IRVINE (CBSLA.com/AP) — University of California officials heard criticism Thursday over the first draft of system-wide principles defining intolerance that some free speech advocates fear could lead to censorship on UC campuses.
The University of California Board of Regents released a proposed “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” (PDF) ahead of the meeting at UC Irvine aimed at upholding “the core principles of respect, inclusion, academic freedom, and the free and open exchange of ideas”.
According to the UC Regents memo, “intolerance” is defined as “unwelcome conduct motivated by discrimination against, or hatred toward, other individuals or groups” and may take the form of “acts of violence or intimidation, threats, harassment, hate speech, derogatory language reflecting stereotypes or prejudice, or inflammatory or derogatory use of culturally recognized symbols of hate, prejudice , or discrimination.”
Many students and alumni of the UC system who addressed the board meeting were urging regents to include the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism to help fight acts of anti-Semitism on campuses.
Other speakers opposed including the definition, saying it did not represent the position of all Jews.
Speakers in the public comment period focused largely on the issue of anti-Semitism and not broader implications of free speech. Critics had earlier warned that the intolerance declaration would have chilling effects on free speech.
Student Regent Avi Oved told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO he believes students have a Constitutionally-protected right to speak their mind, but that right must be limited in certain circumstances.
“To be honest, under the First Amendment people do have the right to be racist. They do, they have that right,” said Oved. “But what is the University’s response? That’s the issue.”
Some examples of behaviors listed by UC Regents that “do not reflect the University’s values of inclusion and tolerance” include vandalism and graffiti, including depictions of swastikas, nooses and other symbols; “questioning a student’s fitness for a leadership role or whether the student should be a member of the campus community on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, sex, or sexual orientation”; and “depicting or articulating a view of ethnic or racial groups as less ambitious, less hardworking or talented, or more threatening than other groups.”
The memo states UC leaders will take all appropriate steps to implement the principles following the conclusion of the public comment stage.
Perhaps not coincidentally, students at UC Irvine earlier this year were at the center of another free speech controversy following a vote conducted by the Executive Cabinet of the Associated Students of UCI to ban every country’s flag from its offices, including the U.S. flag.
The executive branch of UC Irvine’s student government later vetoed the ban.
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