University Of California May Give Students Right To Not Be Offended

Blake Neff | Reporter

The University of California may explicitly recognize a right for students to not be offended, if a resolution under consideration is approved by the board of regents next week.

The resolution, publicized by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh at The Washington Post, reads as follows:

Intolerance has no place at the University of California. We define intolerance as unwelcome conduct motivated by discrimination against, or hatred toward, other individuals or groups. It 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.

Everyone in the University community has the right to study, teach, conduct research, and work free from acts and expressions of intolerance. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of intolerant behavior and treat them as opportunities to reinforce the University’s Principles Against Intolerance.

This statement of principles applies to attacks on individuals or groups and does not apply to the free exchange of ideas in keeping with the principles of academic freedom and free speech. This statement shall not be interpreted to prohibit conduct that is related to the course content, teaching methods, scholarship, or public commentary of an individual faculty member or the educational, political, artistic, or literary expression of students in classrooms and public forums that is protected by academic freedom or free speech principles. The statement is intended to reflect the principles of the Regents of the University of California and shall not be used as the basis to discipline students, faculty, or staff. Discipline is covered under existing policies including the following: Policies Applying to Campus Activities, Organizations and Students, 100.00: Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline, Personnel Policies for Staff Members pertaining to discipline and separation, or University Policy on Faculty Conduct and the Administration of Discipline (Academic Personnel Manual [APM]-016).

University leaders will take all appropriate steps to implement the principles.

To clarify what sort of behavior the resolution is meant to prohibit, an addendum is included with several sample behaviors:

* Vandalism and graffiti reflecting culturally recognized symbols of hate or prejudice. These include depictions of swastikas, nooses, and other symbols intended to intimidate, threaten, mock and/or harass individuals or groups.

* 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.

* Depicting or articulating a view of ethnic or racial groups as less ambitious, less hardworking or talented, or more threatening than other groups.

* Depicting or articulating a view of people with disabilities (both visible and invisible) as incapable.

Volokh points out that the resolution and its addendum could have a substantial stifling effect on speech at UC campuses.

“Articulating a view that people with various intellectual disabilities are incapable of various intellectual tasks, or people with various physical disabilities are incapable of various physical tasks, would be condemned by the authority of the University,” he writes. “Saying that illegal aliens (or noncitizens who are legally here) ought not be appointed to be, say, the student member of the Board of Regents — likewise condemned.” (RELATED: California Trains Professors To Avoid ‘Microaggressions’)

Attempts to discuss cultural or biological differences between men and women, between gay and straight people, or between different ethnic groups will be condemned totally, without any tolerance for speakers to give an argument, Volokh argues. For example, the question over whether gay parents can raise children as effectively as straight parents, relevant to the gay marriage debate, would be silenced before it could even be held, Volokh notes.

The resolution is set to be considered at the UC regents meeting Sept. 17, and it has already attracted criticism for what it doesn’t include. Several Jewish groups have pushed hard for the resolution to include the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which holds that denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is anti-Semitic. Such language wasn’t included, after pro-Palestinian activists said the language would be used to silence them.

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