A Berkeley ‘Escape Hatch’
The University of California at Berkeley played down news last summer that it had installed an “escape hatch” from protesters in the chancellor’s office. The term was “the concoction of a 19-year-old headline writer,” a university spokesman said, referring to the student reporter who broke the story. “It’s a door,” the rep said, later adding that campus security thought it was “beneficial” to have more than one exit.
But internal emails we’ve seen show that a staff “deeply disturbed by
In a proposal requesting funding for the $9,000 security door, the chancellor’s office detailed the risk of “vandalism & malicious mischief” and a “high . . . level of probability of future loss or injury if [the] condition is not addressed.” The proposal noted that protesters had “rushed the building and attempted to occupy” the chancellor’s office in April 2015. “Staff people pushed to close the office doors while protestors pushed them open.”
Approval of the project was “GREAT NEWS” and provided “a more secure exit for the Chancellor and staff in the event of a serious, and possibly life-threatening emergency,” wrote Dee Middleton, building manager for the hall that houses the chancellor’s office, in a June 18, 2015 email.
After repeated vandalism and trespassing, the university also installed a $700,000 security fence around the home of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. In April Mr. Dirks said his office’s “so-called escape hatch” was installed at the behest of nervous staffers, adding that while he personally felt safe on campus, “I do feel, though, that Berkeley is under siege.”
He has a point. In February rioting protesters prompted Berkeley to cancel a speech by blogger Milo Yiannopoulos and evacuate him from campus. Some of the masked activists set fires, threw Molotov cocktails, and tossed fireworks and rocks at university police.
Berkeley’s associate executive vice chancellor Phyllis Hoffman wrote on June 4, 2016 that administrators at “both [University of California] Santa Cruz and Davis talked about the level of trauma their staff has experienced,” adding that they were “fearful after some intrusive and aggressive student protests, similar to ours.”
So there you have it: Administrators are no longer figuratively retreating or cowering from out-of-control students. They’re creating the physical architecture to literally do so. It might be more dignified and less expensive to have these kids arrested when they break the law.
Appeared in the August 10, 2017, print edition.