Public Comment

An Open Letter to Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau from a Madison Mother

By Corinne Heath, Madison, Wisconsin
Saturday November 12, 2011 - 05:47:00 PM

An Open Letter to Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, University of California, Berkeley

Cc: President Mark G. Yudof, George W. Breslauer, Henry Le Grande, Jonathan Poullard

Re: A concerned parent's objection to police in riot gear beating non-violent students on University grounds on the evening of November 9, 2011

I am a parent of a student at University of California, Berkeley. I was appalled to see police in riot gear using excessive force on the evening of November 9, 2011 against peaceful student protesters on the grounds of the University of California, Berkeley.  

When I inquired as to who was responsible for sending the police in riot gear against students, I was told you are in command. If you are not to blame for this particular incident, your position, nonetheless, incurs responsibility. I am expressing parental, civic and moral disapproval of your actions. 

As a parent I disapprove of your actions in the strongest possible terms. It is inappropriate for you to bring in riot police to harm non-violent students. I am angered that you have allowed police to use excessive force on these young people. In this incident, the students' welfare was in your hands and you failed miserably. 

I offer civic disapproval in the strongest possible terms. As a young person in the Occupy Movement said, "If money is free speech, then tents are free speech." This logic is compelling. Riot police clearing student tents with force, is an abysmal over-reaction. Berkeley has strong ties to the Free Speech Movement. I ask you to remember this history. 

I am expressing moral disapproval in the strongest possible terms. Your thoughtless and reckless treatment of young people is unconscionable. A Chancellor of a great University should have the ability to walk among students and talk to them. It is called education. It is called dialogue. These bright and engaged students may have something to teach you. They are our future. Try listening and perhaps they will listen in return. 

Sending in riot police is a knee-jerk reaction that is unworthy of your office and of the University you serve. It is a shameful act. I am saddened to say, that if you sanctioned these police actions, then your approval of violence against students, has trampled the civic and the moral fabric of a great University. Not to mention, physically harming students. I am very disappointed as a parent, as a citizen and as a moral human being. 

With all due respect, I ask you to cease using violence against peaceful student protesters at Berkeley. Their discontent is obviously part of a larger movement in our country to seek redress of grievances. It is time to listen to the students and not over-react. It is time to teach. Find the compromise that is needed so their voices can be heard and the security of Berkeley can be maintained. The future is theirs and they are trying to shape it. 

I ask that a person of your eminence and standing in the community, reconsider your position from the standpoint of a larger and more inclusive picture of moral and civic responsibility. Education takes place all over the grounds at Berkeley, not just in the classroom. The police, under your guidance, can do better than to beat unarmed students. Use the least amount of force to secure Berkeley. Act with restraint. Act with the mental and physical welfare of the students in mind. 

As a Berkeley parent, I ask that no more students be harmed.