Guest opinion: UC Davis police and administration infiltrate peaceful student protest

For several months, administrators, students and police have been coordinating an under-the-radar response team to infiltrate student protest groups, relay information to administrators and police leadership and control peaceful gatherings in response to tuition spikes and budget cuts.

At least one undercover police officer infiltrated the most recent protests on March 2: Officer Joanne Zekany of the UC Davis Police Department was dressed in casual business attire as she marched with students last Wednesday afternoon. When asked about her affiliation, Officer Zekany lied to students, saying she was an administrator with the neuroscience department in Briggs Hall, and made a disparaging comment about the intelligence of a student. Officer Zekany has worked for the UCDPD for over two years and was caught disseminating information regarding the plans and whereabouts of the peaceful protestors.

This comes in tandem with discoveries that have been made about the existence of a complex protest response plan established jointly between police, students and administrators in the wake of protests throughout the 2010-2011 academic year.

According to documents released in response to a filing under the California Public Records Act, UC Administrators established the “Activism Response Team”– a network of student leaders, high-ranking administrators and police leadership – in the fall of 2010 to keep peaceful protesters under the administration’s control through direct communication with university leadership, including Chancellor Linda Katehi. The group served to “accompany students” throughout protests, “observe the [protest] situation,” “update staff” about the situation, and “point out safety issues and risks to students,” according to an agenda schedule from August of last year.

Within the program, a “Leadership Team” was established that included many top-ranking UCD administrators, including Vice Chancellor Fred Wood, Vice Chancellor John Meyer, former Provost and Current Dean of the College of Engineering Enrique Lavernia and Assistant Executive Vice Chancellor Robert Loessberg-Zahl. According to program documents, this group “makes decisions in communication with Chancellor [Katehi], Chief of Police [Annette Spicuzza], and Assistant Vice Chancellor [Griselda Castro]“. The documents do not address the potential political implications of allying the chancellor and police against student protestors.

A “Student Activism Team” was also established, and included a far-reaching network of UCD administrators employed in ASUCD, CAPS, Financial Aid, SJA, the Student Academic Success Center and Student Housing to help monitor student activity.

According to a document titled “Student Activism Response Protocol” dated August 18, 2010, administrators were given the responsibility to “receive information from all Student Affairs staff regarding any anticipated student actions, not just those of registered student organizations,” “inform police and request standby support if appropriate” and “notify and maintain communication with news service”.

Furthermore, the program encouraged police collaboration at times: A “support team” was established to “provide a presence at student actions and rallies,” “offer action sponsors suggestions on how to handle the crowd,” and to “request…police presence if needed”.

E-mails between administrators and police officers recovered under the Public Records Act also reveal that administrators and police were forwarding one another protest pamphlets and Facebook links regarding protest information.

How can administrators like Chancellor Katehi claim to advocate for students if they deem it necessary to keep an eye on student activity and infiltrate peaceful protest networks? When the administration acts as an informant for the police against peaceful student protests, it signals its true loyalty.

It is obvious that these programs are not totalitarian attempts to stomp out student activism– the documents do reveal a heart-felt desire to protect first amendment rights, but the infiltration of protest groups is an extremely dangerous precedent for the administration to set. It is not the intent of this article to single out hard-working, often well-meaning administrators for taking part in these programs. Rather, it is to point out the significance of an administration treating its students, many of whom will be burdened by student debt for years after graduating, as untrustworthy thugs. Regardless of your take on recent student protests, it is apparent that this trend is a dangerous development.

But the real issue here is respect. UC Davis undergraduate in-state tuition for 2010-11 is $13,079.91. When one compares this rate with tuition in 2000-01 (a whopping $3,550), it becomes clear that the UC Regents and the UC Davis administration believe that they balance their books on our backs. When students organize to protest the fact that thousands upon thousands of working class and poor students can no longer afford access to the American dream, the administration responds by collaborating with the police rather than address the more pressing issue?

Every now and then, I get emails from UC President Mark Yudof or Chancellor Katehi telling me that they are fighting hard to protect the University of California. You probably get these emails, too. But, how can they claim to respect us, or advocate for us, when they are organizing infiltrative networks quell organized and peaceful protest?

What’s happening to my school? I came to UC Davis because I believe in public education. What I’ve seen is the quick, quiet privatization of a once-great system that now treats its students like criminals, as opposed to pupils. Maybe you’ve felt this way, too. Either way, I’m pissed, and you should be, too.

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