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Home / News / Politics / UC Irvine resumes in-person classes after encampment clearing

UC Irvine resumes in-person classes after encampment clearing

by Joe Taglieri
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UC Irvine resumed in-person classes Friday following a law enforcement crackdown on a pro-Palestine encampment, the university announced.

Tension engulfed the UCI campus Wednesday culminating with hundreds of police and sheriff’s deputies storming the campus to break up the protest encampment and occupation of a lecture hall.

UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said he was “brokenhearted” and the encampment dismantling and clashes between protesters and authorities as “a sad day for our university.”

Students and university staff had remote classes on Thursday following the encampment clearing that concluded late Wednesday, according to UCI statements. Classes returned to in-person Friday and UC Irvine officials said “all employees should return to work as normal.”

Authorities arrested 47 people during the crackdown that began Wednesday afternoon, according to the university. Two of those arrested identified themselves as UCI faculty members. Nineteen of those arrested were not affiliated with the university, two were UCI employees and 26 were students.

A banner and tents mark the pro-Palestine encampment near UCI’s Rowland Hall in late April. | Photo courtesy of UCI FPJ/X

The encampment had been mostly peaceful since it was established two weeks ago, but around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, hundreds of protesters surrounded the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall, according to UCI. That prompted campus police to request aid from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Irvine police and a number of other law enforcement agencies.

The people arrested were booked at the Orange County Jail, then released, UCI spokesman Tom Vasich told City News Service. Most were cited for failing to disperse after a direct police order, and a few were arrested on suspicion of trespassing.

On Thursday protest organizers called for Gillman to resign.

“Universities have decided that they would rather spend money getting cops on campus than to listen to student demands about divestment,” UC Irvine associate professor Meryem Kamil told Fox 11.

Some protesters had engaged in negotiations with university officials and the situation was largely peaceful. Despite ongoing negotiations between university officials and some of the protesters, the situation intensified this week after some protesting students — including some of the negotiators — got suspension notices from the university.

In a statement Wednesday as protesters converged on the Physical Sciences building, protest group UCI Divest said it was “reclaiming the university for Palestine and for the people.”

“Exactly one week ago to the day, UC Irvine issued temporary suspensions to many students in the encampment, including the majority of the student negotiation team,” according to UCI Divest.

“Students barred from returning to their own campus residence halls, cannot come to campus at the peak of midterms and finals, and are already facing the emotional toll of seeing the university militarize itself before it even accepts ending the genocide and killings of the students’ family members and friends.”

Despite calls from university officials to resume negotiations with protesters, “how can we negotiate if our negotiators are barred from physical and virtual presence at UCI?” UCI Divest said.

Gillman responded with a statement Wednesday night: “At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, we, along with most other UC campuses, received the latest `demands’ from the protesters. The protesters orchestrated a swift departure from their encampment. In a coordinated fashion they moved out of the encampment to the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall, where a small group barricaded themselves in, supported by a large group of community members who had gathered for a scheduled rally.

“For the last two weeks, I have consistently communicated that the encampment violated our policies but that the actions did not rise to the level requiring police intervention. My approach was consistent with the guidelines of UC’s Robinson/Edley Report, which urges the UC to exhaust all possible alternatives before resorting to police intervention.

“I was prepared to allow a peaceful encampment to exist on the campus without resorting to police intervention, even though the encampment violated our policies and the existence of the encampment was a matter of great distress to other members of our community. I communicated that if there were violations of our rules we would address them through the normal administrative policies of the university and not through police action.

“And so after weeks when the encampers assured our community that they were committed to maintaining a peaceful and nondisruptive encampment, it was terrible to see that they would dramatically alter the situation in a way that was a direct assault on the rights of other students and the university mission.

“The latest campus-specific and systemwide demands made by our encampers and their counterparts across the University of California attempted to dictate that anyone who disagreed with them must conform to their opinions. They asserted the right to oversee many elements of university operations involving the administration, faculty, students, and staff, bypassing customary campus protocols and ignoring the function of the Academic Senate.

“Most importantly, their assault on the academic freedom rights of our faculty and the free speech rights of faculty and students was appalling. One can only imagine the response if people on the other side of these issues established an encampment to force me to censor all anti-Zionist academic and student programming.

“But my concern now is not the unreasonableness of their demands. It is their decision to transform a manageable situation that did not have to involve police into a situation that required a different response. I never wanted that. I devoted all of my energies to prevent this from happening.

“I’m sorry this campus I love so much had to experience this terrible and avoidable situation. I remain steadfast in my commitment to protecting the rights of all members of our community to express whatever viewpoints they believe are essential for others to hear and engage. And I remain steadfast in my commitment to defend our faculty and students from efforts to prevent them from having the same rights of academic freedom and free speech as everyone else on this campus.”

Some protesters who were arrested and led away complained to media at the campus that they had done nothing wrong and were involved in a peaceful protest, City News Service reported.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement that failure to disperse after police have announced an unlawful assembly is against the law.

“The right to peaceful assembly is a constitutional right and we encourage protesters to exercise their right to peaceful assembly; however, criminal activity which transcends peaceful assembly, including violence and vandalism of any kind, will not be tolerated,” Spitzer said. “Any evidence of criminal activity, including failure to obey lawful orders to disperse, will be investigated and thoroughly reviewed to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed.”

Orange County supervisors spoke publicly about the UCI protest and authorities’ encampment dismantling.

“I would urge the students to all stand down and respect the declaration from UCI that this is an unlawful assembly and go back to class,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Wagner, a former Irvine mayor, told CNS. “I certainly hope nobody gets hurt. I would like to see this end quickly and peacefully, unlike what we saw at UCLA, and I’m watching to see what happens, but I understand and appreciate the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s response and expect them to do it as gently and as professionally as possible.”

Supervisor Katrina Foley said in a statement, “I value the right to peacefully protest. However, we cannot enable the recent escalations, which include the disruption of classes and (vandalism) of campus property.”

In an April 26 statement, the University of California said the system has “consistently opposed calls for boycott against and divestment from Israel. While the University affirms the right of our community members to express diverse viewpoints, a boycott of this sort impinges on the academic freedom of our students and faculty and the unfettered exchange of ideas on our campuses.

“UC tuition and fees are the primary funding sources for the University’s core operations. None of these funds are used for investment purposes,” the statement said.

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