The 102nd UC Davis Picnic Day kicked off Saturday with horns, drums and megaphones – and a bit of student protest.
The theme for this year’s annual open house was Cultivating Our Authenticity. As usual, on-campus festivities included science exhibits such as maggot art, animal showcases such as the Doxie Derby, and other activities that highlighted the university’s agricultural, culinary and academic prowess.
The event took over the Davis campus with its usual volume and vibrancy, despite ongoing hostility between the student body and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, who has faced scrutiny in recent weeks for her lucrative positions on private boards as well as the university’s attempts to hide Internet references to the pepper-spray incidents of 2011.
Off campus, many Davis establishments offered drink deals for students and visitors who turn the day into a major party. Davis police this year expanded the size of the Picnic Day enforcement zone, where fines for alcohol, noise, public urination and smoking are twice the price.
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An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 people attended the daylong event. Only two arrests were reported on campus, both for public drunkenness.
More than 800 students signed a pledge to have a safe and healthy Picnic Day, and more than 60 student groups set up tables somewhere on campus, said Alex Espos, a fourth-year student and publicity director for the event.
“We really wanted to show people what makes Davis stand out,” she said. “We wanted to showcase student involvement and how all these organizations allow students to become their authentic selves.”
During the morning parade, about 10 students marched through the campus and downtown streets pumping “Fire Katehi” signs and shouting their concerns with the administrator to the students, alumni and community members on the sidelines.
Just a day before the big event, a group of 20 to 50 students gave up their peaceful protest at Katehi’s office in Mrak Hall, where they camped out for five weeks and threatened to stay until the chancellor resigned. During their sit-in, the students garnered attention from local and national media, as well as from seven lawmakers who called on the administrator to leave.
The chancellor, who has not announced any intentions of resigning, spoke proudly at the parade podium Saturday about the hard work of the student board that makes Picnic Day a reality. After her speech she was escorted offstage by campus security.
“The students have made some requests, and they are free of course to express their opinion and I appreciate it,”’she said before leaving the area.
Sally Gray and Verne Mendel, who bused to campus to see the parade Saturday, wore “support Katehi” buttons that they said they received from a friend. Mendel, who taught physiology at UC Davis for 40 years, and Gray said they disagree with calls to oust the administrator.
“What she did is so commonplace, every chancellor probably does it,” Mendel said of the board positions.
Gray said she thought attempting to remove negative Internet references to the pepper-spray incidents was good public relations. “Of course she wants the PR to be good for the university,” Gray said. “That’s good for everybody, including the students.”
The protesters ended their march at an off-campus house Saturday, where they hung anti-Katehi signs to face the street. Many who attended the parade said they didn’t notice the Katehi protesters.
The hourlong parade procession included a fleet of ’80s-era DeLoreans, giant bicycles and vintage cars, children playing fiddles and the many marchers dressed as fruits and veggies.