The Senate Source

April 2016

UC Regents Adopt Statement Against Intolerance with Academic Council Amendment

At its March 24, 2016 meeting, the UC Regents adopted a policy statement of Principles Against Intolerance, after accepting a last minute amendment to the Statement’s pre-amble proposed by the University Committee on Academic Freedom (UCAF) and the Academic Council.

Senate Chair Hare says the Statement has several attributes that strengthen and preserve the mission of the University.  

“The Statement recognizes freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry as bedrock values of a public University and pledges that the University will defend them. It strongly affirms First Amendment protections and affirms the right to engage in even impassioned dialogue on issues and debate those issues on the merits of the speakers’ views. Importantly, the Statement avoids the mistakes of other Universities that attempted to define “hate speech” or devise speech codes, few if any of which have survived judicial review. The policy clearly states that actions that attempt to deprive others of their freedom of speech or actions that threaten, intimidate, cause injury or damage property are not protected. The clear separation of protected speech from unprotected acts is a fundamental and extremely important distinction that the faculty appreciate.”

The Statement has been controversial ever since members of the University community pushed the Regents last year to adopt a set of Principles in response to a series of anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses. The Regents rejected an earlier version of the Principles in September 2015, over concerns that they did not adequately address anti-Semitism. In response, the Regents formed a Working Group, led by Regent Eddie Island that included five Regents, Academic Senate Chair Hare, a chancellor, and UCOP’s Vice Provost and Chief Outreach Officer. The Working Group crafted a set of principles that address anti-Semitism specifically, as well as the need to protect free speech and academic freedom. The amended Statement includes a six-page Contextual Statement that frames the Policy. It condemns acts of intolerance, affirms the need to protect free speech and academic freedom, and distinguishes protected speech from unprotected acts of violence and vandalism. It notes that the role of the public university is to bring together diverse communities of students who do not necessarily share the same views in a space that challenges them intellectually and socially.

The Working Group consulted widely before drafting the Principles. It hosted a day-long public forum, met with scholarly experts, and gathered input from students, faculty, staff, and the general public. The Report notes that “many existing University policies address issues related to intolerance on campus.” An appendix to the Report summarizes UC’s existing policies.

The release of the Final Report of the Working Group in the week before the March 24 meeting produced a deluge of news articles, opinion pieces, and blog posts, primarily around the use of the term “anti-Zionism” in the Contextual Statement preceding the Principles. The amendment proposed by UCAF and endorsed by Council clarified that “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” rather than simply “anti-Zionism” should be considered discrimination, to distinguish Zionism – a political viewpoint protected under the First Amendment and academic freedom – from anti-Semitism – racial discrimination which, of course, is unprotected.

“The amended statement addresses the most significant concern of the faculty, which was the potential for an overly-broad interpretation of ‘anti-Zionism,’” said Hare. “The amended statement does not impinge upon legitimate teaching, research, and debate about Zionism and its alternatives but does condemn assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture in the name of anti-Zionism.” 

The Academic Council’s views and concerns are outlined in a March 21 letter to the Working Group. There were also concerns that the Principles themselves privilege anti-Semitism over other forms of discrimination by including a paragraph about anti-Semitism; however, these concerns were not addressed by the Regents.

Chair Hare says the amended Statement appropriately defers to, but charges, the campus administrations to develop procedures for implementation and for the imposition of discipline as well as the determination of appropriate sanctions for intolerant acts.