UC Davis and the Threat of Numbers

On yesterday’s radio show, Shawn Otto briefly mentioned the Protestant Reformation and its influence on governmental systems. In short, by widely spreading the idea that knowledge was directly accessible to the individual, instead of only through the intermediary of a priest or king ruling by divine right, the Reformation paved the way for our modern democracies.

It is easy, in this era of consolidated power, for our leaders to forget that they don’t lead by the grace of God or unusual virtue on their part, but it is true nonetheless. They lead because we agree to be led. They fall from power when we refuse to follow.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi received a lesson along these lines this weekend. After defending the pepper spraying of students seated at a protest by campus police, Katehi found herself facing several hundred students who refused to be deterred by the injuries of their fellows.

In the video, Katehi is asked several times whether she has been scared, intimidated, etc. by the students at any point. She says, “No.”

Katehi is either an idiot, or she’s lying.

The reason protestors sit is that it makes them very hard to move. Standing people can often be crowded into giving up ground. Sitters cannot. Sitting is a position of strength, a statement to power that force is not necessary when the numbers and determination are there. The cop who sprayed the original protestors knew that.

Katehi, however, either doesn’t understand what that many people sitting silently–another position of strength, as it suggests their message is so obvious it doesn’t need stating–against her means or she is hoping that simply acting as though everything were normal will make it go away.

“I really feel confident at this point the university needs me,” Katehi said today on “Good Morning America.” “There are so many critical issues to be addressed and we really need to start the healing process and move forward.”

The university only needs Katehi, in particular, if she can actually lead the university. So far, she is not only following the university, she is lagging spectacularly behind.

She could have met with the protestors to deal with any worries she had about people camping on the campus. Instead, she treated the protestors like vassals, and her “safety concerns” sent two people to the hospital.

Once the damage had been done, she could have clearly said, “This was not my intent, and I should not have treated a peaceful protest as a police matter. I should have maintained more control over the situation.” Instead, she blamed protestors for surrounding the police and making the poor little people in riot gear feel intimidated. (Of course they felt intimidated. Intimidating power is the point of a protest!) Then she called for a task force to determine who was at fault, again without taking responsibility for her original failure of leadership.

At this point, Katehi’s absolute inability to lead under these circumstances should be apparent. Even if every step of this process hadn’t demonstrated that her primary concern is to hold onto her position and power, which it very much has, she’s reached the point where she has lost the campus she wants to lead.

Not only that, but her opposition isn’t even bothering to rise up against her. They are seated, calm and unmovable in their numbers. They are silent and patient–for now. Their message couldn’t be any more clear. It no longer matters where Katehi thinks the university should go. It’s not going to follow.

UC Davis and the Threat of Numbers

8 thoughts on “UC Davis and the Threat of Numbers

  1. 1

    Katehi should resign. Her replacement should fire every cop involved, even those who stood by and let this happen. Pike should have an extreme and graphic negative review placed in his record, to follow him the rest of his career.

  2. 2

    I don’t really know where she sits in the hierarchy as Chancellor, but if there are people who are above her that can remove her, they should heed her words and do so to start “the healing process.”

  3. 3

    I was shocked that this was U.C. Davis. During my undergraduate time there, there were always protests of some sort or another going on, they were usually peaceful, and the police handled them gracefully. But while that seems like it was a short time ago to me, it was actually back in the late ’70s.

    It certainly isn’t my U.C. Davis anymore. And if they think they’re getting another dime out of this alumna after this incident, they’re sorely mistaken.

  4. 4

    Linda Katehi is not a leader. She is a bureaucrat, a functionary whose job was merely to sit off to one side and watch the ship. Now there are storms, her leadership ineptitude is clear for all to see. She wibbles and waffles about accountability in a way that makes it clear that she has no effing clue what the word means.
    As one leadership consultant once pointed out, the best way to recognize a leader in any context is by the presence of willing followers. Right now, Linda Katehi’s followers probably could fill a phone booth and not much more. She has no credibility, and the sooner that the governship of UC Davis acts on that reality by obtaining her resignation, the sooner the university can start to restore its reputation.

  5. 5

    And if they think they’re getting another dime out of this alumna after this incident, they’re sorely mistaken.

    I’m afraid that’s the only thing which will move them.

  6. 6

    In the video, I could not see any sign that the protestors had the police surrounded. Did anyone see a video with a wider view? It seems to me that at the very least, the police chief was exaggerating about them being surrounded.

  7. 7

    As the father of a child who will be starting college next September what really disturbs me personally about this incident is that the primary, and really the only worthwhile, function of campus police is to protect the students.

    Anyone who could even consider pepper-spraying a sitting student simply does not have the appropriate character for campus police officer. A department that would defend this act has clearly lost it’s path.

  8. 8

    How does university work in california, can students get credit for completed subjects at a different uni? Maybe once they have their grades for this semester, a massed exodus to a different uni (assuming there’s one close enough) would send a pretty clear message as well as hurting the finances.

    If I were running a nearby uni I’d be pushing that angle pretty heavily in advertising “Come to University X, great atmosphere, friendly staff, excellent education and as a bonus we don’t gas you like bugs!”

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