The UC Irvine Academic Senate is calling for an independent investigation into the administration’s crackdown of a protest at the on-campus Palestinian solidarity encampment on May 15,  though a controversial vote to censure Chancellor Howard Gillman’s narrowly failed.

Officers in riot gear from more than 20 Southern California law enforcement agencies responded to a crowd that swelled to an estimated 500 people at one point during the protest, making 47 arrests while clearing the gathering and the makeshift camp that officials said had stood in violation of campus policy since late April.

Some faculty members argue the decision to call police and sheriff deputies to campus violated protestors’ rights to free speech and peaceful assembly and threatened workplace safety. Others say the UCI Police Department’s call for additional law enforcement aid was warranted after several people barricaded themselves inside the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall and protesters expanded the encampment footprint through the afternoon even after police arrived.

The senate’s call to ask for an investigation into Gillman’s actions related to the encampment was approved 45 votes to nine with one abstention on Friday – votes were submitted anonymously via email by the senate assembly, a representative body of UCI faculty. Official meeting minutes published Monday confirm the vote tally.

Kristen Munroe, a political science professor, explained that the senate itself does not have the authority to initiate an investigation, so faculty are asking the University of California system’s President Michael Drake to hire an independent firm to look into events.

“In my own view, what is critical now is whether President Drake will authorize an investigation that is both independent and expeditious, the extent to which the UCI administration cooperates, what the independent investigators find, and what happens after an independent report is issued,” Munroe said.

The motion to investigate Gillman passed the day after a motion by the senate assembly to censure the chancellor failed Thursday in a tight anonymous vote during a Zoom teleconference — with 25 representatives in favor of the disciplinary measure, 30 against it and one abstaining.

Drake’s office did not comment specifically Monday on the calls for investigation, but the president — himself a former UCI chancellor — issued a statement in support of Gillman.

“The UC Irvine community has faced a challenging few weeks, and I am grateful for Chancellor Gillman’s engaged leadership during this difficult period,” Drake said. “A free speech expert, he has taken great pains to protect the First Amendment rights of protestors while also preserving UC Irvine’s ability to carry out its education, research and public service mission.”

For comment, UCI officials referred back to a lengthy document from Gillman and Provost Hal Stern created in response to prior Academic Senate inquiries. The document explains the administration’s decisions related to the encampment.

“On several occasions, university leadership has provided in-depth responses to questions from the Academic Senate related to the encampment and the events of May 15,” said UCI spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp. “The administration stands by those responses and will continue to engage with the Senate as appropriate on these topics.”

“The voting result from a recent Senate meeting demonstrates that the majority of the members of the Senate Assembly were understanding of the incredibly challenging situation that the chancellor and administration were faced with,” Uhlenkamp added in regards to the failed censure vote.

Was the censure vote valid?

Some professors want that censure vote stricken from the official record due to procedural and ethical violations they say occurred during Thursday’s meeting. Three faculty members said the motion to censure Gilman failed after it was “poisoned” by comments made by Senate Chair Arvind Rajaraman, who they say inadvertently violated parliamentary rules and ethics during voting.

Rajaraman declined to comment Monday, saying the issue may be raised at a future senate assembly meeting. Lecturer Brook Haley says he expects a motion to strike the censure vote from the record will be raised at the senate’s next meeting on Friday.

Thursday’s Zoom meeting was closed to press, but three faculty members in attendance, including Munroe and Haley, described “chaos,” saying Rajaraman struggled to maintain order of a virtual room full of approximately 500 professors and lecturers – with only the assembly members voting.

“People didn’t know what the rules were,” Munroe said, adding that on top of procedural questions around the vote, many faculty members expressed confusion about what a vote of censure entailed — and no clear answers were given.

Haley described the meeting as “awkward theater where some people didn’t know where the stage ended and the audience began.”

“They just started shouting, and Rarjaraman was not able to control that,” Haley said. “The whole [voting] sequence was out of order technically from Robert’s Rules, but by then Rajaraman had lost control of the meeting.” Robert’s Rules is America’s foremost guide to rules and ethics for governing decision-making and discussions in committees.

The faculty members said the censure vote was compromised in several additional ways.

“Most damning to me was that the discussion continued after the vote was opened, so there were still people speaking about the merits of the measure and their disagreement with the chair’s remarks while voting was open,” Haley said.

They also said that while Rajaraman seemed to try his best to maintain order, he spoke out of turn by estimating that more faculty members at the senate’s prior meeting on May 31 spoke in favor of censure than against it. They said Rajaraman never should have made that comment because no motion to censure ever arose during the May 31 meeting. Any estimate was pure conjecture, they said.

Rajaraman’s comment led to clamor from Gillman supporters calling to nullify the vote before the final tally came back. But after the censure failed, they stopped complaining, Haley said. “It seemed disingenuous that calls the vote had been tainted stopped once the results were favorable to the people making that complaint.”

Furthermore, Munroe and Haley confirmed that some professors and lecturers spoke multiple times during the meeting before others “in the queue” had the chance to voice their first comment. This violated senate rules, they said, and contradicted Rajaraman’s instructions, according to official meeting minutes, that “no participant shall speak more than once before everyone who wishes to speak during discussion on each motion has had an opportunity to do so.”

They pinpointed other procedural concerns such as when, they said, voting members undermined the condition of anonymity by announcing their votes before others had cast their own. Confusion about whether students could tune into the meeting or make comments also might have prevented some information from reaching representatives, they said.

Munroe said she believes an independent investigation could help provide clarity about the events on and around May 15. With additional information, she said representatives could make a more informed decision about how to respond to Gillman’s actions that day.

“I think when things got chaotic, several people who spoke against the motion to censure did so, it seemed to me, because they felt we needed more time and better facts,” Munroe said. “So that suggested that we needed to have an investigation, and probably the vote to have an investigation should have come first.”

This Friday, the senate assembly will meet for the third time since May 15 to discuss the fallout from that afternoon.

For its part, UCI’s graduate student government passed a symbolic no-confidence vote in Gillman one week ago, and outspoken Palestinian activist groups continue to call for his resignation during ongoing protests.

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