As is now obvious, the pepper spraying of students last November has become a costly and damaging ordeal for the University of California, Davis, and the entire UC system.
The university last week announced it had agreed to a $1 million settlement with 21 student plaintiffs. The final bill will likely top $2 million when you add in costs for consulting firms, lawyers and UC employees involved with university reviews of the incident.
Numerous commentators and letter writers have complained about the costs taxpayers are bearing, and understandably so. But if the reviews and ongoing management shake-up at UC Davis result in an administration that is more attentive to its students and faculty one that has learned some lessons from the pepper spraying it may help make the costs easier to swallow.
Even before this settlement, UC Davis officials said they had taken actions to prevent a repeat of the mistakes of Nov. 18.
UC Davis Police Chief Matt Carmichael, installed in April, now reports to the provost instead of being layered amid the campus's administrative structure. Carmichael has rebuilt the command staff and has rehearsed numerous scenarios for how police will handle any number of protests in the future, said UC Davis spokesman Barry Shiller.
In addition, the settlement last week allows the ACLU, which represented the student plaintiffs, to participate with the campus in shaping policies on handling demonstrations. That should give students some confidence that the campus will respect their right to protest in the future.
Over the past 10 months, the impact of the debacle has rippled far beyond the university. More than ever, the Sacramento region looks to UC Davis to help it reinvent its economy, support its farm industries and train local leaders in science, business, engineering and the legal and medical professions.
Now that this legal ordeal is reaching a conclusion, it creates an opportunity for UC Davis, and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, to restore confidence and devote their full attentions to advancing the university's mission.
And it couldn't come at a more critical time. If Proposition 30, the governor's tax measure, fails on the November ballot, the UC system could be forced to raise tuition again, cut staff and services and rely more on out-of-state students and the high tuition they pay. UC Davis officials say the university could face roughly a $50 million cut on top of all the other cuts they've been forced to absorb in recent years. That's equivalent of 280 full-time faculty.
If the trigger cuts become reality, Katehi will have to get ahead of the furor in communicating the hard options. That may not fully blunt the possible response from students, staff and faculty, but it could prevent another situation from becoming volatile.
Even with the challenges of spending cuts and the over-the-top publicity that accompanied the pepper spraying, UC Davis has many things to cheer about.
Katehi and other university leaders were able to attract $132 million in philanthropy during the last fiscal year, second best in history. UC Davis also moved up to eighth in the rankings of public universities by U.S. News & World Report, equal with UC San Diego.
While such rankings are a continual source of debate, they reflect that Davis is highly regarded within the university community. It clearly can rebound from a moment in its history it might like to forget but can't. And for all institutions of education in California, much depends on what happens on Nov. 6.