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UC Board of Regents Item J1 elicits mixed reactions from UCLA faculty

(Ashley Ko/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Sam Mulick

June 10, 2024 4:03 p.m.

UCLA faculty had mixed reactions to a UC Board of Regents proposal – Item J1 – that if approved would prohibit faculty from making political statements on departmental website homepages.

On May 17, the UC Board of Regents Academic and Student Affairs Committee delayed a vote on Item J1 – which had first been proposed in January and postponed in March – until it meets in July. The item, originally proposed by Regent Jay Sures, would mandate that departmental homepages only be used for information regarding University operations, limiting University faculty members to making political statements on their personal webpages or social media accounts. The item was revised after the March meeting 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.

[Related: UC Regents tables discussion on Item J1 to future meeting]

The proposal claims that political statements on departmental homepages risk being associated with the University’s institutional views. Some UC students and faculty have argued the proposal was made to prevent departments from making statements in favor of Palestine in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, said that university departments, unlike individual professors, do not have First Amendment rights and are therefore not entitled to the same academic freedoms.

“If the regents wanted to say, ‘We don’t want departments to express their views as departments,’ I think the regents would be perfectly free to do that,” said Volokh, who is also a First Amendment expert.

However, Matt Barreto, a Chicano/a studies and political science professor, said he believes the proposal is an attempt to limit the political expressions of academic departments. He added that he believes the University is becoming more conservative in its reaction to student and faculty activism.

Ahilan Arulanantham, the co-director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy and a professor from practice at the School of Law, said he fears the proposal will be implemented in a discriminatory manner. He added that he believes statements regarding the Israel-Hamas war will be carefully scrutinized, while political statements made on other issues will be ignored.

Barreto also said he disagrees with the rationale that a department website will be perceived as representative of the entire UC system’s political positions. He added that professors have an important obligation to speak out about political issues.

“When there is a very volatile issue that gets at our fundamental constitutional rights in the United States, I think it’s proper for universities – which are the centerpiece of free thought – and departments to issue a stance of what their department members believe,” Barreto said.

Volokh said specific departments do not have legal expertise on every political issue they speak about on their website. He added that he believes department-wide statements could make it seem as if every member of a department agrees with the statement.

“If the chemistry department also wants to have views on other subjects – on the Israel-Palestine conflict or on abortion or on same-sex marriage or whatever else – it can do that,” he said. “But it doesn’t belong in the homepage, which is the page that people go to in order to understand what it does by way of teaching chemistry.”

However, Arulanantham said some departmental work is inherently political. He added that he was concerned for his department, the Center for Immigration Law and Policy, which often publishes reports on controversial political issues.

Volokh also said he believes that it is the University administration’s job to dial the tension down on campus during controversial political moments.

“When you’ve got people at each other’s throats, sometimes literally, but also figuratively, within the university,” Volokh said. “You need to think about, as the people running the university: What can be done consistently with free speech? What can be done to reduce that kind of hostility?”

Barreto said he agrees that departments should include disclaimers stating that departmental statements do not represent the viewpoints of all members and meet a threshold of department members in agreement before issuing statements. However, he added that the proposal is inconsistent by allowing faculty members to make political statements on other parts of the website, just not the homepage.

Arulanantham said that the J1 policy could also negatively impact the University’s important role in contributing to political discourse.

“UCLA really benefits from robust centers and institutes and all of the discourse that is produced by those entities in different ways,” he said. “I worry that this kind of policy could chill some of that discourse.”

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Sam Mulick
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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