We Do Not Misunderstand You

Chancellor Katehi failed to express in any meaningful way her expectation that the police operation was to be sharply limited so that no use of force would be employed by police officers other than their demand that the tents be taken down. The lack of effective communication by the Chancellor at this time not only contributed to misunderstandings that made it difficult to evaluate the decision to use police to take down the tents. This communication failure also substantially undermined the goal of avoiding a physical confrontation between the police and protesters. — from the Reynoso Report.

It is no doubt in the interest of Linda Katehi and the UC Davis administrative class to take refuge behind the idea of a “misunderstandings.” The Reynoso and Kroll reports paint a striking picture of incompetence, malign stupidity, and an organizational “culture” that, barring any countervailing force, moves naturally in the direction of physically hurting people it believes to be in its care. This is, regardless of any questions of intent, an entirely adequate argument not just for removing the leading incompetents, but dissolving the structure itself.

The flimsy pretext to which Katehi clings is absence of malice. No matter how incompetent, delusional, and unable to exercise either command or good judgment, she is somehow credited with good intentions. Things would not have gone so poorly for the students, we are meant to believe, if not for a series of misunderstandings which should have been avoided but were not. The legal standing of the protest; the supposed presence of “non-affiliates” among the students; the authorized force level to be deployed against the protestors; and many other matters were all supposedly subject to misunderstandings.

This is not the case. Linda Katehi we do not misunderstand you.


Let us first grant all the disavowals. We don’t believe them for a second: they are the filler text of brutes and stooges, and we have seen them a thousand times.

But let us accept them all at face value:

¶ that the application of a law on a Friday afternoon which prohibits “non-affiliates” (and non-affiliates only) from camping overnight on the Davis campus was somehow merely a misunderstanding of that code (110).

¶ that claims regarding the presence of these “non-affiliates” — which proved utterly false, and which were authoritatively contradicted in advance of any police action by the only administrator who had visited the quad — were somehow just misunderstandings of who was there (21).

¶ that the purported desire of Linda Katehi that no violent force be used was simply misunderstood over and over again down a long chain of command, despite all indications to the contrary (34).

Let us grant all that; we are generous souls. What then remains that all sides and parties agree upon — that involves neither actual nor implied misunderstandings?

The following: that Linda Katehi did intend to deploy the force of law against “non-affiliates” to remove them from campus where they were legally disallowed. This is clear in the law cited and in her orders, and led directly to the violence (113). No one disputes this point, nor was there any misunderstanding regarding this rationale.

Let us now restate the November situation in which nothing is misunderstood:

In order to justify arrest and extraordinary physical force against students, on November 18th, 2011, Linda Katehi chose to consider the open quad of the UC Davis campus to be private, reserved for students, staff and faculty of the university.


Let us now move forward to March of 2012, some four months later, when 12 affiliates (eleven students, one faculty) were served with arrest warrants by mail threatening eleven years each in jail, and a million dollars in damages. Half of these affiliates were pepper-sprayed and/or arrested on November 18, unfortunate casualties of that series of misunderstandings amidst the military-grade war on non-affiliates.

The charges are as follows: one count each of “conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor” and 20 counts each of said misdemeanor. The conspiracy was, it would seem, a conspiracy to sit on the hallway floor in front of the US Bank lodged in the Memorial Union, allegedly obstructing said hallway. This was what the University went with. We know from the record that these charges were first chosen by the UC Davis police at the behest of the administration, and then forwarded to the District Attorney.

Said misdemeanor is California Penal Code 647c: “Every person who willfully and maliciously obstructs the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk, or other public place or on or in any place open to the public is guilty of a misdemeanor.” For the purpose of bringing the force of law to bear on affiliates, the hallway of the Union is to be considered, as a legal matter, a public thoroughfare — that is, not limited in access to campus affiliates. The law in question applies only insofar as it protects the access of non-affiliates.

Here then is the March situation in which nothing is misunderstood:

In order to justify arrest and extraordinary charges against students and faculty, in January through March. 2012, Linda Katehi chose to consider the Memorial Union to be public, which is defined as freely open to non-affiliates.


Let us pause to restate this curious double situation.

In November, the presence of non-affiliates on the quad was officially and openly treated as cause to send in riot cops with unauthorized weapons in which they were untrained and bring grievous harm to students sitting peacefully.

In March, the full force of law and threat of eleven years in prison were levied officially and openly against these same affiliates to protect the right of passage of non-affiliates.

Linda one can see how this might be confusing. We have already stipulated all your ludicrous disavowals, the ones believed by small children and science professors. Even if we reduce it to matters on which all parties openly and officially agree, you wish to have it both ways. The campus is closed to all but the university community, and affiliates must be protected from non-affiliates; the campus is open for business and non-affiliates must be protected from affiliates. One can imagine how misunderstandings might arise from such contradictions, such an absurd jumble of desperate positions that shift with the breeze.

Linda we do not misunderstand you.

Behind this there is absolute coherence. Not around the law, not around campus health and safety, not around basic reason. The only coherence is this: If those who work and study on your campus gather together as a body with a political purpose, you will mobilize whatever petty and ludicrous pretext is to hand in order to beat, pepper spray, and arrest them. That is the goal for you. The evidence here is, we fear, inarguable. It cannot be misconstrued. Indeed the clarity of the situation and of your desperation is rather pathetic.

You are not a serious person but you are a dangerous person. We do not misunderstand you.


It will have escaped the notice of nobody that the convenient slippage between public and private which appears above as contradiction is a shadow cast by the central drama of the University of California over the last three or thirty years — the stage-managed indistinction between whether or not the school is public (as it claims to be in matters requiring public sympathy) or private (as it behaves otherwise, ceaselessly shifting cost and labor burdens onto the backs of students and workers). Surely it is this development, which has occasioned increasingly ambitious counter-struggles by students and staff, that has in turn allowed Linda Katehi and her crack team to bring the pain no matter the given circumstance.

In truth the circumstance is more precise and perverse than this. Images may help. Here are the two places on campus described above, the quad and the Memorial Union, which are in fact immediately adjacent each to the other:

So it is not a simple slippage but a true inversion — or a chiasmus, as the Greeks would have it.  The quad, with its double memory of shared, common space —the meadow and the agora — turns now to become private, and will be defended by military force from the public real or imagined. The student union, larded now with private franchises from the gleaming new food court to the corporate travel agency (there used to be a bank here as well, we gather) must be protected by the university and the District Attorney on behalf of the public.


And it is now we realize that Linda Katehi, while a manifestly failed administrator, is perhaps a gifted educator. Clearly she specializes in Greek thought. For is this not a lesson in the dialectic itself: each antagonistic term folding into its opposite, until a higher truth is revealed? This hides behind every contradiction, after all.

It is not a static opposition, to be sure, but a historical one. It is eerily familiar, in truth. The first scene is that of enclosure, the privatizing by force of common lands that inaugurates the modern world of employers and employees, commodities and wages, blood and fire. The second scene is that of globalization, wherein every corner of the earth must be drawn into the dream of liberal democracy, open to all — in so far as every corner of the earth might thereby become another outpost of the market, hiring a few, dispossessing a few more, and assuring that commerce is equally available to each with sufficient coin in purse. The whole history of capitalist modernity in four months!

Perhaps the higher truth is as simple as this: the opposition of public and private, and the insistence the administration is stewarding us in a single direction is itself inadequate to understand the present situation. “The public” in fact persists; it now refers to purchasers, who literally have no business on the quad; the businesses await behind the Memorial Union’s doors. We might, we must demand “public education” because this is an idea cherished by the public.

But at the same time we must understand that “public” too takes on a perjured meaning. Every word can be a double agent, as a Belgian gentleman once said. The word “public” is only too happy to serve power, to serve those who advance in a double column of armies and bankers, making free with the pepper spray and the debt machines. These too are public, as needed. It would be a misunderstanding, finally, to settle for “public” as the realm of freedom. It would be a misunderstanding to think that the administration will not embrace such things, if it justifies the crushing of any political act. And it would be a misunderstanding to think that we will stop before the shell game of public and private is annihilated, and the history that our friend has so recently summarized for us is brought to an end.

Linda we do not misunderstand you. Do not misunderstand us.

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