WASHINGTON -- Faculty in the University of California system said this week that the group appointed to lead an investigation into the controversial pepper-spraying incident on the UC Davis campus is far from independent.
On Nov. 18, student protesters at UC Davis were pepper-sprayed at close range by campus police while demonstrating against tuition hikes. Footage of the event went viral and the police chief and two officers involved have since been put on leave. In response to the controversial actions, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi called for an independent investigation.
"Multiple investigations and reviews are underway to learn why police -- despite my explicit instructions that no force be used in removing tents and other equipment from the area -- elected to employ pepper spray. But let me again be clear: it was absolutely wrong and unnecessary," Katehi said in a message sent to students on Nov. 23.
But in an open letter, Robert Meister, head of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, called for University of California president Mark Yudof to swap out Kroll Security Group and its chairman William Bratton as the ones in charge of the investigation.
Meister, who is also a political science professor at UC Santa Cruz, said Kroll has already been hired as a security consultant for UC campuses, and has a conflict of interest in conducting an "independent" review of policies they may have helped put in place.
Lynn Tierney, vice-president of communications at UC, said the work Kroll has done in the past consisted of background checks, security around visits from foreign dignitaries and security around faculty singled out for the work they do.
Jack Papp, a spokesman with Altegrity/Kroll, insisted there is no conflict of interest with Kroll and was quick to dismiss Meister's criticism.
"[I]t is clear that some of the commentators do not have a complete understanding of the nature and content of the professional advice and counsel that Bill Bratton provides to nations and organizations," Papp said.
Tierney said the Kroll investigation -- which the UC Davis chancellor requested be conducted by an outside entity -- is narrowly tailored to the pepper-spray incident at UC Davis on Nov. 18. Other reviews are also being conducted across the UC system of colleges by faculty, campus leaders and alumni.
A broader concern for Meister, however, is that Kroll has been hired by a who's-who of financial industry giants like Bear Stearns, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Bloomberg.
"The University is literally hiring the same security company that is protecting the financial service industry," Meister told HuffPost.
Bratton, the man chosen to lead the UC Davis investigation, is a former police chief in Los Angeles, Boston and New York City. He currently serves as vice-chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, in addition to serving as the chairman of Kroll.
Meister said students who have been protesting against tuition hikes for years in California are turning their attention from the state making budget cuts to the University itself. He said connections from the UC Board of Regents to financial institutions are an incentive for both to increase the student loan debt burden.
Regent Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Fienstein (D-Calif.), is the Chairman and President of Blum Capital. Regent Monica Lozano has worked for Bank of America and Regent Paul Wachter was Senior Vice President of Wachovia. George M. Marcus, Paul Wachter and Leslie Tang Schilling are other Regents who have ties to investment banking.
"Students are now much more focused between the increasing links between the University and Wall Street and less against the budget cuts," Meister said.
In the open letter, Meister also wrote that Kroll's parent company, Providence Private Equity, is a "major global investor in for-profit higher education companies that benefit from the decline of publicly funded higher education."
Other professors were pessimistic about any investigation, after seeing reviews of controversial campus police action before. Catherine Cole, a professor in the theater department of the UC Berkeley campus, said "There's a lot of suspicion about these reports and investigations that don't lead to anything [despite taking a lot of time]."
Hannah Kirshner, a student at UC Davis, said students are largely looking to the administration for answers at this point, in part because Katehi ordered police to clear student protesters from the campus on Nov. 18. But in the meantime, Kirshner said, the pepper-spray incident pushed more students to join protests on campus.
The investigation is supposed to conclude within a month and a fee to be paid to Kroll has not yet been nailed down, Tierney said.
Tierney said the University did not see a conflict of interest in hiring Kroll and will not be dismissing them from the investigation.
"In every case when Bill Bratton's professional expertise and advice is sought -- be it in the U.K. this past summer to the Home Secretary following riots in the London area or his service as Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, whose members provide recommendations to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security -- his work is based on comprehensive reviews of the specific incidents that examine the facts and circumstances through the lens of his significant professional background and success in the fields of security, counter terrorism and law enforcement," Papp said.