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Faculty members express mixed reactions to police sweep of encampment

The Palestine solidarity encampment – which stood in Dickson Plaza from April 25 until it was dispersed by police early Thursday morning – is pictured. Faculty members expressed mixed reactions to the police sweep. (Dylan Du/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Sam Mulick

May 6, 2024 6:22 p.m.

This post was updated May 7 at 11:22 p.m.

Faculty members expressed mixed feelings in reaction to Thursday morning’s police sweep of the Palestine solidarity encampment at UCLA.

After a violent attack from counter-protesters on the encampment night of April 30, UCPD and LAPD ordered protesters within the Dickson Plaza encampment – which had been in place since April 25 – to disperse or face arrest May 1. Early Thursday morning, police began to sweep the encampment, which the university had labeled “unlawful” April 30. The police ultimately arrested over 200 protesters – including many students and professors – and breached the encampment with rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.

As of 11:00 p.m. Sunday, faculty in the Departments of English, Art History, World Arts and Cultures/Dance, Sociology and Chicana/o and Central American Studies signed letters calling for Chancellor Gene Block’s resignation, while faculty in the Asian American Studies department and the Institute for Society and Genetics called upon the UCLA Academic Senate to hold a vote of no confidence in Block. Faculty letters have said Block is unfit to fulfill his role as chancellor because of his failure to protect students from violent counter-protesters the night of April 30 and his choice to allow mass arrests Thursday morning.

The university did not uphold students’ First Amendment right to assemble and protest, said Shane White, chair of the UCLA Academic Senate from 2020-2021 and chair of the UC Academic Senate from 2017-2018.

“On Tuesday night, the university’s police and entire security personnel stood by and watched as vigilantes attacked the peaceful protesters,” he said. “The following night, the university ordered a large group of heavily armed police to clear the protest and arrest remaining students. This doesn’t seem to me consistent with protecting the rights of students’ freedom of speech or to protest.”

White, a professor of dentistry, added that he and some of his colleagues believed protesters in the encampment were not disruptive toward classes. He added in a later emailed statement that he believes the only people facing violence were the protesters in the encampment as a result of the administration’s failure to protect them from counter-protesters and its order to clear and arrest the protesters.

In witnessing students sustain both major and minor injuries during Thursday morning’s police sweep, White said he does not understand how the operation was consistent with the university’s mission.

“It is the saddest day in my academic career,” he added.

The armed riot police shooting rubber bullets at students was horrifying, said Carla Pestana, a distinguished professor of history who came to the encampment night of May 1 to form a protective barrier with other faculty members but left around 8 p.m. after the university restricted access to Dickson Plaza.

“The way they handled it, the use of force that they used, the way they roughed up students, shot at them with rubber bullets and other things is completely uncalled for and appalling,” she said. “I am really disappointed in the university administration that … they didn’t protect our students, protect their right to express themselves.”

Pestana said she admires the student protesters in their idealism and commitment to social justice, and she joins other faculty members in calling for them to be supported with medical care and receive amnesty from the university.

The students in the encampment were beginning an anti-war movement similar to the protests against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, said César Ayala, a professor of sociology. He added that he believes it is important for all sides to be heard and that First Amendment rights must be respected, especially at an academic institution.

“First Amendment rights are one of the beauties of the United States,” he said. “I am saddened that Chancellor Gene Block’s legacy will be that he is the person that suppressed students who were protesting against genocide.”

Ayala also said even though criticizing Israel has traditionally been taboo in America, he believes the power of young people – particularly Jewish youth who are critical of the Israeli government – is changing people’s beliefs and the power of the Israeli lobby in the U.S.

However, not all professors objected to the clearing of the encampment.

Sociology professor Gabriel Rossman said he believed the university was fully justified in calling the police night of May 1. He said courts have historically defended the right to protest on viewpoint-based regulation but have ruled against violations of time, place and manner regulations. The university informed protesters that it was unacceptable to block access and to vandalize university buildings, he added.

“The fact that they were vandalizing Royce – I think it was fully justified for the university to send in the police and put an end to it,” he said.

Rossman said since protesters formed defensive lines and resisted being cleared, it was predictable that people would get injured, although he would object to people getting hurt if protesters did not resist the clearing of the encampment. He added that he feels the university should act quickly in response to future protests blocking access to university land.

Although Rossman said he does not want to consider the protesters’ demands substantively because of their procedurally inappropriate actions, he believes blacklisting Israeli scholars would violate academic freedom. He added that the university is likely to appease the protesters by hiring a visiting professor who has a scholarly perspective amenable to their beliefs, rather than fulfilling the protesters’ calls for boycott and divestment from Israel.

However, many professors still felt disappointed in the university administration.

In a written email to the sociology department which was shared with the Daily Bruin, continuing lecturer of sociology Mark Jepson said the university’s inaction to counter-protester attacks April 30 led him to believe that campus and city leaders expected the counter-protesters to break up the encampment and restore order.

“I have been at UCLA for 37 years,” he said in the email. “I have never been so ashamed to be a Bruin as I am right now.”

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Sam Mulick
Mulick is a news contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a third-year sociology student from northern New Jersey.
Mulick is a news contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a third-year sociology student from northern New Jersey.
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