Communicating with pepper spray



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Teri Bernstein, MBA, CPA has been teaching full time in the Business Department of Santa Monica College since 1985.  Prior to that, she worked in Internal Audit and Special Financial Projects for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, CBS, Inc., and Coopers & Lybrand (which is now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers).  She attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

photo by Louise Macabitas

Universities have been setting a pretty poor example on the business communication front lately. First, Penn State, then, on Friday, November 18th: the University of California at Davis. Chancellor Linda Katehi called in riot police to remove students from the Quad area in the middle of campus, where they were protesting tuition hikes, brutality at UC Berkeley, and showing solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  While students were peacefully sitting down with their arms locked, police in riot gear sprayed them with pepper spray, as demonstrated in the photo above, and the video below.


video link to youtube

Neither the UC Davis police chief, Annette Spicuzza, nor the Chancellor have responded with honesty or transparency. On the contrary, their responses are examples of how NOT to communicate in the era of ubiquitous video cameras.

According to an online NYT article by Brian Stelter:

"Annette Spicuzza, the U.C. Davis police chief, told The Sacramento Bee that the officers used pepper spray on Friday because the police were surrounded by students. “There was no way out of that circle,” she told the newspaper. “They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.”

The videos, however, show officers freely moving about and show students behaving peacefully. The university reported no instances of violence by any protesters."

The New York Times version is corroborated by videos linked at the Davis Wiki.

Separately, according to the Davis Enterprise, Chancellor Katehi refused to meet with students. Instead, she issued a prepared statement to reporters in the Surge II building, calling for a task force to study the situation. Even though students made a path for her to exit, and promised to be orderly, Katehi refused to leave without an escorting entourage.  Minister Kristin Stoneking helped escort Chancellor Katehi and wrote about the process on her blog.  Katehi did not take the opportunity to speak to students who stood silently (as they had agreed) while she walked to her car (see video).  Katehi said she would talk to students on Monday.

Oh, by the way--the student with the maroon jacket and hood, seated at the far left of the lead picture, is my daughter...a junior at UC Davis. She is studying Sustainable Agriculture.  She is also the young woman playing the guitar in the picture below (taken an hour before the pepper spraying).  

Music is another way to communicate...

 another way to communicate...(photo downloaded from Facebook)

Follow up:

1.  Review the response by the UC Davis police chief. Have you ever lied when you have done something that you regret, for the purpose of not looking bad in the eyes of others? How did that play out? What were you inner thoughts while you were misrepresenting the truth?  Did you get away with it? If you got found out, were the consequences worse or better as the result of your misrepresentation?

2. Have you ever used physical force to get your way? Has physical force ever been used against you? Is it acceptable when the other person is not using violence?  What does the use of physical force communicate? Please give specific examples.

3. If you were Chancellor Katehi, how would you have handled the situation involving the pepper spraying, after the fact?  Would you have met with students?  Would you have apologized?  Would you have increased the police presence? 

4.  What have been the unintended consequences of the pepper spraying on the Occupy movement at UC Davis?

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