It’s no surprise that the University of California at Santa Cruz’s redwood-studded campus wouldn’t exactly be what you would call friendly territory for the military recruiters who annually march through its throngs of protestors to take their seats for otherwise innocuous job fairs. The anti-war protesters there gained national attention in 2005 when MSNBC reported that the Pentagon was monitoring peaceful anti-war efforts – including a “counter-recruitment” effort at Santa Cruz, deemed a “credible threat” in the spring of that year. The UCSC Students Against War group (which characterizes itself as “a ‘credible threat’ to militarism” on its Web site) has been out in full force at campus job fairs ever since.
But this past week, the university’s administration determined that the protest activity, which it had defended when news of the Pentagon's intelligence gathering surfaced, had gone too far. Campus leaders canceled a job fair scheduled for January 31 “to ensure the safety of all students, staff and invited guests.” Under the Solomon Amendment, unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court in March, the administration maintains that it would have to extend invitations to military recruiters to any large-scale job fair -- thereby, if recent history is any indication, essentially inviting protests -- in order for the university to remain eligible for federal funds.
“Our campus has a strong tradition of supporting free speech, the right to demonstrate peacefully, and fundamental respect for the opinions of others,” a university statement reads. “However, during the last two years, nearly every quarter has included events in which a few individuals chose to push their protests beyond civility and safety, challenging our Principles of Community and disrupting events to the detriment of others in the campus community."
”The campus takes seriously its responsibility to protect the safety of the entire campus community, and we will continue our policy of using law enforcement to deal with all actions that threaten public safety."
While several student leaders say they support the indefinite postponement of this month’s fair, they join the student protestors in condemning the administration’s readiness to blame students for the escalation in protest activity, and its reliance on police to deal with protests.
Jean Marie Scott, associate vice chancellor for student affairs at UC Santa Cruz, said that the escalation in protest activity began about two years ago, in spring 2005 (at the “credibly threatening” event, in the government’s eyes). At that point, she said, a large number of students rushed the entrance to the room where the job fair was held, pushing people out of the way and injuring one staff member in their haste. “People were essentially running and scattering and equipment was scattering. That was the first time that we’d experienced students on our campus physically acting out that resulted in injury," Scott said.
The same thing happened during the following spring’s career fair, when students tried to force their way into the fair and, in the process, pinned several staff and faculty members into a corner, Scott said. Most recently, she explained, demonstrators threw produce during a protest of a Board of Regents meeting in October, and, when individuals were hustled out of the building where the regents were meeting, “it became quite a disarray of arms flying and the police trying to safely get the community members through the crowd. It was quite frightening.” (A Students Against War member, Janine Carmona, described the Board of Regents meeting protest, which included surrounding the building's exits, as a call for a more democratic university governing process in California).
Scott said that the two Santa Cruz students who were arrested at the Board of Regents protest are currently in the university's judicial system. A “Dialogue on Campus Activism” is scheduled, and the administration is currently awaiting the findings of a task force appointed in the fall to “evaluate demonstration response protocols and recommend future courses of action.” The administration has also attempted to reach out to some of the active anti-war protestors, Scott said, asking them, “How can the administration best support your voice, and you and your convictions, but do so in a way that doesn’t take away or disallow someone’s ability to do business on campus?”
“Unfortunately, the students who are involved feel very strongly that it’s not about anyone else’s rights; it’s just about their desire to keep the military from attending any of the career fairs on campus," Scott said.
But student leaders say the administration isn’t telling the whole story. “It’s only a few isolated students that do these actions, but even those actions, do they warrant pepper-spraying, does it warrant the bludgeoning of students?” Ray Austin, a senior and chair of UCSC’s undergraduate governing body, the Student Union Assembly, asked in reference to the fall protest at the Board of Regents meeting ( The San Francisco Chronicle's account of the demonstration, including the alleged pepper-spraying and beating, can be found here). “It’s kind of one-sided when you say there was a staff member who was shaken up, then you have a student who was dragged on the ground, had blood gushing from his head and was deported,” Austin said of an exchange student from abroad who he alleged was clubbed by police.
Berra Yazar, a fourth-year Ph.D. student and president of the Graduate Student Association, said that, for the most part, students show up to protest peacefully, and there end up being “a couple people who are little bit more forward, so vegetable-throwing was one example.”
“The administration needs to be a little bit more adept at determining who is being more violent in that group,” she said.
“I feel the loss of the job fair as a loss of opportunity for UCSC students. I think it’s unfortunate that the administration is more concerned with stifling student protests than giving students the opportunity to interact with potential employers,” said Janine Carmona, a junior and member of Students Against War, which she said generally attracts anywhere from 20 to 50 students to its meetings. Carmona, who describes herself as a student of Gandhi and a Quaker, said that the group embraces non-violence, but believes that it’s important for their protests to be open: “Of course not everybody’s going to be at the same level in their study of nonviolence as everyone else.”
“We, what we plan, and our goals, are always non-violent.”
Carmona, who embraces the tactic of using one’s body to block the military recruiters’ access to students on campus, said that since soldiers are restricted from expressing their free speech rights, “It’s not the recruiters’ free speech that we’re limiting; it’s the government’s policies.” She cited the military’s discrimination against gay people, and a desire to end war by limiting recruiters’ access to potential soldiers -- at least at any university-sanctioned events -- as two reasons for the protests. “If we’re going to live by these ‘Principles of Community’ in these institutions of higher education, are we going to make an exception for the military? How is that valid? The government is forcing the administration to allow for this exception, but we as students don’t have to allow it.”
A university spokesman said it was unclear when another job fair would be held, and Scott affirmed the university’s commitment to providing students with career services through other avenues in the meantime. “A lot of people are going to miss out on the opportunity to interact with potential employers, but they’d be missing out on it anyway,” said Yazar, the Graduate Student Association president. “Most career fairs over the past three years have been dysfunctional anyway. There’s no reason for the university to take on the additional expense and endanger students.”