By Jose San Mateo
UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal and Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger sent a strong message to faculty about protesters when the Academic Senate met last Friday, Nov. 9.
“I assure you that the biomedical facility will move forward,” Blumenthal said to several hundred faculty and administrators in the College 9/10 multipurpose room. “We will take whatever actions necessary to move forward.”
The comments come in response to the rally on Nov. 7, in which several hundred students and community members gathered on Science Hill to protest the construction of a proposed biomedical building near the new physical sciences building. The clash between police and protestors resulted in six arrests, but several unidentified people have taken residence in the 50-foot redwood trees that occupy the proposed site.
Jim Burns, spokesperson for the university, clarified the chancellor’s comments in a telephone interview after the Academic Senate meeting.
He said the comments speak for themselves, but he also refuted the protesters’ claims that this building represents a tilt towards privatization.
“This is not paid for with private funds,” Burns said. “It is paid for with public funds and taxpayer dollars.”
Vice Chancellor Kliger echoed Blumenthal’s comments and went on to suggest that the protesters’ actions infringed on the academic freedom of other students on campus.
“Our obligation should be with the over 14,000 students not involved,” Kliger said. “We will deploy significant financial resources to deal with this.”
Burns also downplayed the significance of the rally and mentioned the declining number of students still camped out at Science Hill.
“One of the reasons why we are letting this occur is because of its declining size,” he said. “It’s fair to say that some are not UCSC students at all and it is a stretch to say the protest reflects the sentiments of most students.”
The comments from both UCSC administrators garnered varying responses from professors and students that were present.
Carolyn Martin Shaw, a professor in the anthropology department, said, “I am not reassured by the chancellor’s comments.” Her comment drew applause from the other senate members.
In a subsequent interview with City on a Hill Press, Shaw clarified her comments about Blumenthal. “I am just disappointed,” she said. “There is a process before calling the police on students.”
Shaw chaired the Tent University committee, which was formed by the Academic Senate after the 2005 Tent University protests. The group provided recommendations on how to deal with future protests, but Shaw was not sure if the administrators followed such procedures.
“I would have been happy if [administrators] followed such procedures and had no resort,” she said. “ On the day of the rally, police were already on campus, which made me believe this was their first reaction.”
In response to her comments, Burns said he had “great respect for Professor Shaw.” He explained that the police were there to secure an area, and that is why they put up a fence.
“The hollow platforms in the trees are heavy, and it was a pedestrian area, so there was a concern,” he said. “[Students] needed to be rerouted, so we consider it an unsafe form of protest.”
Joe Konopelski, a chemistry professor at UCSC, stepped up to a microphone after Shaw. He supported the administration’s stance on the rally. He said that many students were unable to meet with their teaching assistants or attend office hours and that the protest disrupted classes. His comments also drew applause from senate members.
Grant Hartwell, a student representative from the College 10 senate, was the last to stand at the microphone. “In regards to the current protest, it sounds like you’ve already made your decision,” he said.
Hartwell went on to bring up the temporary fence erected by police officers to keep protestors away from the redwood trees. Protestors tore down the makeshift fence during the rally, which drew reactions from police.
In response to a question about who instigated violence, Blumenthal said, “Violence did occur and police officers were attacked when [protesters] were attacking the fence.”
Jennifer Charles, a UCSC alumna and spokesperson for the Science Hill tree sitters, did not attend the Academic Senate meeting but responded to both Kliger and Blumenthal’s comments. “If the administration cared about the health and safety of students, they should ensure that police don’t use violence,” Charles said. “Students approached the police line to try and get food up into the trees and they were beaten with batons and sprayed with pepper spray.”
In response, Burns reiterated the fact that police put up the fence to secure the area: “Knocking down a fence is not the action of people trying to avoid a confrontation.”