UC Irvine to Resume In-Person Classes Friday After Encampment Clearing

UC Irvine to Resume In-Person Classes Friday After Encampment Clearing

Aftermath of the Pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

City News Service

City News Service

5/17/2024

Updated: 5/17/2024

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IRVINE, Calif.—Classes at UC Irvine are returning to in-person instruction May 17 following a tense period that saw hundreds of law enforcement officers descend on the campus to break up a pro-Palestinian encampment and occupation of a lecture hall in what Chancellor Howard Gillman called “a sad day for our university.”
Students and staff met remotely for classes on Thursday because of the encampments and demonstrations that disrupted campus activities and schedules. Classes will meet in-person Friday and university officials said “all employees should return to work as normal.”
There were 47 people, including two who identified themselves as UCI faculty members, who were arrested during the Wednesday afternoon operation, during which officers and deputies from more than a half-dozen agencies cleared a Gaza solidarity encampment, more than two weeks after it was established.
Of those arrested, 19 were not affiliated with the university, two were employees, and 26 were students, according to UCI.
The encampment had been largely peaceful since it was established, but around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, protesters surrounded the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall, prompting campus police to request aid from Orange County sheriff’s deputies and Irvine police, among other neighboring agencies, said Tom Vasich, a university spokesman.
The people arrested during the operation were booked at the Orange County Jail and then were released, Mr. Vasich said. Most of those arrested were cited for failing to disperse after a direct police order and a few were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, he added.
Protesters were led in chants of “we won’t move” and “shame,” and some wore scarves or face masks and had goggles and hard hats.
Police face-off with pro-Palestinian students and activists during a protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

Police face-off with pro-Palestinian students and activists during a protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

Law enforcement officers arrest a person during a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

Law enforcement officers arrest a person during a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

Some shoving between police and protesters was spotted as officers advanced into the encampment area and eventually started to remove some protesters.
Approximately 300 protesters remained at 7 p.m. About an hour later, the protesters had been funneled by advancing police to Aldrich Park, a large green lawn area nearby. An announcement was made about 8:10 to disperse within five minutes. Many in the remaining crowd left at that point.
Police remained in a line formation in various spots to prevent protesters from reassembling in the area.
In the past few weeks of the encampment, some protesters had been engaged in negotiations with university officials and the situation was largely peaceful, but he situation intensified over the past week.
In a statement posted on social media Wednesday as protesters descended on the Physical Sciences building, the UCI Divest protest group said it was “reclaiming the university for Palestine and for the people.”
“Exactly one week ago to the day, UC Irvine issued temporary suspensions to many students in the encampment, including the majority of the student negotiation team,” according to the group.
“Students barred from returning to their own campus residence halls, cannot come to campus at the peak of midterms and finals, and are already facing the emotional toll of seeing the university militarize itself before it even accepts ending the genocide and killings of the students’ family members and friends.”
UCI Divest added in its statement that university officials have called for a resumption of negotiations with protesters, “But how can we negotiate if our negotiators are barred from physical and virtual presence at UCI?”
Pro-Palestinian students speak during a protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

Pro-Palestinian students speak during a protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

In a statement issued at 10:49 p.m., Mr. Gillman said, “At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, we, along with most other UC campuses, received the latest ‘demands’ from the protesters. The protesters orchestrated a swift departure from their encampment. In a coordinated fashion they moved out of the encampment to the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall, where a small group barricaded themselves in, supported by a large group of community members who had gathered for a scheduled rally.
“For the last two weeks, I have consistently communicated that the encampment violated our policies but that the actions did not rise to the level requiring police intervention. My approach was consistent with the guidelines of UC’s Robinson/Edley Report, which urges the UC to exhaust all possible alternatives before resorting to police intervention.
“I was prepared to allow a peaceful encampment to exist on the campus without resorting to police intervention, even though the encampment violated our policies and the existence of the encampment was a matter of great distress to other members of our community. I communicated that if there were violations of our rules we would address them through the normal administrative policies of the university and not through police action.
“And so after weeks when the encampers assured our community that they were committed to maintaining a peaceful and nondisruptive encampment, it was terrible to see that they would dramatically alter the situation in a way that was a direct assault on the rights of other students and the university mission.
“The latest campus-specific and systemwide demands made by our encampers and their counterparts across the University of California attempted to dictate that anyone who disagreed with them must conform to their opinions. They asserted the right to oversee many elements of university operations involving the administration, faculty, students, and staff, bypassing customary campus protocols and ignoring the function of the Academic Senate.
“Most importantly, their assault on the academic freedom rights of our faculty and the free speech rights of faculty and students was appalling. One can only imagine the response if people on the other side of these issues established an encampment to force me to censor all anti-Zionist academic and student programming.
“But my concern now is not the unreasonableness of their demands. It is their decision to transform a manageable situation that did not have to involve police into a situation that required a different response. I never wanted that. I devoted all of my energies to prevent this from happening.
“I’m sorry this campus I love so much had to experience this terrible and avoidable situation. I remain steadfast in my commitment to protecting the rights of all members of our community to express whatever viewpoints they believe are essential for others to hear and engage. And I remain steadfast in my commitment to defend our faculty and students from efforts to prevent them from having the same rights of academic freedom and free speech as everyone else on this campus.
“My hope is that we can find our way to a culture of peace, mutual respect, and shared commitment to addressing our differences through the norms of scholarly inquiry and debate.”
Some protesters who were arrested and led away complained to media at the campus that they had done nothing wrong and were involved in a peaceful protest. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer issued a statement on social media noting that failure to disperse after police declare an unlawful assembly is a crime.
Mr. Spitzer said “the right to peaceful assembly is a constitutional right and we encourage protesters to exercise their right to peaceful assembly; however, criminal activity which transcends peaceful assembly, including violence and vandalism of any kind, will not be tolerated. Any evidence of criminal activity, including failure to obey lawful orders to disperse, will be investigated and thoroughly reviewed to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed.”
Police move to break up a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine on May 15, 2024. (Rudy Blalock/The Epoch Times)

Police move to break up a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine on May 15, 2024. (Rudy Blalock/The Epoch Times)

Police face-off with pro-Palestinian students and activists during a protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

Police face-off with pro-Palestinian students and activists during a protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Wagner, a former Irvine mayor, praised law enforcement for their response to the unrest.
“I would urge the students to all stand down and respect the declaration from UCI that this is an unlawful assembly and go back to class,” Mr. Wagner told City News Service. “I certainly hope nobody gets hurt. I would like to see this end quickly and peacefully, unlike what we saw at UCLA, and I’m watching to see what happens, but I understand and appreciate the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s response and expect them to do it as gently and as professionally as possible.”
Supervisor Katrina Foley issued a statement saying, “I value the right to peacefully protest. However, we cannot enable the recent escalations, which include the disruption of classes and [vandalism] of campus property.”
The University of California issued a statement April 26 noting that the system has “consistently opposed calls for boycott against and divestment from Israel. While the University affirms the right of our community members to express diverse viewpoints, a boycott of this sort impinges on the academic freedom of our students and faculty and the unfettered exchange of ideas on our campuses.
“UC tuition and fees are the primary funding sources for the University’s core operations. None of these funds are used for investment purposes,” the statement continued.
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