Sunday, November 20, 2011

Letter from Prof. Artyom Kopp to Chancellor Katehi re; #OccupyUCDavis Pepper Spray incident

Another open letter to the UC Davis Chancellor from a colleague. This one is from Artyom Kopp, an evo-devo guru, also in the Evolution and Ecology Department.

Dear Chancellor Katehi,

I live such a sheltered life that I was not even aware of Friday’s events until yesterday, when messages started piling up in my mailbox from students, faculty colleagues, and friends and colleagues at other universities. I did not support the student protests because I believed them to be misdirected and therefore ineffective. When I first saw references to “police brutality” at UC-Berkeley, I assumed in my cynical fashion that it was the usual attention-grabbing ploy by the protesters. I was wrong. I finally watched the videos last night and what I saw can only be described as outrageous and disgusting. Quite aside from being morally indefensible, cold-blooded use of excessive force against peaceful and essentially orderly protesters has done enormous damage to our university’s reputation and will undermine the trust between the administration, faculty, and students for a long time.

During your short tenure at UC – Davis, you have done much to start turning this university around. You earned a lot of respect among the faculty for speaking plainly, facing up to our problems, and making hard decisions – something that the previous administration seemed incapable of doing. All that is now in jeopardy because of one ill-judged decision. I am aware that many faculty members are calling for your resignation. I am not ready yet for such a drastic step, as I have a deep appreciation for your accomplishments as well as your interaction style. However, the fact remains that this outrage was committed by the university police acting under your direction. Whoever gave the order to use force, ultimately this is your responsibility. What matters now is your response, and I need hardly tell you that your actions in the next couple of days will shape not only your legacy but also the spirit of our university.

An error does not become a mistake until one refuses to correct it. In this case, we are long past damage control or task forces, and the 30-day timeline for addressing a rapidly developing situation is unacceptable. I urge you to apologize, in person, to the victims of police brutality, to identify the failures in the decision-making process that led to the use of force, and to take all necessary steps to make sure this is never repeated. I am sure you understand by now that this is not “an incident”, but one of the defining moments in our history. It will not die down or be swept under the rug; neither the students nor the faculty will let it go. Our future depends on how, and how quickly, you respond. I am afraid you have only the briefest window of time before the damage becomes irreparable. One small part of that damage will be my own confidence in your ability to lead our university.


Artyom Kopp
Department of Ecology and Evolution 
University of California - Davis

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