Ginning Up Outrage for Fun and Initiatives at UC-Davis By Scott Herring, posted April 16, 2012
I have heard it said that the campus community is reeling from the effects of the blistering “Reynoso report” on the November 18 Pepper-Spray Incident on the campus of UC Davis. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the spraying of Occupy protestors “provoked international outrage.”
But I can testify from here that the whole Pepper Spray Incident has, in truth, nearly been forgotten. At the very least, the rage has dissipated, to the palpable, gut-wrenching frustration of the campus’s few hard-left activists. They had had the time of their lives in the immediate aftermath of the spraying, which radicalized one of the most apolitical student bodies in the state.
On April 11, when Reynoso met with the campus community to discuss the report, the hall used for the meeting was half-empty.
To refresh and spice up your memory, on November 18, the chancellor of the University of California, Davis, Linda Katehi, sent the campus police to clear a small band of noisome Occupy protestors from the campus quad (I wrote about the original events here). The police used pepper spray on the Occupiers, and every manner of hell broke loose. On April 11, we at last saw the lengthy report on the incident prepared by a special task force of students, faculty, and others, and chaired by former state Supreme Court justice Cruz Reynoso. The report leaves just one crucial question unanswered, as we will see.
For the dissipation of rage, credit a longer-than-normal Christmas break, and a second delay when a judge blocked the release of the report until its authors redacted the names of some of the lower-ranked police officers involved, who likely do not deserve any share in whatever opprobrium is left out there. Campus activists—faculty members, most often—still refer to the “atrocities of November 18” or, for a more upbeat and revolutionary mood, the “spirit of November 18,” as if the date, like the Fourth of July, can stand alone without explanation. I watch confusion break out in the faces of undergrads when they hear this (“What…the atrocities of Thanksgiving Break? Are they, like, anti-turkey?”). Barring some unforeseen counterattack by the Occupiers, the whole affair is ending with a fizzle.
Except for that one crucial question I mentioned at the start, which some of us have always believed would lead to the most ironic possible outcome.
Nearly everyone here was surprised by the extent to which the Reynoso task force pulled few punches. The Chronicle of Higher Education called their report “damning.” It assigned blame clearly, and it named names. The name that may appear most often is Linda Katehi. Starting I should guess the early morning of the day following the pepper spraying, she came to understand how much trouble she was in (her first report to the faculty on what had happened was blithe and nearly dismissive, and that report alone did much to crank up the generalized anger). She has since been on a nonstop campaign to keep her job. The major remaining open question was whether she would succeed.
The Reynoso report offered her an obvious escape route. Damning though it may be, the report regularly veers into that leaden bureaucratic language that we can really only expect from a task force that big. The report makes recommendations for UC Davis, and the University of California as a whole, and includes this item: it recommends that higher command at UCD should “devote itself to healing processes for the university community, including steps to operationalize the Principles of Community, and that the administration consider Restorative Justice among other tools to address behavior that negatively impacts the campus climate.”
I am not sure what that sentence means, exactly, but anyone can see the ghostly colon at the end of the sentence, followed by a dollar sign and a gigantic sum of money. And that is only one of their recommendations. To what will they lead? Easy to guess: sensitivity training for the police, along with intensified training on racism, sexism, and homophobia. A new Office of Civil Disobedience, and an Office of Social Justice, and I could go on.
Those recommendations provided Chancellor Katehi the means to cement herself in that job for as long as she wants it. After the report appeared, the Friday email newsletter to the campus community led with a bulletin written by Katehi, in which she notified us that the following moves were already underway:
"Acting Police Chief Matt Carmichael has, in consultation with campus leadership, asked independent experts to audit department policies and training records, and propose needed changes.
Acting Chief Carmichael also has invited an internationally recognized expert in police accountability to lead a campus forum on this topic. This is envisioned as a possible step toward establishing a campus police review commission. If adopted, it would be just the second in the UC system. He will provide details soon.
We will also commission an independent, top-to-bottom audit of campus police operations, as the Task Force recommends. And, we await a report from the Special Committee of the Davis Division of the UC Academic Senate, and results of a system-wide analysis of police practices led by UC Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley and UC Office of the President General Counsel Charles Robinson. We will seek ways to utilize both reports in our planning.
Efforts to improve administrative coordination, collaboration and communication are also underway. On April 6, I announced the creation of a Campus Community Council, with broad student, academic, staff, emeriti, alumni, community and administrative representatives."
I read that, and I hear a sound rather like cash registers ringing, or Scrooge McDuck playing with the money in his vault, except that in this case, the money is headed out the door. And, by now, to no purpose: University of California President Mark Yudof, in response to the task force report, announced that “I look forward to working with Chancellor Katehi to repair the damage caused by this incident and to move this great campus forward.” She is not going anywhere, except maybe to Cornell or Princeton in a few years, when they offer her a raise and the position of Assistant Vice Nabob, or whatever they call it there.
But even more money is headed out the door. In our city newspaper, the Davis Enterprise, the popular columnist Bob Dunning called the Reynoso report “a lawyer’s dream,” since pepper-sprayed students are taking legal action against the university. “Settle this thing and settle it quickly before the protesters start discussing which campus buildings need to be sold to pay the damages.”
The irony is as stark as it is predictable, and would have been predictable if the Occupiers had stopped to think of the likely outcome of the political eruption they launched in this normally quiet burg. Impossible to imagine them doing so, but still, you could see the ultimate result coming. The UC Davis Occupy movement was unusual, in the world of Occupy movements, in that it had a few plain, coherent demands. Foremost among them was tuition, which has jumped here as nearly everywhere. They wanted the hikes reversed. As anyone knows who has followed, say, the coverage of the higher education bubble on Instapundit for the last few years, or has simply hung out on a college campus for a while, the major driver of the tuition explosion has been politically correct administrative bloat. We will see much more of it here at UC Davis, as the inevitable result of the Pepper Spray Incident.
The administrative bloat—the sensitivity training, the new offices and officials—will have to be paid for. So the sterling achievement of the protests against tuition hikes by our Occupiers will be big tuition hikes for some future generation of students.
Scott Herring teaches writing and literature at the University of California, Davis. Before he got his Ph.D., he worked for years in Yellowstone National Park, and still carries on a hopeless love affair with the place. In the photograph, he’s hanging from a cliff therein.