In 2006, when activists decided to occupy oak trees the university wanted to cut down, they were able to trespass in the trees for 20 months. An Alameda Superior Court judge issued an injunction that barred UC from putting chain saw to timber. But rules that constrained UC administrators did not interfere with tree-sitters, who foolishly equated Berkeley with Guantanamo Bay and lobbed feces at authorities, who nonetheless served them water and energy bars.
The cause was frivolous, the trees are now sawdust, but Berkeley's reputation for appeasing scofflaw protests has lived on. Until perhaps last week, when campus police removed all the tents and arrested protesters.
Finally, university toffs had sent a message to self-aggrandizing lefties: No more Mr. Nice Guy. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau had warned activists on their "Day of Action." In a statement, he explained, "We simply cannot afford to spend our precious resources and, in particular, student tuition, on costly and avoidable expenses associated with violence or vandalism."
The word is out after Oakland. Let the tents stay and the cost to taxpayers mount while public safety becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.
"We don't want to arrest our students," said UC Berkeley spokesperson Claire Holmes on Thursday. No lie. Unfortunately, some Berkeley students and professors are happy to squander university resources for an amorphous protest that won't help the university or their cause. If anything, Occupy Cal, like Occupy Oakland, is likely to alienate good liberals, who believe that rules should apply to everyone.
Berkeley administrators lived through the tree-sitter fiasco. They know the hell of an entrenched protest. They know Protest Fatigue. And they see the wisdom in not letting chaos take hold. As Holmes acknowledged, "We looked to the situation in Oakland."