Yudof Gets It Wrong Again

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday November 23, 2011 - 11:07:00 AM

The University of California bureaucracy is all over the Occupy scandal, now that it’s gone viral. Seldom have I experienced such a fast response to my online opinions—but University of California President Mark Yudof seems to have hopped to, with alacrity. Unfortunately, he's only made things worse.

Last Wednesday I predicted that U.C. administrators would continue their longstanding tradition of trying stupid repressive measures against students exercising free speech. Right on cue, the dumb cops at U.C. Davis on Friday assaulted passive non-violent students with pepper spray—on camera yet. 

So on Saturday I posted that video, along with my considered judgment that Yudof and the Berkeley and Davis chancellors should all quit or be fired for permitting this outrage on their watch: “Either these three highly paid executives approved of what happened and planned it that way, or they've lost control of the jack-booted thugs who work for them. Either way, they've failed, disgracefully, at their jobs.” Strong language, right? 

So Sunday Yudof came out with—well, not quite an abject apology for dereliction of duty, but close. He was Shocked, Shocked: 

“I am appalled by images of University of California students being doused with pepper spray and jabbed with police batons on our campuses.” 

And he was Going to Take Steps: 

“I intend to do everything in my power as President of this university to protect the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest.” 

This is an incremental improvement over Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau, who made this stupid statement when his police force assaulted student and faculty protesters: “It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience.” I suppose the history of the civil rights movement in the United States wasn’t part of his education in Canada. 

Yudof’s statement was also better than Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi’s first response to what happened on her campus—she said she was planning to form a task force. Later she suspended the police chief and the two cops who were caught on video. Even later she shed copious tears over the incident (not necessarily crocodile, because she could see her career in jeopardy) though of course not as many tears as the pepper-sprayed students shed. 

Modesty compels me to admit that it wasn’t just my opinions that caused these three blind mice to figure out that they’ve got problems. In fact, most likely they never heard from me, but as the saying goes, The Whole World Was Watching. Two notable voices: James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly and Phillip Gourevitch in the New Yorker, both quickly online, presumably soon in print, not to mention Glen Greenwald, Matt Tabbibi and a host of bloggers around the world. 

There have been equally disgusting actions by police against Occupiers in other cities: New York, Seattle, Oakland, L.A and many smaller places. But somehow it’s even more shocking to see force used against the very young, neatly dressed and earnest undergraduates at the clean bucolic Davis campus. It’s possible to say that a percentage of the in-your-face New Yorkers asked for it, but those Davis kids never did. 

One might expect, history to the contrary not withstanding, that the well-educated, sophisticated internationally active University of California administrators, who manage billion-dollar budgets, would know better. What’s wrong with them? 

I got a clue when I idly typed “Where does Mark Yudof live?” into a Google search and came up with a long saga of his quest for the ideal home since he started his $800,000-plus-per-year job a couple of years ago. Steve Fainaru on the Bay Citizen website did a brilliant job of tracking down the facts and laying them out. 

Briefly, very briefly, when Yudof and his wife arrived a couple of years ago they declined to live in the charming, historic Blake House, which has been the traditional residence of the University of California presidents. Instead, they rented an ugly 10,000 sq.ft. McMansion in the Oakland hills, added an elevator, air conditioning and other Texas-style embellishments, then got into a pissing match with the owner, moved into the Claremont Hotel for some weeks, and finally into another McMansion, this time through the tunnel in Lafayette. Steve’s estimate was that the whole episode added up to about $600,000 in sunk costs by the time his story ran in August of 2010—and there’s surely been more since. 

The standard operating procedure these days seems to be to pay enough to University of California administrators so that they can afford what can only be described as vulgar ostentation. And all of this lavish spending is on top of Yudof’s regular $800K compensation package, which puts him well into the proverbial 1% category. Is it any wonder that he doesn’t relate to the grievances of the 99% percenter students? 

Now the latest outrage: very late yesterday U.C. President Yudof’s press office announced that he’s Taken More Steps. He’s picked three people to lead investigations into what went wrong at Berkeley and Davis. 

Who are they? Former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, UC General Counsel Charles Robinson and UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Christopher Edley Jr. 

Surely he jests. 

Let’s take Robinson first. All we really need to know about him is that his compensation package is close to a half-million dollars, give or take a hundred thousand, and that he would lead U.C.’s defense should pepper-sprayed protesters decide to sue, which seems very likely. Unbiased? No. 

Which leave Bratton and Edley. Bill Bratton and Christopher Edley? He really must be joking with these two. 

Bratton is lauded in the press release as “a renowned expert in progressive community policing.” Tell that to the Brits. He was recently touted as an advisor to embattled Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron after the summer riots, but an interview with him in the Daily Telegraph annoyed enough people that he probably won’t get a real job there after all. 

Sample quote from the Telegraph interview: 

“To be effective, a police force should have ‘a lot of arrows in the quiver,’ said Mr Bratton, advocating a doctrine of ‘escalating force’ where weapons including rubber bullets, Tasers, pepper spray and water cannon were all available to commanders.” 

Then there’s Edley. He’s been roundly criticized for his staunch support of John Yoo, still on the Berkeley law school faculty despite being the infamous defender of torturing prisoners. 

Among his critics is Economics Professor Brad DeLong, whose blog is one of the two or three best discussions of progressive politics available these days. I look forward with relish to Professor DeLong’s discussion of the Yudof choices in this context. 

From yesterday’s press release: 

“My intent,” Yudof said, “is to provide the Chancellor and the entire University of California community with an independent, unvarnished report about what happened at Davis.” 

Oh sure. If he really wants “an independent, unvarnished report”, these are not the reporters to choose. Varnishing, in fact, is undoubtedly the job description. 

I could give President Yudof a very long list of better choices—former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara? California Attorney General Kamala Harris?—but he probably doesn’t plan to ask me. I still think he should resign. 


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