Dozens of protesters shook police barricades and chanted “drop the charges” outside UC Berkeley’s Krutch Auditorium Monday as student conduct hearings began for 32 pro-Palestinian activists who took over a campus building in April.
Inside, university officials launched their case against graduate student Roberto Hernandez, who faces five charges ranging from disturbing the peace to assaulting a university police officer.
The hearing was scheduled to end 5 p.m. Monday but ran until 6:30 p.m. and is still incomplete. The proceeding will reconvene as early as today and the student conduct committee hearing the case is expected to recommend a ruling about a week after the hearing ends.
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Residential and Student Service Programs Harry Le Grande will consider the committee’s recommendation and make a final decision on punishment.
Hernandez and the other 31 students who will take part in the hearings face sanctions ranging up to expulsion.
The 32 activists, who will participate in hearings through the end of October, are among 79 protesters who took over UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall April 9, demanding that the nine-campus University of California divest from Israel.
In June, the Alameda County District Attorney dropped criminal charges against the protesters, but the university pursued student conduct charges against the 41 students who took part. Nine accepted an “informal resolution,” agreeing to a one-semester probation, leaving 32 to face formal hearings.
Last week, student activists raised concerns about a decision by professor David Zusman, committee chairman, to close the Hernandez hearing to the public and press and move it away from the center of campus to Krutch Auditorium in the university’s Clark Kerr facility.
Zusman blocked public access to the hearing Monday, citing concerns about student privacy, but allowed a handful of reporters into the room on the condition that they omit in press accounts the names of student witnesses other than Hernandez.
Student activists criticized the decision to exclude members of the public.
“The public also has a right to be there,” said Hoang Phan of Students for Justice in Palestine, an activist group which spearheaded the Wheeler Hall takeover.
Phan said protesters outside Krutch Auditorium on Monday pushed police barricades to the ground several times as a symbolic protest against the closed hearing.
Activists also raised concerns, last week, about the composition of the hearing committee.
University officials informed student lawyers Thursday that the panel would be made up of three professors. Protesters said at least one student should serve on the panel.
The final committee included two professors and an undergraduate student.
After lengthy wrangling about the composition of the committee and the legality of the evidence at the start of the hearing, UC Berkeley Director of Student Judicial Affairs Neil Rajmaira called Dean of Students Karen Kenney as the first witness.
Kenney testified that the university caught wind of the planned takeover before April 9 and warned student activists in advance that they would face punishment if they disrupted academic activity.
She also disputed activists’ claims that the university has cracked down on pro-Palestinian students because of their political beliefs.
Rajmaira drove home the point, arguing that the case “would have been conducted in the same manner if Mr. Hernandez were part of the Cal Rugby team.”
An undergraduate student testified for the university that the protesters disrupted her class in Wheeler Hall. English professor Ian Duncan, who was running a seminar on the third floor of the building April 9, countered that the disruption was minimal.
A pair of university officers allegedly assaulted by Hernandez will take the stand when the hearing resumes, and then the defense will present the remainder of its case.
Hernandez said the first day of hearings was “a tad bit more fair” than he expected and that he looks forward to presenting his case.