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UC Regents tables discussion on Item J1 to future meeting

The UC Board of Regents Academic and Student Affairs Committee voted Thursday to delay discussion on Item J1 – which would have restricted political statements on University departmental website homepages – until a future meeting. (Sam Mulick/Daily Bruin)

By Dylan Winward and Sam Mulick

May 16, 2024 1:42 p.m.

This post was updated May 17 at 12:21 a.m.

MERCED – The UC Board of Regents Academic and Student Affairs Committee deferred a proposal to limit University faculty from making political statements on departmental website homepages.

The regents previously delayed a vote on the proposal – Item J1 – in March to Thursday.

The proposal was deferred because there was judged to be insufficient time to discuss it Thursday. The regents had not yet finished their closed session discussions on campus safety by 12:30 p.m., when they were scheduled to have done so. The Daily Bruin understands there were also concerns that the regents would not have had a quorum to discuss the item.

The proposal mandates that departmental homepage websites can only be used for information regarding University operations. Personal or collective opinions of members of the department would not be permitted on departmental homepages, but the proposal would not restrict faculty members from posting opinions on their individual faculty webpages or social media.

The discussion item was previously tabled at the March regents meeting after faculty members criticized its implications for academic freedom. It has since been revised to permit departmental statements relating to political and social views – provided that they follow applicable laws, are not on the website homepage and contain a disclaimer stating that they do not represent an institutional viewpoint.

However, even with the revisions, faculty members have concerns about the proposals, according to a May 1 letter from James Steintrager, the faculty representative to the regents. The Academic Council letter says while faculty members believe the revised proposal is an improvement on the original, it still contains unclear definitions and leaves campus chancellors with too much scope to interpret its implementation.

The rationale behind the proposal – proposed by Regent Jay Sures in January – states that statements on departmental homepages would likely be associated with the University as an institution. 

“Individual or group statements on political or controversial issues that are posted on Units’ websites and are unrelated to the Unit’s day-to-day operations are likely to be interpreted by the public and the community as the University’s institutional views,” the proposal says.

In a statement sent via text message, Grace Hong – a member of Faculty for Justice in Palestine at UCLA – said she believes the policy is explicitly targeted at activism relating to Palestine. University administrators previously encouraged a departmental statement in solidarity with the families of the Asian massage workers murdered in Atlanta in 2021, she said.

“The J1 department political statement policy is just one example of the crackdown on free speech taking place on University of California campuses this year,” said Hong, a professor of Asian American studies and gender studies, in the statement. “It is no accident this policy is being considered after groups like Students for Justice in Palestine began organizing around the genocide in Gaza.” 

Many community members also spoke at public comment Thursday to oppose Item J1.

One speaker, who did not give their name, said they believe recent treatment of students, including a university failure to defend the Palestine solidarity encampment at UCLA from aggressors and UCLA’s decision to call the police on protesters, is unacceptable. Many alumni, including her, have pledged to stop giving unrestricted donations to the University, they said.

“It is beyond shameful that the students have been treated and are still being treated with unchecked violence and repression when they’re expressing their First Amendment freedom,” they said. “The fact that we’re still discussing J1 is absolutely ridiculous.”

Valeria Cantor Mendez, the vice chair of the UC Student Association and a student at UC Davis, also called on the regents to reject item J1, saying she believes the item infringed on the principle of freedom of speech. David Ramirez, government relations chair for UCSA, added that he believes item J1 would also prohibit department scholars from speaking out. 

Hoku Jeffrey – an organizer with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary – said he also has a petition, which he said has over 1,000 signatures, to oppose the passing of item J1. 

One faculty member spoke out during public comment in support of J1.

Kira Stein, the co-chair of the Jewish Faculty Resilience Group at UCLA, said she believes the regents should go further than proposal J1, instead banning all political statements made by departments. She added that if the board does pass the proposal, it would only be a first step. 

“Departments, as departments of a public university, should not be making political statements on any platform,” said Stein, an assistant clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine. “Department statements are inherently seen as representing the University and are coercive to junior faculty, nontenured faculty, students and staff.” 

The regents also discussed campus safety at a closed meeting Thursday, which was not open to the public or press.

Before that closed meeting, Celene Aridin – the president of UCSA – said the University has put undergraduate students in harm’s way. 

Loretta Gaffney, the co-chair of UC-AFT Unit 18 – which represents lecturers and librarians – also said during public comment that she believes the University has mismanaged protests, citing the attack on the Palestine solidarity encampment by aggressors and the subsequent police sweep at UCLA. 

“Hiring Rick Braziel as Associate Vice Chancellor of a newly created Office of Campus Safety signals that this approach to the crisis will be more policing and more arrests, further damaging the collective learning environment,” she said.

[Related: Chancellor Gene Block announces Office of Campus Safety]

Cantor Mendez added that she believes the regents should have acknowledged the police sweep of a Palestine solidarity encampment at UC Irvine at the meeting. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, police officers made over 50 arrests at UC Irvine after protesters occupied a lecture hall. Howard Gillman, the chancellor of UC Irvine, attended the UC Regents meeting the morning after the sweep via Zoom. 

Ramirez, a fourth-year geography/environmental studies student at UCLA, said he also believes the regents will be remembered for their violent police response to Palestine solidarity encampments.

“We’ve been taught to exercise our freedom of speech, and we’re protesting a genocide,” he said. “When my parents come to campus for commencement next month, I will have to tell them all the different ways that this university failed to keep us safe.” 

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Dylan Winward | News editor
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year English literature and statistics student.
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year English literature and statistics student.
Mulick is a news contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a third-year sociology student from northern New Jersey.
Mulick is a news contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a third-year sociology student from northern New Jersey.
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