The regents of the University of California passed today the “Regents Policy: Principles Against Intolerance.” It is a circumspect statement condemning anti-Semitism while upholding in no uncertain terms the principles of free and critical speech. Instead of muddling into the contested zone of “tolerance,” the statement takes the negative form in opposition to “intolerance.”
That such a statement was even considered in the first place is an indication as to how discourse about Zionism and Israel has gone off the rails on so many university and college campuses. In other words, supporters of BDS and other anti-Zionist activists on campus have only themselves to blame. There were many complaints about an earlier statement conflating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as having “no place” at UC. That language was wisely amended to refer to “anti-Semitic forms” of anti-Zionism.
No doubt, even the revised statement will outrage anti-Zionist activists on campus. They will argue that the statement of principles chills their own free speech and right to protest. But the statement is very clear that even all speech, including prejudiced speech, is to be protected. Mostly, one suspects that activist groups like SJP and JVP and their on-campus advocates will object because of the strong statement against actions on campus that violate by shutting down the free speech of others.
I’m posting here a copy of the old statement, with the original language.
Here is my digest of the contents:
–The most controversial statement was the first line in the second paragraph: “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”
–A review of contradictory opinion about how best to deal with the problem at hand, namely the slippage of anti-Zionist activism into bullying, harassment, and anti-Semitism.
–A statement respecting diversity and free speech and intellectual challenge, recognizing that heritage identity is tied up with politics, conflict and violence including mention of Islamophobia, anti-black racism, immigration, LGBT issues, as well a more broadly, “differences arising from race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, or other individual identity.”
–Concern is expressed regarding “social exclusion, stereotyping, threats of violence or vandalism” ranging across a broad spectrum from rudeness to criminal behavior
–A statement recommending against policing speech. “Punishing expressions of prejudice and intolerance will not prevent such expressions or change the minds of speakers. In confronting statements reflecting bias, prejudice or intolerance arise from ignorance of the histories and perspectives of others, the University is uniquely situated to respond with more speech – to educate members of our community about the different histories and perspectives from which we approach important issues. As a public university, First Amendment principles and academic freedom principles must be paramount in guiding the University’s response to instances of bias, prejudice and intolerance and its efforts to create and maintain an equal campus learning environment for all.”
–The actual Principles Against Intolerance balance the right to free speech with responsibilities that include mutual respect and civility. There is nothing in the principles that would not protect Muslim students from Islamophobia.
But for campus groups supporting BDS that engage in protesting the free speech of others, this is where the rubber hits the road. And this is precisely why the regents weighed in on these debates now roiling campuses across the country:
–There is no attempt to police speech. Actions are what matter. “Actions that physically or otherwise interfere with the ability of an individual or group to assemble, speak, and share or hear the opinions of others (within time place and manner restrictions adopted by the University) impair the mission and intellectual life of the University and will not be tolerated.”
–“Harassment, threats, assaults, vandalism, and destruction of property, as defined by University policy, will not be tolerated within the University community. Where investigation establishes that such unlawful conduct was targeted at an individual or individuals based on discrimination prohibited by University policy, University administrators should consider discipline that includes enhanced sanctions.”