How Can UC Head Off Intolerance Without Stifling Free Speech?

September 21, 2015

By Editorial at Los Angeles Daily News

QUESTION OF THE WEEK >> Moved by anti-Semitic incidents at UCLA and other campuses, the University of California is starting to work on a policy aimed at heading off intolerance without infringing on free speech.

That won’t be easy. UC officials’ first attempt at a “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” drew complaints both from members of Jewish groups, who said it failed to specifically address anti-Semitism, and free-speech advocates, who said it would stifle the open debate essential to academic life. On Sept. 17, the UC Board of Regents voted to try again, naming a committee to work on what would be the first such policy statement by an American state university system.

Our Question of the Week for readers is: How can universities protect tolerance and free speech?

This tension is common in many walks of life but particularly on college campuses in an era of rising multiculturalism and online expression.

Debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular, has brought complaints of intolerance.

An example that made headlines was the incident at UCLA in February when, at a confirmation hearing, a Student Council member asked a candidate for the campus Judicial Board if, being Jewish, she could “maintain an unbiased view.” The questioner later apologized and the candidate was approved.

The argument over a new UC speech policy could focus on how to define anti-Semitism. Jewish groups have urged using the U.S. State Department’s definition, but others say that wording conflates criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism.

Southern California also has seen examples of problems with trying to restrain political speech. Cal Poly Pomona and Citrus College paid to settle lawsuits over their policies of restricting demonstrations to specific areas of campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education says 28 California colleges and universities, including all nine UC campuses, have “restrictive” protest policies.