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UC report on campus climate stirs free speech backlash

UC Berkeley Campanile
UC Berkeley Campanile
Adriel Hampton/Flickr

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In the 1960’s, UC Berkeley became well known as the birthplace of the campus free speech movement. Now, some University of California students see a threat to free speech brewing.

It started two years ago, when a number of disturbing incidents on UC campuses made big news. A group of Muslim students loudly interrupted the Israeli ambassador’s talk at the Irvine campus, prompting an outcry by Jewish and Muslim students. During Black History Month, a UC San Diego frat house sent out Facebook invitations to a “Compton Cookout”; after black students complained, a noose was found hanging in the library.

These and other incidents of perceived racism or anti-Semitism prompted UC president Mark Yudof to form a task force to assess the racial, cultural and religious climate on campuses. The 17-member Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion visited UC’s throughout the state to meet with students and talk about their concerns.

The council’s report, delivered to Yudof last month, suggests a campus-wide need to foster a more inclusive climate. Among their recommendations: diversity training for faculty and students, attention to the dietary and worship needs of Muslim and Jewish students, a review of student organization activities and the adoption of a “hate speech-free” campus policy. But the report has raised questions by students, faculty and civil rights groups. The National Lawyers Guild, the Council on American-Islamic Relationas and an ad hoc student-faculty group have all sent letters to Yudof questioning the study and its recommendations.

What was the council’s fact-finding process, and how did they reach the conclusions they did? What constitutes hate speech, and who decides the parameters? How is it distinguished from other forms of civil protest? What would a UC-wide “hate speech-free policy” look like and how will it be implemented? Even if such a policy is workable – is it constitutional?


Sarah Anne Minkin, PhD. candidate in sociology at University of California, Berkeley and a member of the UC Ad Hoc Committee on Jewish Campus Climate

Richard Barton, member of the UC Advisory Committee on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion, national chair of education for the Anti-Defamation League, Adjunct Professor of Law at University of San Diego School of Law