Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2011-04-12 "Students say UC Davis violates their free speech by spying on protests"by Laurel Rosenhall from "Sacramento Bee" newspaper
UC Davis students angry about rising tuition have staged many protests in the last year and a half – including sit-ins at campus buildings, a naked rally on the quad and a march that almost walked onto Interstate 80.
Now students are staging a new confrontation against campus management, accusing administrators of spying on their activist movement. Student activists and the American Civil Liberties Union will hold a press conference at UC Davis today to call attention to their allegation that university officials have violated students' rights to free speech by monitoring their demonstrations.
"When the administration tells us over and over that they are in support of us … and then they turn around and show us this mistrust by infiltrating our peaceful student organizations, it sends a very contradictory message to us," said student Eric Lee, 20.
UC Davis officials say there is no contradiction in their approach. They have formed a more organized response to campus activism as it has heated up, said Assistant Vice Chancellor Griselda Castro. But the goal is to make it safer – not harder – for students to exercise their First Amendment rights.
"Our premise is that if we have a presence, there is less cause for police action. That is primarily our goal," Castro said.
Demonstrations swept across University of California campuses statewide during the fall of 2009, when the governing Board of Regents voted to raise tuition by 32 percent in response to budget cuts from the state. In November of that year, 53 UC Davis students were arrested after they refused to leave the administration building known as Mrak Hall.
Chancellor Linda Katehi later said she didn't want any more students arrested because it brings excessive attention to their protests. Demonstrations continued throughout the year but with a milder police response.
Meanwhile, university officials were planning a new way to monitor and respond to demonstrations. Previously, keeping tabs on campus protests had been the job of a handful of employees from the student affairs division, Castro said. The new approach involved asking for volunteers from several UC Davis departments, and training dozens of people in how to staff a protest while respecting student rights to free expression.
"We needed more help," Castro said. "And we had to train. So we had to put things in writing."
Putting things in writing led to today's press conference, where students will present hundreds of pages of emails, rosters and protocol outlines detailing the duties of the new "Student Activism Team." The group is supposed to communicate with campus police and other officials about actions students are planning, attend protests and rallies, inform students if they are doing something unsafe, suggest ways to handle crowds and call for police if necessary.
Students got the documents after filing a Public Records Act request with the university, and they have since become the fodder for several articles in the campus newspaper and on community blogs.
Jeff Austin, a UC Davis computer programmer who is part of the group monitoring protesters, wrote in the comments following a Davis Vanguard article that there is nothing nefarious about the new effort.
"I can assure you we are only there to support the students," he wrote. "We do not interfere nor try to disrupt any of their activities. We are a support team made up of volunteers that care deeply about our students and the right to free speech that we all embrace and cherish."
At a recent protest, Austin said, some students discussed taking over a dormitory. But a member of the university's protest response team told them they would confront a legal battle because the dorm is a private locked building. So instead students chose to hold their demonstration in a public building on campus, Austin said.
"We really are there for them," Austin said. "We're not spying, we're not taking names. We're just trying to make sure they stay safe."
Cres Vellucci, a board member of the Sacramento chapter of the ACLU, isn't buying it. He said the documents students gathered show that a campus police officer in plain clothes marched in a demonstration with students.
"When she was challenged by students she denied being a police officer," Vellucci said. "Our concern is that if there was one officer, there could have been more that were undiscovered."
Castro said UC Davis is now telling its officers to wear uniforms when they attend protests.
And to drive home the point of the new group, Castro said, UC Davis may change its name next year – from the "Student Activism Team" to the "Freedom of Expression Support Team."
Photo by Andy Alfaro: A CHP officer uses his tazer on a student but it fails to work as UC Davis students push through a group of CHP officers they students walk toward I-80 to protest educational budgets cuts in Davis Ca Thursday March 4, 2010.

Police/UCD Admin Infiltration Press Conference
Tuesday, April 12 · 10:00am - 1:00pm
Memorial Union-South Side, UC Davis
On Tuesday, April 12th, at 10 AM, disgruntled students, faculty, staff, and community members will be holding a press conference with the ACLU to shed light on recent developments regarding the Police/UCD Administration infiltration program.
Be there, and voice your opinion!

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