Dozens of faculty have condemned the arrest of 14 Occupy UCLA protesters Friday in an open letter to Chancellor Gene Block, citing concerns about limitations on free speech.
More than 40 UCLA faculty members have signed the letter, dated Nov. 20. Calls for restraint also come as sister campuses UC Davis and UC Berkeley respond to harsh criticism for police actions toward on-campus Occupy movements.
Interactions between police and Occupy protesters at UCLA have so far been peaceful. On Thursday, Occupy UCLA protesters set up about 30 tents in Wilson Plaza, planning to stay for the night.
The day before, administrators had repeatedly warned protesters of a ban against temporary structures on campus grounds. A campus curfew is also in place between midnight and 6 a.m. Occupy members were told of the university policies they were violating, UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton said on Friday.
Around 5 a.m. on Friday, the Occupy camp was circled by university police. Thirteen students and one alumnus who refused to leave the grounds were arrested on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse. They were cited and released about six hours later, police said.
But the authors of the letter say the administration did not have a valid reason to clear the plaza and arrest the protesters.
“Their crime, formally, was to violate a campus policy against camping,” the letter stated. “But in reality they were arrested for engaging in political speech at a time and in a manner that did not please the campus administration.”
Some faculty members are concerned students were disciplined for exercising their right to free speech, said Tobias Higbie, associate professor of history and one of the drafters of the letter.
“They’re not out there camping … it’s a protest,” Higbie said. “To say that they’re going to remove them because they have tents seems a very narrow interpretation of campus policy.”
The letter noted that UCLA has yet to enter “bitter conflicts between campus police and students.” UCPD faced little resistance when officers began arresting students in Wilson Plaza Friday morning. A similarly peaceful series of arrests took place Nov. 9, when the Los Angeles Police Department arrested 11 people who had shut down the intersection between Westwood and Wilshire boulevards without confrontation.
By contrast, a video showing university police using pepper spray on seemingly peaceful student demonstrators at UC Davis on Friday has led to a firestorm of criticism. The video quickly went viral, prompting an administrative review, two officers placed on paid leave and calls for the chancellor’s resignation from among the faculty.
About two weeks ago, a video of UC Berkeley police jabbing protestors with batons also went viral.
On Sunday, UC President Mark Yudof released a statement saying he was “appalled” by both incidents. A system-wide response will now be in effect, Yudof said.
He said he plans to bring all 10 chancellors together to discuss “how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest,” and require chancellors to send policies already in place on each campus.
Yudof added that he intends to do everything in his power to protect the rights of students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest.
The events at UCD and Berkeley are exactly what the signers of the letter want to avoid, Higbie said.
“We call on you to ensure that UCLA does not follow in their footsteps and fail to uphold the principles for which the University stands,” according to the letter.
As of Sunday, the faculty members’ letter had not formally been sent to Block and the signees had not received a response from administrators.
A university spokesperson could not be reached for commment.