Threatening a hunger strike, a group of protesting UCSB students asked campus administrators last night to pressure the regents into severing ties with University of California-managed nuclear research laboratories.
At the nearly two-hour meeting, about 15 student activists spoke to top university and community officials, including UCSB Police Dept. Chief Bill Bean and Executive Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Young, providing loose details of their plans this and next week to rally against UC involvement with Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Group members said there will be an anti-nuclear rally this Wednesday at 1 p.m. in Storke Plaza, a hunger strike beginning Wednesday, followed by a tent city-style campout in front of Cheadle Hall until next Thursday, when the group will present its case to the UC Board of Regents at its regularly scheduled meeting in San Francisco.
The group echoed the arguments made by decades of anti-nuclear activists, highlighting moral and environmental reasons why the UC should withdraw support for nuclear weapons.
UCSB graduate student Nick Robinson spoke of the moral issues associated with nuclear weapons research and insisted that the time for mild protest measures has passed.
“As a student I have an obligation to address ills in society,” Robinson said. “There has been a long campaign for severance from the lab [and the hunger strike] is necessary to bring the campaign to the next level.”
Those participating in the hunger strike have pledged not to eat solid food until the regents sever all ties to the UC co-managed Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore labs, both of which help develop and maintain the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile. At the meeting, the students stated that there is no direct action the administration at UCSB can take to end the hunger strike.
The UC co-manages Lawrence Livermore, located in Northern California, and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico with several private corporations, including Bechtel National, Inc. UC President Robert Dynes has consistently supported UC involvement with the labs, citing the opportunities for research as well as the importance of UC directing programs affecting national security.
Students at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UCLA have pledged solidarity with UCSB students’ protests, and students at UC Davis and UC San Diego are contemplating possible additional action.
At the meeting, Associated Students Off-Campus Representative Jeronimo Saldana asked the administrators for a verbal statement of support for the group’s action. The administrators refused to move beyond noncommittal statements of concern for the students’ safety; however, Bean was more straightforward about his views.
“I really don’t support [these protests],” Bean said, referring the potentially unsafe hunger strike. “It presents a huge liability for the university.”
After hearing their plans out, administrators pushed the students to commit to specific health and safety guidelines and to further disclose specific details of the size, location and duration of the action.
Young asked the most direct questions, insisting that the university needed more information on the size of the protest to deal with the situation.
“We need the ability to respond appropriately,” Young said. “We need to get a sense of scope.”
To the dismay of the administration and Bean, the group refused to give an estimate of the size of its tent city, instead suggesting numbers from hundreds to thousands. Students additionally implied that the tent city would include non-students, raising further concerns of safety and liability.
The group made a number of requests to the university, including special access to restroom facilities and free parking. While the administration seemed willing to accommodate students by leaving outdoor restrooms unlocked and turning off sprinklers in areas where there would be camping, the request for free parking was rebuffed.
Dean of Social Sciences Melvin Oliver warned the protesters that their plans would fail, and they should consider more effective actions.
“The regents have no concern about [your health and safety],” Oliver said. “Think strategically.”