Protest Agreement Resolves Some Student Conduct Claims

Photo: March 3 protesters played a key role in negotiations with administrators to allow students with conduct charges from November 2009 to choose an informal resolution of probation.
Eugene Lau/Staff
March 3 protesters played a key role in negotiations with administrators to allow students with conduct charges from November 2009 to choose an informal resolution of probation.

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For UC Berkeley sophomore Abhay Agarwal, demonstrations centered around Wheeler Hall marked both the beginning and the end of nearly a year and a half he spent dealing with his pending campus student conduct proceedings.

Agarwal - who faced misconduct charges for his involvement in the November 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall - resolved his case earlier this week as a result of negotiations between administrators and a negotiator for protesters who occupied the fourth-floor ledge of Wheeler Hall March 3.

As part of the March 3 negotiations, students with pending conduct charges from the November 2009 occupation could choose to accept an informal resolution of probation for the rest of the semester rather than proceed with a formal conduct hearing. Following the negotiations, Agarwal chose to accept the offer, settling his case informally, he said in an e-mail.

"I'm entirely in awe of the success of the balcony occupation of Wheeler Hall," Agarwal said in an e-mail. "In light of that victory and in order to set a new precedent for future protests, I have decided to accept the offer of probation."

Agarwal is one of about a dozen students from the November 2009 protests who needed to resolve their conduct proceedings by the beginning of the semester. Like Agarwal, most of those who had not resolved such cases have now settled for the probation offer, according to Daniela Urban, the UC Berkeley School of Law student who negotiated on behalf of the protesters.

Urban is also a member of the Campus Rights Project, a group that has been advising students with student conduct charges.

Associate Dean of Students Christina Gonzales said she was happy the students who sat on the Wheeler Hall ledge were safe and that they were able to reach some sort of agreement.

"I'm glad that students who wanted to be done with the process are done now," she said. "I'm happy we've gotten to the point where we can resolve as many cases as possible."

She added she was not happy that the process has taken so long, and she hopes the remaining cases will be resolved by the end of the semester.

Urban said for students, the decision to settle involved weighing a variety of issues. She said because the conduct cases were so different, the decisions were personal and individual to each students' specific situation.

For Jennie Lu, a junior facing student conduct charges for her participation in the November 2009 Wheeler Hall occupation, the delays in the process as well as the nature of the proceedings were factors she considered in her decision to settle.

"I took the new disposition because it was clear that the hearing was not going to be a productive, (constructive) space," Lu said. "Not to say that this space will never exist, that the university will never agree to good faith discussions, but that space would never have been the hearings."

Lu added the outcomes of the student conduct proceedings highlighted a lack of transparency, accountability and communication between the administration and students.

"Students and workers should not need to occupy a building, or go on a 10-day hunger strike, or lock themselves to a fourth floor ledge in order for the university to be responsive to our concerns," she said in the e-mail.

However, Gonzales, who was involved in the negotiations with the students on the ledge of Wheeler Hall last week, said she was "still having a hard time understanding why students felt that they couldn't have a dialogue with administrators."

"I want to know why they felt that they have to go to that extreme to get the attention of administration," she said. "I almost felt like it goes from zero to on a ledge, but nowhere in the middle did we have conversations about students not feeling heard."

Gonzales added that in the next few weeks administrators will meet to discuss "different areas where we can do better so students don't feel like they have to go to that extreme to be able to communicate their concerns."

Zack Norwood, a graduate student who also resolved his pending November 2009 misconduct charges informally this week, said while he had hoped to reform the conduct process through the hearing process, looking at changes that have occurred in the process so far there has been improvement.

"Over the course of a year and a half, a lot of things have changed in the way the administration has treated other protesters," he said. "There's been success in that sense and I hope that we'll be able to continue to hold the administration responsible."


Aaida Samad covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]

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