As chancellor of the University of California, Davis, I was as shocked as anyone by images of student protesters being pepper sprayed on our campus the afternoon of Nov. 18.
Seeing any of our students subjected to such treatment is deeply disturbing. The last thing any of us wanted, most of all me, was for force to be used or arrests to be made in trying to remove an encampment from the campus Quad.
Soon afterward, I apologized to the entire UC Davis community and we asked that criminal charges against those arrested be dropped. We also offered to pay medical expenses for anyone injured by the pepper spray.
Multiple investigations are under way to tell us exactly what went wrong and why. At my request, the UC Office of the President has established a 12-member task force to review the incident; it is being chaired by Cruz Reynoso, a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court and UC Davis professor emeritus of law.
The UC president's office is also leading a systematic examination of police protocols and policies as they apply to protests at all 10 UC campuses. It is expected to result in recommended best practices for policing protests across the UC.
We are waiting to learn if the California attorney general's office will also investigate. It has been asked to do so by the Yolo County sheriff's department and district attorney's office.
UC Davis is separately conducting its own internal campus investigation that will help us determine appropriate actions regarding campus police who were involved in the incident. The chief of police and two officers were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this review.
All of our UC campuses, as well as campuses and cities across the nation, have seen growing protests from people frustrated over the economy, rising costs of higher education and related issues reflecting the turbulence of our times.
As I said in a town hall meeting with students in the days following the use of pepper spray, the full picture of what occurred and events leading up to it will emerge through these investigations. I eagerly anticipate the results. I also look forward to potential recommendations on how we can better balance the need to preserve the peace while we also protect the right of dissent.
While we need to let the investigations proceed without interference, I have meanwhile embarked on an extensive listening and outreach effort to begin healing and uniting our campus.
I have held town halls with students, faculty and staff and a forum with graduate and professional school students. I have met with minority student groups, engineering faculty, members of the Academic Senate, and individual students on campus.
I have heard many voices in these meetings, from those expressing anger and sadness about the incident itself to repeated comments that we cannot let one highly regrettable event define a great public research university.
And I have heard an almost unanimous chorus of voices regarding the underlying concerns about the rising cost of higher education that have sparked campus unrest in the first place.
At UC Davis, we have witnessed many protests during the past two and a half years due to our deep state budget cuts and subsequent tuition increases. Since 2009, our state funding has been reduced by 40 percent, forcing the university to initiate major layoffs and increase tuition substantially.
Our students are understandably angry about the rising costs of their education, the increase in loans they will struggle to repay and the lingering economic problems that hit them at home as well as on campus.
I have promised to continue my fight against repeated cuts in state support and the tuition increases that follow. All of us who care about our students and the future competitiveness of California and America should raise our voices. We should advocate more forcefully for reinvestment -- rather than disinvestment -- in our colleges and universities.
We have to recommit ourselves to a level of funding for higher education that meets the needs of deserving students in our state and nation who will require the education we provide to compete in the future.
Outrage over the use of pepper spray and other violent confrontations has generated the biggest headlines and sparked the most anger, with good reason. In the United States, people have a fundamental right to vent their frustration and voice their ideas peacefully without fear of reprisal. So, too, must the rights of the broader community be protected.
We cannot let that keep us from addressing the root cause of so much campus upheaval. As I said during a speech on our campus at the start of the school year, when it comes to constant budget cuts and tuition increases, enough is enough.
But our protesting students need to know they are not doing so in a vacuum. I will continue to advocate as strongly as I can against the dismantling of public higher education in our state and nation. I will continue to work hard to obtain alternate sources of funding to support our students and faculty.
As a community -- whether in California or anywhere else in the nation -- it is our job to ensure a future for our young people that includes accessible and affordable public education.
Anything less, and we will have failed them, and we will have failed ourselves.
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