SACRAMENTO — The University of California, Davis, chancellor said Wednesday that she never ordered campus police to use force or pepper spray on students last month, as lawmakers began a broader inquiry over of how colleges have responded to non-violent Occupy protests.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi reasserted that she played no direct role in officers pepper-spraying students on Nov. 18. Katehi accepted responsibility for what happened but said would feel uncomfortable providing tactical orders to police.
Currently, the campus police chief reports to a vice chancellor.
"Should I be the one to provide tactical directions? Unless I know as a person of the specifics of law enforcement, I would never think that the chancellor would be in the right position to prescribe tactically what should happen," Katehi said.
Assemblyman Marty Block, a San Diego Democrat and chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, asked Katehi what she would have done differently that day.
Katehi responded, "If I knew the police could not remove the tents peacefully, we would not have removed them."
Video footage of officers spraying an orange cloud of pepper spray as student protestors sat on the ground and images of officers jabbing protesters with batons on the University of California, Berkeley campus have sparked outrage and prompted investigations.
"These images were very disturbing, disappointing and, as we all know, shocking not only to us in California but to the nation," said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. "Something is wrong with these systems when our children struggling peacefully to have their voices heard are answered by the spray of chemical weapons and the sting of batons."
Block said budget cuts are to blame for much of the upheaval over tuition increases and support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. He said universities have a responsibility to provide a safe environment and foster a climate for free expression.
"I want to take a moment to recognize the elephant in the room that is that many of the decisions that have students and others in higher education upset, emanate from this building," Block said. "Budget cuts have been horrible and frankly we are only dealing with the resources that the taxpayers of California give us."
Katehi was among several top officials from California's university systems who testified at the hearing about recent campus violence. Lawmakers also asked about an incident at UC Berkeley on Nov. 9.
The panel heard from police oversight experts who stressed the need for officers to be trained on crowd control, and urged police and university leadership to assess the size of the protest crowd before moving in.
Barbara Attard, a police practices consultant, said officers at UC Davis should not have allowed students to form a circle around them knowing they were outnumbered.
"It appeared clear that there were not enough officers to take action that day," Attard said. "Officers need to be trained to know when they have enough officers to take actions."
UC Davis police Chief Annette Spicuzza and two officers remain on administrative leave after the incident. Katehi has asked prosecutors to drop charges against nine students who were arrested.