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UCSD Coalition Letter to V.C. Paul Drake re: Ricardo Dominguez


April 5, 2010


Professor Paul Drake, Senior Vice-Chancellor Acadamic Affairs

UC San Diego

9500 Gilman Dr.

La Jolla

CA 0065


Dear SVCAA Drake:


The UCSD Faculty Coalition has learned that one of its members, Ricardo

Dominguez (Associate Professor, Visual Arts Department), is being

investigated for an artistic project ("Virtual Sit-In on University of

California Office of the President") he developed on March 4, 2010 in

conjunction with the recent student protests on campus. Your office has

informed Professor Dominguez that you are attempting to determine the

legal grounds necessary to file criminal charges against him. These

charges, if successful, could lead to the revocation of his tenure at UCSD

or other disciplinary procedures through the Committee on Privilege and

Tenure. Two detectives from the UCSD Police Department (Officers Michael

Britton and Garrett Williams) have since interviewed Professor Dominguez

(on March 30, 2010) and made it clear that they were concerned with

whether or not he had violated any city, county, state or federal laws,

with the goal of turning their findings over to the San Diego City

Attorney's office or the California state Attorney General.


We hereby inform you that the Faculty Coalition views these developments

with great alarm and is prepared to oppose them in the strongest possible

terms. We are particularly concerned because of the implied attempt to

criminalize an artistic practice, "Electronic Civil Disobedience" or ECD,

which is central to Professor Dominguez's role as a researcher in Visual

Arts at UCSD. This attempt is evident in the initial documentation of the

complaint, which erroneously claims that the March 4 project involved the

use of  "botnet" code and "zombie" computers (see e-mail from Elazar

Harel, March 5, 2010, "Denial of Service Attack Against UCOP Website").

This misunderstanding is unfortunate, as the distinction between ECD and a

"classic Denial of Service attack" (e-mail from Paul Weiss to David Ernst

and Nathan Brostrom, March 4, 2010), is absolutely central to Professor

Dominguez's work, and was discussed in some detail in the referee letters

for his tenure promotion file (approved by your office in 2009). As you

note in your notification letter of March 30, 2009, "Professor Dominguez .

. . has been a defining figure in the migration of performance art from

physical space to virtual space. Professor Dominguez's work, first with

Critical Art Ensemble and then with Electronic Disturbance Theater, has

been highly cited, and he has been invited to lecture on the work across a

host of important international venues . . . The esteemed status of

Professor Dominguez's field-defining work has been duly noted by the

external referees, who include major international intellectuals working

in performance art, new media and globalization".


The central importance of ECD, and a related practice, "Electronic

Disturbance Theater," to Professor Dominguez's research is referenced

repeatedly in those same referee letters. Thus, Stephen Duncombe of New

York University notes that Professor Dominguez "is one of the seminal

figures in the cross-over world of activism and art . . . He continually

pushes the boundaries of the field, and in the process redefines it  . . .

His Electronic Civil Disobedience enthralled practitioners and scholars of

contemporary social movements by theorizing that one could move the

terrain of an age-old political tactic to the internet." Michael Hardt, of

Duke University, argues that Professor Dominguez's work with Electronic

Disturbance Theater has been "widely influential in academic fields such

as critical theory and performance studies . . . He has essentially

invented a form of political activism and civil disobedience that combines

art performance and new technologies." Finally, Rita Raley of UC Santa

Barbara clearly states that "the bulk of Dominguez's work falls under the

category of art-activism . . . it is not for nothing that this art

practice is also known as 'Electronic Civil Disobedience' . . . There are

important differences between EDT and what we might call basic distributed

denial-of-service attacks . . . First, EDT by no means aims simply to halt

server traffic. An important component of any EDT performance . . .

involves an error message that itself is part of the performance.

Specifically, the applet will request files with names such as 'Justice,'

'Freedom,' and 'Human Rights' from targeted websites; the error message

then in effect reads, 'Justice Not Found'. As a performative exercise EDT

has three parts: Act 1 is the announcement of the action; Act II is the

action itself; and Act III is the follow up discussion. The discussion is

the site for sophisticated theoretical intervention."


