UC Davis Admin. Monitored Student Activists Involved in Campus Protests

Davis student Bryan Sparks filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act and the California Public Records Act in December 2010 upon suspicion of police infiltration for documents indicating surveillance of student activism activity. As many as 280 pages of documents were released this March, indicating email correspondences used to monitor student activity through Facebook profiles, events and student org listservs.

According to UC Davis senior and conference coordinator Eric Lee, undercover police attended protests and were responsible for alerting supervisors of the movements of students throughout campus. According to “Administrators Formalize Team to Monitor Student Activism,” published April 5 in the official UC Davis student newspaper, the Aggie, police officer Joanne Zekany attended the March 2 protest in plain clothes and lied to students about her identity.

Lee, other student activists and ACLU are looking into the legality of the administration’s actions, but at the moment do not have the funds to access a legal team.

The police officer’s response was inappropriate, UC Davis Vice Chancellor of Administrative and Resource Management John Meyer acknowledged in “Administrators Formalize Team to Monitor Student Activism,” published April 5 in the Aggie. Meyer added that officers will not hide their identities in the future.

According to Lee, the request revealed the formation of a Student Activism Response Team composed of administrators, faculty and students in August 2010 in response to the 2009-10 academic year UC tuition increases. The 34-member team worked with police to anticipate student-led actions and rallies.

“We really are there for them,” response team volunteer Jeff Austin said in “Students Say UC Davis Violates Their Free Speech By Spying on Protests,” published April 12 in the Sacramento Bee. “We’re not spying, we’re not taking names. We’re just trying to make sure they stay safe,” Austin said.

According to Lee, at least one member was responsible for recording students’ actions during campus protests by taking photos and writing notes.

Lee said this issue raises concerns of student privacy and freedom of speech.

“The administration claims to be supportive of us, but this shows that they are not,” Lee said.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi responded to Lee’s guest commentary, published March 10 in the Aggie, with a March 14 statement on the UC Davis website entitled ‘“Embracing Activism.”

“Our own concerns about safety grew after the March 4, 2010, demonstrations, when a crowd of about 300 students and their supporters threatened to march onto Interstate 80,” Katehi wrote. “We saw the potential for increased threats to life and property and, at that point, formalized our efforts into the Student Activism Team. There is absolutely nothing nefarious or under-handed about this team’s organization or objectives. Indeed, in the very documents referenced in the Aggie guest opinion, the mission of Student Affairs is clearly laid out as it relates to responding to student activism: ‘to support freedom of expression, promote student safety, educate the campus on free speech policy and assist in preventing disruption of normal campus activities.’”

Katehi acknowledges the administration could have been better at educating the campus about the Student Activism Response Team, and added that the team protocol will be published to the Center for Student Involvement website.

UC Davis administrators have promised to no longer use undercover police to monitor student protests, but do not plan to disband the Student Activism Response Team, according to Lee. He said that many think it a weak compromise, but one that serves as administrators’ admission that they were in the wrong,.

Team members were required to prevent student behavior from becoming disruptive by issuing warnings or referring students to Student Judicial Affairs for review.

Members included Katehi and Police Chief Annette Spicuzza. According to Lee, members were required to attend general body meetings and student movements unidentified, as well as report information to police and the chancellor. The response team was required to accompany students, should protests move through campus, and inform students of any safety issues and risks.

“Since we’ve had a more formalized team that got a little more training, we’ve not had any arrests on this campus, unlike other campuses,” UC Davis Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Griselda Castro said in an interview with the Aggie. “We have not stopped activity. We have not infringed upon students’ rights to express themselves.”

According to “Big Brother on Campus,” an April 25 article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, campus activists published names and photographs of members involved in the response team. Although members of the team were not paid for their involvement, students argue that the creation of the team wastes taxpayer resources and shows the hypocritical nature of the administration that does not align with the UC system’s mission, Lee said.

According to Lee, Katehi was quoted as saying the program was intended to protect students and property in the path of protest.

“The peaceful protesting of the students doesn’t merit this kind of response,” Lee said.

He added that the purpose of the press conference was to publicize the situation for other schools and support the First Amendment.

Davis students are communicating with universities across the nation, who are currently filing their own requests. Lee is in contact with two UC campuses, but confirmed that he is not in contact with UCSD students.

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