UC regents once again delay decision on proposed policy to limit expression of certain faculty members

The University of California’s board of regents once again deferred a vote on a contentious measure that seeks to limit faculty departments from expressing opinionated views on the main pages of university websites. The policy may be revisited at the regents’ July gathering in San Francisco.

The proposal was first introduced in response to certain faculty departments, including UC Santa Cruz’s ethnic studies department, posting statements on their websites criticizing Israel’s invasion of Gaza following the Hamas attack in Israel. The potential implementation of this policy coincides with pro-Palestinian demonstrations and encampments emerging across the 10 campuses in the system, resulting in numerous arrests and a violent counter-protest at UCLA.

The appropriate response, if any, by universities to diverse protest actions has now become a pressing issue not only in California but also nationwide, impacting graduation events and faculty backing of campus leadership.

The agenda for Thursday’s regents meeting at UC Merced featured the policy as an action item for regents to vote on, yet for the third consecutive time, the decision was postponed. Unlike prior meetings, the subject was not publicly discussed before the regents chose to defer the vote, without clarifying whether it was deliberated in a closed session.

Across the UC system, faculty members have voiced opposition to the policy, contending that it would impinge on academic freedom and questioning its enforcement mechanisms. However, proponents of the proposal, spearheaded by regent Jay Sures, argue that it is necessary to prevent misconceptions that the opinions of faculty departments reflect the entire UC system. Sures did not respond to inquiries on why the item was postponed once more on Thursday.

Per the latest version, political or opinionated statements would be prohibited on departmental websites’ main pages but allowed elsewhere with a disclaimer affirming that these views do not represent the broader campus or university system.

Prior to the regents’ meeting, academic senate leaders urged against adopting the policy in favor of endorsing recommendations from 2022. While the current policy largely aligns with the senate’s recommendations, there are some distinctions. The senate advises that faculty departments should be able to issue political statements on UC homepages, but with disclaimers and without taking stances on elections.

“We would appreciate a direct endorsement from the Regents of the 2022 Senate recommendations rather than the formulation of new and somewhat ambiguous bureaucratic regulations that raise concerns about compliance and enforcement,” wrote James Steintrager, senate chair, in a letter to the regents before this week’s meeting.

Steintrager also acknowledged that the policy is an improvement from previous iterations because it “clearly outlines goals, defines essential terms more explicitly, and offers better specificity on the types of statements covered.”

Furthermore, Steintrager expressed gratitude that the regents solicited input from the senate ahead of the meeting. This sentiment was echoed by James Vernon, UC Berkeley history professor and Berkeley Faculty Association chair, who noted that the regents took a consultative approach with the academic senate leading up to the meeting.

Nevertheless, Vernon, alongside senate leaders, remains apprehensive about the policy and questions whether it falls within the regents’ purview.

“To me, this policy constitutes an overextension by the regents. The academic senate has already issued a report on website statements, establishing discretionary guidelines for campuses and departments to adhere to,” Vernon remarked.

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