Lies Dan Mogulof Told Me

Eyewitness report of 12/11 events contradicts Mogulof’s assertions

with 3 comments

UC Berkeley Professor of Education Daniel Perlstein witnessed the event at the Chancellor’s house on Friday night from his office in an adjacent building. His account below, written as an email response to a message from the Dean of the School of Education about the incident, contradicts the picture painted by Mogulof in many points of fact. He criticizes the administration for so grossly misrepresenting the event to the public. Professor Perlstein calls the incident “counter-productive” and “wrong,” but takes deliberate pains to note that the group to most often escalate violence and close down dialogue on this campus has been the administration itself, concluding that as a result of their actions “the campus’s senior academic leaders now appear to many students dishonest enemies of their education.”

We commend Professor Perlstein for stepping up and speaking out.

Subject: Re: [GSE] finding the right words
From: Daniel Perlstein
Date: Mon, December 14, 2009 11:20 am
To: P. David Pearson

Dear David all the GSE colleagues,

While I genuinely appreciate David’s message, I feel, somewhat guiltily, a
need to respond to it. Where I second David’s message is in the belief
that beyond any wider implications, acts of violence necessarily diminish
the university, discouraging the free exchange of ideas, which ought to be
our defining characteristic. Nevertheless questions of proportion and
degree matter. While all acts of violence diminish the university,
differences in how and how much they do so ought to influence our
responses. And these differences were obscured in David’s message.

With many people having little more than news reports of events at the
chancellor’s residence on which to base their impressions, I realize that
my comments might seem to indicate a lack of common decency or at least an
incredibly bad sense of timing, but as I will try to explain, I believe
that the university administration not only set the stage for a violent
turn in protests by acts which have repeatedly raised tensions and
undermined belief in its good will, but actually engaged in most of the
violence that has occurred.

I write as someone who has been consistently critical of the Berkeley
administration, but also as someone who has worked for decades against
violence, and finally as perhaps the only person on this list who
witnessed any of Friday night’s events. (I was writing letters of
recommendation in my Tolman Hall office, which faces the chancellor’s

In brief, at about 11 PM a group of protesters –lit by perhaps 10
torches- marched past Tolman and up to the chancellor’s residence. They
sounded quite angry. I heard someone call out, “That’s the chancellor’s
house,” and I remember at that time having the impression that it was said
as if people who did not recognize the chancellor’s house and were not
focused on going there. The protesters did not, as the Chronicle reports
that police claimed, surround the residence, nor would it have been
possible for so few to do so. I heard, but did not see what must have
been the planters and window(s?) breaking and almost immediately saw the
protesters fleeing. There may have been police chasing them; I did not see
any. I could not tell if the protesters were fleeing because they did not
wish to be caught or because they did not want to participate in what they
now realized was an escalated form of violence. None of the protesters I
saw fleeing (and I believe I saw most of them) were carrying lit torches.
I did not see anyone arrested, but trees block my view of the front of the
chancellor’s house, so I do not know if the arrests occurred at the time
or later, and whether because of their individual actions or because of
the actions of the group as a whole.

What I do know is that I witnessed enough at variance with university
officials’ accounts as reported in the press to make me suspicious of the
rest of those accounts, even if I had not already been made suspicious by
distortions and inaccuracies in previous administration statements about
recent protests, which have been amply documented elsewhere.

I believe that acts were committed at the chancellor’s house that were not
only counter-productive but also, more important, wrong. And yet those
events were remarkably brief and perhaps spontaneous. Again, I do not
write this to be evasive but rather because even among what we condemn we
need to make judgments, and I believe that sustained, planned violence
demands a different response from that which did not and does not strike
me as sustained and possibly not even as planned. Moreover, it seems to
me that violence by those whose power confers legitimacy on its exercise
requires a stronger response than that by those who lack such power.
There should be a higher standard by which to judge the actions of police
and campus officials than of protesters, many of them –whether students or
not—youthful. (I would also characterize the actions by individual police
outside of Wheeler as brief and perhaps spontaneous. I do not by this
mean to excuse acts of police violence. It seems to me that police have a
professional responsibility to de-escalate a situation, and moreover
spontaneity does not excuse violence.)

The one group so far whose actions –both those that have fostered violence
and those that have constituted in themselves violence– have been neither
brief nor spontaneous is the university administration. Against all kinds
of advice from a range of campus figures, the university administration
has consistently escalated rather than tried to reach out. The decision
to leave it to police to deal with the Wheeler occupation on Nov. 20, to
close the building, to not meet with protesters, to block faculty from
trying to mediate an end to the protest, and to charge the first arrested
protesters with felonies (with felonies (!) for staging a sit-in in two
Wheeler classrooms), the decision to surround Wheeler Hall with riot
police, all reflected decisions made by administrators who had amply time
to do otherwise. The distorted, unsympathetic statements released by
campus leaders days after the protest again followed deliberation and
caused real trauma to many students, including GSE students who described
a seemingly unbridgeable gap coming to separate them from a university
they had loved. And then Friday morning, directly leading up to the
incident at the chancellor’s residence, the arrest and detention of the
students in Wheeler despite what appears to be police permission to be
there and the failure to give a dispersal order, the decision to detain
students at Santa Rita jail (an act the ACLU is investigating as a
possible violation of student’s constitutional rights), was, by its own
admission, a choice the administration made not in the heat of the moment
but after careful planning. (The Friday morning arrests in Wheeler Hall
ended a week-long protest during which academic activities continued
largely uninterrupted. During the week, students had been told by police
that they would be given the opportunity to disperse before police began
making arrests. Students came and went. Early Friday morning police
entered Wheeler and without warning began arresting sleeping students.
The administration has explained that faculty could not be called in as
mediators because it might have undermined the secrecy of the arrest
operation. Because students had their computers and other study materials
confiscated and then were detained for many hours far from campus, they
were put at risk of academic failure. And so, the campus’s senior
academic leaders now appear to many students dishonest enemies of their
education. This premeditated action by campus leaders that did students
real harm does not excuse any violence at the president’s house, but it
does suggest a need to place violence that might have occurred there in
its context.

If the university curriculum is to include contentious public matters,
peaceful protest is not antithetical to their exchange but a crucial
component of it. And on no campus has the history of protest done more to
extend the range of ideas exchanged in classrooms than Berkeley. It is
thus all the more discouraging that campus officials have so consistently
escalated tensions and repressed protest rather than seeking a dialogue
with protesters. Repudiating the role of campus leaders in violence does
not absolve protesters of responsibility for their actions, but to avoid
challenging the central role of campus leaders precludes any meaningful

Finally, I started this note because I thought that David’s appeal to
invocations of shared campus values rings increasingly hollow. But David,
to his credit, has at least spoken out. It is discouraging how few
faculty have done so. If shared governance is to mean anything beyond its
formal mechanisms, faculty have an obligation to speak up about
administrative violence that inevitably bears our imprimateur.



Written by Public Ed

December 16, 2009 at 12:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] Statement from Daniel Perlstein, UCB […]

  2. […] Statement from Daniel Perlstein, UCB […]

  3. […] FN4: Statement from Daniel Perlstein, UCB Lecturer. […]

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