"Classic" denial of service attacks use the computers of unknowing

individuals as the conduits or vehicles for increased traffic to a given

URL, through a program surreptitiously placed on these computers via the

internet. The goal is to mask or obscure the identity of the actual

perpetrators. As Professor Raley emphasizes, ECD or EDT are defined

precisely by their transparency, and by the open acknowledgement of

responsibility. Professor Dominguez's March 4 action was widely publicized

ahead of time as a form of conscious, public speech, with the intention of

demonstrating the breadth of support for UC-wide protests against the

dismantling of public education in the state of California. Professor

Brett Stallbaum, one of Professor Dominguez's collaborators and a fellow

developer of ECD, further clarifies the distinction:


A botnet runs autonomously and automatically, and operates under remote

direction. The owners/users of zombie computers controlled by a botnet are

generally not aware that their computer is performing any action that

could have an effect on a third party or targeted website. Neither are

owners/users typically even aware that their computer's security has been

compromised, nor that it is under the direct and ongoing control of a

third party. By contrast, in a Virtual Sit-in, there is no botnet

controlling anything . . . in a Virtual Sit-in the owners/users are always

aware that their computers are having an effect on a third party machine

or website. This is a very important difference that goes directly to the

issue of legality and free speech . . . as organizers of hundreds of past

EDT related protests Ricardo (and I) have always taken full and complete

public credit for organizing the protests. Instead of maintaining the

anonymity desired by criminals, we maintain the public face of citizens

freely expressing ourselves as artists.


This key distinction, and the broad academic recognition of ECD as a form

of contemporary artistic practice, is elided in the language of the

investigation against Professor Dominguez launched by UCSD. In the absence

of any more compelling explanation for this sudden willingness to

criminalize a research-based artistic practice that the university, only a

year ago, recognized as deserving of tenure, one can only assume that UCSD

has been placed under some form of external political pressure. Whether

this pressure is coming from the UC Office of the President or some other

source it represents a disturbing breach of the university's obligation to

maintain a climate of free creative and academic inquiry.


The Faculty Coalition is deeply concerned about the chilling effect that

will result from this investigation. We view the attempt to prosecute

Professor Dominguez on criminal grounds as a serious assault on the

principles of academic freedom and the right to protest. In our view, a

major goal of the investigation is to intimidate Professor Dominguez and

dissuade him from examining activities for which the university has

hitherto routinely rewarded him. All that appears to have changed is that

in the course of the student protests, UCSD became the object of Professor

Dominguez' acclaimed work. Thus, it is the object of his criticism, and

not the nature of his work, that appears to have set off the criminal

investigation. In short, Professor Dominguez is being muzzled for purely

institutional reasons and his rights as both scholar and citizen are under

attack. Therefore, the Faculty Coalition also views the on-going criminal

investigation as an attempt to intimidate and silence all other faculty,

staff and students who exposed and mobilized against racism on the campus

and eventually singled out the administration as a major pillar of the

"hostile campus climate" that has taken root at UCSD.  The attack on

Professor Dominguez is therefore a shot across our collective bow, an

attempt to restrict both academic freedom and the right to dissent against

the University.


The energetic investigation of Professor Dominguez contrasts starkly with

the university's tepid response to the various outrages perpetrated by

students, including the criminal destruction of University property and

the serial commission of hate crimes on campus. To date, no charges of any

kind have been brought against a small number of known perpetrators who

repeatedly violated the civil rights of many students, staff and faculty

and created an inhospitable climate that almost brought the campus to a

standstill. The contrast between the treatment of Professor Dominguez and

the Koala is particularly galling and offensive. You will recall that

Chancellor Fox refused to act against the Koala for fear of infringing on

the newspaper's "freedom of speech". In light of this response, the

criminal investigation of Professor Dominguez is bizarre, and an egregious

insult to the scholarly community at UCSD.


It should be noted that over past two to three months Professor Dominguez

and his collaborators have received several death threats in response to

their research. Comments such as "Hopefully, you traitors will be shot in

the back of your heads when you least expect it" (and much worse) have

been posted directly on the bang.lab website and also mailed to Professor

Grant Kester, Chair of the Visual Arts Department. At a time of

increasingly violent rhetoric from political extremists in this country,

including harassment and threats directed at public officials who hold

alternate political views, it is deeply troubling that our administration

is not mounting a more robust defense of the mission of the university as

a site of autonomous, critical, reflection. While the threats today are

directed at ECD, tomorrow they may well be aimed at evolutionary biology

or genomic research.

We call upon the UCSD administration to discontinue the unwarranted attack

it has initiated against Professor Dominguez and on the very principles of

free inquiry on which the university system is based.




The UCSD Faculty Coalition