George W. Breslauer, UC Berkeley’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, has released a letter to the campus explaining the university’s decision to send in police to end the student hunger strike early this morning. We publish it here:
Dear Campus Community:
This morning, for reasons of the health and safety of the hunger strikers, we felt it necessary to bring an end to their encampment outside California Hall. The action occurred peacefully just before 6:00 a.m. this morning when a small group was informed that they were being asked to leave and remove their belongings from the site. No arrests were made and police provided vans to assist in transporting the group’s personal belongings. A doctor from the Student Health Center was present, although no one required medical assistance.
During the past week, some of our Chicano/Latino students have been engaged in a week-long encampment and hunger strike. The main catalyst for this protest was the passage into law of Arizona bill SB1070 that allows police to check immigration status in ways that many people anticipate will lead to a surge of ethnic/racial profiling. Our students were understandably distressed by this law, as were we, and sought reassurance from the University that we would take a stand against it and ensure protections for undocumented students at UC Berkeley. Chancellor Birgeneau considered this a reasonable request and issued a very strong condemnation of SB 1070, which you can read on the campus website’s homepage. He also provided reassurances about campus policies and practices that protect our undocumented students. The protesters also made a series of additional demands. We provided responses in documents posted on the website. The website links are listed at the end of this letter.
We were unable to accommodate the protesters’ request that we drop all charges against protesters cited during the November Wheeler Hall protests. The idea of community service as an alternative to suspension was raised; we insisted that we could not preempt the Student Code of Conduct process by mandating an outcome before informal resolution or hearings even began. We also could not accommodate their request that we hire back all the workers that have been laid off as a result of the deep cuts to our State budgetary allocation.
Throughout the week, we have been deeply concerned about the health and well-being of the hunger strikers. Medical and counseling staff from the Student Health Center have visited the protesters each day to provide them with educational materials and advice. The UC Police Department has checked repeatedly on the safety of the participants. We have communicated, in person and in writing, our urging that the protesters abandon their hunger strike.
We have also repeatedly attempted this week to engage representatives of the protesters in discussions about their concerns. I talked with them on the lawn in front of California Hall for forty minutes early Wednesday morning. Vice Chancellor Le Grande met at length with several concerned members of the Chicano/Latino student community on Wednesday afternoon. We invited a group of five student protesters to meet with me, VC Le Grande, and others inside California Hall late Wednesday. The students chose not to meet with us that day because we would not allow a union representative to participate. This was not a labor-negotiation session, for which there are many other official channels. On Thursday, we again invited the students to meet with us in California Hall, and allowed the participation of a non-student campus worker who is not a union leader. That meeting lasted for two hours and resulted in useful exchanges of views and clarification of misimpressions. We followed up that meeting with a letter to the representatives outlining our commitments, some of which entailed clarification of the many things we are already doing.
We then offered that the Chancellor, who has been traveling abroad throughout the week, would speak by conference call with the same group of students and union staff member. This meeting took place in California Hall on Saturday afternoon, and included my participation as well as that of Associate Chancellor Linda Williams and Student Affairs Chief of Staff Felicia Lee. Following the 45-minute conversation with the Chancellor, at which the students unexpectedly introduced additional demands, we continued the in-person conversation for another hour. While we found some additional common ground regarding the desirability of protecting programs that benefit ethnic/racial minorities on campus, it became clear that there was no further convergence of positions to be had regarding the dropping of student conduct charges, the hiring back of laid-off workers, and a few other issues. We will not preempt the established processes for evaluation of resource allocation requests and privilege one sub-group of individuals in the definition of the “needs” of campus units. This is an important consideration for campus leaders who continuously try to balance the myriad of interests on campus and to justify both decisions and decision-processes to many constituencies.
We subsequently informed the students that we would not continue discussions as long as the hunger-strike protest was in effect.
It was our sincere hope that participants would cease their hunger strike in response to the reassurances and actions we have taken this week. We waited a full day after Saturday’s meeting to give the protesters time to make a decision. Unfortunately, their decision was to continue their strike, and we remain distressed about the potentially severe, possibly permanent, impacts on the health of the individuals involved. In addition, the condition of the encampment site has raised public-health concerns. We decided, therefore, with the Chancellor’s concurrence, to require remaining participants in the encampment to clear the site early Monday morning.
In so doing, we have attempted to minimize the potential for confrontation. A senior staff member, who has been liaising with the students, met with the hunger strikers to give them notice to gather their things and leave the area. All the strikers left peacefully.
We have made every effort, during a long week, to bring this to a close. We look forward to continuing to work with students from diverse backgrounds to advance our common goal of making the UC Berkeley campus a fully welcoming and equitable community of knowledge-seekers.
The documents referred to in this letter can be viewed at: