Saturday, June 15, 2024
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The Chancellor Who Cried Zot!

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I’ve been around UCI since 1996, as a grad student, TA, GSR, student government leader, conference organizer, alumnus, lecturer, interpreter, UROP mentor and judge, internship supervisor, … heck, one summer I even packed up, moved and unpacked several professors’ offices in a brand-new building.

 I’m on my fourth chancellor now; they get bored, or retire, or climb to a higher office. As the Associated Graduate Students’ president, I used to have lunch with Chancellor Michael Drake. Over 28 years, lots of protests, rallies, strikes, meetings and lunches, bills and resolutions, somehow Chancellor Howard Gillman is the first person to insult me publicly to my fellow Anteaters, including my dean, my course director, all of my colleagues, even my current and former students.

I was arrested during the police raid on campus on May 15. You may have seen my frog-march TV interview or the May 16th LA Times front page photo, if you weren’t there watching in person. Hours later, Gillman claimed to have summarily barred all students, community members and faculty — that is, me and one professor, both quite prominently — arrested during the police action. In official terms, to bar someone summarily requires that he “reasonably find” them to be “a substantial and material threat of significant injury to persons or property.”

Except that he did NOT bar me from campus. Whether he claimed to do so but did not, or tried and failed, he falsely smeared me as a violent threat to all of my colleagues and current and former students as I went about teaching my seminars, holding office hours and other duties.

I learned of this supposed ban from my course director, who was surprised and concerned to see me on campus, based on a blast email from my dean, who had parroted Gillman’s false claim to all of my humanities colleagues. Feeling compelled to leave campus or risk arrest or citation, I drove home, forcing me onto Zoom at the last minute, wrecking a day of teaching and student conferences.

While harmful to me in a specific way, with real material, emotional and career consequences, that act of his was only one drop in eight months of campus-wide trickle-down calumny and cruelty, incompetence and cowardice from the fifth-floor C-suite in Aldrich Hall, which culminated in a cascade on May 15. I offer a few examples of each:

Calumny

  • Misrepresenting and defaming students and faculty in public messages, including encampment participants and student negotiators.
  • Falsely claiming a general barring of all arrested people, actually arbitrarily imposed, painting us as physical threats to other people. (See also Incompetence below.)
  • Passing along responsibility to his inferiors, avoiding ultimate responsibility for his actions, as required by UC policy, thereby accusing others of serious errors of policy actions and information gathering and dissemination. (See also Cowardice below.)

Cruelty

  • Insulting the demands of student negotiators while suspending them in the middle of the process, undermining their credibility and depriving them of their housing and other campus resources.
  • Depriving arrested students of their university housing, food, and other basic needs and services for 7 days or more, a choice well beyond the policy recommendations for appropriate discipline and imposed without hearings. The American Civil Liberties Union, among other organizations, has condemned these violations of the university’s own policies.
  • Delivering students and faculty into the hands of violent, prejudiced and poorly trained law enforcement agencies. (See also Incompetence below.) Any American, let alone a political scientist — an expert on free speech on campus, no less, and principal responsible party for over 40,000 people’s safety, must know that local law enforcement and carceral systems are routinely cited in official reports of abuse, lawsuits, and UC policies warning against relying on them. I will let readers imagine for themselves what heinous slurs about Arabs, Muslims, Asians, Black people, queer people, trans people, students had directed at them for twelve or more hours. They happened; we all heard it. I will not speak here of the many injuries to students’ bodies I witnessed; the ongoing legal process prevents me and other witnesses from saying more publicly. 

Incompetence

  • Claiming sweeping, decisive action against protesters and arrestees, while in fact relying on unsteady and unreliable advice, evidence, methods and understanding of his formal obligations. An added cruelty in his punishments is that they were imposed so arbitrarily. I watched officers and deputies fumble with the wrong forms, misspell names and transcribe wildly inaccurate birthdates and phone numbers of arrestees, which resulted in uneven application of the law and UCI policy. Charitably, I suspect that’s why my barring from campus was infelicitous. The whole scene was a theater of cruelty with no serious legal or administrative rigor applied.
  • Admitting to relying on social media accounts to make consequential calls about escalating law enforcement responses to a violent raid, despite having numerous Student Affairs personnel and trained faculty police liaisons onsite.
  • Distributing incorrect, personally biased, and unnecessarily vague and terrifying emails and zotALERTs. We can no longer trust the accuracy of our emergency alert system. To students raised in the era of active shooter drills, his messages were especially tone-deaf. Students don’t respect or trust him; they mock his condescending “Gillymails,” stuffed with uneven emotional affect, that reduce Fiat Lux to a punchline. And while some vaguely recall pronouncements of a Year of Free Speech, none of them see it enacted in anything the chancellor does. He is the Chancellor Who Cried Zot!
  • Failing to effectively interpret and apply UC and UCI policies on escalating campus police presence.
  • Failing to understand, anticipate, or perhaps care about, the violent and violating consequences of unleashing a poorly coordinated 22-agency assault force on Anteaters, many of whom already bear trauma around law enforcement encounters because of their gender, race, ethnicity, language, national origin or religion.

Cowardice

  • Avoiding responsibility for his decisions, despite being officially and ethically obligated to do so, in his responses to formal questions from the UCI Divisional Academic Senate.
  • Imposing a climate of fear around controversial topics in academic settings. The chancellor’s cowardice has trickled down to every level of academic leadership at UCI. Many of our faculty, chairs, and directors have been fearful to speak or allow us to speak on the debate about disclosure, divestment, and defunding because they see him as partisan and vindictive in a time of budget cuts.
  • Refusing to meet with the AGS president to discuss the encampment and admin response for their regular monthly meeting. Gillman had to be prodded by UC President Drake himself to do so, only changing course weeks later.
  • And for me personally, hiding behind bold, authoritative, false missives without the courage or competence to do what he says.

In his 2022 UC Community Safety Plan, UC President — and former UCI chancellor — Michael V. Drake’s introduction acknowledges that “[t]oo often, the same systems charged with providing protection have become a source of great distrust and fear. This plan to re-envision safety at the University of California starts by acknowledging that reality.” The plan later emphasizes respecting “existing guidelines that minimize police presence at protests, follow[ing] de-escalation methods in the event of violence and seek non-urgent mutual aid first from UC campuses before calling outside law enforcement agencies.”

By the chancellor’s own account, he chose not to de-escalate in the event of violence, to the degree that he could reasonably make that call, relying on social media accounts to do so. ZotALERTs initially blared that “several hundred” protesters had occupied PSLH, only later in the dead of night muttering that there were only “several,” drop the hundred. Not so much invading the building — they just stood around it, he admitted.

These actions provoked serious reflection about their foundational moral causes. What is it in a man that would cause him to fail in some of his most solemn administratively and ethically clear obligations to ensure our safety and rights and privileges as Anteaters? What sort of man uses his powerful position to belittle, insult and threaten students, faculty, academic programs, beloved community members, free speech itself, on our campus?

In formal settings, Gillman wields his ceremonial mace–a bludgeoning weapon that symbolizes his executive power to smite anyone beneath him at UCI. However, behind closed doors, he wields an axe–a budget axe that strikes fear into deans, department chairs, program directors and beyond, for so many believe him to be biased in his interests and vindictive in his responses to things he dislikes.

Sitting in jail with my newfound friends, and later at home, checking in on other arrestees as we recovered, talking about it with my wife — also a UCI alumnus with a teaching credential and MA and PhD in History, I have sometimes turned to the field of moral philosophy, specifically to the work of Professor Aaron James, an honored member of our Department of Philosophy, with whom I have taught in Humanities Core. I have returned to some of the texts we read together, and his later publications. For the non-specialist, I recommend especially his bestselling book from Doubleday, Assholes: A Theory (2012).

Chancellor Gillman has shown himself to be an equivocating, petty, dishonest man in this whole affair since October — to me, to my fellow arrestees and I firmly believe, to students, staff and faculty. The damage he has wrought on our campus is clear, as is his unsuitability to be the person we look to as we begin to repair it.

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Brook Haley, PhD (UCI 2007)

Continuing Lecturer