Three weeks after students began a sit-in on the fifth floor of the UC Davis administration building trying to force the resignation of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, they escalated their tactics Friday with a large march across campus and an expansion of their sit-in to the third and fourth floors of Mrak Hall.
The move, which followed an hourlong rally on the steps of the building that at times drew as many as 250 students and onlookers, comes as the students are trying to ramp up pressure against Katehi for what they see as ethical lapses over her agreement to accept positions on private corporate boards.
The escalation also comes at a time when videos are being posted on social media showing some students aggressively questioning and taunting Katehi as she walks across campus and offering the hashtag #StopbullyingUCDstaff. A university spokeswoman said officials believe a Facebook page set up in support of Katehi and featuring some of the videos was created by students.
Friday’s rally and protest were billed as a news conference to which Katehi was invited. The chancellor did not show. She previously met briefly with protesters in the reception area of her office, which has been occupied since March 11, and UCD officials have issued statements that she is willing to meet and speak with them.
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In a message sent to faculty, staff and students via email on Thursday, officials said Katehi tried unsuccessfully to discuss issues with the protesters.
“Last week, the Associated Students of UC Davis (ASUCD) and Chancellor Katehi together agreed to invite two representatives of the students protesting in Mrak Hall to engage in a discussion on Wednesday, March 30,” the school said. “ASUCD student leaders worked in partnership with Student Affairs representatives to create an agenda and set up the meeting.
“Shortly after the March 30 meeting began, the Chancellor began to answer questions that had been submitted to her. The meeting was interrupted by a large group of protesters chanting and banging forcefully on the doors to the room. The noise was such that it was impossible for the meeting convened by ASUCD leaders to continue. ASUCD leaders stepped outside to invite all the protesters into the meeting.
“Unfortunately, the protesters decided not to participate in the meeting at all. Instead, it appears their primary interest was simply to disrupt the planned conversation, as several of them in fact proudly claimed to staff outside the meeting room.”
Student Bernadette Fox disagreed with that assessment.
“Those claims by the chancellor are simply untrue,” said Fox, 27. “She’s made no attempts to speak to us. In fact, she’s made attempts to bypass us and speak to other students on campus.”
Students on Friday said their main goal is simple: they want Katehi gone, and many carried placards and signs asking for her to resign or ridiculing her.
One was a cutout photo of Katehi adorned with photocopied dollar bills. One read, “Mrak under new management.” Another read, “Coward Katehi, Face your students.”
The marchers chanted anti-Katehi slogans as they walked from the Memorial Union to Mrak, where they gave speeches ranging from anti-Katehi remarks to comments on social, transgender and political issues.
Students, faculty and others spoke to the crowd, including Kevin Wehr, a Sacramento State professor and associate vice president for the California Faculty Association. He urged them not to let Katehi wait them out as they conduct their sit-in.
“Your analysis is correct,” he said. “Your cause is just. Do not give up.”
After the rally, the students marched up the stairs to the fifth floor, where protesters have been sleeping in shifts for three weeks, taking turns to allow each other to go to class or take exams. After minutes of chanting for Katehi to quit, they spread out to take seats in the hallways of the fourth and third floors of the building.
University officials have insisted they will take no actions against the occupation, and there was no obvious police presence on Friday. But students say the situation has become increasingly delicate as they feel the university is close to taking action to remove them.
Fox and others cited the 2011 pepper-spraying of students by campus police as an example of past behavior on campus toward protests.
UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis said she could not discuss what plans the school has.
“I can’t speak to any further actions planned,” she wrote in an email. “Student Affairs staff continues to speak with them daily, and the protesters film those conversations. The Chancellor remains interested in having a meaningful discussion with them.”
The controversy over Katehi has led four lawmakers to call for her to step down. A hearing at the Capitol is scheduled Monday – with Katehi invited – to discuss outside compensation for UC and CSU leaders.
UC President Janet Napolitano has said she will not ask Katehi to quit.