UC Davis Chancellor apologizes for pepper spray incident against protesters


DAVIS, Calif. — As outrage mounted over police use of
pepper spray on nonviolent student demonstrators at the University of
California, Davis, the campus’ embattled chancellor apologized for the
incident and placed the university’s police chief on administrative

During a tense speech at the normally quiet
Central Valley campus’ main quad before more than 1,000 students and
faculty members on Monday, Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi tried to quell
criticism over the incident, as well as how university officials handled
the aftermath.

“I am here to apologize,” an
emotional Katehi said, after struggling through the crowd to a small
stage where students among the group pepper-sprayed by police had just
described their ordeals. “I feel horrible for what happened,” she added.

The chancellor’s appearance drew dueling boos and cries of “let her speak.”

Friday incident, captured in videos that quickly went viral across the
Internet, has triggered nationwide controversy about the forceful
response by university police to student protesters. The Occupy Wall
Street movement has spilled in recent weeks onto college campuses,
combining with student anger over rising tuition and cuts to higher
education to produce protests and sit-ins at many schools.

announced Monday that she had put campus police Chief Annette Spicuzza
on administrative leave, an effort to restore peace to the roiling,
32,000-student public university. Two officers involved in the spraying,
in which students were hit in the face as they sat quietly, arms
linked, were put on paid leave over the weekend.

has said that she ordered the tents removed but had not authorized
police to use the chemical spray in the manner shown on the videos.
Campus spokesman Andy Fell on Monday declined to comment on who gave
that order, saying it would be looked at by investigators.

she spoke Monday, Katehi, a Greek-born electrical engineer who became
chancellor at the campus in August 2009, ignored calls from the crowd
for her resignation. But her actions and those of the police are certain
to be scrutinized in the weeks ahead; UC leaders, state politicians,
the ACLU and national education organizations have decried the incident.

university has to be better than it is, and it needs all of the
community to come together to do that. We need to work together,” she

Assistant English professor Nathan Brown,
who launched an online petition drive to unseat Katehi, had spotted her
in the crowd as he addressed the protesters. Speaking directly to the
chancellor, he called her response to the Friday police actions
“transparent” efforts to evade criticism.

“There’s no place on our campus for administrators who order the use of force against peaceful protesters,” Brown said.

not everyone was calling for Katehi’s ouster, and the anger on the
leafy, fog-shrouded campus was threaded with sadness Monday. It was an
unusual moment in the spotlight for UC Davis, which has been shedding
its old caricature as an “aggie” school and touting its well-regarded
programs in medicine, law, literature, engineering, the environment as
well as agriculture and veterinary medicine, among others.

Sze, associate professor of American Studies, brought her sign-waving
8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son to Monday’s protest. Sze said
people on campus were horrified by the police action but said there was
no consensus about whether Katehi should resign.

feel like she has to show us something,” Sze said. “I don’t know if
there’s anything she can say to address the level of concern and high

The UC Davis academic senate, the powerful
faculty organization that governs many issues, will be conduct its own
investigation into the pepper spray incident, according to its
chairwoman, Linda Bisson, a viticulture and enology professor.

faculty investigation is needed, in addition to one being conducted by
UC Davis administrators because “there is a strong feeling that there
would be a lack of credibility regardless of what the chancellor’s
report said — and because of her role in the events,” Bisson said.

faculty leader contended that Katehi was too slow to get accurate
information about the incident and then to take disciplinary action
against the police. But while a minority of UC Davis faculty may want
the chancellor to resign, most want her to stay in her post but be held
accountable in some way, Bisson said.

The Yolo
County District Attorney’s and sheriff’s office also have said they will
review the campus police response in the incident.

the most dramatic moments of Monday’s rally came as students who had
been arrested or sprayed described their pain and fear. They blamed
police for the violent turn in what they said began as a peaceful show
of support for the Occupy movement, with 25 tents and a cooking area.
Police initially said they had acted only after a crowd of protesters
had encircled the officers.

David Buscho, a
22-year-old mechanical engineering student, said he and other protesters
were just “sitting down in a circle singing.” Then he heard someone
yell out, “Pepper spray!” and he kissed his girlfriend and closed his

“At that point, I entered a world of pain,”
Buscho said. “I wanted to breathe, but I couldn’t. My face was covered
with pepper spray. … My hands were covered with pepper spray. I was
afraid. I was paralyzed with fear, and that’s the truth.

a single student was violent — ever,” he said. Police arrested 10
protesters at the campus Friday and 11 were treated for the pepper
spray, including two who were taken to a hospital and then released.

Monday, protesters had again erected more than two dozen tents in the
campus quad and authorities seemed uncertain about how to react. Fell
said he did not know what would happen to the latest encampment.

public appearance came as scrutiny increased of her leadership, as well
as of the campus police response to protests elsewhere in the UC system
and across the country. The university, especially its Berkeley campus,
was central to the student protest movement of the 1960s and student
rallies have occurred frequently, especially in recent years about
rising tuition.

UC President Mark G. Yudof, who
said over the weekend that he was appalled by the police actions,
convened a telephone conference of all ten UC chancellors Monday, urging
them to review police tactics and ensure students’ freedom of
expression. “We cannot let this happen again,” Yudof said of the Davis
incident, according to a statement.

attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California
said that his organization also will seek public records on the incident
in what might be a precursor to a lawsuit. Staff attorney Michael
Risher said previous court decisions have held that the use of pepper
spray against seated, nonviolent demonstrators violates constitutional

Daniel Hurley, an official at the American
Association of State Colleges and Universities, said Monday that many
schools nationwide have been watching the events at UC Davis and see it
as “terrible overreaction on the part of campus police.”

colleges “have a remarkably proud tradition in this country of being
venues of free speech and peaceful demonstrations,” Hurley said.

the controversy came just weeks after Katehi garnered positive
publicity by announcing a long-term plan to add 5,000 students,
including many from out of state, to the campus, which is physically the
largest in the UC system. That idea ran counter to the widespread
pessimism at other UC campuses about cuts in state funding.

who speaks with the accent of her Greek childhood, earned a doctorate
in electrical engineering at UCLA; she became UC Davis chancellor after
serving as provost at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

The UC Davis campus does not have a
history of disruptive student protests. “We have a reputation of very
peaceful and very thoughtful student activists,” Bisson said. “Not a mob
mentality at all.”


©2011 the Los Angeles Times

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