct consultation with the leadership of the Davis Division of the Academic Senate.”
It went on, however, to say that Katehi’s decision to deploy the police under inappropriate circumstances did not “outweigh” her “impeccable performance of all her other duties.” That resolution was approved 635 to 343.
A second resolution of support for Katehi, less critical than the first, passed by a narrower 586 to 408 margin. That resolution withheld direct criticism of the chancellor’s actions in connection with the pepper spray incident, which it described obliquely as “the horrific events of November 18, 2011.” Sidestepping the widespread criticism of Katehi’s orders to the police and her initial public embrace of their actions, it praised her for moving “expeditiously to to replace the flawed communications in the two days following the events with a campus-wide dialogue.”
The rejected resolution declared that the faculty “lack[ed] confidence” in the chancellor
“In light of the events on the quadrangle of the UC Davis campus on the afternoon of Friday November 18, 2011, in light of Chancellor Linda Katehi’s email to faculty of November 18 in which she admitted that she had ordered the police to take action against the students who were demonstrating on the quadrangle and said that she had had “no option” but to proceed in this way, and in light of the failure of Chancellor Katehi to act effectively to resolve the resulting crisis in the intervening days.”
The main takeaway from these series of votes is, of course, Katehi’s support among the faculty — or at least among the 65% of the 37% of the eligible faculty who voted for the most popular resolution. But it’s also worth noting that the most popular idea among all of those put forward in the three resolutions was the proposition that police force should not be used to break up nonviolent student protests.
Such a policy, if implemented, would represent a dramatic and welcome change from UC practice both before and after the November 18 pepper spray incident, and sustained faculty pressure would go a long way toward making such a policy a reality. Let’s hope that these resolutions represent a first step toward a more engaged faculty commitment to civil liberties on campus, and to the well-being of their students.