Here is the complete text of the email Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s sent today to the UC Berkeley community:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dear Campus Community:

Last week was a very difficult week for everyone across the University of California as the Regents voted to increase fees by 32% in response to the extreme funding cuts imposed on the University by the State of California. Protests occurred on many campuses, including our own, as students, faculty, and staff are justifiably angered by the fee increases, by lay-offs, and by other difficult decisions necessitated by the state budget reductions.

On Friday, 40 individuals, the majority of them students, took over the second floor of Wheeler Hall, refusing to come out unless the administration agreed to reinstate 38 laid-off custodians.  Supporters and on-lookers gathered at Wheeler Hall, urged on by fast-spreading electronic communications.  We urged the police to be as respectful as possible of our students.  As the size of the crowd grew and false fire alarms were repeatedly set off in many campus buildings, our police chief recommended bringing in additional officers from outside the UC Berkeley police department to help maintain order and ensure safety.  As safety barriers were brought in, confrontations began to occur between the police and the quickly growing crowd.

118 classes were scheduled in Wheeler Hall that day. We have a responsibility to provide instruction to students who rightfully expect to attend their classes and decided that we needed to remove the protestors swiftly and safely in order that classes could proceed.

Many of you have written to us expressing concerns that police action at Friday’s demonstration in front of Wheeler Hall showed brutality toward individuals who did not appear to be presenting any imminent threat. Concerns have been raised about the calling in of outside police and the excessive use of force that may have caused injury to those who had come to support the protestors inside Wheeler Hall.

The images that have appeared on YouTube and videos do not reflect our values and those of our entire campus community and may not accurately reflect the whole sequence of events.  As are many of you who have written to us, we are distressed at the portrayal in the media of our campus. Our priority in dealing with the demonstration was to provide for the safety and wellbeing of the entire campus community.

We truly regret the incidents that brought physical and emotional injury to members of our community. UCPD has already begun conducting an operational review that entails collection of all the available information including reports, videos and pictures taken by UCPD, students, the public, and media, to ensure that actions were reasonable given the situation presented and the information known at the time. This includes a review of uses of force. Additionally, we will ask that there be an independent investigation by the Campus Police Review Board.  The Board includes representatives of students, faculty, and staff.  It will receive the report of the UCPD.

Any tactics to exercise crowd control on campus must provide a safe platform for expression of free speech and freedom of assembly and we expect that, as a result of this review, modifications will be made.  We must strive to ensure that there is no possibility in the future of the alleged actions of police brutality and that our actions are guided by non-violence.

We are facing extraordinarily challenging times as we work to find solutions to one of the most difficult financial situations in the history of the university. While last week’s protests were difficult for everyone, we have been encouraged by the outpouring of concern, support, and offers of assistance from almost every area of our community to work together. Many key members of our student and faculty leadership are very engaged with us to help address issues concerning the future of the university and the experience we offer our students.

We must sustain our two paramount goals: access and excellence. State budget cuts are extremely damaging to UC. We continue to encourage everyone to express your outrage to your elected representatives at the state’s disinvestment in UC; we share your passion and commitment to this effort.  As we stated on Friday, we must work together to advance our cause. We hope that last week’s events will mark the critical moment which mobilized all of us to focus our collective energies together.

As many of us leave campus this week to reunite with family and friends for Thanksgiving, we urge everyone to reflect upon the week with the benefit of distance from the events that we have experienced.  However difficult the challenges we face, we should all remember to give thanks that we are part of this great university and reaffirm our commitment to work together to ensure its future.

Robert J. Birgeneau

George Breslauer
Executive Vice-Chancellor & Provost

Harry Le Grande
Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...