UC considers restricting faculty speech on university websites despite opposition from faculty members

This update on Friday now includes that the UC Academic Senate has urged the regents to reject the policy.

Faculty members are expressing concerns about their academic freedom being violated by the University of California, which is set to discuss a policy that would restrict them from making opinionated statements on university websites. The issue gained attention following criticisms of Israel made by some faculty last fall over its actions in Gaza.

The upcoming policy for consideration by the board of regents next week would bar faculty and staff from sharing their personal or collective opinions on the main landing pages or homepages of department websites. However, faculty would still be allowed to express their opinions elsewhere on the university’s websites as long as they include a disclaimer clarifying that their views do not represent the university or their department.

The final version of the policy is expected to be finalized next week, with feedback from the university’s Academic Senate accepted until Friday. The Senate’s Academic Council is urging the regents to reject the proposed policy after a systemwide review.

Some UC faculty members are alarmed that the regents are even considering such a policy, arguing that matters of academic freedom should not fall under the regents’ purview. They are questioning the enforceability of the policy and see it as an attempt to suppress discussions about Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Concerns are raised as there is a national challenge to academic freedom, with some faculty members worried that the regents are straying from their core responsibilities. The issue is seen as related to Palestine and the political stances of certain regents.

UC officials assert that the action is necessary to prevent faculty opinions from being misconstrued as representing the university’s views. The regents previously postponed a vote on a similar policy in January but are now revisiting the matter in March, prompted by concerns over political statements related to Hamas and Palestinians made by some faculty members.

The current version of the policy restricts statements only on main landing pages, a less severe approach compared to the initial proposal that would have banned statements on any official communication channel.

In 2022, the UC Academic Senate determined that UC faculty departments have the right to make statements on university-owned websites that steer clear of election positions. Some faculty members view the revised policy as an improvement, noting that it is less restrictive despite ongoing concerns about academic freedom.

While UC officials have not commented on the story, the regents are set to review the policy at their upcoming meeting.

Linking to Oct. 7 attack

The move to limit faculty statements is linked to the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and the subsequent Gaza bombardment by Israel, resulting in significant casualties. UC system leaders condemned the Hamas attack and faced criticism for not acknowledging Palestinian suffering in their statements.

Interactions between UC ethnic studies faculty and regent Jay Sures further intensified the debate, as Sures pushed for the proposal to restrict faculty speech on UC websites. The issue sparked controversy after some faculty departments displayed statements condemning Israel’s actions.

Involving faculty

Similar to UC, other institutions like Barnard College have restricted political statements on department websites. The move has raised concerns about free speech and the need for shared governance in developing such policies.

The American Association of University Professors emphasizes the importance of faculty involvement in policy-making regarding political statements on university websites. UC has progressed in seeking faculty input since January, with revised policies being shared for feedback.

Despite revisions, faculty members remain wary of the policy’s implications for academic freedom. Questions linger about enforcement and the definition of opinionated statements under the proposed policy.

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